Asus NovaGo review

Portable but unbearably slow, the Asus NovaGo stops well short of greatness

The NovaGo performed poorly, but battery life and ubiquitous internet show off its promise.
The NovaGo performed poorly, but battery life and ubiquitous internet show off its promise.
The NovaGo performed poorly, but battery life and ubiquitous internet show off its promise.

Highs

  • Outstanding battery life
  • “Always-connected” internet is a game changer
  • Solid build quality for a budget notebook

Lows

  • Performance is sluggish at best, terrible at worst
  • Application compatibility is spotty
  • The keyboard is a bit mushy
  • May not work with older peripherals

DT Editors' Rating

Microsoft’s Windows on ARM initiative is meant to directly challenge smartphones and tablets that offer all-day battery life, instant-on responsiveness, and always-connected cellular internet. The first round of machines based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 system-on-chip (SoC) has arrived, and we took a look at the Asus NovaGo, a convertible 2-in-1 version, to see if Windows on ARM is a viable platform.

Asus sent us the only retail configuration with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of eMMC storage, and a 13.3-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 166PPI) IPS display, all of which sells for $700. We also received a Verizon LTE SIM to use in our testing, which allowed us to carry the notebook around with us and connect wherever we ended up. But does its Qualcomm processor perform well enough to keep up with its Intel-based competition?

A quality budget laptop that doesn’t care what processor is inside

Just because you’re “only” spending $700 doesn’t mean you should settle for an ugly device. Asus clearly gets that and offers solid design across its budget models. The NovaGo is a good example, with an attractive and conservative silver-gray color scheme with chrome accents. It’s not as stylish as the Asus ZenBook UX330UA, our favorite budget notebook, but it looks nice all the same.

Its build is solid, with an all-aluminum chassis that resists flexing and bending along the lid, keyboard deck, and bottom. The 360-degree convertible design works well thanks to a hinge that is stiff enough to hold the display in place whether in clamshell, tent, presentation, or tablet mode, but is easy enough to spin around. Just like the ZenBook UX330UA and the similarly priced Dell Inspiron 13 5000 2-in-1, the NovaGo doesn’t force users to choose between durability and price.

The NovaGo is thin at 0.59 inches, which is thinner than the Dell Inspiron 13 5000 (at 0.80 inches), and while it’s not the lightest 2-in-1 at 3.06 pounds, it again beats out the Inspiron 13’s hefty 3.7 pounds. The ZenBook UX330UA beats both at 0.53 inches and 2.64 pounds, though.

We should also note the NovaGo’s completely fanless nature, thanks to the ultra-low-power ARM processor. The notebook was never more than mildly warm, which is an advantage over Intel-based fanless notebooks, and it was silent.

Asus offers solid designs across its budget models, and the NovaGo is a good example.

The NovaGo’s connectivity is old-fashioned for such a modern machine. You’ll find two USB-A 3.1 Gen1 ports and an HDMI port to go along with the LTE SIM slot, 3.5mm combo audio jack, and proprietary charging port. Wireless connectivity is provided by 2×2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 radios, along with the cellular connection if you buy a plan from a carrier.

One of the NovaGo’s best features is the LTE SIM slot, which lets you stay connected to the internet no matter where you go. Being able to use the notebook untethered from Wi-Fi is a huge advantage when traveling. You can sit down and access the internet anywhere your cellular service offers coverage.

The keyboard isn’t up to snuff

Asus makes some very nice keyboards but reserves the best for the company’s most expensive ZenBooks. The NovaGo’s keys are mediocre, meaning it’s an island keyboard with a slightly mushy feel. The key mechanism has only a bit of snap to it, and its bottoming action is soft. Unfortunately, the keyboard isn’t backlit, which is a disadvantage. Even budget 2-in-1s and laptops usually offer that feature.

Asus NovaGo review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The touchpad, on the other hand, is large and smooth. It’s also a Microsoft Precision touchpad, so it provides precise and reliable support for Windows 10 multitouch gestures. The buttons have a responsive clickiness but aren’t too loud. Of course, this is a 2-in-1, so the touch display is responsive and works well in any of the notebook’s four modes. There’s no pen support, however.

Windows 10 Hello support is provided by a fingerprint scanner that’s embedded in the touchpad, — not our favorite place. It worked well, though, and we had no issues with its reliability.

A typical 1080p display

The NovaGo ships with a 13.3-inch Full HD screen (1,920 x 1,080 resolution, or 167 pixels per inch). Unfortunately, we couldn’t get our colorimeter to connect to the NovaGo, likely because its drivers aren’t compatible with Windows on ARM devices.

Still, our eyes told us the display was dim, which might be a problem. The NovaGo is portable, so you’ll be tempted to use it in bright rooms or even outdoors. Contrast and color accuracy appeared acceptable, though, with strong photo and video quality.

It’s an average display on balance, but good enough for the usual productivity tasks. And you’ll find audio quality to match, with decent volume and a hint of bass at lower volumes. You’ll want to use headphones for serious listening sessions, but the speakers will do in a pinch.

Performance is this new platform’s Achilles’ Heel

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 found in the NovaGo is known to performance well in phones and tablets, but Windows 10 is a heavyweight operating system that was designed with fast, power-hungry Intel CPUs in mind. Asus ships the NovaGo with Windows 10 in S Mode, which supposedly helps performance, but it’s easy to switch to Windows 10 Pro.

The one word that came to mind in describing the NovaGo’s performance was “sluggish.”

We used the NovaGo in both modes, starting out in S Mode and then switching to Windows 10 Pro. In S Mode we could only run apps from the Windows Store, which effectively meant Windows 10 apps and the Microsoft’s Office. That severely limited our ability to benchmark the NovaGo, as our usual benchmark apps weren’t available in S Mode. Still, we can describe the experience in one word. Sluggish.

Whether we were browsing with Microsoft’s Edge, using the mobile or ported versions of the Office suite, or running Windows 10 apps like an RSS reader, email, and OneNote, the NovaGo felt slow. It was usable, but preferable? Nope.

Windows 10 Pro further slowed the experience. Legacy apps – that is, apps not written specifically for Windows 10 — were a few steps behind on the NovaGo compared to its Intel counterparts. Google Chomre is one such app. Using it with only a handful of tabs was a clunky experience that we doubt most people would find acceptable.

The NovaGo could only complete one of our benchmarks, Geekbench 4, and there the notebook scored behind similarly priced Intel machines. Its single-core score of 893 and multi-core score of 3,123 were roughly half the Snapdragon 835’s performance on smartphones, and they’re several times slower than a laptop with a current-generation Intel Core i5 mobile processor.

We tried running the 32-bit version of Handbrake, which we use to evaluate a notebook’s performance on more demanding tasks, but it consistently crashed during the video encoding process.

The NovaGo’s universal flash storage (UFS) drive is another bottleneck. In the CrystalDiskMark storage benchmark, the NovaGo was around the same speed as SATA solid-state drives (SSDs) in reading data, but less than half as fast in writing data. Of course, it was dramatically slower than PCIe SSDs. Slow storage likely contributed to the notebook’s sluggishness.

Gaming isn’t an option

The NovaGo uses the Snapdragon 835’s Adreno 540 GPU, which provides good gaming performance on Android smartphones – but we held no illusions that would translate to Windows.

We weren’t surprised when the NovaGo scored a paltry 499 on the 3DMark Fire Strike synthetic benchmark. That’s roughly half the already low score achieved by notebooks with Intel integrated graphics.

Less demanding games like Rocket League will launch on the NovaGo, but it might be better if they didn’t. Loading times could be measured in minutes and performance once running was in the teens. It was so slow, in fact, that we couldn’t measure it. Our benchmark tools refused to work properly.

Battery life shows the Windows on ARM promise

The NovaGo packs in 52 watt-hours of battery capacity, which would be average for a similarly priced Windows 10 notebook. Given the Snapdragon 835 and a Full HD display, however, we fully expected battery life to be a strength.

As it turns out, the NovaGo is truly an all-day, and then some. It aced all our battery tests, turning in numbers that similar Intel-based notebooks can’t match. The only benchmark we could run in Windows 10 in S Mode, which is supposed to offer efficiency advantages, was our video looping test, and the NovaGo did well. It lasted 15 and a half hours before shutting down.

Windows 10 Pro didn’t diminish the battery life. The NovaGo churned through our most aggressive Basemark web benchmark test for a solid 10 hours. That’s a new record, and twice as long as the ZenBook UX330UA.

The NovaGo also excelled in our web browsing test that loops through a series of popular sites, though it lasted only 11 hours, which is four hours less than it did under Windows S Mode. Still, only the Dell XPS 13 and Microsoft Surface Book 2 13 come close to the NovaGo’s endurance.

Real-world battery life is helped by the NovaGo’s power-sipping standby mode and instant-on responsiveness. We closed the lid at 65 percent battery life, then opened it well over twelve hours later to find 62 percent remaining. That’s a smartphone-like sleep mode.

Our Take

Windows 10 on ARM isn’t ready for primetime, and the Qualcomm processor can be blamed. Battery life is excellent, but that doesn’t matter if performance – or compatibility – holds you back.

Is there a better alternative?

There are some other Windows on ARM machines that you can consider, including the HP Envy x2 and the Lenovo Miix 630. The NovaGo is the least expensive of the three, and performance is likely to be underwhelming on those other machines as well. You’d choose them, though, if you want a detachable tablet rather than the NovaGo’s 360-degree convertible 2-in-1 design.

You could also opt for a budget 2-in-1 like the Dell Inspiron 13 5000, which will run you $750 for a Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. It offers similar quality, better performance, and shorter battery life. You’ll also be able to purchase a pen and use the Inspiron for taking notes, something the NovaGo doesn’t support.

How long will it last?

The NovaGo is outdated right out of the box thanks to its already-obsolete CPU. It’s reasonably well-built, but with performance this spotty, you’ll be ready to move on to something else almost immediately.

Should you buy it?

No. Windows 10 on ARM is a great idea, and the NovaGo is a well-built notebook that lasts a long time on a charge. But its performance isn’t good enough for all but the lightest user, something that’s likely to change when the first Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 devices hit stores later in 2018.

Product Review

Dolby makes the most comfortable headphones ever, and that's only the start

Dolby has taken its first step into product design with the new Dolby Dimension wireless headphones. Offering tons of features, supreme comfort, and a shocking price tag, the Dimension are a unique new take on audio in the home, and out.
Computing

These laptop bags will keep your notebook secure wherever you go

Choosing the right laptop bag is no easy feat -- after all, no one likes to second-guess themselves. Here are some of the best laptop bags on the market, from backpacks to sleeves, so you can get it right the first time around.
Product Review

Long live the king! Dell’s new XPS 13 defends its throne with ease

The redesigned Dell XPS 13 doesn’t reinvent the laptop’s winning formula, but does offer much-needed tweaks including the latest Intel hardware and a thinner, lighter body. Is it enough to keep Dell’s laptop at the top of our ratings?
Product Review

This is the best budget laptop you can buy

One of our favorite laptops, the Asus Zenbook UX330UA, has been updated to feature the 8th-gen Intel Core CPU. It's still the best budget laptop on the market, offering great battery life and zippy performance at a discounted price.
Deals

The Best Black Friday Deals from Best Buy in 2018

We've been hard at work assembling all the best Black Friday deals Best Buy offers in 2018 and putting them in one place to save you time and money this holiday season. From laptops to TVs, game consoles to smart speakers and much more…
Computing

HDR monitors are beginning to have an impact. Here are the best you can buy

HDR isn't the most common of PC monitor features and is often charged at a premium, but the list of available options is growing. These are the best HDR monitors you can buy right now.
Computing

Nvidia admits its 2080 Ti cards have a problem, but isn’t saying what it is

Nvidia has admitted that there is a wider problem affecting its RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition cards, despite earlier claims to the contrary. It has also promised to continue working with affected consumers to replace dead cards.
Computing

Four fake cryptocurrency apps were listed on the Google Play Store

It is a dangerous time to be going after crytocurrency on Android. Four bogus cryptocurrency apps were spotted on the Google Play Store this week, according to a report from cybersecurity researcher Lukas Stefanko. 
Computing

Windows Update not working after October 2018 patch? Here’s how to fix it

Windows update not working? It's a more common problem than you might think. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to troubleshoot it and in this guide we'll break them down for you, step by step.
Computing

Microsoft Surface Pro 6: Everything you need to know

The Surface Pro 6 is officially here, though it's not as big of a redesign as you might have hoped. With a new coat of black paint and an 8th-gen processor, this is a small update. If you've been eyeing a Surface Pro, you may want to wait…
Computing

Turn your iPad into a display for your new Mac Mini with this workaround

The folks at Luna Display have figured out a workaround which lets you get the best of both worlds and use Wi-Fi and an adapter in order to turn your iPad into a display for the 2018 Mac Mini.
Deals

Black Friday 2018: The best deals so far

Black Friday is the biggest shopping holiday of the year, and it will be here before you know it. If you can't wait until November 23 to start formulating a shopping plan, we've got you covered.
Computing

Latest SMS breach could allow hackers access to your online accounts

A new security breach that exposed more than 26 million text messages could be a huge nightmare for users relying on two-factor authentication. Many of the SMS on the database contained security codes and account reset links.
Computing

Microsoft’s Windows 10 Mail client goes freemium with the introduction of ads

Microsoft Windows Insiders are finding a nasty surprise inside the Mail app on the latest Windows 10 preview build in the form of banner ads. These ads will appear in the Mail app regardless of the webmail service you use.