Here’s the sales pitch for Windows 10 laptops and tablets with ARM-based processors: you get super long battery life and smartphone-like always-connected capabilities in a device that can be thinner and/or lighter than a typical Intel or AMD-powered computer.

But there’s a tradeoff: today’s fastest ARM processors still offer the kind of power you’d expect from a cheap Intel chip. And Windows 10 on ARM comes with a laundry list of limitations that mean some Windows applications won’t run at all, and others may run slowly.

So it’s probably not surprising that the first reviews of Windows 10 on ARM laptops show that these gadgets are a mixed bag that are probably only really worth the money for folks with very specific needs. But they could also provide a sneak peek toward the future of on-the-go computing.

Three Windows 10 computers with Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processors are set to hit the streets soon: the Asus NovaGo convertible laptop, the HP Envy x2 2-in-1 tablet, and the Lenovo Miix 630 2-in-1 tablet.

I’m hoping to review one or more of these computers myself, but for now let’s take a look at some of the reviews other websites.

While I’ve been told that HP isn’t sending out demo units yet, the folks at Laptop Magazine somehow managed to get their hands on one, and they published an HP Envy x2 review yesterday.

Today Laptop Magazine, CNET, The Verge, Gizmodo, and Engadget all published reviews or previews of the Asus NovaGo. I haven’t seen any detailed reviews for Lenovo’s entry into this space yet.

The general consensus seems to be that these machines really do deliver on the promise of long battery life and always-connected capabilities thanks to the integrated 4G LTE modem.

The HP Envy x2 is said to get up to 15 hours of run time, while the Asus NovaGo reportedly gets 11-12 hours.

While those numbers are pretty good… they’re not exactly unheard of. There are a number of Intel-powered laptops and tablets that offer similar run time.

You can also find some Intel and AMD-powered laptops with SIM card slots and 4G LTE support… although they’re usually premium machines aimed at business customers.

But here’s the thing: the HP, Asus, and Lenovo computers with Windows 10 on ARM aren’t exactly cheap, with prices running anywhere from $599 to $999.

Meanwhile, the laptops all ship with Windows 10 S, and for good reason. While you can switch to Windows 10 Pro for free if you want to install Win32 apps, performance with any third-party software that’s not available from the Microsoft Store is likely to be hit or miss. For example, the Verge points out, that Chrome is slow to launch, slow to load pages or switch between tabs, and stutters while scrolling, while Microsoft’s Edge web browser runs smoothly. Laptop Magazine encountered a driver error when installing OpenVPN, and video editing tool HandBrake crashed repeatedly.

Theoretically Windows 10 on ARM is full-fledged Windows 10. But compatibility and performance issues mean that there are some things you can easily do on an Intel-powered computer that you wwouldn’t do on a device like the Asus NovaGo.

That may change in the future. Upcoming ARM-based chips are likely to be faster, and Microsoft is likely to continue improving Windows on ARM performance… assuming enough people buy the first-generation devices to justify building second-generation models.

And right now it’s a little hard to imagine that this’ll happen.

Windows 10 on ARM is a lot more functional than Microsoft’s last desktop version of Windows for ARM devices. Windows RT came out around the same time as Windows 8, but it was only capable of running Windows Store apps. That’s not true this time around.

But I think there was another important reason Windows RT never really took off: it didn’t solve a problem anyone had. While Microsoft was busy creating a version of Windows that could run on ARM chips as a way to enable longer battery life, thinner devices, and lower price tags, Intel was busy improving its low-power processors. By the time Windows RT launched, it had to compete with low-cost, Intel-powered tablets that could do everything a Windows RT device could do and much, much more.

The new Windows 10 on ARM is certainly a technological feat: it has far fewer limitations than Windows RT thanks to emulation that allows x86 apps to run on devices with ARM-based chips. But the first Windows 10 on ARM devices to launch are priced as high as mid-range or high-end laptops and they seem to offer a more frustrating and unpredictable user experience and middling performance.

On the bright side you probably won’t need to carry a charger with you as often if you’re using one.

While I don’t know if Windows on ARM will be around in a few years, it is likely that we’ll start to see more always-connected PCs in the future. At this point cellular connectivity isn’t a feature that’s in all that much demand. I don’t know about you, but most of my smartphone data consumption is done over WiFi. I just don’t find myself away from WiFi often enough to justify spending extra on an always-connected laptop and data plan.

But as 5G and future technologies roll out, it’s possible that we’ll be connecting more Internet of Things devices (including wearables, autonomous vehicles, and smart home gadgets) to the internet using cellular networks. If and when that happens, it’s likely that the economics of wireless data plans may change, and we’ll get to a point where it costs little to add an always-connected computer to your data plan.

For now, it really seems like early reviews suggest that devices like the Asus NovaGo and HP Envy x2 are really aimed at the limited subset of folks who need those features today and who are willing to sacrifice some performance for portability.

As for incompatibility with some legacy apps… I suppose that hasn’t stopped Chromebooks from finding a niche. But it will probably always feel weird to run an operating system that looks just like Windows 10 on other machines, but which cannot do some of the things Windows 10 can do on a computer with an x86 processor.



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32 replies on “Windows 10 ARM reviews hint at good things to come (but mixed bag at present)”

  1. these things got fail written all over them. id never buy a full windows machine with such a slow chip. a product like this would be better with chromeos

  2. I was reading one of the reviews for the $1,000 laptop. All I got out of it was that the battery life was it’s only claim to fame. This begs the question… are the batteries on these things even user-replaceable?

    1. You forgot the instant on/connected standby capabilities…and the 5G LTE with eSim that can give you data by the minute at up to gigabit speeds… They still include wifi…..so the 5G is for emergency use.

      ARM64 processors are becoming more and more powerful and will eventually handle AAA UWP games. The latest ARM64 is about 1 teraflops in GPU compute compared to 1.3 teraflops for xbox one and 1.8 teraflops for ps4…. ARM64 can easily grow up to 3-4 teraflops before it starts to plateau due to thermals and battery. That is enough for 1440P gaming. Windows needs to be on ARM64 at all costs. People prefer thin and ultra light devices…yet powerful at same time…

      1. And yet all these great connectivity features are hampered by a chip slower than what you get in a 200 buck x86 laptop, limited to 32-bit apps and that is no way upgradable (RAM, storage, battery – nothing).

        Such a compelling product, I wonder why even pro users would bother with this.

      2. Lol stop spreading false information on every Microsoft article about WoA. A 1 TFLOP ARM64 SoC is still nothing compared to an Xbox One. FLOPS is not an accurate measure of performance between different architectures. Take the Nintendo Switch for example, again, it can barely run DOOM at 720p and less than 30 fps while the Xbox One can go up to 1080p 60fps for DOOM. Not to mention the Switch version of DOOM has significant graphical downgrades too besides resolution and framerate. ARM64 SoC’s have the performance of 6 year old hardware at best. It’s still faaaaarrrrrr behind modern Intel and AMD CPU’s as well as modern NVidia and AMD GPU’s.

        Yes people do prefer thin and ultra light devices. Those are called ultrabooks powered by Intel Core i5 and in some cases Core i7 CPU’s which cost the same as these WoA laptops but perform 100x better than the top of the line ARM SoC’s today.

        1. A Nintendo Switch is also running on a 4 year old processor….ARM64 Has improved vastly since then especially the A11 bionic in ipad pros…even the snapdragon 845 has improved quite a alot.

          Switch was around 700 gigaflops docked and 450 gigaflops undocked…. That is still less than half the xbox one gigaflops for GPU but even the ARM cpu has improved tons since, especially the hexacores and octacores flagship chips like the A11 and snapdragon 845.

          Again you need to differentiate x86 emulation performance from native ARM64 Performance…Edge works great on these devices. Any games such as cuphead UWP or other smaller xbox playanywhere titles in future should have ARM64 Support and run on snapdragons 845 or 855 much better than any current Arm devices. These devices are just setting the stage…putting the foundation down for things to come.

          You also fail to look at Fortnite and PUBG full console versions now running on iOS and android.

          Yes the FULL Fortnite running on iphone…..EPIC games wants to do more console ports in future. The ARM64 in few years will be atleast double in both cpu and gpu power.

          So why in the world should MS cede ground to iOS and android without a fight…..the windows ARM devices should be able to run AAA games very soon….Dont forget that sea of thieves was designed to run on intel integrated GPUs. The windows 10 SDK is designed to scale the games dynamically. A same UWP game running at 8k on PC, would run at 4k on console, run at 1440p on intel powered surfaces or run at 1080p on a ARM powered surface….Thats just an example…no porting required by devs…unlike with ios or android. Altho they could make minor adjustments for touch capable controls.

          Also ARM64 CPUs only use Mali GPUs for the benefits of a SOC but they could also be paired with vega or volta architectures…. AMD has the K12 ARM chip that would probably ship with vega. Nvidia will have a Volta based ARM chip eventually. AMD and Nvidia aren’t stupid enough to invest billions in ARM if they didnt see the potential.

        2. Actually the Tegra X1 in the Switch is only a couple years old at this point, a few years newer than the Xbox One. And as I said, even if ARM64 is improving fast, it’s not like x86 isn’t improving either. AMD’s new line of RYZEN and Vega CPU/GPU’s are really good and Intel isn’t going to sit idly by. The Xbox One is pretty old now and all the benchmarks and graphics comparison are done on the Xbox One X now. So you really should be comparing ARM64 with the Xbox One X SoC which, while not an accurate measure still, does have 6 TFLOPS of performance.

          Yes some console games like fortnite have mobile ports now, but compared to their console and PC variants, they’re very watered down graphically speaking. As for UWP games, sure cuphead might be a possibility, but no way will you see games like Forza 7 or Gears of War 4 ported to ARM64 devices anytime soon. Even PUBG has performance issues on the Xbox One X. It’s mobile version is soooo toned down compared to the console version. Those games already push even the Xbox One X quite a bit. By the time ARM64 catches up to the original Xbox One, Microsoft will have a success for the Xbox One X and ARM64 will still be really far behind.

          Mobile hardware simply can’t compete with desktop and laptop hardware because it simply wasn’t designed for that. It was designed to do really well in mobile devices and it does excel there. But it will never hold a candle to desktop and laptop chipsets because that’s also a moving goal post that has a lot more room to expand and a lot less constraints.

        3. Tegra X1 was showcased on March 2015….so thats three years old but the GPU architecture it is based on… Maxwell…is even older than that…

          Tegra X3(Volta) will be the true showcase of Nvidias ARM Prowess and i can assure you it will surpass the base Xbox in both CPU and GPU power…

          I am not comparing ARM to xbox One x because the base xbox still plays the exact same AAA games albeit at lower quality. AAA gaming is the threshold for whether windows ARM tablets or mobile devices will have a userbase.

          Keep in mind 90% of all app downloads and 95% of all revenues on both appstore and playstore are games. More and more people want AAA ganing on mobile devices and windows has an inherent advantage in that as the same UWP code runs on multiple form factors with minor adjustments.. I used to play Age of Empires Castle Seige on my Nokia 635, then same game with same xbox live account on HP stream 8 tablet with 1 gb ram…then same game on laptop and desktop.

          Only a windows mobile device can provide that level of integration….with the windows desktop. With Surface Andromeda, if it runs UWP games for ARM64 even without mobile optimization…like touch control inputs…it would be a great start….imagine ARM64 devices that can play both xbox and steam games….

          The ARM64 processors are not meant to replace the AMD64 variants but instead complement and supplement them…

          Google is considering creating a console..u can bet it would be running Android on Nvidia Tegra X3 most likely similar to Nvidia shield TV…MS could also create a xbox Mini without running on Nvidia tegra x3….

          Point is the base Xbox is the mark ARM64 needs to reach to successfully play AAA games at 1080p. Average PCs are only 3 Teraflops. ARM64 Will eventually become powerful enough to run even gears of war 4 or forza if MS wanted….

          Games like Age of Empires or Ori and blindforest or tons of other indies should already be able to run on ARM64 now…..also keep in mind the game of the year for 2017…Breath of the Wild…ran on tegra X3

        4. But why would people want that over an Ultra book powered by an Intel Core i5 with a desktop class GeForce GTX 1050 that’s just as thin and costs the same but performs wayyyy better because we’re still comparing desktop GPU’s vs mobile ones. Doesn’t matter if the next Tegra shares the same architecture as a desktop GPU. Again, that means absolutely nothing. Both Intel Atom and Core i9 share the same architecture but the Core i9 obviously blows the Atom out of the water.

          I don’t see any demand for more AAA UWP games. In fact, I see the reverse which is for Microsoft to release more games like Halo on Steam instead of UWP. There’s still sooo many limitations to UWP over a traditional desktop app. There is also no demand for people that want to play AAA games on a small screen like a phone either, it makes absolutely no sense to play something like Halo 5 with touch controls on a phone.

          So that brings us back to the fact that for the same price as a WoA laptop, you can get a more powerful Intel or AMD powered laptop. In fact, AMD Vega powered ultra thin laptops wont be too far behind even the Xbox One X. So where’s the value in WoA when for the same money you can get an x86 laptop that not only does the same thing but goes even further with performance?

        5. Because it is NOT just as thin or light and NOT as efficient on battery or producing thermals that dont burn ur lap or require vents and fans.

          A mobile i5 is 15 watt processor…and the iGPU integrated graphics included but adding a 1050 or 1030 even adds up to 65 watt gpu so 80 watt total…

          Compare that to 4-6 Watts for the ENTIRE ARM64 SOC that includes lte radio, cpu, gpu, and other modules such as cameras.

          The i5 or Surfaces require vents in design. The fanless models had to have the i5 start off at lower cpu frenquency and LTE was only included when the fan was removed. The surface pro 2017 is still too bulky, too heavy, too hot, and the thermals eventually affect other components such as screen. 10 watts for cpu and gpu is the maximum sweet spot for such a form factor and only ARM64 can provide that….intel tried and failed with Core M3 chips as they sell four times higher than best ARM chips. The HP envy with snapdragon is 1 mm thinner than ipad pro in comparison and doesnt require vents or fans and battery lasts 22 hours with month connected standby.

          10 Watt Tegra X3 with Volta architecture vs a 80 Watt volta 1150…that both can play AAA games…one with less detail yet good enough for mobile…its a no brainer.

          Demand for AAA UWP games will come from Xbox users…there are still 50 million….it will come when floodgates open and other storefronts start distributing UWP. there is enough demand for AAA games on small screens to make switch a success and have Fortnite become #1 app on appstore for past week.

          Even the AMD Rysen/Vega mobile APUs will be 15 watts at the very least and no it wont be reaching xbox one x level in mobile form factor on thin laptops.

          Besides this isnt about gaming on ARM64 only, it is about the rest of computing…. It is about the future of windows and how UWP is critical to its survival and how if Windows needs to build a healthy ecosystem covering all sorts of form factors…

          The future is thishttps://affinity.serif.com/en-us/photo/ipad/

        6. Have you ever seen an Intel powered Ultra book before (without a GeForce GPU)? They are literally just as thin as these ARM powered laptops. Look at the MacBook Air, you can’t really get much thinner. CPU-wise these low power Core i5’s are still way more powerful than the top of the line ARM CPU today. And mainstream Intel HD Graphics has shown to be comparable to the Nintendo Switch as far as benchmarks go. There are also ultrabooks with 4G connectivity as well and the battery life in these are pretty great too.

          As Zwe mentioned, the price-performance ratio of these WoA laptops are terrible and a total rip off. You’re getting performance equivalent to that of a cheap $200 Intel Celeron laptop at best.

          I don’t see why Xbox users will demand UWP games either. Many Xbox gamers also have Steam accounts. Steam is just far superior to the Windows Store in every way for games. And games built on Win32 have many technical advantages over UWP which is still very limited and restrictive. Windows doesn’t need UWP to survive. It needs enterprise customers to survive and most enterprises opt to block the store. Most enterprises use Win32 software and continue to develop in Win32 over UWP. Microsoft doesn’t even let anyone else distribute UWP apps and sideloading UWP apps yourself isn’t very easy either.

          Like I said, nobody wants a version of Windows that’s limited and locked down. Some people may try WoA, but in the long run it will fail because consumers expect a certain standard from Windows which WoA does not fully deliver. It’s why Windows 10 S was a failure too. Microsoft just keeps trying over and over again to build a locked down version of Windows but keeps failing. They’re not getting the message.

      3. Problem is not arm platform , it is just how the product the is packaged. You end up with a slow pc with limited capabilities.
        Price to performance is ridiculous.

  3. I guess I’ll still be holding onto my Surface 3 with LTE. It only gets 5-6 hours of battery life now. Lost an hour after ~2 years and the battery isn’t replaceable. I’m still hoping for Windows on ARM to improve and run on smaller devices.

    Also, I’m seeing “By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website” in the comments now. Is that because of recent Cambridge Analytica events? You got a link to your data storage and handling policy?

  4. I’m waiting for these things to appeal to the education sector, and also the Sub-$300 consumer market.

    My teenage kid needs a laptop for high school, and I’ve had to buy 2 so far (accidents happen). The criteria is basically: Long battery life, access to Microsoft Office, Web Browser.

    Up until recently, education needs for laptops required all sorts of proprietary education software. Today it is all Browser based resources. Lots of schools are going the direction of Chromebooks.

    Maybe when Rockchip, or AMLogic get into the ARM Windows laptop game, we will see something priced in that range.

  5. I know that I post this under every Windows/ARM story but their decision to go after the high end seems crazy.

    My boss has always had an integrated modem since it became practical, and every time he gets a new laptop there are fewer and fewer choices for him because that market died when public wi-fi and tethered phones became the norm.

    I expect an x86 laptop to deliver 10 hours on battery these days and anything over that is nice but not essential. What is essential is running windows programs, all of them, not just the specifically optimised ones, this has always been the strength of windows. If these laptops run Chrome slower than my £200 Atom with its massive 2GB of RAM then it’s useless to me.

    They should have gone low end and then jacked up the prices when new ARM families or better optimisation was ready.

  6. I am still trying to figure out where the market is for these devices. They currently only work in a very narrow use-case. Sure, over time they will improve. As Essential found out, once a perception of your device has been made by the masses, it is very hard to change it, even if you fix the weaknesses over time.

    1. There is none. These are going to tank so hard. Too expensive, too limited, and too many issues, all with no real market or demand. When they first announced it, they didn’t mention most of the downsides. They harped that it had full compatibility, good performance, and great battery life. Now it looks like it has partial compatibility, poor to middling performance, and pretty good battery life. I’m afraid these aren’t going anywhere fast.

  7. As expected, x86 incompatibility still exists with its limited emulation. Performance can at often times be slower than Intel’s old Atom chips.

  8. “But I think there was another important reason Windows RT never really took off: it didn’t solve a problem anyone had. ”

    The problem many people DO have and HAVE HAD for a long time and Microsoft COULD solve if it actually tried to do so instead of trying to replicate Google and Apple’s business models simultaneously and fail…

    is desktop class windows on a phone sized device.

    But no. Still making the wrong product at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons.

    1. I’ve been waiting for this for sooooo long. They seemed like they were so close and all of their moves looked like they were moving this direction. I’ve been waiting for this since WIndows 8.0 came out. I switched over to windows phone in anticipation. Then…. nothing. It all died on the vine. They blew chance after chance after chance to do exactly this and they never did. Now, they probably never can.

      1. But what mobile optimized apps? What Microsoft needs to do is build a full blown x86 computer in a smartphone format. I am not sure we have the technology to do that yet. Once we do, THEN Microsoft may have something people actually want to buy.

        1. Progressive web Apps are the great equalizer. Most of the commerce apps such as banks or starbucks only need a platform agnostic PWA that is responsive to different form factors. Also Webassembly for more advanced PWAs.

          GameLoft does make both mobile and desktop optimized UWP games…. With CShell, any formfactor can have multiple composers such as mobile or Polaris (desktop, Tablet), so Andromeda has all the pieces in place to run full desktop apps.

          Keep in mind the x86 emulation isnt only way to run win32/win64 apps on ARM64…the devs can recompile to ARM64 and the UWP is architecture agnostic.

          One thing a win 10 mobile device provides that android and ios never can…is complete integration with the other form factors

  9. I’ve been saying the same thing in every Windows 10 ARM article. This item is Dead on Arrival. If you’re in the market for a cheaper substitute, you can’t go wrong with the HP Spectre x2 12(Brad did a very brief video review on these a couple of years ago). I’ve had mine for a year now…with zero issues. With a core M3 processor, they run about $400 currently. I paid 411.56 for mine. Best tablet I’ve ever used even to this very day…and yes, it will play a few games. I’m not a big gamer, but had no issues playing Skyrim, Fallout: NV, and both Metro titles on the machine.

    The biggest thing for me about this HP spectre unit is..is that it is so well made you can’t even tell it’s been used after a year of every day usage. It still looks brand new and I’ve used it every day and night since I’ve purchased it. Absolutely shocked as to the quality of the device. The newer version(black) isn’t made as well.

    What is under appreciated about these tablet 2-n-1 devices is that if you add a hub, they make for 1) good tablet devices, 2) decent portable laptops, and 3) and with the hub, a pretty decent desktop. They really could be called 3-n-1 devices? Smile.

    If I somehow paid from 599 to 999 for an ARM device that is even further crippled by Windows 10 S with promises of “it only gets better from here”…I would happily drive myself to mental institution, because I would have perfect clarification that I have finally gone insane.

  10. I don’t get the appeal, or what market these are aimed at. $1000 for a device that will most likely perform most Windows functions slower than a Goldmont-based machine? This feels like RT all over again, Microsoft attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, only this time they’re overpriced as well.

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