Always Connected Windows laptops – What they Are and Do You Need Them?
Always connected PCs have been something only available to businesses, something that consumers like you and me never got our hands on. These PCs are connected to a cellular network and you can be online always. The PC does not need any special hardware to be online. Just plug in a SIM card and you are good to go – just like how you get cellular data on your phone. You do not need to attach a dongle, a cable or connect it a router to get internet. It has a built in LTE modem that gets you the internet. Pretty neat, right?
However, always connected laptops have been hard to get for consumers. Not only were they hard to get, but they were also really expensive. Most of these devices have been business devices that comes with other hardware such as smart card readers, dedicated processors to handle data encryption, a diverse bunch of ports, and an extremely solid (often an all-metal) build. This made laptops with their own connection to the internet expensive. But now with Qualcomm pitching in, you can get yourself one such device at a much lower cost.
What is Qualcomm’s Plan?
Qualcomm has been pushing their platform – their processors and chipsets – as the future of mobile computing. The partnership with Microsoft has helped them further the agenda. The Windows on Snapdragon platform does more than just provide an integrated cellular modem that frees you from having to rely on Wi-Fi. It’s a complete change to the core structure of Windows that allows it to run on processors originally designed for smartphones. Alongside that major architectural change come a number of benefits aside from integrated connectivity, including instant resume from sleep, significantly longer battery life, and quiet, cool machines. Basically, the new platform makes laptops work like how we’re used to smartphones working: instantly, quietly, and efficiently.
The new laptops are built around the architecture of phones. You use the same internal hardware of phones and you use them to run Windows on a laptop. Windows 10 has pretty low system requirements. It needs a gigabyte of RAM and a 1GHz processor. Most smartphones have much more than this. The configuration of most flagship devices can do a lot more than run Windows. So why use an overheating Intel processor to browse the web for an hour when you can use a nifty Qualcomm system to do the same thing for six hours.
But there is a catch. Since this idea has been tried before, and Microsoft has some significant failures in its history that promised many of the same things. Qualcomm and Microsoft argue that this time around, things will be different, as processors are much more powerful and Windows on Snapdragon is not limited to just a handful of apps. But these apps are all x86 apps. Microsoft calls it x86 on ARM. So, in case you need any 64-bit app to run on your system, you are out of luck
Windows 10 looks and feels the same
Windows 10 on Qualcomm devices look and feel the same as Windows 10 on any other device. You get the full working Windows 10 Pro on ARM PCs, just like you would have a Windows 10 Pro on any other 32-bit PC. A small feature, called virtualization, is disabled as Microsoft still has not enabled that for x86 on ARM. Besides that, most of your daily apps work pretty fine.
Always-available LTE is fantastic
With Always available LTE, you can simply connect to the internet whenever you want. While on the go, you do not need to rely on any sort of sketchy public Wi-Fi to get your job done. Then again, the internet performance is dependent on what network you have subscribed to.
Resume is near instant and battery life is long
Also, from now on, you no longer need to shut down your laptop every time you put it back in the bag. Like you lock your phone and put it on standby, you can also lock your laptop and put it back in your bag. It stays on, connected to the internet, but because of the low powered processor, it does not heat up. Moreover, it resumes almost instantly, just like a phone.
Edge is life; Chrome is pain
If Chrome is your favorite browser, then you will have a hard time. Chrome is not optimized to run on ARM systems. On the other hand, Edge runs pretty fine. Being a UWP app in nature, it does not have any dependency on the type of processor that it needs to run. It is fast, fluent, but you will miss out on your favorite Chrome exclusive extensions.
App compatibility is hit or miss
A 32-bit system means that you will miss out on some apps. At least for now. Adobe Photoshop CC works fine, but it is slow. Most newer games that use 64-bit executables will not run, older ones will. You can still get the full desktop Office. However, since x64 has been around for a number of years now, there’s a good chance that an app or utility you rely on now won’t work on the Snapdragon PC, and you’ll have to find an alternative or search around for a 32-bit version of the tool.
This platform might work for the most casual of users who can live with the Edge browser and don’t rely on many third-party apps or utilities. But if you’re a heavy user looking for the holy grail of an always-connected computer that can last well beyond a workday away from an outlet, Windows on Snapdragon isn’t likely to be your answer. Chances are, we’ll see more connected PCs and soon, but the better ones are likely to be powered by Intel or AMD processors, not the same chip that’s in your phone.