Consumers shopping for a new laptop in 2018 may come across one phrase repeatedly: “Always connected.” These new laptops, which promise long battery life and their own direct connection to the internet through a cellular connection, will probably be promoted heavily in stores and in advertisements. But in the opening days of the annual CES convention in Las Vegas, where many these devices are getting their formal debut, the industry is already introducing an unhealthy dose of confusion about just what “always connected” really means. 

The early news on these laptops was that they would use Qualcomm processors that were originally designed for smartphones. These computers were first announced just a few months ago, and they were set to bring big—and clearly defined—advantages to laptop users.


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The Qualcomm processor meant for these PCs (known as the Snapdragon 835) has some impressive-sounding claims: 20-plus hour battery life (in Consumer Reports tests, some of the longest-lasting laptop models range from 15 to 17 hours) and the ability to connect to 4G LTE cellular networks right out of the box—no WiFi or smartphone connection needed.

But some of the latest announcements at CES have at least two PC makers, HP and Acer, launching  “always-connected" laptops that use Intel processors. These machines, too, are boasting long battery life and the ability to connect to 4G LTE wireless networks.

For consumers, more choice may be a good thing. But at this point, it's not at all clear which chip will be the better choice for each consumer's needs. Some of the details are sketchy—and we’ll need to get these laptops into the lab to really see what they can do. But here’s what we know about the rivals so far. 

Always Connected, Intel Edition

So far, we've seen two laptop models headed for the U.S. market running on Intel chips at CES: the HP Envy x2 and the Acer Swift 7.

These laptops don’t promise quite the same level of battery life that their Qualcomm-equipped counterparts do. HP says the Envy X2 should get around 15 hours of battery life. Acer, meanwhile claims that its Swift 7 should offer about 10 hours of battery life.

That’s a full day in the office, sure, but it’s a far cry from the the battery life the Qualcomm models are promising.

We don’t know how consumers will be expected to pay for the laptops’ cellular service, but we do have some information on pricing for the laptops themselves. Acer says its Swift 7 should be available this spring for $1,700, which slots into the higher-end of the laptop pricing spectrum, even brushing up against the likes of the 13-inch MacBook Pro (sans Touch Bar).

“I would expect that the Intel-based models would be considerably more expensive than the Qualcomm-based models,” Rhoda Alexander, director of tablets and PCs at IHS Markit, a research firm, says.

Always-Connected, Qualcomm Edition

Big questions also remain with the always-connected PCs running on Qualcomm chips. Companies such as HP (which is planning laptops on both processor platforms), Asus, and Lenovo have announced Snapdragon-based always-connected computers. These laptop makers haven't said how much the cellular connection will cost for these machines, either. And there has been no announcements about what cellular networks the machines will work with.

The most important unknown for both types of computer is how these new laptops will perform.

Rich Fisco, one of the lead testers at Consumer Reports, who oversees both smartphone and laptop programs, says that consumers will probably be faced with a tradeoff. “The challenge is that more performance usually needs more power draw and results in less battery life,” he says. “I’d speculate that the new Qualcomm CPU-based laptops will be great in battery life, probably better than the longest battery life of an Intel CPU,” but that the Intel laptops will perform better.

But, he says, “We’ll have to test all this to see how they really perform for speed and battery life.”

And, from there, the right balance will depend on personal choice. “If you’re a consumer who likes to look at video, who likes to read books, who likes to do whatever while you’re on the road—web browsing, etc.—the Qualcomm models could be a really good solution for that,” IHS's Alexander says.