The Samsung Galaxy Book2 is prologue. The latest LTE-enabled laptop, which promises 20-plus hours of battery life running full Windows applications on its Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 processor, combines an “it’s always ready” smartphone feeling with the “it can do anything” ability of real Windows. That is if the wireless carriers let this innovation happen.
Next year we’ll start seeing 5G networks from all four nationwide US carriers—and the first 5G-enabled laptops for those networks, probably. So I asked Don McGuire, Qualcomm’s VP of global product marketing, Microsoft’s VP of device sales Carlos de Torres, and Samsung SVP Alanna Cotton how the Galaxy Book2 presages the kinds of machines we’ll use in the 5G world.
Start with the Galaxy Book2’s always-connected nature, and work out from there. Cotton points out “it’s going to a more connected world, where people can do whatever they want from whenever they want.” A 4G laptop gets you to being able to send, receive, and browse anywhere at any time. 5G may put more parts of your computer itself into the cloud.
What Will 5G Laptops Look Like?
The Galaxy Book2 is slim and light, with long battery life and quick wake times. That’s a start. But I think it’s only the beginning of the upcoming 5G laptop transformation.
5G networks aren’t just a faster form of cellular networking. They’re much lower latency, meaning they feel radically more responsive, and they have much greater capacity, meaning data caps and throttling may be a thing of the past. Ideally, 5G also requires zero user configuration after initial setup. This means you don’t need to worry about devices being paired over Bluetooth or connected to the same Wi-Fi network, for instance, and that cloud data will feel very much like local data.
On his Book2 screen (of course) Torres sketched out a picture of the “intelligent edge”—basically, different devices you own being able to interact and exchange data effortlessly using 5G connections. With very low latency, remote storage will feel like local storage, and wireless devices will feel like wired peripherals.
That’s going to affect laptop design. It takes us back to a very old idea of thin clients, where a lot of processing gets done off-device, and input and output become the priorities in device design: displays, speakers, keyboards. Unlike the old thin-client terminals, though, endless battery life and maximum wireless reception also become priorities. Laptops may also prioritize CPU over GPU as more games become streamed or partially rendered in the cloud.
This is subtly different from the browser-based Chromebook model, because it’s not necessarily about moving the application to the cloud as much as moving the data there. But yeah, sure, Chromebooks and Windows laptops are converging here.
You can see these priorities shifting, already, in the Galaxy Book2. The laptop has 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. That’s not a lot. But it has that Super AMOLED screen, and it comes with its keyboard and pen where the Microsoft Surface charges extra for those accessories.
Where would Samsung put its money if it didn’t have to invest in storage? Screens, it sounds like. The Galaxy Book2’s $ 999 price is unusually low for a laptop with a punchy Super AMOLED screen, something Cotton just chalked up to the natural reductions in price you see as technologies get more popular. Somewhere within Samsung, somebody made the decision to not spend money on things that could be offloaded to the cloud, and to give you input and output tools instead.
“The screen is what consumers are telling us they need more of, a big purchase driver,” Cotton said.
The Problem Is the Carriers (as Usual)
The Galaxy Book2 launch was missing one thing: wireless carriers. The laptop will be sold by AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, none of which were present at the launch.
They’re the gatekeepers to the cloud we need for the always-connected laptop dream to happen, and they seem determined to make connecting to that cloud difficult, awkward, and expensive.
The technology is there to make always-connected laptops much easier to use. The carriers just don’t seem to want that to happen. The Book2 has an embedded eSIM, which could be switched between carriers using an app. Microsoft has software to let people sign up for data plans on the fly. In Europe and Brazil, McGuire and Torres said, you can sign up for “snackable” data packages of whatever you need, when you need it.
That won’t be the case here. Galaxy Book2 units in the US will only work with physical SIMs provided by AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, on traditional service plans. The assembled execs tried not to disparage their carrier partners, but expressed hope that Apple’s move to eSIMs in the iPhone XS Max will loosen the regime up a bit.
“We would not have gotten this far without direct engagement with our telecom partners,” Cotton said. “From a US perspective, being able to have channel engagement with partners is so important. We can’t separate the device from connectivity.”
Existing connected-device service plans aren’t terribly visionary. On Verizon, for example, the rates are relatively high and data buckets low for always-connected use: 4GB for $ 40 or 6GB for $ 50, for instance.
For what it’s worth, BayStreet Research founder Cliff Maldonado told me he doesn’t think carriers are trying to sandbag connected laptops on purpose. They are likely still finalizing their 5G pricing plans, as well as billing and sales systems, to offer the kinds of on-demand plans that laptop users will want, he said.
I’m going to use the Galaxy Book2 as my secondary laptop for a while, and see if my world changes if I don’t need to worry about plugging in or attaching to Wi-Fi. Qualcomm, Microsoft, and Samsung have teed something up; now let’s see if our carriers can let us take a good swing at this ball.