Poll: Would You Use Smart Connect on an Ultrabook?

Posted on 29 June 2012 by

Intel’s ‘Smart Connect‘ function is an optional Ultrabook feature that allows a computer to wake from sleep to connect to a WiFi network and update application data. Intel has been pushing this as a great ability which will help you to “stay current with automatic, no-wait updates to your e-mail, social networks, news, and more”. While that all sounds great, I can’t think of any scenario where it would actually be useful, especially given today’s landscape of applications that run from the cloud anyway. So we’re putting it to the readers, step inside and give us your thoughts on Smart Connect.

Smart Connect works by waking the computer up on a configurable time. Anywhere from a 5 minute to 60 minute interval can be set, the former of course using more battery life than the latter.

One of the biggest flaws with Smart Connect seems to be that it obviously requires a WiFi hotspot to use. Intel specifies in their Smart Connect documentation the following, “Your computer does not update until it recognizes a known Wi-Fi network.” This means that unless you’ve already connected to the network, Smart Connect won’t be able to use it. So on a walk between home and work you won’t get any updates on the way unless you happen to pass by a WiFi network that you’ve previously connected too and you are there long enough for your computer to wake up, connect to the network, and download the data. Even on a 5 minute update interval, I imagine the changes of all of these things happening simultaneously is beyond unlikely — and we’re talking about walking; if you drive to work it’s doubtful that Smart Connect would ever function correctly.

The only way I see Smart Connect even working correctly to update data is once you happen to get to work and you have it set to a 5 minute interval. Then if it takes you a good 15 minutes to get to your desk to get your computer out, it might have connected an updated. Even on a 5 minute interval, the chances of the data actually being fresh are very slim indeed. Even if it updated 2 minutes ago, that won’t be useful because you’ll do a refresh for the very latest anyway. This is assuming you even take a computer to and from work!

All of this is even before we consider the fact that so many of us these days are using applications that exist on the web and don’t need to pull down any data because they exist in the browser. My work is completely in the cloud personally. As I write this, I have one native application open — Spotify — and it has no reason to update itself while my Ultrabook is asleep anyway. The services I use on a daily basis: Facebook, YouTube, Google Reader, WordPress, Google Plus, Twitter — all are in the cloud and would get no benefit from Smart Connect.

For someone using Outlook or some native app for checking social networks I suppose Smart Connect might actually ‘work’, but as I said, it takes just a few seconds to update your data when you actually turn your computer on anyway. I have a very hard time believing that the battery loss from 5 minute interval wake ups would be worth saving a few seconds on something that’s going to refresh as soon as you use it anyway.

All of these points paint a poor picture for practical Smart Connect usage. I suppose this was Intel’s attempt at making Ultrabooks more like always-on devices, but the reality is that they are not, and Smart Connect isn’t a practical remedy.

Metro Apps and Windows 8

The future may hold something different, however. With Windows 8 Metro apps from the Windows Store, it’s quite possible that many people will be moving from cloud-based apps to native apps for compatibility with touch. This would mean more applications that could take advantage of Smart Connect. Still the issue of needing a WiFi network to connect to in order to make use of Smart Connect is hampering. There’s something to be said about having your device freshly updated when you wake up in the morning, but given the impressively low idle power from Ultrabook platforms, it seems that leaving the device on would be a more sensible solution.

Smart Connect might be useful if it could work with mobile data connections like 3G or 4G, but currently it doesn’t seem to support such functionality.

For the readers, please drop us a line in the comments and vote in the poll below. Given the limitations, are there any scenarios where you could see Smart Connect being useful to your workflow or daily routine?

[poll id=”5″]

  • Tsuki

    I don’t think SmartConnect will ever be useful.

    “Always connected” is really only needed if you intend to respond quickly to new stuff.

    For example, its useful in my phone. When I get a Facebook update/text/new mail/etc, it alerts me that something happened so I can pull out the device and act on it if I want.

    Even if an ultrabook fetches a new Facebook message or something, I’m not going to see what it is right away. I will wait until the next time I use my computer. Having everything freshly updated isn’t really important either, updating is practically instantaneous.

  • Chippy

    I see it being immediately useful in the ‘waking up’ scenario.
    Open the Ultrabook at the breakfast table or even on the train/bus to work and the latest news, weather, emails etc are already there. It becomes more important with Metro-style apps on Windows 8.
    I don’t see many manufacturers offering it in the future though as it seems like just a stop-gap until Mid 2013 when Haswell can effectively do very low power always-on and with tight designs, the next generation of Ultrabooks will be approved for AOAC/connected standby (a smartphone-like screen off state)

    • James

      Well, like Intel itself points out it can also be used to let your computer send updates to the cloud if you created items while away from a network connection.

      Like if you’re a blogger and wrote something up on the plane trip back home but didn’t have access to a network before getting home then it saves you the trouble of doing the update yourself once you are home.

      While alternatively, you can let the automatic sync work while mobile and say using your phone to send the update. So you can focus on more important things like driving ;-P

      So could benefit those who create content instead of just consuming content and that’s something that could help it stand out from say a Smart Phone.

  • BigBrosMo

    I see it being useful when you’re traveling in and out of service areas. ie. if you’re going through the mountains where there is an intermittent connection but your destination is a dead zone at least you’ll be somewhat up to date.

  • Hoss

    Doesn’t seem as useful on a notebook as it is on a smartphone. Even on a small tablet, I don’t really see always-on technology to be that useful beyond having instant resume.

    I’d rather Intel put that effort into other things like speeding up resume times and WiFi reconnects. Maybe lower power consumption during sleep since I’d rather have longer battery life during sleep than have it drain faster because of this Smart Connect feature.

  • mik

    I don’t really see having my notebook in a connected sleep state to be useful. If technology can give me longer battery life in this state then I’d choose to go for the non-connected sleep state since the battery life with that should be longer.

  • MP

    Not interested. My smartphone will take care of all of that…

  • dennis

    Only seems useful to bloggers or social network addicts.

    • James

      Bloggers, writers, business users sending reports or whatever, people who may not use there computer for weeks at a time and would thus not need to worry about keeping it up to date, social network addicts, any data created offline can be synced without having to remember to do so, sync can also involve multiple devices…

      Basically, it may not be that useful but there are uses for it… Even if you rarely use it it can still be a nice to still have it feature.

      • aston

        Just leave it on and plugged in. You can have auto-syncing built into the software you’re using. If you’re not using it for weeks at a time, then the battery will die anyway in this sleep mode. Yeah, it’s nice to have but I’m not sure it’s worth it for Intel put effort into.

      • James

        Well, mind part of the idea is not to need to fully turn on everything just to update. System doesn’t use as much power with the screen off for example and the suspend mode of these newer systems are suppose to be energy efficient to give us and the feature does turn itself off if the power gets too low.

        While if you’re going to leave it for a long time then usually people would just leave it plugged. Though it’s not like anyone can just remove these batteries on most of these Ultrabooks.

        So we have to wonder about the long term usage scenarios like whether to leave it plugged or not when not in use anyway.

      • jason

        This: intel.com/p/en_US/support/highlights/sftwr-prod/smrt_cnct doesn’t mention anything about the screen not turning on unless you’re using a notebook with it’s lid closed.

        It sounds like Intel is just periodically waking up your PC from sleep. The only fancy thing I see is that the intervals get longer or waking completely stops if the battery is too low or the PC is too hot.

  • gus

    Smartphones already do most of those email, quick news, weather, etc. stuff. I’d think this would only be useful for syncing more complicated data. Although, I’m not sure I’d want my battery depleted by syncing all that data (possibly abruptly cutting my upload/download). If I’m tethering my phone, I may accidently go over my data limit too.
    I just don’t really see Smart Connect being used much. At least, not enough for Intel to put resources into.

  • munster

    Seems like a wasted effort by Intel unless they’re just porting what they’re doing with smartphones to desktops/notebooks with minimal effort. Oh well, it’s not like Intel is strapped for cash anyway.

  • jason

    From what I read, Smart Connect just wakes up your PC at set intervals and goes through the following steps:
    1. Wake up PC.
    2. Check for any known networks to connect to.
    3. If no network then go back to sleep until the next interval.
    4. If there is a known network then connect.
    5. Have you’re auto-updating software update and then go back to sleep until the next interval.

    I’m not sure how long Intel waits before going back to sleep. Maybe it’s settable. Intel doesn’t have any control on what gets updated once the PC connects to the internet. You just have to make sure the settings in whatever software you’re using starts downloading/uploading as soon as you connect.

    This whole thing kind of sounds similar to Window’s Task Scheduler.

  • Shawn

    I really like the idea. I have been hoping they would come up with a technology like this and they finally have. I had it on my Asus Zenbook UX31E and loved it, but now I got the UX31A and I no longer see it…

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