Recently, a company called Emperion teased a new "phone" coming dubbed the "Nebulus." What makes it interesting is the device running Windows 10 on ARM instead of the now-defunct Windows 10 Mobile. The company also promises the ability to run Android apps, making it sound like a killer option for early adopters. Here's why, though, I'm skeptical, and you should be too.
1. Windows 10 on ARM can't make phone calls
At least as is, Windows 10 does not have the proper telephony abilities that Windows 10 Mobile. In simple terms, that means it's not clear how the Nebulus can be a phone since it can't make phone calls (or send SMS messages).
Emperion says, "they're working with Microsoft," though that could mean anything. The company also liked a tweet that mentioned they would be adding their own telephony abilities. Maybe Emperion has solved this problem, but until we know more, it's one more thing to cause concern.
2. Snapdragon 845 is a weird choice
The Nebulus allegedly runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (original plans suggest the device was Intel-based).
Up until now, Windows 10 on ARM has supported the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, Snapdragon 850 and, and Snapdragon 8cx. The Snapdragon 845 was never supported, nor has there been any devices with Windows 10 released with it to our knowledge. Granted, the Snapdragon 850 is technically just the Snapdragon 845 with higher clock speed, but we're not sure why Emperion would not just say that.
Furthermore, many people have complained about the speed inadequacy of the Snapdragon 8cx. Those people are wrong, of course, but going down a step on a device with likely slower storage and RAM is not going to help with performance. Running full Windows on the Snapdragon 845 (even "overlocked") may not be that satisfying.
3. Android apps – but how?
Emperion claims the "phone" will run Android apps within Windows itself without an emulator. The last part is weird, as that means something like BlueStacks is out of the picture.
Do they mean it runs Android apps via Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL)? If so, it's a bit of a kludge, and it's still technically a form of emulation. It also means that something like the Google Play store is improbable, but instead, users must sideload Android APK files directly.
Assuming all of that happens somehow that it is still likely to be a messy experience.
4. The UI (and company) is a mystery
Emperion claims that the Nebulus runs a custom UI, which, assuming it is true, will likely do little to improve performance.
Again, we don't know what this even means. Some screenshots the company used in mockups looks like a combination of Windows Phone and Windows 10X, which doesn't seem possible.
Then there is Emperion themselves. If you have never heard of them, you're not alone as we haven't either. With under 500 followers on Twitter and a not very handy webpage, we can't say this is a company that yet inspires confidence.
Whatever the Nebulus is, it's undoubtedly a "white label" brand out of China with perhaps some modest changes and Windows 10 on ARM shoehorned on to it. That means don't expect much for the camera or hardware quality.
Emperion has shared some purported specs of the Nebulus, which include:
- 2x 13MP AI Camera + 10.5MP Selfie
- 6.19-inch Cosmos Display
- PureVi Visual Enhancement technology
- 2K upscaling
- 6,000mAh Battery
- 128GB Storage (expandable up to 2TB)
- Front-firing 1CM speakers with Dolby
- Windows 10 Pro + Android in one
- Headphone jack
- Pricing: £549 (~ USD 713)
The Nebulus will also first be released to Europe, Middle East, and Asia.
5. This isn't Windows 10X
Microsoft's Windows 10X was originally conceived of running on a phone. Indeed, the Surface Duo was going to be a Windows 10X device before Microsoft decided sometime in late 2018 to go with Android instead.
Most people know enough about Windows 10X to recognize it'd be advantageous on this type of device. Unfortunately, Windows 10X does not yet support ARM processors, so Emperion has no choice here.
That's regrettable and makes the concept of this device a year or two too early. Running full Windows 10 with Win32 support on a teeny device with a Snapdragon processor is going to be a very different experience than running the more efficient Windows 10X.
Conclusion: Hope springs eternal
If Emperion ships this device, we will review it and give it a fair shake. If there's one site that loves pushing category-defining hardware, it's us. The idea behind Nebulus is very intriguing and the concept of an ARM PC that fits in our pocket has us stoked. But there is a lot of uncertainty too, including the hardware specs, legitimacy of the company, and even this phone's quality.
Fans of Windows Phone have been burned before when mysterious, no-name companies have swooped in to claim they have a killer device. But when operations like Razer and Essential can't even compete with straight-up Android phones, I'm not confident that Emperion can buck that trend.
There's also a lot of handwaving around crucial details, including how the OS works, or if Nebulus can make phone calls and send text messages. What about the keyboard? Battery life? Performance? Support or even a website?
For now, we'll keep an eye on Emperion, but we're not excited yet, and you probably shouldn't be either.