Robo & Kala 2-in-1 Laptop Review: A Windows on ARM computer that finally makes sense

PROS:

  • Beautiful and bright OLED display
  • Handsome design and impressive build quality
  • Great battery life and fast 65W charger
  • Easily accessible and removable SSD storage
  • Unbeatable price point

CONS:

  • No 4G or 5G connectivity
  • Audio output is a bit muffled
  • Keyboard can’t lie at a more ergonomic angle

EDITOR’S QUOTE:

The Robo & Kala 2-in-1 Laptop brings an affordable Windows on ARM experience in a stunning package and with very few compromises.

Windows laptops are a dime a dozen, and those that turn into tablets have also become quite numerous. That includes the laptops that fold over backward, a.k.a. “convertibles,” as well as those that split into two parts or the 2-in-1 laptops. The latter category tries to smash together the productivity of a laptop with the portability of a keyboard-less tablet, but being Windows devices, a lot of them are hampered by hardware considerations, from weight to battery life. Microsoft’s solution was to put Windows on a hardware platform known exactly for its compactness and longevity, but Windows on ARM seemed almost dead on arrival, or at least on life support. Most of the devices that came out from well-known OEMs, including Microsoft, turned out more like duds, so imagine our surprise when a fresh new name blazed into the scene, bearing a new Windows on ARM 2-in-1 laptop that promised to change your perception of this kind of portable productivity machine. Naturally, we couldn’t resist giving the Robo & Kala a test drive to see if it can deliver “New Ways to Inspire.”

Designer: Robo & Kala

Aesthetics

Right off the bat, the Robo & Kala Computer grabs your attention with its handsome design that you might not have come to expect from a lesser-known brand, especially after you hear about its price tag. The anodized aluminum feels solid yet light, giving you confidence whenever you hold it in your hands. Moving away from the common and rather drab silvers and blacks of most tablets, the laptop’s greenish tinge adds a distinct visual character to the device, making sure you’ll remember it as being a one-of-a-kind product.

Robo & Kala 2-in-1 Laptop Review: A Windows on ARM computer that finally makes sense

In many ways, the Robo & Kala is taking aim at the Microsoft Surface Pro 9, which also comes in a Windows on ARM variant. That’s immediately evident when you see the built-in kickstand that has become the hallmark of the Surface Pro line. There are also a few similarities here and there, both in design and hardware, but those are minimal and incidental at best. It’s almost too easy to write it off as a Surface Pro 9 clone, but you’ll definitely be missing out on the key selling points of the device.

The sometimes subtle differences, however, do have significant implications. At only 690g light and 7.3mm thin, the Robo & Kala is quite possibly the thinnest and lightest Windows on ARM 2-in-1 laptop in the market, squarely beating not only the Surface Pro 9 but even the Surface Go 3. The edges of the tablet are slightly curved, unlike the current flat design trend, giving it a more pleasant appearance and softer hold. The bezels around the display are also quite narrow, noticeably more than Microsoft’s flagship. All in all, Robo & Kala’s design and build quality punches above its price point, an unexpected yet very pleasant surprise right off the bat.

Robo & Kala 2-in-1 Laptop Review: A Windows on ARM computer that finally makes sense

Ergonomics

Being light and thin isn’t just a bragging point for Robo & Kala. It means that the device is more comfortable to carry and hold, especially as a tablet. Even with the optional keyboard that brings the total weight to around 1.04kg, the device doesn’t get exceptionally heavy, at least compared to a regular laptop or even the Surface Pro 9 5G with a keyboard (1.19kg). That said, it’s definitely no iPad Air, and the large size will still bear down on your arms if held for long periods of time.

The Robo & Kala Computer has an optional keyboard cover, not unlike the Surface Type Cover, that magnetically attaches to the tablet and connects using those golden pogo contact points, also not unlike the Surface Type Cover. Where the two clearly differ is that Microsoft’s design allows the keyboard to rise just a little bit near the hinge, creating a more ergonomic inclined angle for typing. There’s none of that here, but R&K makes up for it with a rather ingenious feature. When you detach the keyboard, it switches to a Bluetooth connection so you can continue typing using the same keyboard but perhaps in a more comfortable position.

Robo & Kala 2-in-1 Laptop Review: A Windows on ARM computer that finally makes sense

This versatility of design makes 2-in-1 laptops like Robo & Kala truly unique and appealing. It’s a laptop when you need to be productive but a tablet when you want to detach, figuratively and literally. That said, the disadvantage of this kickstand-based design is that you need a lot more space to place the device on when it’s in laptop mode, whether it’s on a table or on your lap. In fact, the Surface Pro and similar 2-in-1 devices have been criticized for being “un-lappable” in this manner, though you can still make do when push comes to shove. Fortunately, the kickstand is steady and rigid, ensuring that the device stays in place no matter how hard you rock that keyboard.

Performance

What sets Robo & Kala apart from the vast majority of Windows 2-in-1 laptops is the hardware that runs inside, particularly the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 silicon, an ARM-based processor that is closer to the ones running on your phone or tablet than the Intel or AMD chips powering most Windows computers. This is pretty much the same “Microsoft SQ3” used on the Surface Pro 9 5G, just without whatever exclusive magic Microsoft and Qualcomm cooked up behind closed doors. This is a powerful processor, closer to benchmark performance to last-gen Intel Core i3 chipsets, and with 16GB of RAM, it would theoretically cover all your computing needs, including some light gaming.

There is a slight catch, however, when it comes to the world of Windows. Windows on ARM has grown up a lot compared to its earliest years, but software compatibility is still a thing. While it’s definitely possible to run “regular” Windows software on this device, it will be running on top of a software layer that affects performance, depending on what type of application it is. Some light games from Steam and image editing apps will do fine, but video editing software will be a hit or miss. That said, Windows 11 has support for running Android and Linux apps, and you might ironically get better performance from some of those apps. In short, while Robo & Kala can handle many tasks without breaking a sweat, some creative applications might not work well or at all on a case-to-case basis.

Robo & Kala 2-in-1 Laptop Review: A Windows on ARM computer that finally makes sense

Robo & Kala comes with a 12.6-inch OLED touchscreen with a resolution of 2560×1600, a more normal widescreen 16:10 aspect ratio compared to the Surface Pro 9’s square-ish and bigger 3:2 LCD screen. Size isn’t the only difference, though, and the Robo & Kala computer surprisingly outdoes its Microsoft counterpart in vividness and brightness. OLEDs, after all, are known for their deep blacks and sharp colors, and although this 2-in-1 laptop doesn’t break through 2K resolution, it still delivers quite a punch. It does cap the refresh rate at 60Hz, which sounds almost outdated in today’s 120Hz world, but it is still decent and smooth, even with some games.

One of the advertised perks of switching from an Intel or AMD to an ARM-based processor like the Snapdragon 8cx or Apple Silicon is battery efficiency and long battery life. As always, manufacturers tend to be a tad too generous about their estimates, but our experience with Robo & Kala almost comes close to the promised 20 hours of uptime. On a single charge, we were able to get through two work days totaling about 17 hours. That’s actually impressive considering it only has a 41.4Wh battery, compared to the Surface Pro 9 5G with its 47.7Wh battery and advertised 19 hours of life, which is actually a lot lower in practice especially when you turn on 5G.

That last bit is actually one of the Robo & Kala Computer’s few big missed opportunities. Its only wireless connection is Wi-Fi 6, at least if you don’t consider Bluetooth 5.2. That means it has no cellular connection, whether 5G or even 4G, so you’ll need to be within an access point’s range to do anything that requires the Internet. That does dampen the device’s portability prospects, though that is also not that different from Wi-Fi-only iPads or most Windows laptops that don’t have built-in cellular modems either.

Robo & Kala 2-in-1 Laptop Review: A Windows on ARM computer that finally makes sense

The overall package that Robo & Kala offers is quite decent and, in some aspects, even downright impressive. The keyboard accessory, although lacking some travel, is usable and, more importantly, backlit. Windows Hello authentication works like a charm. The dual stereo speakers are serviceable but you’d be better off putting on your favorite wireless headphones. The included Smart Pen, which magnetically docks to the right side for charging, is a pleasure to hold and use for scribbling notes or quick doodles. And the easily accessible SSD takes the pain away from one of the most common upgrades you’d want to make on this kind of device. Robo & Kala delivers a well-rounded set of features with very few compromises, which makes its price and value all the more mouth-watering.

Sustainability

Before we get to that point, however, we’ll have to discuss the design elephant in the room. Consumer electronics, given their sheer numbers, have a massive impact on the environment, from the moment they are manufactured to the day they are thrown out. Every little bit that turns the scales toward sustainability helps in the long run. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can say about the Robo & Kala Computer that would be in its favor in this aspect.

Using aluminum instead of plastic for the chassis is good but quite a small factor. Compared to regular laptops, 2-in-1 tablets like these are also more closed off, making repairs harder and more expensive. Given the small size of the company, it might not be surprising that Robo & Kala doesn’t yet have a strong sustainability effort in place. Hopefully, the success of their first product will let them steer the ship in the right direction sooner rather than later.

Robo & Kala 2-in-1 Laptop Review: A Windows on ARM computer that finally makes sense

Value

Although they are far and few in between, Robo & Kala is not the only Windows on ARM game in town. There is, of course, the juggernaut that is the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G, but there are other contenders from major OEMs as well. On the surface, this 2-in-1 computer might not have much going for it, but the narrative quickly changes when you take the current price tag into account. At the current discounted price of $599.99, which includes the device and the detachable keyboard, Robo & Kala easily outmatches the competition, no matter the brand. Even if it goes up to Kickstarter prices, it’s still nearly or more than half of the Surface Pro 9 5G with similar specs.

Of course, it’s not a complete steal at that price, even if you’re getting a quality piece of tech. It is, after all, Windows on ARM, and for all the battery-saving and lightweight benefits, it might come up short when it comes to meeting the needs of some users, especially designers, video content creators, and gamers. At the same time, however, Windows 11 has opened up a lot more possibilities compared to older generations of Windows on ARM, providing access to more software from different platforms that could fill in the gap. The Robo & Kala Computer is definitely a tempting Windows device to have, especially if you find yourself spending more time away from your desk.

Verdict

Although it’s still not popular as Microsoft would like it to be, Windows on ARM has come a long way, especially with Windows 11’s more expansive software compatibility. But more than software considerations, what turns Windows users off more are the options available in the market, particularly their prices. Given how much they might be sacrificing in terms of raw power and app compatibility, it’s almost laughable that they would be expected to pay the same price, sometimes even more, as an Intel or AMD equivalent. Sure, you’ll have a longer battery life, but that might not mean much if you don’t get much use out of the device anyway.

Robo & Kala 2-in-1 Laptop Review: A Windows on ARM computer that finally makes sense

The Robo & Kala 2-in-1 Laptop is a surprising newcomer that came at the right time with the right price. Even though it’s considerably more affordable than its peers, it makes very few compromises that would ruin the overall experience. Its design and build quality are almost unbelievable at its price, and its performance, though not top-notch, is still quite adequate. It’s far from perfect and still has the same software problems that haunt all Windows on ARM devices. But considering what you’re getting for so little, you’d almost be willing to forgive those minor flaws.

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