GPD Pocket 2 – an in depth, hands on review

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If you have been in the computing space for a while you may remember the days of the UMPC or netbook. I fondly remember my 8.9 inch screen Acer Aspire one netbook, marvelling at the fact that you could get a functional computer with around 3 hours battery life inside such a small package. Since then I have have bought the Acer Switch 10 as well as the Dell Venue Pro 8 in my search for a decent ultra portable machine but have always been underwhelmed by their lack of power, the tablet/keyboard combination of the Dell also made working with the device on my lap difficult.

The GPD Pocket 2 alongside my old Acer Aspire Switch 10 and Dell Venue Pro 8 with foldling keyboard.

Fast forward a few years to GPD and the Pocket 2. GPD has been on the ultraportable scene for a while now, they first entered the market with their crowd funded Android devices. Following that success they branched out into gaming Windows devices with the GPD Win and the more conventional laptop form factor with the Pocket.

The GPD Pocket 1 was an immediate hit and broke the $3 million mark on Indiegogo, however it was not without its limitations. The slow processor meant that it was not great for anything more than low power work was out. Still this laptop covered the basics well and things like word documents and internet browsing were no problem. The popularity of the device led GPD to release a sequel, the GPD Pocket 2.

The GPD Pocket 2 came in a well protected and premium feeling box, it almost felt a bit Apple-ish; this is not the last comparison with the fruit company. Everything was there and the correct plug was included for my country – the UK.

GPD Pocket 2 Box and Plug
The Pocket 2 arrived in a very sturdy and premium feeling box.

External Design

The first thing you will notice when you compare the Pocket 2 to the original is that the external casing has changed, GPD have added a taper towards the outside of the device, similar to those of the Macbook lineup; this gives the new machine the illusion of being thinner than it is. While the laptop at its thickest point is almost identical in thickness to the Pocket 1 the tapered edges also serve to make it more ergonomic and easier to slide into a bag or case and are a welcome change.

GPD Pocket 2 Unboxed

The build quality is absolutely phenomenal, there is no flex at all and it feels solid. The tolerances are all immaculate with no gaps anywhere and the aluminium chassis really gives it a premium feel.

The GPD Pocket 2 is actually smaller than just the graphics card of this gaming rig.

The lid has a very secure closing mechanism and there is no chance of it accidentally opening while in your pocket, on the contrary this mechanism together with the diminutive size of the device can actually make it a bit difficult to open and it is a two handed process. I think that a small cut out notch like on many other laptops would help tremendously.

A notch like on my Macbook Pro would really help being able to easily open the GPD Pocket 2.
There is a small lip which helps getting it open but it is a two handed process.

The other immediately observable change is that the keyboard layout has changed substantially. The keyboard has been expanded to fill every inch of the small chassis, I found this made typing pretty easy although the slightly non-standard layout meant that it took me a few days to get used to. I got this laptop on Saturday morning and by the end of the weekend I was typing fairly frustration free. It is not going to be as fast as a full size keyboard but the most commonly used keys are, for the most part, where you expect them to be and are thankfully full size. What I did find however was that when I went back to work on the Monday I was making a few more mistakes than usual on my full size keyboard! Specifically the ‘A’ key is slightly larger than usual leading me to repeatedly hit the Caps Lock key on my full size keyboard. But within 30 minutes of typing I was back to feeling comfortable.

The keyboard is one of the major differenciators when comparing this laptop to others in the same niche such as the One Mix Yoga 2 and I was able to happily bash out this review on my morning train commute without any frustrations.

That I can use this laptop practically anywhere has made me far more productive. I travel about 30 minutes on the train each way every day and usually spend the time listening to podcasts, however this tiny form factor is ideal for working in the small train seats and the speedy boot up time means that I am far more likely to take this laptop along and work on personal projects during the commute. I also have a touchbar Macbook Pro but found that taking along a work laptop and personal laptop was just far too heavy and soon stopped, the lightness and ease of packing of this little machine has meant that it has quickly become my go to portable machine, even though my Macbook about 3x cost.

I also recently took it with on my trip to South Africa from the UK and was able to comfortably use it on the folding air plane tray table even with the person in front of me having their seat fully reclined. It turns out being stuck in a seat for 12 hours in economy class is actually pretty good for my productivity.

Optical sensor

It’s not all roses though, the stellar keyboard layout has come at a cost. Where as the original Pocket and the One Mix Yoga series have a trackpoint or optical sensor nestled in a familiar place between the keys; GPD opted to go for a more unconventional position for the touchpad and placed it in the upper right hand corner.

Having it here creates a few problems, first of all it is far from the keys which means that it really interrupts your flow if you need to use it. After having the device for a while I found that I was naturally using the arrow keys and other keyboard shortcuts as much as I could to navigate around as I found it to be much faster than taking my hands off the keyboard to use the optical sensor.

The sensor itself is actually very accurate and I have no qualms selecting things with it. One thing that I do wish had made it across was the ability to tap to click.

If you look at reviews of pre-production units you will see that people are able to single and double tap the sensor to interact with things. However in the production units this feature has been removed, you can still click the sensor but you have to fully press it in like a button until it clicks. As someone who is a tapper instead of a clicker I found this to be a bit slower and noisier.

All the buttons in the top row are also fairly noisy, the bar is actually just a series of buttons with a strip of thin black plastic covering them. So far, besides the noise, it is holding up well but it does not have the nice soft clickly feeling of the keyboard keys which is a shame. The buttons require much more force to press which can make clicking slow. The left and right buttons are also located on the left hand top corner, on the opposite side to the optical touch sensor. The idea is that you hold this in your hands similar to the GPD Win series and can then navigate and click fairly easily, but in practise I never found myself using it as a handheld. After all what is the point of such a good keyboard if you are going to be thumb typing on it. That being said thumb typing is possible, I would say manageable but not what I would call comfortable and I definitely would not use thumb typing to hammer out more than a few short sentences.

If you have been following GPD you will know that they were originally not going to include an optical sensor at all and instead rely solely on the touch screen to select things. I am super glad that they did not go down this route, navigating a full Windows 10 OS (or Linux distro) on a 7 inch screen using only touch is something that I would not wish upon my worst enemy and the inclusion of the optical sensor above the keyboard, while slightly inconvenient make the machine usable.

One last thing to note about the optical sensor is that there is obviously no scroll button, this is actually not as big a deal as I thought it would be and there are a number of ways around this. The one that I usually resort to is just using my finger on the touch screen to scroll, the distance between the optical sensor and actually touching your finger to the screen is not more than a couple of centimetres and I found that to be the easiest way to navigate around web pages. Other options are binding the scroll button to a seldom used key (I use NeatMouse for this which is free and pretty easy to configure) or if you prefer you can always click and drag using the touch sensor and mouse button or use the arrow keys.

Port selection

The port selection on this little guy is better than expected, two full size USB A ports, one on either side of the machine as well as a multipurpose USB C port that is used to power the device as well as to drive any external displays. I found myself wishing that it had an additional USB C port instead of one of the USB A’s as you will need an adaptor to be able to power the machine and output to an external monitor simultaneously. Both of the USB A ports are USB 3.0 which is nice.

Rounding out the other ports there is a recessed microSD card reader that I use to supplement the on board 128GB of eMMC storage. The card reader is very deep and you will need a pen/toothpick or other thin object in order to get the card to ‘click’ into place. Overall the storage is not great and is far slower than competitors like the OneMix Yoga 2S. It would be more accurate to think of it as mobile phone storage, not as fast or as durable as true solid state storage but cheaper to manufacture. Time will tell how it holds up but so far there have been no issues. With only 128GB of eMMC it does not feel like this machine was designed to be handling large large files.

Another thing that is important to know is that the microSD card speed is limited by the controller and you are unlikely to get much better speeds than the on board eMMC even if you fork out for a blazingly fast microSD card.

Noise

Being an actively cooled laptop the fan can kick in pretty frequently, not only is it frequent but it is far louder than you would expect coming from a unit of such small size. It is definitely loud enough to have someone in a quiet library look over at you inquisitively as your laptop tries to hover off the desk. Thankfully the GPD Pocket 2 has a trick up its sleeve, it makes use of an m3 – 8100Y processor, these chipsets are designed to have robust thermal management systems and can safely throttle themselves when they start to overheat which makes them ideal for passively cooled tablets.

Because the Pocket 2 utilises this chip they can safely include a button to disable the fan. You might begin to be throttled once the internal temperature starts increasing but for most low power tasks such as essay writing, you would be hard pressed to tell notice the difference. I predominately use this laptop for emails or writing on the go or using web based applications and find myself keeping the fan disabled more often than enabled. I also measured my average temperature while performing normal tasks with the fan disabled and found my processor temperature to sit in the 60-70 degree range. This is well below the maximum operating temperature for the m3 – 8100Y which is documented as 100 degrees Celsius.

An exception would of course be if you are playing games, while I do not keep many games on this machine due to the limited storage space I do use an indoor cycling simulation program called Zwift where there is a noticeable difference between the different modes. To be fair Zwift also triggers my Macbook Pro fan to turn on at full speed and is clearly a resource hog.

There is a dedicated fan toggle button for when you want absolute quietness.

Besides the fan noise the biggest issue for me has been the top row of buttons, unlike the keyboard keys which have a muted sound when pressed, the top row of buttons emit a loud and sharp clicking sound when pressed, its loud enough to make me self concious about clicking too much when in a quiet environment like the library. To get around this I use NeatMouse to map the Chinese symbol key to act as the left mouse button which lets me use a much quieter keyboard key to left click. Speaking of this fairly strange key you should be aware that in English language versions it has the same key command mapping as the tilde key to the right of CAPSLOCK. This means that if you map anything to this key it is triggered by pressing either of these keys. It is possible to get the keys to pick up as different keys but this involves updating the bios on your unit. I have not done this yet but depending on your situation it may be worth the effort to get an extra key.

Performance

Performance wise, this is a little powerhouse. I found that 8GB of RAM was more than adequate for most day to day tasks and generally hovered around the 4-5 GB RAM usage for most of the time. The only time that I felt the smallest bit of lag was when I was running a virtual machine with Ubuntu Mate from an SD Card. I had dedicated around half the memory to the VM instance and it is definitely usable but slightly slower than the native Windows OS. I think that the combination of less RAM and the slow external storage transfer speeds are to blame. The lag in my VM is probably less than a 1/5 of a second so definitely usable and I have not felt the need to try and dual boot. The fact that I can spin up a virtual machine on a device that fits in my pocket is amazing.

For all other tasks this machine was zippy and I would not be able to tell the difference between this and my desktop machine.


Battery Life

Battery life on this little unit is astounding, there are two versions. I have the more powerful m3-8100Y version which should, understandably, have a shorter battery life than the more juice sipping Amber Black version. But even with the more powerful processor I found that in eco mode with the fan off and a low screen brightness (which is actually still quite bright – see the section on the display) I can eek out over 9 hours of battery life. Admittedly that is just doing the bare basics like writing but still that is all day battery life from a full Windows machine that is small enough to fit in my jacket pocket, which I find incredible. I was expecting something in the 4-5 hour range and this has blown it away.

With very light use like using OneNote and occasional web browsing I can get close to 9 hours.

Now if you are going to be doing something more intensive than typing up some documents then the battery life is going to drop off fairly quickly. While playing games I found that I was getting a battery life closer to the 2 hour mark.

Recharge speed is pretty good from the included charger. Even when the machine is running at max capacity the processor only consumes around 6-8W, and it could recharge from the included USB C while under load.

USB C charging of course means that I can use the same charger to charge my phone and this little computer when on the go, though I did find that it took somewhat longer to charge from my phone charger. Or you can just carry around a small USB C cable and rely on pretty much every household to have at least one USB A charger. In fact at the moment I always carry a small 3 in 1 keychain cable with me which allows me to charge my laptop and phone (USB C), Bluetooth headphones (Micro USB) as well as my girlfriends iPhone (Lightning Cable). I also often carry around an external battery pack if I think that I will be out for the whole day, I am using a Mobie 16 000mAH which was pretty cheap from Amazon and is able to more than double the battery life when out on the road.

Display

The display is good, the sharpness and resolution is excellent and everything looks crisp. I did need to increase the font size to 125% to make things more easily readable on such a small screen but this is due to my eyes rather than the quality of the screen. The screen is of course touch sensitive which makes scrolling and navigating web pages easy.

I have read a few reports of there being an issue with accuracy on with some units and am happy to say that the accuracy on my unit is spot on, I can easily tap on and of the window buttons to minimise or close an application and when testing drawing with a capacitive stylus in paint it was as accurate as you can expect from a screen that does not support an active digitiser. The screen supports multi touch but is not pressure sensitive, if you are a budding artist and think that you will be wanting to draw on this device then you are far better off looking at the OneMix Yoga 2S which supports an active digitiser and more importantly allows the screen to fold all the way back and turn the device into a tablet form factor.

The Pocket screen opens to about 180 degrees which is enough for use in a laptop form factor or if you are going to be using the device open like a Nintendo DS, but will not let you fold the screen all the way back. The way that the screen folds open is also an interesting design, when it opens the hinge actually drops down further than the keyboard, this makes sure that the base of the machine is elevated off the desk or whatever surface you are placing it on which is great for air flow, but a consequence of that is that it can be a little hard to push the start button or select items with your finger from the touch bar at the bottom of the screen.

Excuse the dusty table.

One thing that could definitely be improved are the bezels, they are absolutely huge, especially for a device with such a small screen. There is no webcam which I find fine but really do not understand why they would need to use a display with such wide bezels if they do not need to house a camera or any other electronics. Hopefully future versions will either include a camera or decrease the bezels which would bring the screen size closer to 8 inches while maintaining the same footprint. But even with only a 7 inch screen I was surprise at how usable the device was. Not just usable but comfortably usable. It’s only when you go back to a regular laptop and the screen suddenly seems enormous that you realise that you have become accustomed to working on a tiny screen.

The screen lid snaps closed fairly forcefully, the first time it happened it closed with such force that I thought it might actually have caused some damage to the screen. I soon got used to slowly closing the device manually rather than letting it snap closed and though I have noticed some marks from the keyboard on my screen, they have all come off. Still, if you are worried about this leaving a permanent marks long term I would strongly recommend investing in a screen protector, there are a number of ones available and even a few privacy screens. I found a tempered glass one that fits well without degrading the image quality. I’ve done a short unboxing and review of the screen protector I am using here.

The machine also goes into sleep mode when the screen is closed which makes it really easy to pack up and go. I did notice that if the fan was disabled when the machine when to sleep then the fan mode button light would remain on which I thought a little weird but not really an issue. If it bothers you just press the fan mode button before closing the lid. If you shut the device down fully then the light turns off automatically.

Accessories

I have had the GPD Pocket 2 for a while now and it has constantly been surprising me with what it can do. But if you are planning on using it as a workstation then there are few accessories that you should pick up.

The GPD Pocket 2 makes a decent work station provided that your demands aren’t too high.

Bluetooth Mouse and Keyboard

While the Pocket 2’s keyboard is not terrible by any means it’s not as comfortable as a full sized keyboard. I am using the Microsoft Folding keyboard just because I had it lying around but any decent fullsize bluetooth keyboard will probably be an improvement over the slightly cramped Pocket 2’s.

I do light CAD work on the Pocket 2 and a dedicated mouse is almost mandatory for this. Yes you can get away with some small edits using the optical nub and the touch screen but having a mouse with a dedicated middle button reduced my stress levels immensely.

USB C Multiport

Unfortunately my official Apple USB C Multiport adapter did not work with this device so I had to pick up another one. I went with one called iKling off Amazon and have been really happy with it. It allows pass through charging, HDMI, SD and MicroSD as well as adding an a couple more USB A ports.

GPD Pocket 2 USB C Multiport adapter
I’ve had no issues with this no name brand multiport adaptor and it seems to be pretty solid.

Having just the one USB C port that connects all the other peripherals makes it super easy to just grab the Pocket 2 and head out the door.

Ah lovely USB C – what took you so long.

The GPD Pocket 2 has more than enough power to drive an external display and for work everything was just as snappy as on the smaller 7 inch screen.

Conclusion

If you can’t tell by now I absolutely love this little machine, while it is not the cheapest it has effectively replaced my Macbook Pro as my travelling machine. Connect to a bluetooth mouse and an external monitor and it transforms into a powerful work station, however the lack of on board storage and the fact that it is using eMMC means that I would recommend this as a secondary machine.

Performance wise it is zippy and has handled pretty much everything I have thrown at it, from simple blog posting to running Ubuntu within a virtual machine. Coming from a long line of under powered (think 2GB Atom machines) I have been blown away by how capable and quick this thing is. Boot up time from sleep is close to instantaneous and even a cold start only took around 15 seconds to get to the desktop, I cannot stress how much of a difference this makes. Being able to pull out the device and be ready to work in under 20 seconds has encouraged me to use those small bits of time that I would otherwise have wasted throughout the day.

Is the device perfect, no of course not. The display bezels could be smaller, there is no webcam, the optical pointer/mouse buttons are a little bit frustrating and having a proper, full speed, SSD would be great. But this device nails all the really important aspects – all day battery life, a silent mode and being a really fast machine make this one of, if not the best UMPC that you can get on the market at the moment.

Oh and yes it really does live up to its name – it fits quite comfortably in my jacket pocket.

GPD Pocket 2 in jacket pocket