The Road to UMPC Perfection Pt. 1 1/21/2021

Can a tiny laptop make a usable daily driver?

A bit of UMPC History

If you were exposed to computing in the 2000's you were probably aware of the 'netbook' craze. Cheap but tiny computers that brought real portability into the somewhat clunky laptop market. You may not have been exposed to the 'UMPC' craze which started around the same time, but catered to a more premium market with better specced (but still low power chips) and in some cases quite a bit more inventive form factors.

A return to form

In 2016, after a long absence of any type of market, these style of machines started to make a comeback, led by a Chinese company called GPD previously known for making android gamepads with an emulator focus.

I backed the kickstarter for their first 'business' umpc in this form factor called the GPD Pocket. It was a nice looking but fairly vertically tall machined aluminum tiny laptop with a cramped and barely usable keyboard and a woefully underpowered processor.

Thanks to some excellent work by Hans de Goede, the bizarre atom Z8XXX processor choice was eventually able to run linux reasonably well, but I had some niggling issues:

The atom based CPU was woefully underpowered even at the time it was released, leaving performance, especially with its integrated intel 615 rather lacking for even basic tasks.

The keyboard, while understandably cramped for the size, had some questionable layout choices (notably the a key being jammed in to a 2 key pod) that made touch typing even for a patient fan of UMPCs like myself virtually impossible. This was compounded by my particular unit shipping with a defective keyboard. An email to china, a brief wait, and about 200 tiny screws later this problem was resolved, but it rankled that I had to take the entire unit part to resolve such a basic issue as keypresses registering uniformly across the keyboard.

Further the actual display was from a tablet, which resulted in requiring a 90deg rotation in all graphics modes in order to operate the machine 'normally'. (The bios was always 'sideways' which was fun)

Issues aside, I loved the form factor and the idea of a machine that I could just throw into a bag (or charitably a back jeans pocket if i didn't mind the look) and take it for a stroll, and thus my obsession with tiny laptops was rekindled.