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The GPD Pocket 2 Was Announced And I'm Not Amused

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Last week, GPD released a sneak peak at the GPD Pocket 2. I own the original Pocket and love it for what it is: the most compact general purpose computer I know. But I’m not blind to its shortcomings: inconsistent key response and an unorthodox keyboard layout, as well as various performance issues1.

Of course I was keen to see what GPD had in store for the next generation of my favorite ultraportable.

Oh my. Here’s Patrick Steward miming my reaction: Picard Facepalm

What’s Changing?

This thread on Reddit has a lot of info and discussion (and an invite to a Discord channel with even more discussion), but here’s a quick overview of the changes:

Pocket and Pocket 2 Pocket 2 Side Views Images courtesy of liliputing.com

On the positive side we are getting a Micro SD slot, an additional USB-A port, active touch pen support and a faster processor. We also get the ability to turn off the onboard fan - noiseless operation in exchange for lower performance. Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that we get to keep the 3.5mm audio jack2.

On the meh, whatever side, we are getting media keys that look like a Touch Bar rip-off (but apparently are physical keys), we lose the Micro-HDMI port (never used it, personally) and we get a somewhat slimmer profile.

On the I can’t believe this, this is so dumb, facepalm side, we lose the nub, we get no upgrades to internal storage, and we get a lower-specced 4GB RAM option that nobody should ever be buying in 2018. In exchange for losing the nub, we get what looks to be the most promising keyboard I have ever seen in a UMPC - oh wait, that’s the Gemini PDA - the Pocket 2 gets a keyboard that looks like it was designed by someone who doesn’t type.

We’re also losing first-party Linux support. This is not as big a deal as it may seem - GPD’s Linux support on the original was half-hearted and ended up moving to the community. I’m still sad to see it go though - too few laptops are available with Linux out of the box.

Will I be getting one?

Probably not.

There are some attractive changes (faster SoC, Micro SD support and the ability to turn off the fan are the big ones for me), but losing the nub is a disaster, leaving the Pocket 2 without a built-in pointing device. Even Windows, which has made big strides in becoming touch-friendly, sometimes needs a precision pointing device (espcially when scaled to such a small screen), and the situation on Linux is worse. What’s more, even assuming everything could be done via touch, lifting my hands from the keyboard is often inefficient and annoying (the same is true for using an external mouse or touch pen, and they are additional peripherals that need to be carried).

Speaking of the keyboard, it boggles my mind that GPD devised a layout even more unorthodox than the original Pocket - just look at the TAB key’s location! The space bar is smaller than before, and the arrow keys look difficult to distinguish by touch - look forward to hitting ‘>’ or ‘<’ instead of UP. Finally, the dedicated media keys waste precious space. All those keys add valuable functionality, but should have been secondary functions on existing keys (as they were on the original). To add insult to injury, that function area takes up more space than a nub and mouse buttons would.

I would love the performance upgrade over my current Pocket, but the only way I can see myself backing this (barring a redesigned top case) would be if it’s cheap enough to get as a Windows machine for playing around. I’m a *nix person at heart (I use Linux and macOS - the latter mostly at work) and have not used Windows in a long time, but recent developments (mostly WSL) and my re-awakened interest in gaming have left me open to giving Windows 10 a shot. However, speculation is that the Pocket will be more expensive than its predecessor, so I’ll probably just sit this one out.

  1. Occasional lockups under heavy loads (where “heavy” can mean running a benchmark or playing a 3D game, but might just mean having a few Chrome tabs running a shit-ton of JavaScript), occasional screen tearing, long-ish application launch times, the fan spinning up quite audibly under even a light load etc. ↩︎

  2. It saddens me that we live in a time where a company including an industry-standard port in a new product even rates an honorable mention. ↩︎