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What would my ideal portable computer look like?

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After reading my last post, a friend commented:

What would the absolutely ideal GPD Pocket 2 look like, assuming no or minimal constraints?

Interesting question, and it behooves me to respond to questions from one-third of my (estimated) readership.

That said, I think assuming “no or minimal constraints” for GPD’s devices is not realistic - their devices are clearly constrained by a target price well below $1000. So, allow me to take some liberty with the question and answer it in two parts: (1) “How would I improve the Pocket 2?”, and (2) “What would my ideal portable computer look like?” (spoiler alert: it’s nothing at all like the Pocket).

Within the same price range and the same general design (clamshell), how would I improve the GPD Pocket 2?

In terms of industrial design, I might keep the original Pocket’s (boxier) body. The Pocket 2 is slimmer and looks more refined, but I’d rather use the extra space for better cooling, more storage and/or a bigger battery.

Internally, I’d keep the Pocket 2’s planned CPU and the option to switch between passive and active cooling (low & high performance modes). I would bump the storage to 256GB. I would keep the Micro SD slot for storage expansion, maybe even add a second one (One should be externally accessible, the other one could be under the backplate, for semi-permanent storage upgrades). 8GB of RAM are fine - any machine in this class will likely be CPU-constrained before it is memory constrained. In terms of I/O (ports), I’m pretty happy with the Pocket 2, but if the Micro HDMI was dropped to accommodate the wedge shape, I’d bring it back.

Most importantly, I would bring back the original’s keyboard layout (including, obviously, the nub), but with a few tweaks: switch DEL and BACKSPACE, remove CAPS LOCK and replace the Windows key with an OS-agnostic design (and/or provide replacement parts with different designs). Most importantly, I would improve the keyboard’s responsiveness, aiming for the kind of feel and responsiveness you get in the Apple Magic Keyboard or at least the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard. This might increase the overall cost substantially, but I would prioritize a more reliable keyboard over any of the internals listed above, with the exception of a faster processor.

A SIM-card slot for cellular connectivity would be nice to have, but I would not prioritize it over any of the above. I don’t mind the slight inconvenience of tethering to my phone or a mobile router when I don’t have Wifi.

In terms of software, besides Windows 10, I’d like to see all major GNU/Linux distributions supported out of the box or with minimal tinkering. Offering a pre-installed dualboot option would be a bonus. To the extent possible, I would like to see key hardware components chosen for compatibility with macOS to make the machine attractive to the Hackintosh community, as certain netbooks used to be back in the day.

Assuming no or minimal constraints (it’s technically feasible but expensive), what would my ideal ultra-portable computer look like?

To me this is the more interesting, if less realistic question.

While I love my GPD Pocket, it’s pretty far from my dream of an ultra-portable computer. First of all, despite the name, it’s not actually pocketable. My ideal portable computer should also be usable while handheld - the Pocket hardly is.

In fact, the ultra-portable computer of my dreams is not a laptop at all, but a large phablet running a touch-friendly desktop OS. Basically, take a Microsoft surface and shrink it to be slightly smaller than the “tablet” part of the Nintendo Switch. Keep the ~1cm thickness though - I don’t fetishize thin devices and would rather use the space for longer battery life, thermals and performance, in this order. Keep the Surface’s solid magnesium build and square-ish design, as well as its superb kickstand. Make the screen a bezel-less (as far as physically possible, anyway) 1920 x 1080 display with a 16:9 aspect ratio at ~6.5 inches diagonal (for comparison: the Switch’s display is 6.2 inches with ginormous bezels bringing the entire tablet part to a whopping 7.5 inches diagonal - get rid of most of that). No “notch”, “chin” or “forehead” either - if that means no built-in front-facing camera, I don’t care (make a tiny USB-camera for those who need it). It should have a state of the art rear-facing camera, however.

The device should dual boot Windows 10 (mostly for games, honestly) and a GNU/Linux distro with a touch-optimized GUI shell, but full ability to run legacy desktop software as well as responsive software (i.e. Ubuntu Touch QT apps), and Android apps in an emulation layer (of course the bootloader is unlocked, so building a custom Android ROM for the device and installing it instead of or in addition to the other OSes would be possible). It should ship with a small active stylus that can be stored in the phablet’s chassis when not in use (both OSes should be touch-friendly enough to rarely need the pen for general navigation, but it would be useful for notes, delicate work like drawing, photo editing etc., and when using desktop apps with small touch targets).

As for internals, this phablet should run on a low-powered Intel x86 Core M SoC, with passive cooling in low performance mode and active cooling in high performance mode. Modes can be switched manually, as on the Pocket 2. Ideally I’d want to use an ARM SoC for better performance per Watt, but I will choose x86 for compatibility with legacy software (offering both ARM and x86 versions might be something to consider though). The device should have 512GB of built-in storage (with each OS’s partition being resizable) and two Micro SD slots for removable/expansion storage. 8GB of RAM. This device should definitely include a SIM-card slot - ideally it should replace my smartphone.

The phablet would come with a keyboard cover similar to the Surface’s type cover, with the following changes: the layout should follow that of the Pocket with the tweaks mentioned above, and with tighter spacing between the keys as well as slightly downsized keys to allow for the necessary reduction in size from 8 inches to 6.5 inches diagonal. Even though both OSes should be touch friendly, the keyboard should include a track point for increased efficiency (it is acceptable for the cover to add a few millimeters to the entire device - in total, the device should just fit in the front pants on (non-skinny) jeans). Of course, any bluetooth or USB keyboard and mouse would be usable with the device as well.

Battery life should be ~16h of active (screen-on) usage in low-performance mode and ~8h in high performance mode. The device would charge via USB-C quick charge in 3-4 hours and charge quickly enough to maintain full charge running in high-performance mode while plugged in.

The phablet should have one USB-A port for legacy peripherals, and of course Wifi, Bluetooth and cellular connectivity. Of course, USB-C (with an HDMI dongle where necessary) would allow the phablet to dock to an external display for better ergonomics when at home/work, or to any TV for a great travelling media center.

The hardware should be designed to make DIY repairs easy where possible (e.g. use screws instead of glue for assembly), but not to the extent of sacrificing compactness, performance or build quality. However, proprietary replacement parts should be made available for sale to end-users and repair shops. Where possible, hardware-designs should be open-sourced.

The price? If a device like this came along, I would be willing to pay at least as much as I currently pay for a smartphone plus tablet plus laptop, since it should replace all of those. I would consider $1500 a bargain, and I would be willing to pay more than $2000 (and if I could afford it, I would probably buy a second unit as a spare).