It’s been a good couple of years for handheld computer enthusiasts. Companies like GPD, One Netbook, and TopJoy have been cranking out Windows computers with screen sizes between 5.5 inches and 8 inches and for the most part each one seems better than the lat in one way or another.

Now GPD’s fifth tiny Windows computer is available for pre-order through a crowdfunding campaign. It’s called the GPD MicroPC and it’s… honestly a bit weird.

The GPD MicroPC has more full-sized ports than you’d expect to find on a device that’s small enough to fold up and slide into a pocket (if you have fairly large pockets).

That makes it a versatile machine that could be appealing to network administrators and other folks that need to troubleshoot gear in the field, but who don’t want to carry around a big, heavy laptop.

It’s the company’s most affordable mini PC to date. GPD plans to sell it for $399 later this year, but backers of the company’s Indiegogo campaign can reserve one for as little as $299. And that could make it appealing to folks who don’t need some of the computer’s features (like the serial port on the back).

Update: The price is now $314 for new backers of the crowdfunding campaign — but the MicroPC will also now ship with twice the RAM (8GB instead of 4GB).

But it also has a plastic body, a relatively slow processor, and the GPD MicroPC lacks a touchscreen display. The thumb keyboard is also not something I’d want to spend a lot of time using. It’s good enough for entering small amounts of text, but if I were instant messaging a friend or writing a term paper, I’d probably rather use a full-sized keyboard… or even my touchscreen phone, quite honestly.

The GPD MicroPC isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But for enthusiasts of handheld computers, it’s a unique option that combines an affordable price point with a heck of a lot of functionality.

GPD sent me a pre-release demo unit to test for this preview, and I’ve been using it on and off for the last month.

Overview

The GPD MicroPC measures 6″ x 4.4″ x 0.9″ when closed, and when you open it up you’ll see a 6 inch, 1280 x 720 pixel display with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 for scratch resistance. The screen packs 245 pixels per inch and has 178 degree viewing angles.

Weighing about a pound, the MicroPC is a bit larger and heavier than a typical smartphone. But it’s still pretty darn small for full-fledged Windows 10 PC with an x86 processor and enough ports that you’ll rarely need to plug in a USB hub to get work done.

The computer is very much designed to be held in two hands, and the keyboard is small enough that you should be able to reach your thumbs across it to type. There’s also a small touchpad above the right section of the keyboard that you can use for navigation. It supports multi-touch input so you can use multi-finger gestures for scrolling, right-clicking, and other actions, but there are also left and right buttons above the left side of the keyboard if you’d prefer not to lift your hand.

GPD did include backlit keys, which is a nice touch — especially for folks who may want to use this computer outdoors at night, in a dark server room, or any other place that a technician on-call might want to carry a computer. I keep thinking that’s probably the ideal customer for this sort of device — someone who doesn’t want to leave home without a computer, but who wants something compact that’s easier to carry than a traditional laptop.

One thing this computer does not have is a camera. While there’s a microphone that you can use to record voice memos or talk to Cortana, if you want to make video recordings or participate in a video conference call, you’re going to want to plug in a USB camera.

There’s also no touchscreen, which isn’t all that odd for a laptop. But it does seem like a strange omission on a handheld device with a 6 inch display. We’ve become so accustomed to reaching out and touching screens of this size that it’s a bit disconcerting at first to realize that nothing happens when you touch the GPD MicroPC’s display. But once you learn to resist that urge, it’s pretty easy to navigate using the keyboard and touchpad.

Under the hood, the system is powered by an Intel Celeron N4100 quad-core Gemini Lake processor.

It’s not a super-speedy processor, but GPD has adjusted the system settings so that the chip can run at up to 10 watts instead of maxing out at 6 watts. That brings a bit of a performance boost over other devices with the same chip, although it may reduce battery life if you’re running resource-intensive applications (like some games).

The computer can be used with active or passive cooling. There’s a fan switch above the center of the keyboard that lets you toggle the fan. When it’s running, it helps keep the system cooler which could help prevent CPU throttling in some situations. But the fan also emits a noticeable high-pitching whining noise, so if you’re in a quiet room and don’t mind sacrificing a little performance for some peace and quiet, you can turn it off.

Honestly, I haven’t seen much difference in performance with the fan disabled, although the computer does get a little warmer when it’s off.

The system has 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM soldered to the motherboard, and a 128GB M.2 SSD that’s user replaceable — although you will have to remove five tiny screws and pry off the bottom of the computer’s case in order to get at it, and that’s not particularly easy to do (unless you have a decent set of computer opening tools that let you pry open the plastic latches holding the bottom cover in place).

Update: GPD has upgraded the RAM. The MicroPC will ship with 6GB instead of 4GB, although the version featured in this review had just 4GB. 

Inside the case you’ll also see the Intel AC3165 wireless card that enables 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity.

The MicroPC also has two holes in the bottom of the case that you can use to attach it to a stand, bracket, or other mount if you plan to set it up for use in a stationary environment.

On the front of the computer you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, and on the left side there’s a USB 3.0 Type-A port and a microSD card reader.

The back of the system has two more USB 3.0 ports, a full-sized Gigabit Ethernet jack, a full-sized HDMI port, and an RS-232 serial port as well as a USB Type-C port that can be used for data and/or charging.

GPD includes a 5V/3A USB-C charger with the system, but I’ve also been able to use the USB-C port to connect the computer to other devices including my phone and the Taihe Gemini touchscreen monitor (the USB connection supplies touch functionality, but the cable I have doesn’t seem to support video output to the display).

Using it

In terms of raw horsepower, this is one of the least powerful computers I’ve tested in a while. It’s outperformed by the Topjoy Falcon, One Mix 2S, GPD Pocket 2, and GPD Win 2 in most benchmarks.

GPD MicroPC benchmarks

But when it comes to real-world performance, you probably won’t notice much difference unless you’re running really resource-intensive tasks or doing a lot of multitasking. Some games might not run as well, but this isn’t really a device meant for gaming.

I mean, I was able to play Psychonauts and Broken Age without any difficulty. But those are older titles.

More importantly, when I decided to us the MicroPC to write this review, it was a little slower than my Intel Core i5-8250U powered laptop, but the difference wasn’t big enough to make me want to give up at any point… but I should probably explain how I’m writing this review.

When I first got the MicroPC, I tried writing a 300 word article on it. The experience was pretty painful because typing isn’t that easy on the computer’s tiny, stiff keyboard. But it’s not like the computer’s hardware wasn’t up to the task.

So when I got ready to write this review, I threw a bunch of accessories in my backpack and headed out to a coffee shop. I’m typing this sentence into WordPress using the MicroPC. But I’m not actually using the computer’s keyboard, touchpad, or display at the moment.

Instead I’ve plugged in a Logitech K400 wireless keyboard, a Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 4000, and Taihe Gemini portable 15.6″ monitor.

In other words, I’m basically using the MicroPC as a portable desktop computer. I’ve plugged a bunch of peripherals into it so that I don’t have to use the tiny keyboard and display to do a lot of typing… because they’re honestly not really meant for it.

The good news is that while writing this review I’ve been able to open more than a dozen Chrome browser tabs, watch videos, edit photos, and write several thousand words. What’s more, turning off the built-in display seems to extend the MicroPC’s battery life a bit, even while it’s sending video to an external 15.6 inch screen (which is running on battery power).

The point is, this is a full-fledged, fully capable Windows computer. It’s not a speed demon, but it is fast enough to use for real work.

But as I discussed in my GPD MicroPC keyboard test article, the computer’s small keyboard is better suited for entering URLs, usernames and passwords, and brief strings of text than for typing out long articles.

GPD MicroPC keyboard test

I can type at about 100 words per minute on a decent, full-sized keyboard. The best I can do on the GPD MicroPC is about 35 words per minute. Not only are the keys smaller than I’m used to, but they’re also closer together and arranged in an awkward configuration.

The number keys are all on the left side of the keyboard, in order to make room for the touchpad. That means there’s two rows, with the 6 – 0 keys above the 1-5 keys.

And there’s not enough room on the right side of the keyboard for all the characters you’d normally find there, so the quotation mark and apostrophe keys, for instance, are placed in the top row — you have to press Fn + O for apostrophe and Fn +P for quotation mark. It takes me a moment to find those keys almost every time I go looking for them.

Long story short, I can’t really touch type on this keyboard. I have to look at my fingers, which increases the chances of typos and decreases my typing speed and accuracy.

Update 2/20/2019: GPD has announced it’s updating the keyboard design. The quotation mark and apostrophe are moving down to the key that was formerly used by the colon and semi-colon, to the left of the L key. This is a much better location that should make these frequently-used keys a lot easier to find.

The colon and semicolon, meanwhile, are moving up to the O and P keys. And the — and + keys have been switched so that pressing them now gives you – or =. You can still enter a — or + character by holding down the Shift key when you press one of those buttons. 

You also have to push the keys rather hard, so my fingers get tired if I spend more than a minute at a time typing.

Fortunately, there are a lot of things you may want to use a computer for that don’t involve much typing. The MicroPC has no problem playing videos. You can use it to surf the web. Some light gaming isn’t out of the question. And as I’ve mentioned, IT workers could use it for all sorts of testing and troubleshooting on the go.

While some folks would undoubtedly prefer to do that sort of working using Linux, the MicroPC ships with Windows 10 Pro. When I tried to boot Ubuntu from a USB flash drive, I ran into some problems. For example, the screen was stuck in portrait orientation and there was no obvious way to rotate it (the usual “xrandr -o right” command didn’t work).

I did try a few other GNU/Linux distributions, but didn’t have much luck with any others. I suspect someone will eventually find a way to improve Linux support, but for now the easiest way to run Linux software on the MicroPC is probably to use the Windows Subsystem for Linux.

It took me just a few minutes to enable the feature and install Ubuntu and then I was able to open a Bash Shell and use Linux commands and programs.

Since I’m not a network administrator or someone with decades-old computer hardware lying around, I didn’t have much use for the RS-232 COM port on the MicroPC. But YouTuber The Phawx also has a pre-release MicroPC, and he put together a video showing how useful that port could be for some folks.

The MicroPC has a 23.56 Wh battery that GPD says should be good for about 6 to 8 hours. That seems a little optimistic in my experience, but not entirely outside of the realm of possibility.

Battery life is kind of tough to measure on a device like this, because it’s going to vary pretty widely depending on how you’re using the MicroPC.

Normally in a laptop review I’d give you a rough estimate by taking a fully charged laptop and then using it all day for work until the battery died. But as I’ve mentioned, that’s not really something I’d subject myself to on a device with a keyboard like the GPD MicroPC’s.

If this were a tablet review, I might get a sense of how long it would run if I were using it to play videos, surf the web, play games, and maybe read eBooks. But while I’ve done some of those things with the MicroPC, it’s not really a tablet and there are probably better device to buy if those are the features you’re looking for.

So here’s what I’ll say about battery life. As I write this review, with an external mouse, keyboard, and display connected to the MicroPC, Windows is telling me that I’ve got four hours of battery life left… and I’ve been using the computer for almost three hours at this point.

But keep in mind that while I’m doing some heavy-duty multitasking, I’ve also turned off the display on the computer itself.

When I spent an hour playing Broken Age on the computer a week or two ago, the battery was depleted much more quickly, leading me to believe that I’d get maybe 3-4 hours of run time if I were using it exclusively as a handheld gaming computer (for games that aren’t all that resource-intensive).

You can also probably extend battery life and/or improve performance by adjusting the Windows 10 Power Mode settings by tapping the battery indicator and then adjusting the slider.

So battery life? It depends on how you’re using the computer.

Verdict

The MicroPC is GPD’s most affordable handheld Windows computer to date. It’s a versatile little device that can run most Windows applications you’re likely to want to run on a system this small. With a backlit keyboard, a fan toggle, a more ports than you’ll find on most 13 inch laptops these days, it’s kind of a geek’s dream.

But it’s also a relatively low-power system that’s not going to be a speed demon if you throw heavy-duty tasks at it, like running virtual machines or playing bleeding edge games. It’s not the easiest device in the world to type on. And the lack of a touchscreen or webcam may be a turnoff for some potential customers.

I’d say if you’re looking for a handheld computer for gaming, you’re probably better off with the GPD Win 2 with its stronger processor and dedicated gaming controllers. And if you’re looking for a machine with a better keyboard that you can use for touch typing (rather than thumb typing), the GPD Pocket 2 is still the best option.

But both of those devices cost up to twice as much as the MicroPC. And they have fewer ports. So I can definitely see why the MicroPC has generated a lot of pre-release buzz.

GPD only expects to have enough components to make about 2,000 units in its first batch. If you don’t reserve one during the company’s crowdfunding campaign, you may have to wait until this summer before the MicroPC is available for general purchase.

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32 replies on “GPD MicroPC handheld computer preview”

  1. What a great article. My Micro-PC arrived last week and I’ve spent WAY too much time “playing” with it. There are two comment’s I’d like to make about your article.
    [1] putting a mounting arm on it as illustrated in the picture would be a bad thing as it would block most/all of the air vents.
    [2] (me being a whiny geek) I wish you’d given better hints of where to pry open the case after taking the five screws out of the bottom. I *REALLY* want to upgrade the “disk” in it, but am afraid to break the case.
    Thanks again for the really well written article.

  2. I do want one of these things and the specs and price are right for my purposes. The only thing I’m skeptical about is the keyboard. It seems like it’d be a real chore to type on those stiff little thumb keyboard keys. I’d love something like this, only a little bigger, like 7.5-8″ form factor and the chiclet keys that the larger aluminum MacBook Air clone like models have. Only I’d prefer this chunky plastic to the aluminum to be honest. I love the utilitarian nature of this thing, just need a keyboard that I can type more than 3 sentences on without getting aggravated lol.

  3. What exactly you mean you were not able to run Linux on it? Could you tell more?

    I really would like to know if the screen works well under Linux, and if vsync works correctly, i.e. when watching a movie with panning scenes, or during scrolling pages on web. I suspect it might not work well, because of the rotated display.

  4. I was looking at this with interest but this isn’t what I’m looking for. I’m tired of the insecurity of a total lack of privacy in the scroogle ecosystem. So my old Nook running android 4.4.2 & my Kindle Fire HD that just gives away all my activity to Amazon instead of google are both strictly for reading library books or viewing Amazon Prime video respectively. I won’t use EITHER to do anything that needs a password. So my original idea of having a bigger screen to see emails than my Blackberry Q10 has still isn’t viable.

    I’ve started looking for a windows tablet that would allow me to run VPN, antivirus & antimalware programs to let me (reasonably) safely access more important things. But all of the ones besides the new surface GO (too heavy) are 10″ or larger. While the bigger display would obviously be nice for video, the primary purpose will still be e-books and they’d be less handy to carry around than an 8″ sized device.

    Other than the Dell Venue 8, are there good options for something I can easily hold (under 1lb) that have the option to use a keyboard? The Cherry Trail based Asus Transformer Mini T103HA-D4-GR, 2 in 1 touchscreen with 4GB RAM &, 128GB memory would be perfect for what I want if it was a bit smaller…

    I also saw the options of the Lenovo Miix 320, Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000 Series Tablet PC 10.8”, Lenovo IdeaTab Miix2-8-Inch and a few oddballs. Does anyone know what might give me the best compromise of size & capability?

  5. Review totally misses the point or target market of that device. It’s a small hand held terminal for network and infrastructure specialists. Does not RS232 ring any bell, for Christ’s sake???

  6. Too bad about no 8 GB RAM. I’m no network/system admin so I don’t know their memory requirements.

    I’d want this for mobile handheld computing and I’d need more than 4 GB RAM to prevent swapping. The main reason I don’t get the Win 2 is because of its gaming oriented design. To some, that’s probably minor but it’s enough for me to not buy it.

  7. This is perfect for portable Ham Radio digital applications. Only drawback for me is that I will need to add an external battery pack.

  8. I was interested in this for lab use where I’d connect to FPGAs and lab equipment via Ethernet or RS-232. The lab area is usually cramped so a small handheld device would be great.

    Too bad during debugging/experimenting I’d need more than 4 GB of RAM. I’d have several applications open while needing to read documentation in several browser tabs and PDF documents. All of which consume non-trivial amounts of RAM but not too much CPU.

    I’ll pass for now. If GPD comes out with a model with more RAM after going retail, I’d likely get it.

    Great preview. Thanks!

  9. Seems like a nice UMPC. Is this GPD’s smallest PC so far?

    I agree with some of the others’ concerns:
    – Only 4 GB RAM.
    – Linux support looks TBD despite GPD’s claims.
    – Trackpad during handheld use is awkward. It’s great during the occasional tabletop use though. A physical thumb nub could have allowed for a better thumb keyboard layout. Sigh, trade offs I guess.
    – Battery life is on the short side. Can we lower the boosted 10 W TDP?
    – Keyboard layout needs improvement. Back light is great though.

    The first 2 items are the decision makers for me. I’ll make my final decision if this shows up on Amazon Prime.

    1. I don’t think GPD has any real partnership with Canonical. The dev they sent a prototype to seems to have not made much progress (maybe he’s not really spending much time on it): https://twitter.com/m_wimpress/status/1090549285224148992

      “The only progress I’ve made on the internal display is exhausting all options to get it working 😕”

      I doubt much has happened in the last couple weeks.

      1. Given there hasn’t been any updates, I’m guessing Ubuntu MATE still isn’t working. GPD has Ubuntu promises all over their Indiegogo page but not even one screen shot of it.

        Is GPD actually actively working with Martin? I wonder if GPD is willing to make some hardware changes to make Linux work.

    2. If you look at Martin’s Twitter account, it seems he’s spending his time getting Ubuntu MATE on the RPi instead of the MicroPC. Too bad. Maybe he lost interest.

  10. Hahaha. GPD puts an optical thumb mouse on the Pocket 2 and a trackpad on the MicroPC. It’s backwards for the intended use model. A physical thumb nub (ie. not optical) + touchscreen if you need the gestures (I don’t) would have been better.

    No 8 GB RAM is a major bummer.

    The keyboard layout needs some rearranging as Brad pointed out.

    Linux support seems announced but I’m skeptical it’ll be working by release time. Martin from Canonical who GPD asked to help with Ubuntu MATE support seems to be having a hard time. Not sure if GPD and Martin are actually working together or Martin is just working on it when he’s free.

    Anyway, this seems to be doing decently on Indiegogo so far despite the drawbacks. I’m personally waiting after release (August?) to see if GPD addresses some of the potential buyers’ concerns.

  11. Thank you for your wonderful articles!
    But why is it so difficult to get in Europe what at least I want?
    GPD Mini PC is a little small and weak, but cheap. GPD Pocket is nice even if 128GB is a little low for me, but the attractive black version has to paid with further compromises.
    One Mix Yoga 2 s seems best for me with its 256GB, but the black version “mission impossible” is not shipped to Europe.
    The superb “Koi edition” has 512GB, but only in RED!
    Why not a really good device with at least 256 GB and a fast processor in black?

  12. I’m the main target for such device, but the keyboard killed it for me. Too cramped, weird layout, space wasted by the trackpad (better have a tiny thumb stick or optical pointer, for what I use the mouse).

    I take a bag anyway when I go to a data center, so better have a reasonably bigger device with a comfortable keyboard, that I can also use to take notes, do scripting and other usual tasks.

    There are contexts where standing up typing with thumbs would be nice, but I have cables long enough to find a spot to put my laptop on (the floor at worst).

    And then, I’d still have to hope Linux support would be fine even if the hardware manufacturer won’t do it.

    So I’ll keep using an old 2lbs 11″ netbook, that still have a RJ45 port.

    Would hope for a replacement with the full range of ports (including RS-232), though. That would be one less hassle. Could be smaller / lighter as well, but that’s a bonus, as long as the keyboard is fine.

    1. GPD’s Indiegogo page claims Ubuntu Mate will be officially supported. Although, they haven’t shown proof of it working. Looks like Brad and others with prototypes haven’t gotten it working decently either.

      From what I’ve read elsewhere, GPD’s “plan” is to just send a prototype to a Canonical dev and hope he gets Ubuntu working on it. It didn’t really sound like an official partnership or anything though. I guess it’s still the hoping game…

      As for the choice of a trackpad, I agree. A trackpad would have been better on the GPD Pocket 2 since it’s meant for table use. For a handheld, the trackpad seems awkward. I would have preferred a physical nub (no optical nub please). The middle click on physical mouse buttons is nice though.

      1. A Canonical dev -> Martin Wimpress already has the MicroPC and has been working on Ubuntu Mate for it, for the last two weeks or so. Although I do not know what progress he has made

        1. If the required changes are not upstreamed into Linux kernel, and it doesnt work with any distro, then this is a device to be avoided, like almost every other custom computer, i.e. arm based SBCs.

      2. I sent GPD an email asking about the fact that there was a picture in the Indiegog page showing the Micro-PC (supposedly) running Ubuntu Mate. Their reply was, to the effect of, “Sorry, just Windows”. I’ve made MULTIPLE attempts to get various versions of Ubuntu Mate to install, all to no avail. I’m much more of a Linux user than a Windows user. So even thought I’ve purchased the the Micro-PC, it looks like it’s just going to be a “toy” for now.

        Oh as for the keyboard and trackpad… I’ve become fairly comfortable with the keyboard, but I use a Logitech wireless trackball off to the right side. It’s funny to look at as the trackball is nearly bigger than the Micro-PC. :^)

        1. FYI I just got mine through Indiegogo. They ended up giving us 8G Ram. Also, there is an unofficial Ubuntu MATE 18.04 iso that works! It is a breath of fresh air after going through the creepy Windows 10 Pro set up to get Ubuntu on this little machine. (corrected version #)

  13. Interesting device. I wouldn’t use the RS-232 port but the port selection is nice. Too bad about no 8 GB RAM option. That’s a big deal for my personal use cases.

    Can you scroll using the edge of the touchpad like in the old days before multi-touch? That seems like it’d be a more stable method while using this as a handheld device. Otherwise, I’d feel like I’d drop the device if I need to use 2 fingers to scroll in handheld mode.

    1. I was eyeing the MicroPC but I ended up getting a Surface Go LTE with 8 GB RAM a few weeks ago. I was a bit torn. A handheld device with gigabit Ethernet vs 8 GB RAM and built-in LTE that’s still very portable. The Go won out for me in the end.

      1. The Surface Go LTE seems to be nice, and although you could have bought 2 GPD MicroPCs from its price, but you can use your device now (and it has LTE, so you can use it on the go), while the MicroPC will be available after August – I’m sure there will be better devices in 6 months.

        I’ve waited for the campaign to launch, but I’ll skip it, because they won’t ship from local warehouses, so with the 27% VAT here in Hungary it will be better to order from GearBest or a similar seller with EU Express – or similar – shipping method.

        Still, the GPD MicroPC is an interesting little device, that’s for sure. :))

        1. I have bought GPD MicroPC and they have officially announced that it can be shipped in May 2019.

      2. I got myself an 8 GB RAM Surface Go as well. The price wasn’t a concern for me but I was weighing the handheld usability of the MicroPC and the 8 GB of RAM + availability of the Go. I got the Go and living the dongle life for Ethernet and RS-232. RAM doesn’t come in dongles. It’s working well so far.

      3. I’d throw money at an option for 8 GB RAM and built-in LTE!

        I know LTE is a stretch for GPD but I wonder how much extra they would have charged for additional RAM.

    2. Multi-touch trackpad gestures aren’t that useful during handheld operation which is GPD’s intended mode for this. I agree that GPD should at least enable some single finger gestures like edge scrolling.

      I don’t mind the lack of touchscreen. In handheld mode, you’d still have to let go of the device with one hand and risk dropping the device.

      The lack of 8 GB RAM is the biggest negative for me. Hopefully, they release such an option after this goes retail.

    3. Yeah, men. Even 8GB is barely enough (would prefer 12GB), but OK. 4 or 6 GB doesn’t really cut it for me, and makes the device essentially unusable. If only the M.2 drive was nvme one, one could use fast swap on it.

  14. Great article and summary! Love all the details and videos, even better that your not afraid to link the phawx videos ….more information the better!
    Keep up the great website!
    Thanks

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