It’s tricky to make a great mini-laptop. Want a super-small screen and a device that’s compact enough to fold up and put in your pocket? The you probably aren’t going to get a great keyboard. Need a keyboard that’s comfortable for touch-typing? Then you’ll likely get a larger display… and still not have room for a full-sized touchpad.
Over the past few years we’ve seen a growing number of companies tried to thread this needle. One of the newest entries is an 8.9 inch laptop called the Magic Ben MAG1, which is now available for $630 and up (or less with a coupon — see below). And it turns out this newest model is also one of the best to date when it comes to price, performance, usability, and value.
This little computer isn’t necessarily the right choice for everyone. It’s not the smallest mini-laptop to date, nor is it the fastest. It doesn’t have a webcam, and it doesn’t have a 360-degree hinge or active pen support.
But the MAG1 has a backlit keyboard that’s comfortable to type on once you get used to a few weird quirks. It has a touchscreen display and a small, but functional touchpad with support for mult-touch gestures. The MAG1 gets longer battery life than most of the other mini-laptops I’ve tested recently. It offers decent performance, has a good array of ports, and some models are even available with 4G LTE.
That’s still not exactly pocket change though. Depending on your needs you might be better off spending your money on a larger laptop, a tablet, or a pretty much anything other than a mini-laptop. These things are certainly an acquired taste — but there’s something a little magical about using a fully functional laptop computer that weighs just about 1.5 pounds and which is smaller than a trade paperback book when folded.
Where can I buy it?
The Magic Ben MAG1 is a Chinese product that’s available for purchase in the US and other countries, but it will ship directly from China and currently you’ll have to order from an international retailer such as AliExpress or GeekBuying (the latter of which supplied me with the demo unit featured in this review).
You may not get the same level of customer support from these online sellers as you would expect from retailers that have a presence in your home country. But I have successfully ordered products from both in the past.
And GeekBuying is offering a set of discount codes that knock $20 off the list price of various MAG1 configurations:
- 8GB/256GB/WiFi-only for $610 w/coupon: MagicBen20
- 8GB/256GB/4G LTE for $689
- 16GB/512GB/WiFi-only for $774 w/coupon: MagicBen20
- 16GB/512GB/4G LTE for $840 w/coupon: MagicBen4GH
Overview & Design
The MAG is basically a laptop computer… but smaller. On the one hand, that makes it a little computer that you can comfortable hold in one hand. On the other, there are some compromises that come with making a notebook PC this small.
The keyboard is smaller than those found on most laptops, which leads to some awkward layout choices. The MAG1 has no webcam, features only a mono speaker, doesn’t have a particularly large battery, and it features a 7 watt, Intel Y-series processor because a more powerful 15-watt chip would likely generate too much heat.
But compared to other mini-laptops, the MAG1 has a few things going for it. The keyboard is one of the best I’ve used on a laptop this small. The touchpad, while small, is easier to use than the optical touch sensors found on most other devices in this category. And then black all-metal chassis with curved edges makes this one of the nicer looking mini-laptops I’ve tested — although the lid is a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
The MAG1 measures 8.2″ x 5.8″ x 0.7″ and weighs about 1.5 pounds. On the right side you’ll find a USB 3.0 Type-A port, a USB Type-C port, and a microSD card reader. On the left there’s a micro HDMI port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a SIM card slot — even if you get a WiFi only model. The SIM card slot on my demo unit just doesn’t connect to anything.
Magic Ben only offers one processor option: Intel’s Core m3-8100Y dual-core Amber Lake chip, but you do have a choice of memory, storage, and wireless configurations, ranging from a WiFi-only model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage to a 4G LTE model with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.
Note that if you think you might want more memory or storage than you get from the base model, you’ll want to pay for it up front, because both are soldered to the motherboard and not designed to be user upgradeable.
Interestingly, the model GeekBuying shipped me seems to be a configuration that’s not available for purchase — a WiFi-only model with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
At a time when some laptop makers continue to offer 11.6 inch or larger computers with 1366 x 768 pixel displays, it’s interesting that mini-laptops with much smaller screens tend to have high-resolution, high-DPI displays. The MAG1’s 8.9 inch, 2560 x 1600 pixel display features 339 pixels per inch.
Does that feel like overkill? Kind of. If you set your operating system’s DPI scaling to 100 percent, you’ll probably find it nearly impossible to read text without putting your nose against the screen.
But at 200 percent or higher, I find it comfortable to read web pages, watch videos, or play games on the MAG1. I suspect that Magic Ben gets its screens from the same places tablet makers get theirs, which would probably help explain the resolution.
It’s a pretty good screen that gets very bright when you crank the brightness settings all the way up, and which looks good when viewed from just about any angle. And it’s a touchscreen with support for 10-point multitouch input, which I think is a must-have feature for any computer small enough to hold in your hands. The MAG1 may not be a tablet, but it’s small and light enough to hold with one hand while using the other to enter text on the keyboard or poke at the screen.
The computer is also reasonably well balanced so that even if you push the screen back as far as it will go, the notebook won’t tip over. Tapping the screen also doesn’t cause it to wobble very much at all.
The bottom of the notebook does get a little warm after you’ve been using the computer for a while, but it rarely gets uncomfortably hot. And there’s a small fan inside that spins up to help keep the system cool — the fan is audible if you’re in a quiet room, but it’s hardly the loudest laptop fan I’ve heard.
Overall, the MAG1 feels like a well-built, sturdy little computer. And it’s one that I’m actually comfortable using to get some work done. In fact, I’ve written much of this review on the MAG1 itself.
Still having a hard time visualizing just how an 8.9 inch laptop compares to other computers, both bigger and smaller? Let me help you out. I did a photo shoot of the MAG1 with the Peakago 7 inch mini-laptop and the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible notebook with a 13.4 inch display.
Input (keyboard, touchpad, & touchscreen)
Magic Ben points out in marketing materials that this laptop is about the size of a iPad mini. But you know what it has that the iPad mini doesn’t? A keyboard and touchpad.
While you can turn most tablets into pseudo-laptops by adding a Bluetooth keyboard, the MAG1 is first and foremost a laptop. The keyboard isn’t detachable — it’s always there and you’re not going to accidentally forget it at home or have to struggle to balance the keyboard and tablet on your lap when sitting on the couch or a riding on a bus or train.
It’s the keyboard that really makes mini-laptops a distinct category from other ultra mobile computing devices like phones or tablets. You can touch-type on the GPD Pocket, One Mix Yoga, Chuwi MiniBook, Topjoy Falcon, and Magic Ben MAG1.
As I mentioned above, mini-laptop makers do have to compromise a bit in order to cram a QWERTY keyboard into such a small space. But the MAG1 seems to feature fewer compromises than most.
I don’t love that the Tab key is above the 2 instead to the left of the Q. The apostrophe, quotation mark, colon and semicolon keys are to the right of the space bar rather than to the right of the QWERTY keys. And the Caps Lock key is a half-width key that’s sort of attached to the left side of the A.
But I was able to type at pretty close to my normal speed almost immediately after I started using the MAG1. The only thing that continues to throw me for a loop is the apostrophe. Apparently I type a lot of contractions, and my fingers want that key to be next to the Enter key, not the space bar.
If the keyboard layout looks at all familiar, that might be because it seems to be nearly identical to the One Mix 3 Yoga keyboard (the layout anyway — the lettering is done in different fonts).
And that’s a good thing — the One Mix 3 Yoga keyboard was the best I’d tested on a mini-laptop to date. The MAG1 keyboard is better for one important reason: The One Mix 3 Yoga that I reviewed had a silver keyboard with white LED lights that made the letters difficult to see when the backight was active in some environments. The MAG1 has a black keyboard with white letters and it honestly looks pretty great under any conditions.
Another key difference between the MAG1 and the One Mix Yoga is what’s below the keyboard. While the One Mix 3 Yoga has an optical touch sensor surrounded by left and right buttons, the MAG1 has a tiny touchpad that measures about 2″ x 1″.
Despite its tiny size, I find the touchpad to be far easier to use than an optical touch sensor. Moving the cursor, selecting text, and most other actions that require precision are much easier to achieve. And since there’s support for multi-touch gestures, you can use a two-finger tap to open context menus, or two-finger gestures to pinch or scroll. A three-finger swipe will maximize or minimize windows. And so on.
The touchpad is not clickable. Press down on it and nothing will move. So if you’re used to clicking, that may take some adjustment. And the touchpad is small, so you might find it easier to just reach up to the touchscreen for some basic actions. But I find the touchpad to be more precise when doing things like selecting files in Windows Explorer, tapping hyperlinks, or switching browser tabs (I often accidentally close them instead when I try to do that by touching the screen with my fingertip).
So while the MAG1 keyboard is similar to the one found on the One Mix 3 Yoga, I think the black keys with white illumination and the touchpad make this a much better device for folks looking for laptop-like input methods.
I suspect some folks would still find the MAG1 keyboard and touchpad too small or awkward for extended use, but if that’s the case for you, then maybe mini-laptops aren’t the best fit for your needs.
There are a bunch of different ways you can measure a computer’s performance. You can run a bunch of benchmarks that spit out numbers that you can compare to numbers for other PCs. I did that.
But I also spent a fair amount of time actually using the MAG1 to see if it was, well… usable as a general purpose computer. It is. Sort of.
As I’ve already mentioned, it has one of the best keyboards of any laptop with a 9 inch or smaller screen, and that makes a big difference in usability if you’re someone who spends a lot of time writing. Looking for a portable note-taking device, blogging machine, or journaling device? The MAG1 could be what you’re looking for.
But having a best-in-class keyboard isn’t necessarily the same as having a truly great keyboard. There are compromises including some half-width keys and some awkwardly placed keys. There’s also no right-Alt key.
And then there’s the screen size. The MAG1’s 8.9 inch display is fine for watching videos, surfing the web, or doing just about anything else — as long as you’re comfortable looking at one app/window at a time. You can do multi-window or split-screen on the MAG1, but if the Windows 10 DPI scaling is set to 200-percent or higher, you won’t actually see that much in each window. And if it’s set much lower than that, you might have to stick your nose against the display to make out the tiny text.
So I generally find it more comfortable to open apps in full-screen mode and flip between them rather than keeping multiple apps open at the same time. That’s not how I tend to work on larger laptops… so I find I’m a little less productive when using the MAG1 for work. But I can use it for work, and that’s no little feat for a laptop this little.
Heck, I even fired up Reaper to see if I could do a little podcast editing on the go. It runs fine, but the small screen makes the MAG1 a machine I’d only want to use for pretty basic editing jobs.
A few other notes on usability before we get to the benchmarks:
- The fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate.
- The power button is less so. If the laptop is powered down or in deep sleep, you have to press and hold the power button for a few seconds before the laptop springs to life. Fortunately a status light above the power button will glow blue when the computer wakes up, so you know when to stop pressing the power button.
- While it looks like there are two speaker grilles on the bottom of the laptop, there’s only a single mono speaker on the right side, and it’s not all that loud.
- The computer has a fan which can emit a somewhat high-pitched whirring noise. It’s not that loud by laptop fan standards, but it’ll be noticeable in a quiet room.
- During normal use, the bottom of the MAG1 gets warm to the touch, but not uncomfortably hot. Heavy use such as gaming can make the metal on the bottom of the chassis get uncomfortably hot.
- The MAG1 ran for about 5.5 hours during a battery run-down test that involved playing a 1080p YouTube video with the screen brightness set to 50-percent. That’s about a half hour longer than other mini-laptops with 8-9 inch displays, but it’s still shorter than I’d expect from most larger laptops.
- In terms of real-world usage, I typically saw around 4-6 hours of battery life, give or take.
- There’s no camera, and no support for stylus/digital pen input.
- The battery charges slowly. In my experience it can take 3-5 hours to from a fully drained battery to one that’s fully charged. Magic Ben confirms this, saying the battery charges in about 3 hours if it’s fully powered down. If you charge the laptop while it’s sleeping, expect it to take closer to 5 hours.
I haven’t tested this extensively yet, but the battery seems to drain faster than I’d expect when the laptop is sleeping. I’ll try to get a more precise measurement on this before sending the MAG1 back, but for now I’ll just say that it might be wise to fully shut down the little laptop when you’re not using it.
- Update: Nope, there’s no battery drain-during-sleep issue. It turns out that there was just a battery calibration issue that caused Windows to report incorrect battery levels. See below.
You should be able to use any charger that supports USB Power Delivery, and if you’re looking to get more than 5 or so hours of use on the go, I can confirm that it’s possible to charge the battery with a USB-C power bank. I wouldn’t expect low-power battery packs to do the trick, but I had no trouble charging the MAG1 using my ZeroLemon 45W USB-C power bank.
A warning: While we’re talking about battery life and charging, I should point out the weirdest issue I’ve had with the MAG1. While it gets decent battery life (by modern mini-laptop standards), it seems to have a battery reporting issue. This may or may not be unique to the demo unit I’m testing, but when I first received the laptop I plugged it in overnight and in the morning Windows 10 said the battery level had only charged to 60 or 70 percent. No matter how long it stayed plugged in, the number wouldn’t climb higher.
So I unplugged the charger and set up the MAG1 to play videos until it ran out of power and shut down.
Then I turned it back on by pressing the power button… started playing the same video again… and it took another 45 minutes or so for the battery to truly run out.
After that, I was able to charge the battery to what Windows 10 reported as 100-percent. About a week and a half later, I had the same issue occur, and the same battery run-down and full charge seemed to get things back to normal.
Again, I have no way of knowing if this is an issue that will affect all MAG1 units or if it was unique to the demo united I received.
OK, benchmarks. The MAG1 features an Intel Core m3-8100Y processor, which is the same chip used in the One Mix 3 Yoga and GPD P2 Max, although the version GPD’s mini-laptop is configured to run at 8 watts, (compared with 7 watts for most devices that use that processor).
Unsurprisingly, the GPD P2 Max scored a little higher in CPU-specific benchmarks including GeekBench 4, Cinebench R15, and the PassMark CPU test as well as graphics tests including 3DMark and the graphics portions of PassMark and Cinebench.
The MAG1 also seems to have a reasonably fast solid state drive, at least compared with the eMMC flash storage used in cheaper mini-laptops like the Peakago, although it’s not as fast as the SSDs used in the GPD P2 Max or the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.
I also ran PCMark and Passmark to get a sense of the computer’s all-around performance. Here I got mixed results. PCMark had the MAG1 running neck-and-neck with the GPD P2 Max, both of which were ahead of the One Mix 3 Yoga.
But Passmark painted a different picture, with both of the other mini-laptops scoring higher than the MAG1.
Overall, the scores aren’t that far off from one another — and that’s largely in keeping with my experience of using the little laptops.
They’re all fast enough for basic computing. None are really designed to be portable gaming machines — although I was able to play a few casual games and one slightly more demanding (but older) game without much difficulty (aside from battery drain).
But overall I found the MAG1 to be the most pleasant to use because I didn’t have to worry about the battery dying, the touchpad is surprisingly good, the keyboard layout was comfortable to use, and I had no problem seeing the keys no matter the lighting conditions.
Unlike the One Mix 3 Yoga, the MAG1 isn’t a convertible tablet, which does make it a little less useful if you wanted to use it as an eReader or handheld gaming device. But its compact size still makes it a pretty good portable media player that’s small enough to fit on an airplane tray table.
Advanced use notes (Linux and hardware upgrades — or lack thereof)
There’s good news and bad news for folks looking to tweak the MAG1. When it comes to hardware, there’s not much you can do. But if you’re not a fan of Windows 10, the MAG1 seems to support alternate operating systems pretty well.
Tiny screwdriver in hand, one of the first things I did when the MAG1 arrived was remove the bottom cover of the case to see what’s on the inside. What I found was 33.1 Wh battery, a fan, a heat sink, a mono speaker, and… not much else that you could easily remove or replace.
Even though I’m testing a WiFi-only version of the MAG1, the little laptop does have a SIM card slot. It turns out there’s also an M.2 slot that could theoretically be used for an SSD or WWAN card, but I’m not sure how easy it would be to add your own.
Otherwise, the memory and storage appear to be soldered down and hidden by the heat sink, which I didn’t want to risk removing.
As for alternate operating systems, I took two for a spin: Ubuntu 18.04.2 LTS and Fedora 30. Both ran smoothly from a USB flash drive, with no noticeable issues.
Unlike some other mini-laptops, there were no issues with screen rotation or the default scaling. In both cases, the operating system booted up quickly, the screen was set to landscape mode, and text and images were a comfortable size.
In both operating systems I was also able to quickly connect to the internet using a 5GHz 802.11ac connection, adjust screen brightness and volume using keyboard shortcuts, interact with the computer using the touchscreen, and stream audio and video.
Since I didn’t install either operating system to local storage, I can’t comment on battery life, sleep or hibernate performance, or other real-world performance. But my first impression is that this is a pretty Linux-friendly little laptop.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how easy it is to boot from a USB flash drive, it’s pretty simple. Just power off the computer, plug in a bootable drive, and then hit the Esc key during bootup.
This will bring you to the UEFI/Setup utility. Move over to the Save & Exit tab and you’ll see a Boot Override section near the bottom of the page. Scroll down and select your flash drive, and you should be good to go.
You could also go to the Boot tab and permanently change your boot priority options. But I like that there’s an option to boot from alternate media on a one-time basis.
The Magic Ben MAG1 surprised me. It’s the first computer to be sold under the Magic Ben name, and it’s a pretty good one.
It’s probably not the best choice for everyone. While it’s theoretically powerful enough to be your primary laptop, you can spend the same amount of money on a larger, more powerful machine if portability isn’t your top concern. And if you are looking for a tiny laptop, there are more versatile options like the One Mix 3 Yoga (with a convertible tablet-style design and pen support) or smaller options like the GPD Pocket 2 and One Mix 2S Yoga (with their smaller, 7 inch displays).
But for me, the MAG1 hits a sweet spot between portability, performance, and price. It has an eminently usable keyboard and touchpad, a screen that’s large enough for comfortable mono-tasking and occasional multi-tasking, and a processor that doesn’t feel sluggish unless you really try to push it to its limits.
I’m a little unsettled by the battery reporting issues mentioned above. But actual battery life hasn’t been bad, so it doesn’t bother me that much.
The MAG1 does not have a webcam. The single speaker isn’t all that great. And battery life (and charging speed) could be better. But it’s a nice looking little laptop with an all-black design, slim bezels around the display, a backlit keyboard that looks and feels pretty good, and a decent set of ports.
It’s Linux-friendly, available with up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of solid state storage, and it ships with at least 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage. With prices starting at $630 (or less with a coupon code), it’s not exactly an impulse purchase. But it’s a fully-functional computer with an Intel x86 processor for less than the price of an entry-level iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface Pro X.
Overall, I think the MAG1 is a pretty good deal — for folks that are looking for an 8.9 inch mini-laptop with a touchscreen display and a low-power processor. That’s admittedly a pretty niche market.
I probably shouldn’t be that surprised that the MAG1 is as good as it is though. While it’s the first PC sold under the Magic Ben name, a little digging shows that Magic Ben may be associated with another, more established company such as Vorke, a Chinese device manufacturer that’s been producing tablets and mini PCs for a while. There are also signs that there may be a different parent company altogether though.
The Magic Ben MAG1 is available from GeekBuying and a handful of other international stores. Thanks again to the folks at GeekBuying for sending me this demo unit to review.
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