I’ve loved tiny computers — or at least the idea of them — ever since the days of the Sony VAIO P, when the technology really wasn’t around to make the idea all that worthwhile in practice. But lately, software and hardware have matured to the point where low-power chips are pretty good at handling typical computing tasks.
Combined with the ever-strengthening might of the Chinese supply chain, it’s now possible for small Shenzhen companies to whip up weird Windows gadgets that will never make sense for more than a niche, but may just be perfect for you. The GPD Win pocket-sized gaming laptop is one example, and the device I’ve been testing recently — the Topjoy Falcon, currently raising funds on Kickstarter — is another.
The Falcon is similar to GPD’s other main product, the Pocket, in that it is first and foremost a tiny Windows 10 laptop. As you can see, it basically looks like a MacBook Pro that’s been hit with a shrink ray. But the Falcon has a 360-degree hinge, meaning you can flip the 8-inch screen all the way around to use it as a small but chunky tablet.
The Falcon I received is a pre-production model, so this isn’t a full or final review. There are a ton of minor-to-major issues that the manufacturer is aware of, and we’ll have to see if they get fixed before the Falcon is set to ship in February.
A note on crowdfunding:
Crowdfunding is a chaotic field by nature: companies looking for funding tend to make big promises. According to a study run by Kickstarter in 2015, roughly 1 in 10 “successful” products that reach their funding goals fail to actually deliver rewards. Of the ones that do deliver, delays, missed deadlines, or overpromised ideas mean that there’s often disappointment in store for those products that do get done.
The best defense is to use your best judgment. Ask yourself: does the product look legitimate? Is the company making outlandish claims? Is there a working prototype? Does the company mention existing plans to manufacture and ship finished products? Has it completed a Kickstarter before? And remember: you’re not necessarily buying a product when you back it on a crowdfunding site.
With that said, this is looking like a pretty cool machine. At 150-percent scaling and the panel’s 1920 x 1200 native resolution, I was surprised by how usable the 8-inch screen turned out to be for general Windows use. Of course multi-window multitasking isn’t ideal, but you can get quite a lot on the screen at once — it’s a vast improvement over the 10-inch 1024 x 600 netbooks of yesteryear. Which isn’t saying much, but I had to use a Toshiba NB205 as my only computer for a very dark six months back in 2009, so I do appreciate how things have moved on.
Inside there’s an Intel Gemini Lake Pentium Silver N5000 processor, putting it roughly in the ballpark of the Surface Go. Unlike Microsoft’s mini tablet, though, there’s 8GB of RAM as standard and 128GB or 256GB of proper SSD storage. Connectivity is more than adequate: one USB-C port, one USB-A, a headphone jack, and Mini HDMI. I found performance to be pretty good for the kind of simple tasks I’d want to do on a device of this size; streaming 4K video was no problem, for example. While this obviously isn’t a gaming machine, you can run simple stuff like Minecraft pretty easily — the biggest problem in that case was the unorthodox WASD key placement.
Which brings me to the Falcon’s hardware design. The keyboard isn’t bad for what it is, with reasonably comfortable keyfeel, but the layout is unavoidably cramped and you’ll definitely feel like some keys are in weird spots. The optical sensor “mouse” input is a much bigger problem: it’s truly terrible. I’d definitely recommend using a small Bluetooth mouse with the Falcon — I’ve been relying on my trusty Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse, which has been saving me from bad trackpads for more than half a decade now. I just wish the Falcon had a ThinkPad-style nub like the GPD Pocket.
The Falcon makes for a pretty unwieldy tablet
The Falcon also makes for a pretty unwieldy tablet. On my prototype, the accelerometer is almost completely non-functional, and the device doesn’t know when the keyboard is in tablet position — the keys remain active, and there’s no prompt to activate Windows’ tablet mode. Some of these issues will be fixed, but that’s not going to do anything about the fact that the Falcon just feels heavy (1.5 lbs) and bulky (20mm thick) for a device of its size. I wouldn’t really view the Falcon’s hinge as a tablet feature — in practice it’s more like a versatile kickstand.
There are several other serious hardware problems that Topjoy says it’ll fix. The Falcon is super top-heavy in laptop mode, for some reason, so it tips back if you open it at too wide an angle. The USB-C port is also set too far into the body, meaning you have to use cables with a physically longer connector — I couldn’t charge the Falcon with anything other than the cable it came with. Right now the Falcon doesn’t even go to sleep when you close the lid. All of these are massive flaws that would be dealbreakers if unfixed, so you’ll have to trust the manufacturer when it says it’s on the case.
Look, you probably know whether you’d have any use whatsoever for an eight-inch laptop, and you probably know that the answer is that you probably wouldn’t. But if you do think you’d enjoy the Falcon, and could live with its litany of flaws I’ve described, I think you’ll have fun with it. If its issues are addressed, the worst I could say about it would be that it’s a solid modern netbook.
The Falcon is currently on Kickstarter for a few more days and has already met its goal more than fourfold. You can get a 128GB model with a pledge of $399 right now with shipments set to go out in February. That’s a much more reasonable price than the $699 it’ll supposedly sell for later on, but of course requires you to take the Kickstarter leap of faith and trust that the major problems will be resolved. Personally, I’d wait and see what the final devices are like.
Even if the issues are fixed, this is clearly a super-niche product that is never going to be sleek or consumer-focused. But I like it that way, and my suspicion is that almost anyone considering dropping several hundreds of dollars on a tiny laptop does too.