MNT Pocket Reform Has Problems, But I Still Want It

I am a notorious lover of small computers. At the start of the year I wrote about my darling little Vaio VGN-P that I use all the time for communications, writing, and even dev work. But these things are long out of manufacture and difficult to repair. In current year you can get some compelling options from GPD, but their keyboards are pretty bad, so they’re out of the question for me. So, when I heard about the MNT Pocket Reform, I was pretty fucking interested. My first impressions are pretty good, but there’s some problems that could end up being deal breakers.

mnt reform pocket concept art with a purple aluminum chassis and an ortholinear keyboard. there is a trackball too.

To understand my critique, you need to know that I have repetitive stress injuries in both my hands/wrists that I have to actively manage. As long as I do everything right, I’m not in any pain and I can do all the work and play I want to. If I fuck up, I get to suffer for a week. That’s the whole reason I got that little vaio to carry around in the first place, so I could use my phone less. On top of that, I have a more general physical disability that makes it infeasible for me to carry around a heavy laptop everywhere I go, so weight is another huge factor here. If it wasn’t, I’d just bring my Thinkpad x220 everywhere and be happy. The difference between 2 and 3 pounds in a laptop may be nothing to you, but it means the world to me.

So from that perspective, what do I like? Well, first of all it’s small, so that’s a good sign for the weight. They haven’t announced weight yet but I’d be willing to bet that if I got the PLA case option, and swapped out the battery cells to bring it down from the stock 8000mAh to 4000mAh, it’d be well under 2 pounds.

It’s also got a trackball. I’d prefer a trackpoint, but trackball is still better for me than a trackpad, so I’ll take it. Given this is MNT we’re talking about, everything is open source, so it’s theoretically possible to design a trackpoint module for this thing. Personally I don’t have the energy to work on that myself.

Also, since it’s completely open, that’s a big win for repairability. This is something that I’d be less concerned about breaking than I am with my vaio, because if it breaks I have the knowhow to do something about that.

But… I have some concerns. My first issue is with the keyboard. It’s ortholinear, which might be fine for me, or might not; honestly I haven’t used an ortho keyboard long enough to find out. But more pressing is that they plan to ship with Kailh Choc White switches. These are clicky switches, and clicky switches are VERY good at causing my RSI to flare up. I’d love the option to buy it with tactile browns instead. If that’s not possible, I’d take it with the switches unpopulated so I can just solder my own in instead. That’d be preferable to having to desolder the stock switches.

My second bug bear is the display. It’s 1920x1080p at 7”, giving a PPI of 300. I find this rather excessive. At native scaling, everything will be too small for me to read, and UI scaling is something I don’t enjoy using. It also seems like it’ll needlessly strain the low-tier hardware it’ll ship with. But honestly, the vaio is in the same boat, so I’m already used to upscaling from a lower resolution to solve this problem.

The last thing here bothering me is they didn’t put in a headphone jack. Seriously?? USB-C to headphone jack dongles are a pain in the ass and prone to breaking, and I’ve gotten an unpleasant blast of loud digital noise out of even an apple one.

The elephant in the room that I’ve alluded to is the low-end computational specs of the thing, but honestly I do not really give a damn. I am considering this for a usecase that is already served by something equally slow, so it’s not a factor in the equation for me.

The weight is really the wildcard here. If it’s light enough, I’m going to buy one. If it’s too heavy, I won’t. All my other problems are things I can work around in software, or with some effort doing some hardware modding. I’m looking forward to getting ahold of one of these, and if I do I will definitely be writing about it here.


– artemis