Gaming laptops are getting better by the year, but they still have some pretty fundamental problems. They’ll always be bulkier and heavier than regular laptops, battery life is never going to be that great, and you still have to carry around a controller and mouse for serious play. What if you could fix all of these problems in a single, pocketable device?
That device exists. Sort of. It’s called the GPD Win, I’ve been using one for a while, and it’s kind of amazing. And a better version is on the way, so I thought I should write about my experience.
GPD — the name stands for Game Pad Digital — is a small company based out of Shenzhen, and their inventive, niche products are a testament to what can be achieved when you’re in the heart of the Chinese supply chain. The GPD XD is a clamshell Android gaming machine, for example, while the GPD Pocket is basically a 7-inch Windows 10 laptop.
But the Win is GPD’s most ambitious device, occupying the space between those two. It’s only about the size of a 3DS XL, but it’s a full Windows 10 laptop with a QWERTY keyboard and Xbox controller built right into the bottom panel. It has an excellent 5.5-inch 720p touchscreen and runs on the same Intel Atom x7 processor that Microsoft used in 2015’s Surface 3. Right now it sells for $339.15 through GPD’s AliExpress store.
Build quality isn’t amazing, but it’s solid enough. The version of the Win I’ve been testing is a more recent revision with an aluminum top panel, which feels very sturdy, although the rest of the device is mostly plastic. There are useful dedicated switches for activating different fan speeds and changing between controller and mouse modes, and the rear of the machine has a wide array of ports including USB-C for charging, USB-A, a microSD slot, a headphone jack, and Mini HDMI. It’s comfortable to hold, and the quality of the analog sticks, D-pad, and face buttons is pretty good, though the shoulder buttons feel a little flimsy. The 6,700 mAh battery delivers dramatically different levels of endurance depending on what you’re doing, but I’d say generally you can expect to get five or six hours of game time out of the Win, which is better than I expected.
The Win really is a miniaturized laptop, with all that entails. The biggest advantage is that you can theoretically run any PC game or application that the hardware supports, meaning anyone with a Steam library full of older classics or newer indie games has a ton of stuff to play right out of the box. The downside is that the hardware is more like a netbook than a gaming laptop, which obviously limits what you can pull off.
But often when you do pull something off, the GPD Win offers an experience that no other device in the world can. Portable Rez Infinite, for example? Or Cuphead? Or Inside? (Okay, I tried that one before last week’s iPhone version.) A lot of the buzz around the Nintendo Switch has come from the myriad of ports from other systems — you get to play games on the go that you wouldn’t normally be able to. Between a gaming PC, the GPD Win, and cloud game saves, though, you get a similar experience. I was planning to play Axiom Verge on the Switch, for instance, because I bought it on PC ages ago but found I couldn’t really get into it while sat at a desk. Instead, it’s turned out to be a perfect fit for the GPD Win.
The GPD Win hardware also does a good job with older PC games, though it can be tough to get the controls working well as many of them never had standardized gamepad support. The best way to give the Win a workout, then, is with games from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era, many of which work right away with the integrated Xbox controller support. You’ll almost always have to turn the graphical settings down to low, and maybe tweak the resolution or even the config files on top of that, but I’ve been able to get pretty good results from games like Mirror’s Edge, Street Fighter IV and Batman: Arkham Origins. The Win isn’t quite powerful enough to run most games as well as an Xbox 360, though, which I think would be a reasonable goal for future iterations of the hardware. (More on that later.)
The Win’s biggest strength — that it’s literally a Windows 10 laptop in your pocket — is also its biggest weakness. The UI hasn’t been altered or optimized in any way, meaning that when things don’t work out as expected, it can be a chore to investigate or experiment. The keyboard is functional but stiff, so it isn’t at all conducive to touch-typing, and while the sticks are an okay mouse substitute for the most part, precision movement is tough. As you’d expect, Windows 10 on a 5.5-inch screen is also not particularly conducive to touch input. There is, however, a vibrant community of GPD Win owners that are happy to share their tweaks and tips on Reddit and elsewhere — the YouTube channel LowSpecGamer is particularly great for showing how to get games running on the Win and other low-end hardware.
Another option, assuming you’re using the Win at home and it’s not your only gaming machine, is streaming. Steam Big Picture mode, which is designed for TVs, is a great fit for the Win because you can navigate everything with the D-pad and instantly see which games will automatically work well with the built-in controls. And, if you’re on the same network as your PC, you can stream games directly to the Win even if they’re not installed. This actually works great, and lets you play newer games that the Win’s hardware wouldn’t be able to handle. Microsoft’s Xbox app for Windows 10 does the same thing equally well — it’s like having an Xbox One version of the PS Vita with PS4 Remote Play. I would say this is the best way to play Battlefront II in bed.
Overall I think the current GPD Win is pretty good value for what it is, but I don’t think I could recommend it at this point to anyone who wants it as a high-performance portable machine to run games on natively. Although it’s not really the same thing, most people would get better results from a $299.99 Nintendo Switch.
If you are sold on the GPD Win concept, though, you should keep your eye out for the GPD Win 2, which is set to launch on Indiegogo on January 15th. It has a larger 6-inch screen, a more powerful Intel Core m3 processor, shuffled controls, a bigger battery, vibration motors, and a new design. GPD’s figures suggest that it’ll be able to play Grand Theft Auto V in 720p at over 30fps, for example, which is definitely well beyond the current model’s capabilities. The Win 2 is also likely to be a lot more expensive than the original Win, though, so bear that in mind.
The GPD Win clearly isn’t a mainstream consumer product, but if you’re into the idea and are willing to put in the time, it’s a wonderful device without parallel. It ranks alongside the PSP, the PS Vita, and yes, the Nintendo Switch in its ability to make you doubt what you’re seeing in your hands. And, while it doesn’t deliver anywhere near as slick an experience as any of those portable consoles, the fact that it truly is a full-on PC means that its capabilities are much broader.
If the GPD Win 2 can deliver on its performance promises, it could be something really special.