The creators of the all-open source MNT Reform laptop are getting nearer to launching its handheld counterpart: The crowdfunding campaign for the 7-inch MNT Pocket Reform has officially launched and is also serving as a de-facto preorder system for the device. The cheapest version of the Pocket Reform starts at $899, and it’s also being offered in purple for $969 or in a bundle with a 1TB SSD, carrying case, handbook, and poster for $1,299. All versions are currently slated to ship in mid-October.
Crowdfunded hardware projects have a pretty spotty record when it comes to actually shipping products, but MNT used essentially the same funding strategy for the full-size Reform back in 2018.
Like the full-size Reform, the pocket version uses open source hardware and a mechanical keyboard (buyers can choose either white or red Kalih switches). But the pocket version uses a 7-inch 1920×1200 LCD screen instead of a 12.5-inch version and comes with fewer and smaller ports (two USB-C, one micro HDMI, a microSD port, and one ix industrial mini Ethernet port). Its keyboard also comes with an individually programmable RGB backlight, and its trackball-style pointing device has been downsized to fit into the smaller design.
The Pocket Reform also includes built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, 128GB of built-in eMMC storage, and an expansion slot for 4G cellular connectivity. The device will also boot from microSD cards or an NVMe SSD installed in the device’s M.2 slot. Its 8000 mAh batteries will allow it to run for about four hours.
We reviewed the full-size Reform laptop last year with mixed results. For people who care about such things, a laptop with entirely open hardware and software is an impressive technical achievement. MNT has also made a few hardware and software improvements since then—swapping some fiddly, easy-to-break plastic parts with metal replacements and making it harder to kill your batteries by letting them drain for too long, plus continuous software and firmware updates.
But the laptop’s main problem is its pokey hardware performance. Its 1.5 GHz quad-core Cortex A53-based CPU offers roughly the performance of a Raspberry Pi 3 or a mid-2010s budget smartphone—just barely enough to get by for basic browsing and document editing, fine for command-line work, and difficult to live with for just about anything else. The Pocket Reform improves a little on this front, with a 1.8 GHz clock speed bump (thanks to a newer manufacturing process) and 8GB of RAM instead of 4GB, but the Reform’s performance will still fall far short of a modern PC or Mac, smartphone, or even a Raspberry Pi 4.
While MNT plans to ship the first Pocket Reform models in October, its blog post notes that supply chain kinks could delay that timeline. From the “risks and challenges” section of the Pocket Reform’s funding page:
“Pocket Reform has hundreds of electronic components. We tried to pick them so that there will be enough stock when we get around to manufacturing the boards, but it’s always possible that there could be a sudden component shortage or increase in price. If that should happen, we would have to re-engineer the affected PCB and exchange the part, causing a delay in continued production. We had to adapt our products several times during the global chip crisis, so we are confident that we’ll be able to work around any difficulties. Should any situation arise that would delay the estimated shipping timeline, backers will be informed promptly via project updates.”