The Kingnovy or Pipo Mini Pocket is a 7in laptop running Windows 11 that’s available from AliExpress from around $200 or pounds – bargain! As a fan of ultra portables, I couldn’t resist, so bought one to see if it could be a viable option for photographers who, like me, want to travel light. My full review is in the video below, but if you prefer to read the written version, keep scrolling!
I currently use a 14in MacBook Pro for most of my work, and even a couple of years later it’s more than fast enough to handle everything I throw at it. But at about 1.6kg or three and a half pounds, it’s not something I want to carry around with me very often, especially for long trips or basic tasks.
I realise phones and tablets are the lightweight solution for most people, but by the time I’ve brought along a Bluetooth keyboard for entering a decent amount of text, and a stand to hold the device up, they’re not so portable anymore.
But a bigger issue is I always feel I’m struggling to work around a mobile operating system when it comes to getting images out of my camera and viewed or backed up. Some apps can work well, but others less so, or even not at all. Believe me I’ve attempted this route many times on mobile and it’s never been anywhere near as consistent or reliable as just using a proper laptop.
So what I’m looking for is the smallest possible laptop that runs a full desktop operating system, has a half-decent keyboard, plenty of storage for photo backup and a bigger screen than my phone.
Back in the Nineties when I wrote for Personal Computer World magazine, there were actually loads of ultra-portables, most notably the Toshiba Libretto series at the high-end, not to mention a bunch of Palmtops running simple software but with respectable keyboards, including my beloved Psion Series 5. By the way if you’re a Psion fan, you might enjoy my retrospective review of the Series 5 on my Dino Bytes channel.
But as phones and tablets gradually took over ultraportable duties for most people, the market for tiny laptops, palmtops and netbooks mostly disappeared, to a point where today, the lightest MacBook Air – considered one of the most portable mainstream laptops – weighs over 1.2kg. Sure it’s a lovely device and light for what it offers, but it’s roughly double the size and weight of what I’m looking for.
While the traditional laptop brands seemed to have lost the appetite for true ultra-portables, a variety of Chinese companies have recognised an opportunity. GPD is one of the leaders here, producing a series of desirable portables, albeit mostly aimed at PC gamers and some costing over a grand.
I was half-tempted until a friend on Twitter mentioned a model they’d seen on Amazon selling from around £300. I did a bit of digging and after spotting similar models from different companies, I thought I’d check AliExpress to see if they were rebranded.
And here’s what I think is the original unbranded model, made in China by KingNovy or Pipo, and often starting at just under $200 or pounds depending on coupons and discounts.
Now if you’ve bought this kind of thing in the past, you’ll know the images and specs used in the advertising aren’t always an accurate depiction of what’ll actually arrive at your door, but in this case, two weeks after ordering, my mini laptop arrived in the UK and appeared to match the description.
So here’s what I’ve got for a total of £241 including shipping: a mini clamshell laptop with an Intel Celeron J4105 quad core processor running at 1.5Ghz, 12GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD drive with Windows 11 pre-installed and activated.
The only options at the time of ordering are selecting a drive size from 128 GB to 2 TB, and which AC plug you’d prefer. The claimed battery life is two to three hours which so far in use seems realistic.
Upgrading my drive to 1 TB only cost around £30 more than the base 128 GB model, so seemed like a good deal, although it’s easy enough to access the drive socket behind a flap if you’d like to buy and fit your own.
As for the operating system, the Windows 11 installation looks legit at first glance, but unsurprisingly no disks or activation codes were provided. I’ve heard of people installing their own versions of Windows or Linux on it, although I’ve not tried that yet.
One YouTuber, S-Tech, has made a series of useful videos about this laptop as well as generously opening a forum dedicated to it, so if you’d like more tips, drivers or OS advice, I’d recommend checking it out.
The laptop certainly fits the bill on size and weight, with a 186x140mm footprint, 21mm thickness and weight of just 680g, or one and a half pounds. Roughly half that of a MacBook Air.
Considering the price, it’s also remarkably well-built, with an aluminium alloy shell, robust screen hinge and no sharp edges, rough joins, or tell-tale creaks.
Opening the lid reveals a compact but surprisingly usable keyboard. Sure, it’s not backlit, the keys are small and some, like Tab, may take a moment to find and remember, but there’s reasonable travel and they’re a hell of a lot easier and more pleasant to type on than a phone or tablet screen.
Meanwhile the red circle between the split space bar is what IBM laptop owners previously called a nipple, and it’s used to push the pointer around the screen. The two buttons below the split space bar are the left and right mouse clicks if you need them.
While I’ve happily tweaked many a, um, joystick in the distant past, I couldn’t personally get on with this one as the speed and response varied too much for my liking. Your mileage may vary.
You can of course connect a wired or wireless mouse, or like me, mostly end up using the touch screen which proved surprisingly effective for navigating a desktop OS on a small display even with your fingers and thumbs.
Speaking of which, the laptop features a 7in actual screen with a 16:10 shape and 1280×800 resolution – so 16:9 videos will playback with very thin bars above and below, but still deliver a comfortably larger image than most phones.
I expected the worst from the image quality, but again was pleasantly surprised. It’s bright, crisp, colourful, has minimal bleed, and again effective touch capabilities that I ended up using for most of my day-to-day navigation.
Sure, the bezels are quite wide, but they can act as thumb-rests when you’re gripping the laptop in both palms. In fact this works pretty well, and I found I could just about reach most parts of the screen with my thumbs in this position without putting it down.
There’s a basic camera built-into the left bezel that’s fine at a push, but if you have your phone with you, you’ll almost certainly enjoy better quality from it.
Audio isn’t a highlight either. The built-in speakers are unsurprisingly tinny with a complete absence of any bass, and due to the size of the device, the cooling fan runs pretty much all the time – thankfully it’s fairly quiet and becomes barely audible if there’s any ambient noise. I also tried both wired and bluetooth headphones and either will give you a big upgrade in sound quality.
On the right side you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a Type-A USB port and what the manufacturer calls a TF card slot, while round the back are another Type-A USB port, the power socket, and a Mini HDMI port for connecting to external displays.
So the first thing to note is there’s no USB-C, nor any kind of USB charging at all. Instead, you charge the laptop using a supplied AC adapter with a barrel plug.
I might as well get this out the way right now – this is the major downside of this particular laptop in the modern World. I don’t want to return to the days when I took a separate charger for almost every device, and this one’s even larger if you have to factor in an adapter for your local AC socket.
One solution is to use a USB-C to barrel adapter which could negotiate the correct voltage from a compatible Power Deliver source – you’re looking for one with a 12v DC output and a barrel that’s 3.5mm in diameter with a 1.3mm positive pin in the centre.
I bought one, but found it would only output 9v with all of my USB chargers to date, from power banks to my heftiest MacBook charger. I believe you’ll need a very specific USB Power Delivery source that is capable of outputting 12 Volts with 2.5 Amps for this to work properly, so it’s a work in progress for me right now, although I’m reassured YouTuber S-Tech has had more success.
Bonus points to S-Tech for also saving me from opening up the unit. In one of their videos they actually discovered a USB-C port on the motherboard next to the HDMI, but without a hole to access it in the case. Turns out this can work for data, like connecting external drives, but not for charging, so perhaps it was hidden to prevent accidental damage. But if you have a dremmel, knock yourself out!
Ok, so what about the pair of official USB ports? The specs say one is USB 2 while the other is 3.1 but doesn’t go as far as to actually label them. I’m sure you can guess which is the faster one, but I did a drive speed test with both, using an external USB SSD drive.
First here’s the score for the internal SSD using Crystal Disk Mark 8, where it scored 542 and 501MB/s for read and writes in the first sequential test.
Now for the external SSD drive connected to the USB port on the side, where it scored around 40MB/s for read and write in the first of the sequential tests.
And finally for the same external SSD plugged in the back where it scored just over 460Mb/s for read and writes in the same test. So clearly the rear USB port is the one to use for drives and data transfer, leaving the slower side port for basic peripherals like wired mice or keyboards.
Moving onto the card slot, Kingnovy refers to it as TF, short for TransFlash, a lesser-known format that essentially evolved into Micro SD.
Bottom line, the slot works fine with the Micro SD cards I tried, including those straight from my GoPro Hero 10, and here’s some footage I copied to it from a recent trip playing back fine.
Sure I wish it had a full-size SD slot, but few laptops do anymore, and space is at a premium here. So for reading SD cards, I just use a basic old USB adapter, in the rear port of course for the best speeds.
Here I’m copying a load of photos from my trusty Fujifilm X100V for viewing, basic editing and backup. This is a simple task I do all the time with my main laptop, but one which proves hard to impossible on my phone.
For starters, there’s about 30GB worth of data being copied here in one go across over 1500 files. I don’t have that kind of space spare on my phone, and even if I did, I often find mobiles and camera apps aren’t always 100% stable for copying this number of files in one go.
Secondly if you’re using an app to connect to your camera, you won’t always get the chance to access RAW files or even full size JPEGs and videos. But here I just selected everything in the folder, clicked copy, then pasted it to a destination folder without fuss.
And now it’s on my laptop, I can exploit any number of backup options which again aren’t limited in some way by their mobile versions. This functionality and access to a large amount of storage is what I really wanted on the move and was missing on my own mobiles.
Ok now for some more tests, starting with Geekbench 6 for a basic overall benchmark. The mini laptop under mains power scored 261 for single core and 560 for multi core, so let me know in the comments how that compares to your ultra-portables!
Moving onto wireless, some mini or budget laptops have limited Wifi capabilities, but I’m pleased to report this one will connect to both 2.4 and 5GHz AC networks.
Here’s the score measured by Speedtest.net on my home Wifi, using my 14in MacBook Pro on the left, and the Kingnovy on the right tested moments apart from the same desk, and I was sure to choose the same server too. Both machines were connected to my 5GHz network with my access point outside the room and one floor up.
Clearly the MacBook is faster here, especially for download speed at the same distance, but if you can move the mini laptop closer to the access point, its speeds will improve considerably, so clearly its antenna isn’t as capable as the one in the larger MacBook. This could be an issue if you’re in a location that has a weak signal, like some hotel rooms, so be warned.
If you are reasonably close to an access point though, the browsing experience with the Kingnovy was perfectly adequate for most sites, and I found the touch screen worked well for scrolling or tapping. In fact I was struck by how close the experience felt to using a mini tablet, despite the screen not folding completely open like a convertible device.
It’s also fine for watching YouTube or other streaming services, even if you switch the quality to the highest settings. Do remember though, the screen resolution isn’t even Full HD 1080p, so there’s no point selecting anything higher than 720p if you get the choice to do so.
Ok, so how about some photo applications? I feel I’m in the minority, but I’ve always preferred Adobe Bridge and Photoshop as a combo rather than Lightroom, so here’s Bridge browsing that folder of images I copied over earlier from the Fujifilm X100V. So these are 26 Megapixel images with a handful of panoramas, and for this first demo I’m showing you JPEGs.
If you’re familiar with these applications, you’ll notice the screen real-estate looks a bit cramped and with only 1280×800 pixels, you’ll need to be careful with your use of palettes. I’ve also auto-minimised the taskbar to free up a bit more space.
Browsing my images here isn’t the fastest process, and sending one to Photoshop takes a few seconds, but these are the latest versions of Creative Cloud running on a pretty modest system.
As for control, I found I could tap through to most menus with my fingers and thumbs alone, but for more precise adjustments, like tweaking sliders, you will want to either connect a separate mouse as I have here, or buy yourself a stylus to use with the touchscreen.
How about upping the ante further still? Let’s try and process a RAW file using the same workflow, starting in Adobe Bridge before launching into Camera RAW.
This was a ten second exposure of the Milky Way that I took with the X100V at 6400 ISO with the lens stopped to f2.8 for sharper star images in the corners. Again while it’s clearly not the fastest laptop around, it is sufficiently responsive for some basic adjustments on this 26 Megapixel RAW image. I’m using a full-size wired mouse again for more accurate control, but for travel I’d go for a smaller wireless model.
Unsurprisingly it takes a few seconds to send the file over to Photoshop, but remember this is in 16 bits and once loaded, I can continue to make adjustments with reasonable response.
I wouldn’t recommend it alone for any heavy lifting, but the fact is if I did need to use full versions of Bridge, Camera RAW or Photoshop for whatever reason, it’s all possible with a little patience.
I’m not much of a mobile gamer, but I know some of you would want to see how it performs, so here’s a quick demo of Minecraft with the default settings. Obviously for smoother performance in some games, you’ll need to tweak the graphics options. And now it’s time for the verdict!
Kingnovy 7in mini laptop verdict
The Kingnovy 7in Mini laptop turned out to be a surprisingly capable device given the size and price. The case, screen and keyboard are all way better quality than you’d expect, the internals just about fast enough to run full Windows 11 without driving you nuts, and the chance to accommodate up to 2TB of internal storage means it’s a viable option for backing up lots of photos and videos on the move. And you’re getting all this in a significantly smaller, lighter and probably cheaper package than most laptops.
Of course any laptop costing from $200 or pounds isn’t going to be perfect. For me the major issues on this model are a lack of USB charging, an ineffective pointer control, modest screen resolution, and tinny speakers; plus the small battery won’t last much more than a long movie, and you’ll need to be quite close to your Wifi for the best speeds.
But for me personally, none of these are deal-breakers for my target use, especially since USB C charging should be possible with a suitable adapter.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t recommend it as your primary computer or laptop unless your usage is very modest. And if you’re happy with the apps and storage on your phone and just want a more pleasant typing experience, get yourself a nice Bluetooth keyboard.
But if you’re looking for one of the smallest and lightest devices that can run full Windows with plenty of storage for backing-up photos, and a way better keyboard than your phone or tablet for banging out messages, then it’s a surprisingly compelling option.Check prices at Amazon, B&H, Adorama, eBay or Wex. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book, an official Cameralabs T-shirt or mug, or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!