Pandora Hands-on (English version)

Not just professional companies develop for consoles. There is also a
wide scene of hobby coders, who simply do it for the fun of it. Anyone
can write software on the PC and start without problems. But whoever
wants to develop for consoles will hit some very big hurdles. Console
manufacturers don’t earn their money through selling the hardware, but
with licensing fees that third parties have to buy. Free games are not
appreciated by them.

Developers find a way to overcome these
hurdles, though: Whether with custom firmware on the PSP, a modchip
installed in the ps2, buying a flashcart for the DS or with the help of
bugs on the Wii – in the end you can run your own programs. It is
cumbersome, often throwing the warrantee into the air and especially
with modchips and flashcards the threshold of piracy is low.

But
there is another way: There are now a few handhelds that are aimed at
and depend on the hobby developers. The GP32 from the small korean
company Gamepark made the first step in 2001. It was originally
designed as a competitor to the GBA, but didn’t inspire professional
game developers enough. The success came when GP started allowing
everyone to develop for it without limits. As a result, a big
international community of developers was built. Its successor, the
GP2X was released in 2005 , developed by Gamepark Holdings also from
Korea. It too relied completely on hobby developers, but there were
also problems with communications to Korea, as the absrupt halt in
production clearly showed. The GP2X scene therefore decided to develop
their own handheld. A few skilled handymen have come together and
developed the Pandora.

Its specs sound like a wet dream of
every technology freak: 600MHz CPU, 128MB RAM, in-built Wi-Fi,
bluetooth, a touchscreen with a resolution of 800×480 pixels, two
analog sticks, a full QWERTY keyboard and – of course – Linux.

At
the „Games Convention“ we had the opportunity to be one of the first to
take this new handheld under the microscope, and to have a chat with
Michael Mrozek aka Evil Dragon, owner of GP2X.de and the german
distributor of the Pandora, about his mark on the scene as a scene
leader.

We were able to see the Pandora with the final
Mainboard, but with unfinished housing. Since this was still a
prototype and very rattley,we didn’t have a chance to really play on
the device. To start the pandora, it even had to be taken apart. A
first impression was possible, though.

The display made a very
good impression. It is large and razor sharp thanks to the 800×480
resolution. It is also very colourful from the side and it is very easy
to recognize everything. In the GP2X forums after pictures were
released, people expressed their concerns, that the controls would be
hard to reach. When you hold the Pandora in your own hands these
concerns quickly disappear. It sits well in your hands and there is no
problem reaching the two analog sticks. The other buttons are easy to
reach as well. The keyboard in our test model was still not assembled.
How well this will turn out in the end is hard to say. Otherwise the
buttons aren’t too small and easy to reach.

Michael Mrozek
showed us the emulator „Final Burn“, which was comforting as it played
old arcade at full speed. What the device can do shows a fully
unoptimised version of Quake 2 that ran almost without lags. Also
another fact is impressive, up to 5 Super Nintendo Emulators will run
side by side (Yes that’s just to show off, no one actually wants to do
that…). Therefore there should be sufficient power available for more
sophisticated Homebrew games. DOSBox is expected to reach new regions
and there’s also enough juice for emulators.

For creators and
modders it’s also interesting that the contacts are the mainboard are
deliberately left quite large for those who want to add additional
hardware, so that you can add hardware through normal means without the
need for an education in electronics. It is also worth noting that all
contacts are properly labeled.

The pre-orders for the pandora begin on the 30th of September 2008 and will be delivered on 13th November 2008.

Thanks to chris_r from the GP32x.com board for the translation. High-Res pictures are here.

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