Review of OpenPandora Handheld Gaming Device

Posted by Scott_Ruecker on Apr 29, 2011 12:51 PM
LXer Linux News; By Thanh Nguyen



LXer Feature: 29-Apr-2010

The buyer (me) acts as the investor for this project since their pre-order money will be used to fund the project. It was originally pre-ordered for $330, but after over a year of waiting for the production to take place I canceled it. Now in addition to pre-ordering, the Pandora can be bought and shipped in a week for a premium price of $500 which I took the opportunity, but is it worth the cost? Let's find out..

Here is more info about this handheld device. screenshot1, screenshot2

The buyer (me) acts as the investor for this project since their pre-order money will be used to fund the project. It was originally pre-ordered for $330, but after over a year of waiting for the production to take place I canceled it. Now in addition to pre-ordering, the Pandora can be bought and shipped in a week for a premium price of $500 which I took the opportunity, but was it worth the cost? Let's find out..

Hardware:

The Pandora uses the same CPU, DSP and GPU as the Nokia N900, but in terms of performance the Pandora is a clear winner, because some of the software is written to take advantage of the hardware. Most DVD and XViD videos can be played smoothly using SMPlayer. The emulator "PCSX-ReARMed" can run PlayStation games at over 120fps. Of course, the Pandora uses the BurrBrown OPAMP for great sound and amplication to the headphone.

When the Pandora was first conceived a couple years ago, the ARM Cortex-A8 CPU is chosen. However now there are mobile phones rating at 1ghz or more. Unfortunately, the limited performance of the CPU makes the device feel aged and performance suffers with applications that required raw processing power. Running Firefox 4 is bearable, but not fast enough to be practical. At the moment I am still looking forward to the support of DSP acceleration to play h.264 contents.

Screen:

I believe it uses the same screen as the Archos 604 WiFi resistive touch screen. Using a full blown desktop environment required a stylus and marksmanship. The Pandora does come with two environments, a full desktop and one more touch friendly, but there is still a need to port over something like Meego if its going to be touch versatile.

Applications:

The Pandora uses Angstrom as the main OS. The Pandora developers created a type of single executable file called PND. The PND packages the application and its dependencies into a single executable file. This is very convenient since one can run both a new and older version of a program each in their own PND. One of my concerns with PND is a lack of central authentication and possible security risks. As well as potential for copyright issues, since one can create a Firefox4 PND and slip in Adobe Flash plugin along. And lastly, PND files lack the ability to update themselves unlike apps installed from a repository.

PND applications can be downloaded from the OpenPandora apps page. Some popular apps available are: Abiword, Firefox, Gedit, GIMP, Gnumeric, GParted, Grsync, Pidgin, Rockbox, SMPlayer, Transmission, Truecrypt, VLC, Xarchiver.

Another way to install an app is OPKG package manager, but as of this writing the OS has issues with its package dependencies. Trying to install something using OPKG could result in a broken OS and required reflashing the device, which is very easy to do as instructed from the support page at openpandora.org. Additionally the support page of OpenPandora.org allows downloading of a CodecPack to support more media files playback if your country laws allows it.

Games & Controls:

The device is designed specifically to have excellent gaming controls, including two analog nubs that have excellent responsiveness, even for controlling the mouse on the desktop. The keyboard is exceptional and better than in any other handheld devices I've used. The keys are firm with travels and feedbacks. Included are all keys you would find on a standard keyboard. I do feel the keys are a bit stiff, but in a durable way.

There are already over 200 free games available at the Pandora apps page. From simple ones like the default GNOME card games to engines to run Quake3 and DukeNukem. The main purpose of the Pandora though is to run an emulator for classic gaming consoles and is what it does best. There are emulators that can run SNES, PSX, NES games perfectly, as well as ScummVM and DOSBox. There are emulators for Nintendo64, Commodore64, Atarai800 that are close to perfect or being improved.

* You should purchase your own copy of the game you wish to play.

Some Issues:

1. Battery drainage: Similar to the Nokia N900, the Pandora has to be turned on while its charging. Either due to hardware design or poor coding for power management drivers in the current "HotFix 5". The device discharges quickly while its off and even during low power mode, at least for my device.

The battery power is excellent, since you can have a 8 hour gaming session before the battery runs out, but if left turned off or in low power mode over night, the battery can drain by 20% or more. Other Pandora users from the official forum says they do not experience this issue so it could just be my a problem with my unit.

2. WiFi: Due to imperfect WiFi driver for the current HotFix5, the connection speed is limited. My device only download at 100kb/s max when I know my internet is much faster.

3. The screen hinges are not stiff, so by tapping on the screen it might fall backward, this makes it harder to browse the web on the device unless you want to lay the screen flat.

Conclusion:

Because of the small funds and limited production, the Pandora cost more than what it should compared to big brands that can mass produce their units in the millions. The Pandora is not worth the purchase if you are looking to buy a small computer to run general applications. For that get a tablet or a high-end mobile phone instead. I do feel that due to its superb gaming controls and open development model, the Pandora is simply the best handheld device to play classic gaming emulators and other free games.

I am not concerned about small software problems that can be fixed in the codes, such as: implementing a working Pandora-specific repository, full WiFi speed, fix battery drainage and more availability of linux distros to be installed easily for idiots like me. I believe these issues will be addressed in time.

Disclaimer : I am not affiliated with OpenPandora.

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