Hands on with the GP2X Wiz
Our GP2X Wiz finally arrived and, although we've literally only had this Linux-powered handheld in our grubby mitts for an hour, we wanted to give you our first impressions. You may recall the original GP2X, a Korean-manufactured portable media player and retro gaming box - well, the GP2X Wiz bumps it up a few notches in power and design.
For the specs, the Wiz now has a 533MHz ARM CPU (up from 200MHz on the original) and 1GB of flash (up from 64MB). Most importantly for us, the fiddly little thumbstick-D-pad oddity of the GP2X has been replaced by a proper, normal, what-everyone-on-the-planet-expects cross-shaped pad. Given that the GP2X and its Wiz successor are targeted at retro gaming and emulation, a proper D-pad is a must. Annoyingly, the buttons on the right are also shaped like a D-pad (but they are separate buttons, as opposed to being joined in the middle), which makes them a bit too close together for our tastes.
So we're glad the main D-pad is sorted out - and we're impressed by the build quality and sparklingly bright touchscreen too, which remains clear and bright even at wide viewing angles. The Wiz is more compact than its predecessor and feels a lot more robust in the hands. Still, the placing of the shoulder buttons isn't ideal, inset by a centimetre from the sides on top of the unit, and demanding some rather unnatural finger-bending to reach.
On the software side, the chunky icon based interface provides access to a bunch of games, including Animatch (Bejeweled/match three clone), Space Varments (mindless screen-tapping gremlin-killing larks), Snake on Dope (Drug-addled Snake clone) and Square Tower Defense (you guessed it, a Tower Defense clone.) Nothing inspiring, but let's face it: these games are just here to make the device look like a legitimate standalone games machine that definitely doesn't require you to rip-off copyrighted software, no sirree.
There's also a collection of Flash games which are entirely in Korean so we can't make head nor tail of them. They are, however, outrageously cute and have the most toe-tappingly catchy soundtracks you will ever, ever hear. Fact.
It's not clear how much the Wiz is meant to be backward compatible with the original GP2X - we've tried a SNES emulator and a Megadrive/Genesis emulator but they just froze up the machine. Still, the developer behind MAME4ALL has shown it ported to the Wiz already, so there's hope that the full library of software will eventually run. We've also discovered an annoying bug in which the machine's audio volume level is reset at certain points, eg when changing screens in games. You can't even change the volume using the hardware buttons in the main interface screen. Rage!
But that can easily be fixed by a firmware upgrade, so we're not too fussed about that now. Ultimately this kind of device stands or falls based on developer support, so unless you've got a serious case of hardware lust you're probably best waiting for developers to port their apps to the Wiz. In the meantime, we'll try to get some emulators running and post an update if we have any success...