Reviewed: Pandora Console
If you're familiar with the original GP2X and GP2X Wiz, the Linux-based handhelds produced by Korean techno-alchemists Game Park Holdings, you'll be acutely aware of just how close they came to greatness; both consoles suffered from compromises that prevented them from truly fulfilling their potential. Interestingly, some of the guys in charge of distributing these two machines internationally felt the same way and back in 2008 they set about creating their own dream machine that would avoid the pitfalls that afflicted those two consoles. Read on to discover whether it was worth the effort.
It's a PC in your pocket - the Pandora is only slightly larger than the DS Lite.
Two years and several broken deadlines later, the Pandora is finally with us. Boasting a 600MHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor, 800×480 4.3in resistive touchscreen, dual analogue control and even built-in Wi-Fi, it's obvious that this device means business. For starters, the Pandora has a physical interface that is comfortable to use. The D-pad and ingenious low-profile analogue nubs are great, and the resistive touchscreen and 43-button keypad further augment the device's input options.
At the heart of this beast is an Ångström-based iteration of the Linux platform we all know and love. In its default setting, the Pandora's OS operates very much like a standard PC desktop environment, but it's possible to opt for the more straightforward icon-based GUI if you'd like to keep things as simple as possible.
Both the GP2X and Wiz required plenty of effort to get them working properly, but the Pandora is even more complicated. Don't expect to simply scoop this up and start playing - most of the available apps require a concerted amount of tinkering before they operate as you want them to. Naturally this added complexity offers up benefits as well as headaches; the machine is capable of a lot more than the aforementioned Game Park devices. You can surf the web via Wi-Fi, watch YouTube videos and other Flash content (take that, Apple iPad) and even perform more mundane tasks such as writing emails or indulging in a spot of word processing. The open nature of the machine means that a potentially limitless number of applications could be created for it.
The Pandora's excellent D-pad makes retro gaming on the go a real pleasure.
Getting your game on
The main focus of the Pandora is gaming, though. It offers a smorgasbord of retro goodness, with emulators available for vintage machines such as the Mega Drive, SNES, Game Boy and Neo Geo. Performance is head and shoulders above that seen on the Wiz, despite the fact that the vast majority of emulators available so far are quickly ported variants of existing programs. The Pandora's processing grunt doesn't end there, though - it can also replicate more modern consoles, such as the PlayStation and N64.
Essentially the same caveats that came with the GP2X and Wiz apply here; the Pandora isn't likely to replace your PSP or DS, but if you're serious about portable gaming and don't have any objections to toggling settings and tracking down ROMs (which, lest we forget, is something of a legal grey area) then the Pandora is likely to qualify as your dream machine.
Our verdict: The ultimate open source gaming device, but only seriously dedicated geeks need apply. 8/10.
First published in Linux Format magazine