Pandora review
We love
The staggering potential of the device
We hate
It requires incredible dedication to get the most out of it
For serious gaming enthusiasts this could be the dream handheld
Launch Price
£230 ($349)

You won’t find the Pandora on the shelf at your local high street retailer, ever, but for a select band of dedicated gamers, it’s the year’s – nay, the last five year’s – biggest hardware launch. The open source, emulator rocking gaming handheld has been years in the making, but it’s finally arrived, for a lucky few. We’re one of the first sites on the planet to get our hands on one, but is it really worth opening Pandora’s box? Find out in our exclusive Pandora review.

They say that good things come to those who wait but for the incredibly patient punters who dutifully pre-ordered the Pandora console way back in 2008, it’s been a tense and nail-biting experience.

For the uninitiated, the Pandora is an open-source device which aims to fuse the best bits of an ultra-portable PC with a proper gaming interface. It’s the culmination of years of hard graft by a dedicated team of super-techies who nurtured the project from conception to completion almost entirely in their spare time. To top it all off, the machine has been assembled here in good old Blighty.

Of course staunch patriotism isn’t enough to warrant dropping over £200 notes on this box of marvels but thankfully the Pandora boasts a myriad of awesome features underneath the rather unassuming exterior to make the decision that little bit easier.

Before we go under the bonnet though it’s time for some brutal honesty – while it’s hardly what you would call an ugly device, in purely physical terms the Pandora isn’t going to win any industrial design awards any time soon. It’s a little larger than a Nintendo DS Lite and comes with a matte rather than a gloss finish which makes it easy to grip but also means it’s sadly prone to marks and scuffs.

The Pandora’s D-pad and dual analogue “nubs” though are fantastic – in fact we’d go as far as to say the machine boasts the best gaming interface we’ve yet experienced on a handheld. The addition of a keyboard might seem like overkill initially but it comes in useful more often than you might expect. To round off the input options the Pandora also showcases a resistive touchscreen display and comes with a stylus that docks rather stealthily on the underside of the machine.

Given the sheer number of buttons and pads on display you’d expect using the Pandora to be the video gaming equivalent of negotiating the M25 during rush-hour whilst blindfolded and riding a skateboard, but after prolonged play we found it was actually more comfortable than the Nintendo DS Lite, mainly because the additional bulk allowed us to obtain a much more agreeable grip.

The Pandora is rocking a modified version of the open-source operating system Linux and has been designed with bedroom coders in mind. Although it runs a Windows-style desktop, boasts Wi-Fi and can surf the net, the main focus of the device is unquestionably gaming – or to be more specific, emulation of vintage consoles ranging from the humble Atari 2600 right the way up to Nintendo’s N64.

At present the Pandora has only a handful of emulators available for it but over time this will increase as more and more keen coders get their sweaty hands on the machine. However, even at this early stage it’s perfectly possible to play Mega Drive, NES, SNES, Master System, Amiga, Spectrum, C64, Atari ST, DOS-based PC, Game Boy and PC Engine titles at close to full speed with sound.

16-bit emulation is particularly impressive, with Mega Drive and SNES games running as well as they would on their host hardware. Thanks to the lush D-pad controlling the action is a breeze and little is lost in the transition.

Emulation of other, more powerful machines – such as the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo N64 and Sony PlayStation – is a little rougher around the edges. Not all games run and many of those that do feature issues such as crippling slowdown, garbled sound and corrupted graphics. For example, the N64 title Smash Bros runs at an acceptable speed but many of the characters are missing minor details like texture-mapping on their faces and clothing.

It all sounds a bit alarming but when you consider that the majority of emulators currently available for the Pandora are hastily-ported and largely unoptimised versions of existing code, it’s understandable. Over time the performance of these high-end programs is certain to improve. In fact the future promises many other exciting developments – the Pandora is apparently capable of replicating the performance of the 128-bit Sega Dreamcast, and videos showing such emulation have been posted on the net as a tantalising proof-of-concept. See a glimpse of Shenmue and Crazy Taxi below:

Outside of emulating crusty old retro consoles the Pandora can perform some pretty impressive 3D tricks and it’s hoped that the machine will get its own dedicated software library at some point. For the time being everything runs off SD cards, and because the Pandora has two slots which accept cards up to 64GB you can effectively double-up on your storage capacity to a maximum of 128GB.

The Pandora can also be used for surfing the web, checking your email and instant messaging, all thanks to its Linux heritage. Browsing your favourite sites is a little cumbersome thanks to the size of the display but it’s no more problematic than using your smartphone. Basic Flash adverts load, and you can watch YouTube via a client (which doesn’t use Flash).The ability to add on USB peripherals – such as keyboard and mouse – means that you can essentially transform the Pandora into dinky desktop PC, and this makes hitting the web a little more intuitive.

Chances are by this point the realisation has dawned upon you that the Pandora is not your typical video game console. This is a piece of hardware aimed at diehard enthusiasts and if you’re the kind of person who finds configuring the Sky+ box to be a daunting task then this handheld is likely to represent an entire world of hurt for you.

However, those of you that revel in flexibility and appreciate the potential offered by such a powerful device will want to check this out at the earliest possibility opportunity. It’s not likely to usurp your Nintendo DS or replace your Sony PSP but it does offer up a way of carrying the history of the video game industry around in your pocket as well as showcasing web-surfing capabilities and many other tricks.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *