3.09.2012

My own Pandora

How long has it been? Four or five years? I didn't except to arive it, but a recent mail informed me about my unit beeing ready to ship! I confirmed and got a lovely labeled package. Now I'm sitting here after a day of experimenting and have to say that becomes quite clear what the Pandora is meant to be. Well, I didn't knew what the Pandora would feel and operate like. A quality handheld? Like a miniaturized laptop? Or a calculator? To be honest, it's a mix of all three. Resembling a laptop at most, the joysticks can't hide away all the bulk and weight. Feels like a compact heavy book with a certain "crackle" every once in a while. The unit doesn't feel very stable on right side (due to the stylus beeing stored there) and for the screws weren't thaaat properly tightened but after retightening them I noticed that the shoulder buttons won't work anymore. So it seems that this is "part of the plan". In combination with the strange plastic quality, if feels sort of cheap. But well, nobody can expect something of Nintendo quality for an open source handheld that's a mix of many, many ideas from a lot of people without too much money or whole teams of experts behind. Not that I want to call the designers bad or so. I just think that the idea of this project would come it's full glory with a company behind delivering the highest production quality possible. Another real problem of which I'm quite unsure whether it's related to bad drivers or hardware is how the nubs behave over time. The left nub is harder to move than the right nub and even gets harder over time. Leaving it for a while will partially remove it until used more. Using it as a joystick in emulator seems fine, though. So I guess it's part of the generally buggy joypad-to-mouse software they used. I've read about similar problems when moving the nubs during boot and some tother things that should work in the future with better firmware and integration.

Besides this hardware property, I was a bit confused by the software provided by default. After some initial setup, there's either the more more or less console-oriented start menu (which looks very nice but feels just like another app trying to hide the slow reacting Linux setup behind) and an Xfce desktop with an admittedly amazing feeling due the fact that it DOES exactly feel like my own Xfce setup. However, only a small part of a Linux distribution will be accessible. There aren't even man files, probably removed to have more memory on the small internal memory. Installing pidgin and Firefox alone would fill it up and external memory is required to do anything game- or desktop-related. On the plus side, this makes the system more a stable base you don't to modify since the installation of new software is just copypasta to memory card - plug and play like with cartridges for ANYTHING you can run on it. Impressively to say the least. This made me quickly realize that this so called desktop is more of a skeleton with add-on functionality.

But all of this does not even remotely describe where the Pandora is actually good at: playing emulated games. Picked up a mupen file with a Super Mario 64 rom and was able to smoothly run it on my Pandora after a few tweaks. Simply awesome. No problems with the nubs during this, crystal-clean, rich display and a great sound make me forget all the minor problems I had with it before. Don't try to use it like a mini computer, use it like a gameboy. Plug in games and software - that's the nicest way to have fun with it. I can even use gcc on it, setting up a shell in no time and running my code from anywhere. Extremely awesome to say the least. The more I think about how much time I'll spend playing my favorite games once again in their almost complete former glory, the more I believe that this was one of the best investments I ever made years before. Not to mention the fact that they almost doubled the current price for some reason...

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