First draft of my serious review. [Zero funny]


Aug 28, 2010
For those of you already aware of the OpenPandora and the mere mention of it is making you giggle to yourself, I have a story with a happy ending for you. Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.
The original OpenPandora started shipping in 2010 and under the guidance of the original leader it shipped a few hundred units then stopped. A series of setbacks attributed to poor quality work by CircuitCo(CC) caused units to suffer from a high rate of failure. This was followed by more problems (third party bankruptcy) which lead to the project being placed on hold for more than 6 months - Construction was transferred in late 2011 to German company Global Components under the control of a new leader Michael Mrozek (Evil Dragon). The construction of the ‘Rebirth’ Pandora using an updated SOC was redesigned with most of the known issue resolved and started shipping quickly. This success was quickly followed by the construction of the upgraded 1Ghz model under the less than serious codename of “Super Pandora 2.0”. Both models have been in stock and shipping for months. :) - Bonus reading: the-history-of-the-pandora
Bonus: As you can imagine, there were a few hundred preorders yet to receive their units since ordering in 2010 and the new project leader has continued to donate his own profits to pay for the preorders abandoned by the original team leader which were left unfilled due to his financial losses - Every two orders of a 1Ghz Pandora from his store covers the cost of an original preorder. FYI: This is a factor in the price.

Review of the 1Ghz OpenPandora: 
The 1Ghz model is the mass production model and is available directly from the team leaders store and is in stock. As of June 2013, there are over 5000 Pandoras of different kinds shipped and as such it is no longer the white whale/vapor it used to be. New software is released every day with 1000+ PNDs (350,000 downloads) on the official repo app store and the community is strong with an active forum and irc where most problems can be quickly resolved - Anything serious is normally handled by the staff directly or with the help of the members on the forums or irc channel. Like all good communities, both are welcoming to new members.
I was lucky enough to get a rebirth model shortly after production started and had been a huge fan of the unit for the over 12 months. I recently decided to upgrade my 600Mhz unit to the 1Ghz Pandora because of how much time I’ve been spent using my unit and felt it was worth the price of admission. My collection of other portable handheld gaming devices is not tiny and I’ve found myself not using any of them because the OP has simply overshadowed their use in lots of different ways. The form factor, gaming controls, keyboard, battery life, screen size and catalog of games is very impressive and I’ve rarely found myself spend more than a few days without using my OP... Lastly while I am a fan of the OpenPandora for several reasons - I’ll pay attention to the good first and the bad second, I shall include negatives in the review so nobody gets a shock....


What is the Pandora? 
About the size of a Nintendo 3DS, the OpenPandora is a fully functional portable computer with touch screen, full keyboard, gaming controls, wifi, USB host, two full SD and over 10 hours of battery life.

The Pandora was designed without limitations to be a handheld game console that holds the opensource tenets to heart. Most of the source code is publicly available (NDA stuff not included). There are no advertising or spyware. No upselling. No jailbreaking required, you can install anything without question. To finish the point, you pay for the hardware and you own it completely. It runs doom.

The official OS with a full-featured Linux desktop running a full desktop XFCE, a clean friendly UI called minimenu and bonus Android support. The base OS is managed by the team and updated regularly with more features and bugfixes but the unit is completely FOSS friendly and there are several unofficial OSes to run (Archlinux, ubuntu, slackware).

The Pandora Repo is an appstore that will hit over 1000 PNDs in the next two months with 350,000 downloads and counting. It’s used to download/update and track of new software releases. Filled with native applications, emulators, homebrew games, remote access, office tools, web browsers and more. There are even paid apps for programmers who are looking for a little coin. The project leader runs regular coding competitions with prizes to help grow the Repo.
PNDManager lets people browse the Repo. Firefox & Chrome offers web browsing with flash, Java & LibreOffice offers office production and XBMC, VLC & rockbox offers video/music playback and streaming. DOSbox & Qemu works with a full range of software from my childhood.

In the last few months, the repo has started to see officially licensed games such as Classic Apogee Games, VVVVVV, KAMI RETRO, Super Hexagon with more planned. Ports of popular games including Alien Vs Predator, Freespace(1/2), Uplink, Duke3D, Shadow warrior and homeworld and high quality free homebrew titles like Barbie Seahorse Adventure and nubnub have been released by members of the community over the last few years. I’m looking forward to more multiplatform official releases by indie developers.

One of the major perks is the quality and polish of the gaming emulators. - Most of the game consoles you expect are covered by emulators. NES, SNES, N64, Genesis, Master system, Gameboy(Advanced), MAME, SCUMMVM, Atari, Amega, C64 and NeoGeo.

The gold standard is the PSX emulator. PCSX-reARMed not only runs in realtime but with an enhanced Hi-Res 3D graphics plugin which up-scales and renders at double resolution in real time (on the Rebirth). A long time developer released an excellent ‘native ARM’ Nintendo DS emulator which takes advantage of the touchscreen and should hopefully reach realtime sooner than later. There is a semi-stable PSP emulator and a few other releases which are getting more polished and stable over time.
Some of these emulators are full speed, some of them are slow and buggy and some are just outright ugly but the quality is getting better over time. The major problem with most of the emulators is the lack of a standard hotkeys and menu system with almost every emulator having a different style of navigating. Accessing the menu or quitting the application is different per PND.
Bonus: One of the most important recent developments is the release of Compo4All framework (The pandora vs pandora online score system). This functionality is being added into titles that offer any kind of score to offer ladder/scoreboard competition. This started with MAME arcade games and more C4A titles are getting released over time with the Apogee games included in the mix. Check out the Compo4All MAME PND, the Tournament Hub frontend or the web scoreboard
The OpenPandora has a serious case of best intentions syndrome.. The unit offers as much functionality as it can and it tries to do it in a way that can be used by people with and without computer knowledge and sadly there are a few steps that will confuse people. You should never see a bash CLI command prompt during your day to day use unless worse comes to worse and you’re getting help diagnosing an issue.
That said, there are places that are missing some polish. Applications don’t share a common menu or common button scheme. Menu, Exit and jump might be the completely different button on different applications but documentation is included with most the applications.
The OS is updated to resolve problems and recently the touch screen, the wifi, the audio and some additional power saving fixes rolled out which has resolved problems for a majority of the userbase... fixes are always being added. The PNDs are not really given excellent QA testing. some of them are ugly. some of them have no instructions. some of them are cheap ports and some of them require manual handling to work. some of them just don’t work on the different models (very rare). The update process isn’t perfect with the PND package being separate to the appdata which sometimes requires additional files to work such as BIOS and ROMs or has to be deleted entirely with new versions. This is a problem which is getting worked on.... open source has always had a problem with the user experience because most programmers don’t have time to make things pretty or easy (define: idiot proof)... the forum is here to help.
Should you buy one? Do you play lots of games on portable devices or want an excellent Linux netbook to ssh into your office? Yes. The Pandora is over $500US because you are paying the money to buy the unit, pay for the abandoned preorders, support the community and further the free as in beer spirit of open source... doesn't that feel good?
Are you unwilling to deal with unpolished software, bugs and issues? Buy an Apple something...
Quality of the physical unit:

Because of the problems with the CC units.. the Rebirth and 1Ghz units have a new silver case that looks and feels much better than the original. It doesn’t feel cheap and I haven’t had my unit crack in the same places I experienced on my old unit. The LCD cable has been totally replaced too.
The case isn’t beautiful but it’s functional and I don’t pretend for a second it was build by Apple. It’s not scratched up or covered in fingerprints tho... the clamshell design is nice enough but the screen doesn't sit perfectly flat with the case when it's closed on my unit. My Rebirth was overclockable from 600Mhz to 940Mhz and my 1Ghz is overclocked to 1.2Ghz safely - this updated SOC runs the Android version of Max Payne and GTA3 perfectly, rebirth didn’t work at all.
The keyboard are plastic and spongy but acceptable. Not perfectly qwerty and requires both hands with some of the characters you’ll use everyday triggered by function keys but you’ll get used to it as is the case with almost all keyboards. I’ve typed some of this review using my unit as a test. The touchscreen works as expected as a touch mouse pointer but 99% of the time the nubs are used as the mouse.
The gaming controls are damn excellent and are in the right place. The D-Pad and ABYX are perfect. The Nubs take a little time to get used to them and one of the major flaws is nub calibration as it takes the unit a few seconds of use to calibrate correctly... The first time you use the nubs, they will not work perfectly until you’ve done a little dance with them. The 2 Shoulder Buttons work comfortably.
The screen is nice with a decent resolution and minimal ghosting in my experience. Touch screen works well with the stylus included in the case. Not too big, not too small. Most of the games work in 4:3 and some of them take advantage of the widescreen.
WiFi has been pretty bad and rarely works with the onboard chip... I’ve been using a $9 microusb WiFi dongle. As I've said, in the last few weeks the WiFi drivers were updated and have improved the problems for lots of the userbase, I haven’t tried yet. I’ve never used the bluetooth.
The speakers are not intended for playing music and while the small speakers won’t take advantage of this, the designer of the PCB is a noted audiophile and he paid some serious attention to the audio circuits, I'd recommend testing it out on your headphones. Extra reading 1 and 2
Using the Pandora:
Applications are offered a clean self contained format (PND). Downloading a PND and saving it into the correct location (<SD>/pandora/apps/) will trigger the unit to automatically list the new PND in the correct location on the start menu and/or an icon on the desktop.
The OS is stored on the internal NAND storage and all of the PNDs and most of the application data is stored on the SD card. You can wipe the OS and use the same applications moments later. Additional data such as cache, settings, roms are stored on the SD card (<SD>/pandora/appdata/) and managed automatically.
Sometimes you’ll need to read the manual as to know where to place the required additional files but this shouldn't be much of a problem and most applications just work without intervention.
Links to other reviews:
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A fair and balanced review - and a decent read.   :)   Just a couple of the smallest of syntax errors:  "The unit offers as much functionality as it can and it tries to do it in a way that can be used by people with and without computer knowledge and sadly there are a few steps that confuse will just confuse people." & "The 1Ghz model is the mass production model and is available in directly from the team leaders store and is in stock." - other than that?  It all seems good and accurate to me.

Also, the internal wifi does seem to be a bit better on my unit with Notaz's fixes and the bluetooth has worked flawlessly on my 1GHz unit.  The only problem being that some people report that it loses (bluetooth) connection when it goes into power-saving mode.

Sorry for my typical blathering - I didn't intend for this to become a review of your review.   :D

If this is a draft, are you looking for comments? Who will the final version be directed at?
Please review my review.... I'm very very tired and this was posted as is after I wrote it top to bottom in one sitting. I'm not a journalist, so my grammar might offend some of you :)

Please fix my spelling mistakes and reflow my sentence structure if you so wish.

It is overly positive because I want ED to sell units... but I don't think I outright lie.

It's written for but I'm happy to get it released elsewhere.
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I really like this review :) . I will like to comment on the issue about non uniformity on menus and buttons though. When I use my desktop computer with either linux or windows basically all programs and emulators are using different menus and buttons. If we look at the Pandora as a computer it's perfectly fine that there isn't uniformity. I don't see why Pandora should aim at something that is a standard on Android and IOS. It's like having freedom and at the same time desiring to be chained.
Nice to see my Pandora spares again :) .

(I took the picture for the article I wrote for Ekianjo).#

LCD-cable is in a bad position.

Should have checked before.
Well it may be over 1000 if you count what wasn't moved from the two old repo.. Not that many of those were worth moving over.
Well it may be over 1000 if you count what wasn't moved from the two old repo.. Not that many of those were worth moving over.
i disagree, there are some real gems on the old repo. AAAA and its expansion pack for example.
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True, I didn't say all of them were bad... just that a good majority are old versions of current stuff.
You can ignore this entirely, doesn't really matter.. but the reality is; "the Tournament Hub" is _a_ frontend by pmprog (other people are welcome to write them.) If it becomes stable, it could become 'the default' one. The actual project is 'Compo4All'. ie: Tournament Hub and C4A are separate projects, that complement (sort of akin to a webserver and web browsers.. you need both, but any one component can be swapped out for another that uses the same protocols.) C4A promises a community and ideal, and has a default server implementation (that I'll replace with a better one when I get time to write it), and Tourny Hub is a frontend (and is another frontend; same protocols used really, just one is web, one is on-pandora.)

But yeah, thats splitting hairs, so I don't care if you update :)

I'll reword it tomorrow. Sorry :)  I'll add an empasis on the "C4A".

ED: Got any notes?
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Well it may be over 1000 if you count what wasn't moved from the two old repo.. Not that many of those were worth moving over.

i disagree, there are some real gems on the old repo. AAAA and its expansion pack for example.
Super Mario war as well.

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