My Caanoo First Impressions (Skeezix)


skeezix

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We're all gadget nutbars, aren't we? I've been doing mobile development in homebrew, shareware and commercial arenas for 10+ years and can even today build some of my apps for a dozen platforms all in one shot :) Disclosure -- yes, I'm one of the guys who spent way too much time on the Pandora... and also the Wiz, the GP2x F100 and F200, the GP32, and you name it, so I think I'm a pretty balanced (pre)reviewer.

Regarding the Caanoo, I've been on the fence - it seemed to arrive a little too quick on the heels of the Wiz in my books so I've worried there may be some disappointment from the Wiz community; only time will tell if GPH keeps up support for the Wiz (in terms of WiFi and games on their homespun FunGP store) but it is heartening that they have said that "Yes!" they are still behind the Wiz.. but understandably just a bit tired out in launching the new device. Fair enough! Further, with specs rather similar to the Wiz itself, I wasn't sure if I needed to upgrade or not.

Well, GPH very gratiously sent me a white Caanoo for development (and no, I do not mark something up just because I got a freebie! This is my 'first impressions' but rest assurred I will be fair .. buying me out costs a hell of a lot more than a device! GPH if you're listening - send me a Camaro and we'll talk!)

Now, my wordy stream of consiousness 'first impressions' .. sorry for the length!

Main stuff:

In hand ergonomics and look: Pretty fine, I have to admit; it reminds me of the old GP32 though of course not as bulky or rounded. It feels pretty solid though does have some creek in a few places when you twist it a touch, but nothing to worry about (and quite possibly is a result of the stylus slot.) I liked the Wiz when it came around due to its pocketability and gorgeous screen (compared against the gp2x), but after the device-honeymoon phase I found the small size and tiny d-pads buttons more annoying than beneficial. In the end when I'm commuting I don't really have down-time (usually driving or with my little one) and so the pocketability isn't really of value to me. All told, the Caanoo is a much better looking and feeling machine if you can deal with the size. The larger screen and better button placement is all win. To sum -- its actually a pretty attractice machine, is solid feeling, and everything seems placed well. It _immediately_ replaced my Wiz. (Disclosure; I got sent a developer Wiz (GPH is _really_ cool in this regard, they've been trying very hard to make good with the developer community; this is doubly commendable for reaching out to the English and Spanish homebrew communities.) I also _bought_ a Wiz to show support and get the same specs as everyone else.)

Size: The unit actually fits loosely into a PSP sleeve, so its smaller than the PSP; it should fit into a jeans pocket pretty well, but it is a little large. This is a benefit to me (since I don't carry gadgets in pocket for the most part), but may be a concern for some; those people can stick with a Wiz. I'd say the size is a win.

Screen: Sure, its no OLED like on the Wiz (what was a goregeous bright little screen we must all admit), but its nice and big and sharp; it doesn't have the black levels or intensity of the OLED but as a mobile dev I long ago grew accustomed to these sorts of screens and I think most are in a similar boat - but the size and crispness go a long way. (Okay sure, I'm a purist in some regards and collect arcade machines, with their giant 30 year old fuzzy-pixel monitors, so you'd think crispness wouldn't matter; but in the small mobile space, crispness works really well. The blur in big arcade monitors is great when your pixels are the size of your finger ;) I did notice in some lighting conditions and on-screen colour situations that it was a touch brighter at the bottom than the top, but its barely noticable. Being a TFT (I think?) screen I thought it would actually be a little worse (more like the PDAs of years gone by) but its an excellent screen without too much 'stage bloom' on one side like most TFTs have. In daylight visibility is not too shabby, which is a traditional weakness of TFT. It is pretty odd that the screen plastic overlaps the display by a little bit, but I suspect this is to cover another traditional TFT oddity -- the 'white band';
many LCD screens have a bright white single-pixel boarder round the outside - not too annoying really, but odd nonetheless. Either way, the casing covers probably 4 a pixels on each side which is a little much. (Given a large set of the use-cases will be emulation, video and music playing its not a problem -- most arcade or home console games focused most activity on the middle of the screen to avoid bezel problems like this, and of course music doesn't care. Applicatoins may have to compensate however, and your Galaga game will suffer a touch with enemies who deliberately hide in the bezel. So instead of calling it a 320x240 screen you might want to call it a 310x230 and center it :) The screen is a touchscreen and seems as accurate as PDAs of yore as well, unlike the pretty atrocious touchscreen on the F200 and Wiz. I've not worked it hard, but it doesn't seem to have the big dead-regions of those guys. So its a great screen, but it does have some trim.

Joystick: An old rant is that I actually liked the wobbly top heavy GP32 joystick, and really liked the Neo Geo Pocket stick; but its been years since I really used those so I can't fairly compare. The Caanoo has a joystick and not a d-pad or discus-of-control, and it is clearly superior to the GP2x F100 stick and the really goofy F200-button-pad-thing; the Wiz d-pad was not too mechanically bad, but just too small for my fingers and so just worked out not to be too good. With all of this behind, you can pretty much argue the Caanoo stick is right off the top better than anything GPH has done, and more to point -- it turns out to be a fairly accurate controller as well. The material is grippy enough to not have your thumb sliding off and feels good, without sticking too far out. Now, I've not looked into the APIs or hardware to know 'how analog' it is or if the firmware or apps are mapping to digital ordinals on their own and with what approach etc etc, but with Mame4all (the only app I've tried so far as not much is natively available yet) it works out quite well; trying hard-ordinals like Pacman, no problem; trying shmups like Sky Shark / Flying Shark (one of my favourites, and actually the first actual cabinet I bought :) works pretty well though a little diagonally at times; I tried to get a good feel for the stick using Gauntlet (I own two of those cabinets ;) and while a thumb controller can never compare to a real joystick, it works pretty well when trying to line up shots to the creature-spawn points. Now, I suck at playing games, so not being 100% precise is probably a large part my fault (I'm nbever all that precise with dpads either), but this is a good stick, one of the very best mobile controllers I've used. (I've not really used a NDS enough to say, but I find the PSP d-pad anoying in the first few iterations but pretty good on the PSP-slim (PSP-2000); I'd say this stick is about that good, though a totaly differenyt kind of animal of course.) I've not tried the stick in a more purely analog mode, and will have to get to coding before I get a good feel there, but I feel confident in saying -- GPH did good here. Controls are a traditional weakness of GPH, and I think they nailed this one pretty well. The stick does have a push-for-button, and its pretty stiff so might be usable; in general I just hate push-me buttons on a stick since I want to whale on the stick and not accidentally press buttons, but this one may be okay (like in an xbox or ps2 controller .. stiff enough you don't hit it normally, but good in a pinch.) the corresponding d-pad buttons are well placed and well spaced (the opposite of the Wiz), and work well.

Battery: I've not measured to see the lifespan, but it seems pretty good; the only point I can make is that it is not designed to be user-removable. I've not disssembled yet to know if it in fact _is_ user changable or if its custom and hard to access, but its important to note. I think the PSP did it well where batteries are available on every corner, but most devices have a built-in and unremovable battery, so you can't fault the Caanoo for it. Still, I prefer otherwise. But its not like the battery will not last as long as you're using the device (a few years), so not really a concern.

Specs and Utility: It perhaps need to be said, the unit is more or less similar to a Wiz in specs; its sort of a Wiz v 3.0 -- larger (a win in my book), with improved interfaces and buttons and the g-sensor and so on, but still more or less a Wiz. Technology is not moving forward too much here, but ergonomics is. This is a game-playing device, really oriented to 8- and 16-bit style of games (witness the emulated games in the FunGP store), and not a general purpose gadget per se. I honestly don't think it'd make a good book reader due to the low rez of the display (and the built in book reader is really what I'd call a 'text file reader' since it doesn't do any ebook format of note), but as an mp3 player, emu player, etc, it is well designed. Obviously, and especially being Linux based, you can push its limits and go nuts (that _is_ why we're all here, right?), but I don't think it'll really be _fun_ to use as a VNC terminal say. But for your retro gaming and general hacking, it actually seems pretty ideal, what with that screen rez being pretty ideal. I don't mean to suggest the unit is designed for Linux geeks, it is _very_ accessible for avergae joe.

Boot time: Very fast! I'll have to check what they did there.. nice :)

Minor stuff:

SD Slot: Good old solid SD slot, and with a port cover (like most ports on the unit, nicely done!); a minor beef is the slot is a little over recessed so hard to push the SD in that list little bit to stick it in place or eject it; not something to concern over.

Power Switch: big and Battlestar Galactica style, I dig it; a big orange switch on the side .. nice and easy to work, no sloppyness. When I saw pics I thought it looked goofy, but in person.. great. On the left side of the unit is a big LED to indicate on or charge state, and and again .. big and BSG style, and awesome. The looks are good.

Headphones: As with most devices, the headphone jack is on the bottom; I wish otherwise, but what can you do? Typical for these kidns of devices.. I don't know why :)

Shoulders: The 'trigger' buttons are mechanically fine, but as with any small handheld, they'll be positioned in an awkward place; theres nothign a mobile can do about it, so these are pretty good in terms of the mobile space.

Menu and software: its 'just a menu', which is to say it works, swooshes nicely and has some animation, but it stays out of the way and gets to the point pretty well, so good enough; I'm not a UI guy (as in, I'm a pretty forgiving guy when it comes to menus and hardware; sometimes I wish I was more picky, but blessedly I'm not!) So the menu seems great. I mostly look at a menu as -- its either there, or its bad, so this is good -- I don't notice it, so it did the right job!

Disliked:

The Speakers -- this is the achillies heal of the Caanoo. It doesn't sound too bad, but it does sound a little weird -- like sound coming from the next room over down the hall; its obvious the sound is being pointed out the back and sounds a little muffled as a result (especially if your hands accidentally cover the grills, but thats not too much an issue.) A few times I found myself wanting to subconsiously flip the unit over to hear clearer. The sound is crisp in headphones of course, but the speakers facing backwards is just wrong. I appreciate the mechanical realestate challenges, but it has to be said .. the speakers are of good quality, just placed in the wrong spot.

Untested:

I didn't try the motion sensor or feedback-buzzer.

I didn't try Wifi since their Wifi-module is not available yet; I must say I find it very distasteful to list the unit as having Wifi (with an asterisk saying an external module is needed) -- check the review sites and videos, and you'll see most of them miss the asterisk and assume the unit actually has Wifi, when _it does not._ Anyway, browsing on the small res screen is not the best thing ever (check your PDAs of yore on 320x320 of 160x160), but it'd be handy for multiplayer gaming or game-ladders, etc. It should be pretty good on the Caanoo as with any Linux device, but its not something they should push in advertising per se. *shrug*

I didn't try the GPU (or really try to push hard performance. This sort of machine is not designed to be a speed demon, but is instead designed to have the specs good enough and then some for its target of games.)

Final word:

In the end -- I thought the Caanoo might have come too soon and not been enough of an upgrade; if you're tight for cash or pocket space this might still be the case. But I gotta say - given a Caanoo, _I_ would never go back to the Wiz -- the larger size is great for me and I really think they've got a hit for ergonomics and changes. Its not a giant leap forward, but its definatley the way to go for new buyers or those looking for a change.

jeff
 

Pickle

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I think your review is lining up with most the things ive experienced so far.
I might have missed it, but I dont thin you mentioned the volume slider. Personally I think the analog pot is the best way to go. They are using a ADC which has a noticeable delay. I also find it a pain to find low volume levels. I also wonder if the slider will become lose over time and easily be bumped( like in a pocket).
 

Tetsuro

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Maybe the gods will tweak the emulators as to use less space on the screen to go beyond the pixels lost.
 

Amon_Re

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Pickle said:
I think your review is lining up with most the things ive experienced so far.
I might have missed it, but I dont thin you mentioned the volume slider. Personally I think the analog pot is the best way to go. They are using a ADC which has a noticeable delay. I also find it a pain to find low volume levels. I also wonder if the slider will become lose over time and easily be bumped( like in a pocket).

I actually liked that aspect of the volume control, it's pretty unique
 
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torpor

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We're all gadget nutbars, aren't we?

Absolutely. Positively. Definitely.

I got my Caanoo today. I have to say, I really, really like it. I may in fact like it just a -tad- more than the Pandora, right now, but I think a lot of that has to do with the OOBE.
 

skeezix

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The volume slider is pretty unique (yay!), but it does strike me as easily moved in a pocket; to be fair, a volume wheel isn't any more resilient, so I figure its about the same 'in practice.'

I looked in dl.openhandhelds and theirs pretty much nothing up for Caanoo; is there somewhere else people are getting sw? :) (as caanoo isn't linked from frontpage of dl.open yet, I can see stuff not going up there; I just edit the url and plug in caanoo.cgi instead of whatever.cgi and there it is :)

But yeah, for being old tech etc and yadda, I really like the Caanoo; it hits a certain sweet spot .. the right form factor, a good screen, good enough specs for the target systems, a good joystick.. yeah, really awesome :)

jeff
 

torpor

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I've played a couple games on it so far, its a pretty fun machine to be honest, feels good, plays very well. I'm quite happy with it.

Haven't been able to get wifi working - it sees my networks, but doesn't seem to be letting me enter passwords for them .. grr, a bit lame, that. Well anyway I'm not sure what I'd do with it once I got it on the 'net anyway, there's really nothing out there that uses networking on it, yet..
 

Amon_Re

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skeezix said:
The volume slider is pretty unique (yay!), but it does strike me as easily moved in a pocket; to be fair, a volume wheel isn't any more resilient, so I figure its about the same 'in practice.'

I looked in dl.openhandhelds and theirs pretty much nothing up for Caanoo; is there somewhere else people are getting sw? :) (as caanoo isn't linked from frontpage of dl.open yet, I can see stuff not going up there; I just edit the url and plug in caanoo.cgi instead of whatever.cgi and there it is :)

But yeah, for being old tech etc and yadda, I really like the Caanoo; it hits a certain sweet spot .. the right form factor, a good screen, good enough specs for the target systems, a good joystick.. yeah, really awesome :)

jeff

The only other place i know is fungp, and there's only one free app there (rhythmos with 2 songs), feel free to take a look on my site if you want an overview: http://www.kefren.be
 
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Tetsuro

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Amon_Re said:
skeezix said:
The volume slider is pretty unique (yay!), but it does strike me as easily moved in a pocket; to be fair, a volume wheel isn't any more resilient, so I figure its about the same 'in practice.'

I looked in dl.openhandhelds and theirs pretty much nothing up for Caanoo; is there somewhere else people are getting sw? :) (as caanoo isn't linked from frontpage of dl.open yet, I can see stuff not going up there; I just edit the url and plug in caanoo.cgi instead of whatever.cgi and there it is :)

But yeah, for being old tech etc and yadda, I really like the Caanoo; it hits a certain sweet spot .. the right form factor, a good screen, good enough specs for the target systems, a good joystick.. yeah, really awesome :)

jeff

The only other place i know is fungp, and there's only one free app there (rhythmos with 2 songs), feel free to take a look on my site if you want an overview: http://www.kefren.be

Nice site, I've inserted it in mine bookmarks since you are up to date with news. The graphics are a bit awful, try Wordpress it has a lot of nice themes.
 
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Amon_Re

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Tetsuro said:
Amon_Re said:
skeezix said:
The volume slider is pretty unique (yay!), but it does strike me as easily moved in a pocket; to be fair, a volume wheel isn't any more resilient, so I figure its about the same 'in practice.'

I looked in dl.openhandhelds and theirs pretty much nothing up for Caanoo; is there somewhere else people are getting sw? :) (as caanoo isn't linked from frontpage of dl.open yet, I can see stuff not going up there; I just edit the url and plug in caanoo.cgi instead of whatever.cgi and there it is :)

But yeah, for being old tech etc and yadda, I really like the Caanoo; it hits a certain sweet spot .. the right form factor, a good screen, good enough specs for the target systems, a good joystick.. yeah, really awesome :)

jeff

The only other place i know is fungp, and there's only one free app there (rhythmos with 2 songs), feel free to take a look on my site if you want an overview: http://www.kefren.be

Nice site, I've inserted it in mine bookmarks since you are up to date with news. The graphics are a bit awful, try Wordpress it has a lot of nice themes.

I recently wiped my site, still need to make a new layout etc, but i'm not feeling inspired right now ;)
 
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Exophase

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Tetsuro said:
Maybe the gods will tweak the emulators as to use less space on the screen to go beyond the pixels lost.

That would be really awful.. the Caanoo has no hardware scaling so it'd take a big performance hit, and scaling at a fractional value so close to 1 is going to cause really obvious distortion, to get a good filter on that it needs to be incredibly high order, with the result probably looking close to just distributing those lost rows and columns across the length of the screen. The edges of displays on old games don't traditionally contain important data because TVs wouldn't very reliably show a lot of it. Maybe the impact of losing any particular row or column in isolation is less than losing a bunch in a row, but it'd still look really obvious having them in the middle of the screen.
 
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skeezix

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Old TVs (and arcade game bezels etc) definately had odd borders, so it shouldn't be too bad. The noticable problem is..

- game scores or other edge-text
- the odd game with edge-action (like Galaga, the bee's who come loitering around the edge of the screen)

You cannot scale to get out of it; for systems that are '320 wide' (a bunch), its just going to be a 'problem', but relatively minor I think.

jeff
 

Nova

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Nice review. I'm about to send you a PM.

EDIT: Actually, I'll just wait and catch you on the IRC channel, it's not important.
 

Tetsuro

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Exophase said:
Tetsuro said:
Maybe the gods will tweak the emulators as to use less space on the screen to go beyond the pixels lost.

That would be really awful.. the Caanoo has no hardware scaling so it'd take a big performance hit, and scaling at a fractional value so close to 1 is going to cause really obvious distortion, to get a good filter on that it needs to be incredibly high order, with the result probably looking close to just distributing those lost rows and columns across the length of the screen. The edges of displays on old games don't traditionally contain important data because TVs wouldn't very reliably show a lot of it. Maybe the impact of losing any particular row or column in isolation is less than losing a bunch in a row, but it'd still look really obvious having them in the middle of the screen.

So old emulators are mapped 1:1 with the result to lose a lot of the pixels? Than it's lucky that the Caanoo has a bigger screen. Don't know how people could play in these conditions with the smaller screen of the Wiz.
 
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cosam

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Great review, thanks! Not had much chance to play with mine yet (arrived a couple of days back) but my first impressions are largely the same. Volume control is a bit of a downer as Pickle says, hard to set it low enough. Only other niggle was the bezel but we all know about that. Otherwise a nice, solid piece of kit that really looks the part.

skeezix said:
Boot time: Very fast! I'll have to check what they did there.. nice :)
Yeah, that is pretty impressive, eh? Although I rather think the key is in what they don't do! ;-)
 
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Exophase

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Tetsuro said:
So old emulators are mapped 1:1 with the result to lose a lot of the pixels? Than it's lucky that the Caanoo has a bigger screen. Don't know how people could play in these conditions with the smaller screen of the Wiz.

The size of the screen has nothing to do with it, the data is lost either way. It's not like that many pixels are cut off, I hear it's about 6 columns (dunno about other way)
 
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