My Pandora Preview


Nov 3, 2005
Today I am invited to a birthday party in berlin, so I took the opportunity and invited myself to EvilDragon's home in Ingolstadt to have a look at his pre-production pandora. While Ingolstadt isn't exactly on the way between Karlsruhe and Berlin, I figured having a premature look at the pandora is well worth a 3:30h/500km detour. I had quite an early start having to get up at 5:30 in the morning after 4 hours of sleep. The trainride was as beautiful as I hoped the pandora would be, the whole country is covered in fresh white snow, the sun was shining, the weather was sweet (and freaking cold). As I my train came closer I got somewhat nervous. Would the pandora be as good as she is constantly described by it developers (hello craig). I certainly hoped so, just to rub it in the face of my twatty vapourscreaming friends. To my knowledge, I'm the first "normal" customer (no first or second party developer), to write a preview.
So let's get it on.

--- I had the pleasure to use a pre-production model with a two different nightly builds of the software. This preview does not rate the device that will be shipped! ---
--- I am german. I don't consider my english bad, but I know it isn't perfect, so please forgive minor mistakes in orthography and style and ask if something isn't clear ---
--- There won't be many (or any) news in this preview. The process of the pandora development is too open for that ---
--- Everything written here is my opinion, im not affiliated with anything (websites, magazines, open gaming handheld development startups) concerning the pandora ---
--- NES and SNES are Famicom and Super Famicom. I don't know which name it has in the US ---
First off, EvilDragon is - as well as online - a super nice guy in reality. Thanks again for having me at your home, I had a great time.
Well, what's to say about the pandora? It's stunning. Really. ED and craigix are absolutely right when they tell you that this device will rock.

It is the pre-production-model, the same that ED took photos and videos of. The silk-screening isn't done and the finish is not finished ;) . It already looks lovely nonetheless. Some things need the finishing and redo: the shrinking, left side of the battery compartment, translucent LED cover and shoulder buttons. Nothing new here, but I'll be honest, in normal use, it's hard to see this stuff (except the shoulder buttons). Shrinking and battery compartment issues can be seen with the naked eye and a close look, but you'll need a magnifying glass to see the led cover-problem.
Concerning the shoulder buttons: They are okay as they are now, I guess everyone would be grateful if he had them on any other device. I had a look at the translucent case, too, the shoulderbuttons there are better (don't ask, it's a chinese thing ;) ) and we will get better ones in the final version. The LEDs look nice and remind me of older Thinkpads where you could see the same LEDs whether the lid was closed or not. With closed lid, the device bulky compared to other modern devices. But well, those devices are mostly smaller than the battery of our sweety, so go figure. The Pandora-Cube on the lid is good to distinguish it from japan-based lid-closing gaming handhelds.

Build Quality:
Very nice. Really. Especially the base part feels rock solid. I pushed but the case didn't flex. The battery compartment feels very solid too. Me and ED (rhymes galore) opened and closed the thing several times, more often than you would normally do in a month and it feels like you could to it a million times without breaking anything. D-pad, action-buttons and keyboard are very well built, it felt absolutely like a device a big company could sell.
One thing about the lid I didn't knew (I follow the official and inofficial blog but I don't read every last thread on the forums): The hinge is not THAT sturdy that you can use the pandora when the lid isn't snapped to the final position WHILE WALKING OF JUMPING. THIS IS FREAKING IMPORTANT AND I WILL COME TO YOUR HOME AND PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE IF YOU POST SOMETHING ABOUT IT WITHOUT READING WHAT I HAVE TO SAY IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH TEN TIMES!

Ergonomics and using the pandora:
So here you hopefully are still reading on from the last paragraph. Important: If you use the pandora handheld you WILL snap the lid to the final position. Because it's by far the most comfortable one. Unless your hands are somewhat crippled, you will. Believe me. If you don't move, you can use it with the lid in any other position, but it will snap close or fully open if you walk or jump around with it. I can't think of any situation where you would hold the pandora in this uncomfortable position while moving, so this is no issue. The only reason to use the pandora half-opened is when you put it on a table or something to watch a video or else and this works flawless.
I hope I got this covered now, it is the only thing that really was new to me and it doesn't concern me one bit, but I thought I let you know. And please remember the last paragraph of "Build quality".
The keyboard:
Is great. For a handheld device the buttons are really big, so you won't have any issues with fat thumbs or drunken typing. You will type with your thumbs. I don't have big hands, I'd say less than average and I can reach everything comfortably. Even stuff like capital s, which is one of the harder letter as you have to press shift with the left thumb and reach over to the s with the right one is easy to do. This is without sticky keys (wasn't implemented on this build). I even used a little vim (because I work as a linux administrator and plan to use the pandora with ssh) and I think with some training it will even be suitable for that. My typing speed increased while using the pandora (I ony was 2 hours or so at EDs) and I'm confident that with a few days use, you will type very fast on this thing. ED was way faster than me already. It is however no full-size keyboard and you won't write your next book on it. But for everyday use, IM, surfing, writing on forums, blog, twitter and else it is fine.
The d-pad:
Sad news first: On the builds available and in such a short time there was no game or emulator available to really test it. This would be games I know and play reasonably well, like Contra III, SMB1-3, SMB World, Street Fighter and some more. EvilDragon and the devs have better things to do then making emulators run under XFCE for me to play, so I can't make a final judgement on the d-pad. I did however play some supertux and DooM and I tell you: the d-pad just feels great. Really. I played a lot of NES and SNES in my days, some xbox360, dreamcast, ps1, ps2 too and I can say it feels freaking comfortable. As Supertux and DooM don't use diagonals I wasn't able to check them, but I _felt_ them. I'll eat some broccoli if this thing won't let you produce lengthy combos in beat-em-ups.
Action Buttons:
They work. They feel good and they work. You can feel when the button is pressed, this is very defined (omfg, this isn't proper english, is it?). I don't have much to say about them, I just can't imagine how to make them better.
Analogue Controls:
There was no game to play with them but they feel _very_ nice. If they work and the software makes good use of them, you will have the best analogue control on any mobile device (yes, I'm looking at you, PSP). I can't say anything devinitive about them.
Shoulder buttons:
Well, as you already know, they need some fixing. They are digital buttons, so I assume if the click distance is shortened, they will be nice.
I don't really plan to use the touchscreen a lot as I don't use the mouse alot on fullsize computers. You can use the touchscreen with your fingers if the buttons aren't too small. The screen feels nice and is matte, so it isn't sir smudgealot like certain smartphones and you don't have to wipe it after every use. The touchscreen works as expected. It was configured that rightclick was pressing long and this worked too. The only thing I can't see coming (for me) is using the stylus and the basecontrols (keyboard, buttons and pads) and the same time a lot. I think with the d-pad as cursor buttons and the keyboard and perhaps even the analogue control as a mouse you will find that you'll use the touchscreen mainly for mouse-only or heavy-mouse-use (now there is a word that can't come up too often) applications. I may be wrong, because as stated above I don't use mice alot anyway. The screen itself looks very good. High resolution, bright, good viewing angle. Contrast is higher on OLEDs (no shit, sherlock) but good anyway.
Well, they are tiny speakers. They are okay for gaming sound, they aren't very loud, but lond enough for me. No HiFi, sorry.
Sounds very nice. I just had my Koss Porta Pro to check, but I was satisfied. I put it up to full power and it was too loud for me. Guess that should be enough ;)
Not tested. But I saw the cable. It has sweet little pandoralogos on it.
Work like every other SD-Card-Slot in the world.
Volume Control:
A real, hardware wheel (Rhyme again!). I like it alot, I don't think it will accidently be rolled (?!?) in your pocket.
Changing the battery:
You don't really have to do it a lot (unless you need a day of pandora-using without a power outlet, but it works quite nice. The battery isn't heavy, I expected much more. It looks cool because it has a pandora-logo on it.
I considered stealing it.
It fits nice in my trousers front pockets and is way to small for my cargo pants' side pockets. The rounded edges on the top let it glide in to your pocket. Really, it is absolutely pocketable if you don't wear tight trousers. I really had to touch it again and again. When I first saw the design (feels a long time ago, I guess it was somewhen in the eighties) I honestly didn't think it would be so freaking comfortable. The only thing I can imagine is that people with no motoric skills and very fat thumbs will press to action buttons and the same time once a year, as they are a little bit closer together as on the SNES. You will be stunned and surprised.

As I wrote before, I tested some nightly builds of the OS with XFCE as DE. XFCE is really snappy, I'd say it is as fast as gnome on my thinkpad x200s with a dualcore 1.86Ghz CPU and 2 Gigs of RAM. It reacts instantly. I hadn't the opportunity to test WiFi because one of the devs (sorry, I forgot your name) is currently working on it so the Nightly Build had a half-done driver on it. Same with PMenu. I saw the .PND-magic and I think it is a very nice way to put software on a device which mainly relies on temp-storage. It is very fast even on the really slow card ED used. The icons appeared on the Desktop instantly. XFCE didn't really look sexy but when we the people have the device we'll change that in a minute, I'm sure. I played the first two levels of Doom and even with unoptimized control I loved it. Quake is framebuffer only atm, but the control scheme of Q1 and 2 is somewhat similar. With a little training you'll be on par with people using a normal keyboard. I know in the youtube videos of FPSs on the pandora the players always suck but it must be because they can't play FPS or have to use a camera or something. Supertux was okay but I don't really like the game that much. Using the shell was cool on such a small device. With a nice keyboard-setup using the shell will work superb. Not much more on the software side but it is being worked on hard and if the pandora ships and the devcounter goes from under ten to over hundred there will be a lot to see.

I'll conclude on the pandora part: OMFG!!!! This is the coolest thing ever. It is worth every cent, every second of waiting, everything. You will jump around full of joy once you received it. You'll feed it the coolest homebrew and emulators on the planet. You will play cool games from the 80s and 90s on the go WITH CONTROLS AS GOOD OR BETTER as the original. The pandora is still unique and it's hard to believe you'll find anything even remotely comparable in the future.
Thanks ED for letting me into your house, sharing this experience, telling me interesting stuff, showing me interesting pictures (they will be released an some point in the future for sure), showing me your office and everything. I hope I'll come back one day! Thanks to all the other developers for putting so much work in this. As far as I can oversee it, you did everything right.

Oh yeah:

Me with me on the pandora with a pandora with supertux running.

edit: Oh yeah, vapourscreamers: Suck it. The pandora is reality.

Might just as well... as you may have already heard, fellow metalab hacker Florian Hufsky / no_skill / oneup took his life. As a member of entropia, karlsruhe's division of the chaos computer club, I salute him and wish all those people who were near him the best.
condolence blog:
congratulations! just read everything and now i also wanna go to ED :p But its really to far for me to go :(

I dont care about the henge that falls if i jump or do weird things. i just want it to lock so i can watch movies in bed confortable.

Congratulations again on your next girlfriend :D :p
im so jelious of you.

but nice pre mp pandora review.

i dont think that hinge will bother me at all, seeing craig and eds videos it looks just perfect positioning.

cant wait to see some videos of all the different emulators and applications running on it when its done.
Well, to be honest, I told ED that I will indeed steal it but he made a good point telling me that this will slow down the pandora-development because he can't use his after it's gone and has to wait for a new one. So I'm just being nice to all you poor guys who never touched the holy grail of handheld gaming.
I want to see snow capped mountains.

Also, buttons that are great for drunk texting? hell yeah drunk tweets!
I'm sooo glad I didn't stick with my original plan of waiting for the second batch and instead pre-ordered one from the first a couple of days ago :) Sounds great; thanks for the very detailed preview!
This a great preview. Nice honest opinions. Nice picture. Can't wait!!!!
Balzac2m said:

I would be flabberghasted and overwhelmed if the d-pad is as good as the SNES one. Can't wait to try it out for myself.

Great post btw, thanks for sharing.
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Great review! The pandora seems to have attracted the tech savvy so it was great hearing your opinion.
Very informative Preview. :) I'm sure, the Shoulder-Button Problem will be fixed and with the final surface Finishing of the Unit, the Pandora can start to rule the World. :D
I hope we will have more Software to test, when the final Units ship to Customers. I really want to see the D-Pad in heavy Action and Quake-Games controlled with a combination of D-Pad (WASD) and right Analog-Nub (Mouse).