I received my Pandora a few months ago now. I can say without a shadow of a doubt it is still unique, quirky but somewhat troubled. However we all knew that when we signed up.
Receiving the package and opening it up was a bizarre experience. I can only liken it to seeing a Dragon. Everyone knows what a dragon looks like and what it does but to actually see one and be able to touch it with your hands is quite a unique experience….Ok maybe you wouldn’t want to touch a dragon but I hope you can understand the sentiment.
My Pandora was part of the first main batch but after the first few hundred so I don’t have any of the early problems. The case structure itself feels nice and thick, it doesn’t twist or bend, nor does it have any rough edges. This was much better than I expected and is something you can’t really judge without getting your hands on it. Painting the cases at the last minute has worked well as the surface is uniform in colour and has a nice ever so slightly rubbery texture to it, I definitely feel this was the right thing to do. That said it has had a knock on effect with the shoulder buttons which I will come back to later. The hinge snaps open and shut at the right angles and has a small amount of resistance for the rest of the range, it sits fairly well in a 100 degree laptop style position but it is really designed to be used in the locked open flat position. I do sadly have a problem the battery cover popping off as the latches don’t seem to clip in correctly, this appears to only effect my unit. I will send it back eventually however for the time being I’ve resolved the problem with some highly technical tape.
The keyboard looks extremely good and is very responsive, I don’t think I’ve ever missed a letter. It does have a slightly odd feeling when you push the keys as they are spongy but have a fairly long travel however you soon get used to it, every keyboard is different after all. The D-Pad and face Buttons are generally very good, again they never seem to not respond or misfire. My A button is slightly raised up compared to the rest of the action buttons however it still seems to work normally and I expect will loosen up over time. The shoulder buttons are…interesting thanks to the slight variation of the Pandora team having to drill the holes after the shoulders where painted. The actual button itself is a nice positive feeling switch which is always works, they remind me a lot of the SNES controller shoulders in that they have a soft click to them. The problem is the plastic shoulder button itself with sits over the switch, it is ever so slightly loose from the manual drilling (I believe they aren’t painting the shoulders on the newer ones) . The shoulders are good once you get your fingers lined up on them correctly however it often takes a failed attempt to do it.
The nubs are very good in the GUI , by default the left stick moves the cursor and the right stick does the mouse button clicks and as of Hotfix4 you can also do the middle mouse button by pushing down. It sounds a little odd however it works well once you get used to it. I’ve also used them on some Playstation games and all appears to be working well however I real test would be Quake 3 but the last build I used had controls that weren’t quite there yet. There is a small amount of play in the middle the nub then about 3mm radius of active area, they are definitely 10x better than the nubs used on the PSP and PSPGo. You do also get a nice amount of resistance when you push to the side to let you know you are hitting the limits.
The sockets, volume wheel and card slots are all fixed solidly and don’t feel like they cave in unless you really abuse them, certainly much better than my First Edition GP2X. The volume adjustment is smooth and doesn’t suffer from any crackling, there was a software issue that was causing sound crackles but this does appear to have been cleared up in the newer builds. The speakers are generally nice and loud with fairly good range for a device this size, but there is only so much you can expect from speakers that size.
As far as the design of the unit goes would I change anything? Not really, everything is well laid out. I know the keyboard is an issue for some however as a native English speaker without the need for accents and so on I suits my needs well. Having a touch screen on the top is a little odd to use however given amount of buttons needed there isn’t really much that can be done about that without making it an unwieldy beast. Ascetically I think its quite good looking in a KITT from knight rider kind of way, it looks retro yet modern and reminds me a bit of IBM/Lenovo styling.
I also received the official Pandora carry case which is good quality and lined with lovely white fuzz. It is very tight if you try to push the Pandora in to it however I’ve found the best way is to just put it in upside down in which case it goes in and zips up with no resistance what so ever.
The default Angstrom OS does fairly well to sit somewhere between a full OS and a console. It is clutter free and generally stable, I’ve never had a hang whilst using the OS itself only whilst using 3rd party software. There are some nice additions such as having a built in option to set the processor speed with an amusing disclaimer about blowing it up.
There are two built in GUIs which you can set as default or flip between at will:
XFCE Looks and behaves like a standard X window GUI. There are lots of customisation options such as resizing and moving docks, multiple workspaces, generally if you have used or dabbled with gnome or kde before things should be fairly familiar. You can control the menus with either the touch screen, the nubs which act as a mouse or the D-Pad which acts as cursor keys. Generally it is smooth and a trouble free experience.
MiniMenu is designed to be a bit more like a traditional games console and does away with windows in favour of a few tabs.
Both of these GUIs make use of the .PND format which is the method of distribution used for programs on the Pandora. The general concept is that you download and drop the Example.PND file to certain folders on your SD card. The Pandora then scans those folders for .PNDs and depending which folder you put it in the system gives you a shortcut on your desktop or in your games menu. Whilst I don’t know the technical details of the system I do know as long as developer has added them it will also automatically give you other data such as ReadMe files in your document folder, preview images and meta data such as suggest CPU speeds.
Once you have got your head around the quirks of the system like which folders you need to put the PND files in for them to be picked up the system works well. My major criticism of the format is that like many open source standards it is a bit under standardised. For example the location of application files, ROM and BIOS files isn’t standardised. I do think however that the freedom for developers to do things their way is much more beneficial then having a rigid standard.
OS Upgrades and Re-imaging are nice and easy to do. Place the image on your card in SD slot one then hold the right holder button as you power on the machine.
Charging your Pandora has to be done whilst your Pandora is switched on, if your Pandora is switched off it will switch itself on when you plug in your charging cable. Once fully charge the battery does genuinely seem to last about 10 hours at stock clockspeed. The shelf life of the battery itself is very good and doesn’t seem to loose any charge whilst left switched off.
All in all I’ve been very happy with my Pandora and really admire what the Open Pandora team have done. It is quite clear that the project hasn’t been going according to plan for quite some time which has put strains on the community and expect they all now see why GamePark and GamePark Holdings were so resistant to making any design changes no matter how small. Planning something is easy, executing it isn’t. Along the way they have hit a mountain of problems, some of them they would have excepted by people with more experience however they have had a string of bad luck, they even caused the Icelandic volcano eruptions a few months back!
Lastly I’ve been happy to be part of something niché and special. In an age of instant gratification it has been a good having to wait for something.