Pandora portable gaming system flashes one huge QWERTY

With the aging, open-source GP2X platform quickly slaloming into obsolescence, the Pandora portable gaming system is trying to step forward to take its place in the hearts and minds of the emulator aficionado. On the surface, the specs look pretty good. Crammed into a decidedly DS-Lite-style case is an 800x480 4.3 inch 16.7 million color touchscreen LCD driven by OpenGL 2.0 compliant 3D hardware, dual SDHC card slots, TV output, an ARM Cortex A8 CPU running Linux and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g capabilitiy. But its the way that QWERTY keypad is crammed into the dual-analog joysticks, the four face buttons and the D-pad that bugs me. Really, how is text entry for a game system worth that much (decidedly non-ergonomic) real estate? At $330USD, the Pandora is going to need a hell of a blow-out showing from the homebrew scene to get me to drop my money on it. I already have a hacked PSP, thanks: I don't think I really need another emulated vintage gaming handheld. OpenPandora [Official Site]
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12 Responses to Pandora portable gaming system flashes one huge QWERTY

  1. smalltimore says:

    hey John! Nice to see Joel expanding the mutant army and great work so far.

    This is sort of on topic…I was wondering, in regards to your hacked PSP, what firmware are you running? I’m still on 2.6 and am running the eBoot loader and have loved it. NES, SNES, PSP Rhythm….but I’m dying for some new games (god of war, specifically). Have you had any luck or experience with the custom firmwares? pandora’s battery? there are tons of tutorials online, but a lot of them appear to contradict each other and no one seems to be able to lay out what the diffs b/w the versions are….

    anyone, thoughts?

  2. John Brownlee says:

    Small, I’m on 3.71-M33-4. Honestly, I haven’t had a single problem, but I know your pain: the official PSP hacking community seems to be made entirely up of teenage l337-speak clods able to leap intuitively from one illiterate sentence of nebulous instruction to another.

    Luckily, the guy at StyleMo has put together a pretty great tutorial. I’ve followed all of his tutorials and they’ve always been clear, concise and absolutely error free.

    To get up to the latest version of Dark-Alex’s Custom Firmware, first you need to bring your CFW up to 3.52 M33-4. Here’s the tutorial on how to do that on any pre-3.52 custom firmware:

    Once that’s done, follow the rest of his tutorials to upgrade to the latest version. Just make sure to always follow in order, ie: you can’t jump to 3.90 from 3.52.

    Drop me a line if there’s any problems, I’ll try to help! And God of War (and Jeanne D’Arc) are worth the effort, trust me.

  3. Hunty says:

    Well, its dual analog sticks already give it a HUGE advantage over the PSP, not to mention the keyboard. Now if only it had GPS and a camera…

  4. Pieps says:

    PSPs are great fun, but last I checked, they ran SSH like they were powered by sedated hamsters. Hopefully this thing can do caffeinated sloth or better.

  5. tstorm says:

    i had a gp32 (predecessor to the gp2x) and was very into the community back then. I decided against the gp2x just because well, i was broke as hell and still very happy with my gp32. But this looks very intreguing and may get me back into the emulation and indie gaming yet again.

  6. Enochrewt says:

    The dual analogs are pretty slick, but I’d hit the keyboard constantly trying to use them I think. Is this concept art hopefully?

    Also, the buttons on the right are labeled Playstation-style. It’s not that big of a deal but if you’re playing a non-Playstation game, the buttons wouldn’t match up to the screen. Why do the makers label them at all then?

  7. Anonymous says:

    I recommended the GP2X to a gamer friend, and he loves it, but OpenPandora opens a new world of possibilities, naming a few, instant messaging (Thinking on pidgin), browsing (Firefox 3), video player (MPlayer with some neat ARM NEON optimizations or PowerVR hardware decoding for h.264), the whole enchilada of emulators for old consoles.

    Hopefully one of the Fn (Functions keys) will disable the keyboard while playing so to not to press the keys on mistake.

    I hate the keyboard!! I would like more rounded buttons like the ones in the Sony messaging device (name?) or like the Vaio TZ that looks like Apple’s keyboard… That is, it seems that all the keys don’t have a tangible separation, so they look all like part of a single plastic, which will impact tactile feedback… And in the end, doesn’t look so nice… Hopefully their developers will look here about this comment!

    Also, I agree on button naming… If this particular handheld is aimed at emulation and homebrew, the buttons should have no labels or something more neutral. Like points, one point, two points, three points in a triangle, something new that doesn’t refer to any other platform.

    I have been looking for a device like this for a while, the Nokia N8xx is close but I hate Nokia’s default font, also they aren’t that fast at decoding video. And old games doesn’t seem to be very playable. The netbook devices (Eee, HP 2133, MSI Wind et amis) looks very nice, and have full support for all the OSS software I use at work and at home, but aren’t as portable as to put them in my pants like a DS… A only Google knows what will be of their Android platform (Will an OEM have a model like this???)… Just thinking of something like the OpenPandora with phone capabilities will take like three devices away from my messenger bag (Nintendo DS, laptop and cell phone!). However, an Android device with all those features under $330… Yeah, right.

    As a leisure device, the OpenPandora handheld really looks like a winner. And as a Linux-geek myself, the keyboard is a veeeeeeery nice touch… I just imagine myself SSH’ing to one of my PCs!! And their hackability features are inviting… If the documentation of the TI ARM processor is very open, a lot of things could happen…

    So, I’m looking forward to this nice gadget…

  8. smalltimore says:

    Damn, John, thanks! You are completely correct about the clods. Their posts make my brain hurt.

    Those instructions look great. Now, I just need to search his archives for instructions on getting down to 1.5! I’m on Sony’s 2.6 which was the last update I did just to play Katamari. I thought I read I first needed to install custom FW to create a Pandora’s battery, but if I have to be on 1.5 to install custom FW I appear to be trapped in a loop.

    Thanks for your time!

    re: Pandora, it looks dope. I find the keyboard to be a bit much, but I think the stick placement could work. Let us know if you get to test one!

  9. chip says:

    If all you want to do is play games, then a modded PSP or DS with a flashcart is probably the way to go. Pandora is intended to fill an empty niche for a pocketable all-in-one gaming and computing device. It’s basically taking the best of the retro / indie gaming scene and combining it with the functionality of a full UMPC. Personally, I’m very excited about it.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Imagine the hack-ability, Wardriving in your pocket! Use aircrack to break the WEP key and firefox 3.0 to browse the web! I am very excited!

  11. Bugs says:

    I have a GP2X (a wonderful toy) and have been idly following the Pandora’s development. It’s a fairly open design project – everythng you might want to know about it is on the boards at

    That’s a render made by one of the board members based on a fairly recent, near-final design. The internals have been built — at least properly printed and assembled developers’ boards — but I think the casing is still in progress.

    Thw QWERTY keyboard was insisted on by a lot of GP2X fans for use instead of fiddly virtual keboards. Emulating C64, Apple, Amstrads etc etc is much easier with these, not to mention minor office apps.

    As for emulators, the GP2X has a very strong emulator scene and this looks to be transferring well to the Pandora. SNES, playstation, genesis and a few others have already been reported as being near-perfect. Hopefully the GP2X’s homebrew software, which includes some real gems, will be ported across too. The main weakness will probably the same as the GP2X – little interest from commercial developers.

  12. Anonymous says:

    About the keyboard:

    This render is a very old one, and doesn’t take into account the actual/final style of the keyboard. Nobody knows what it will actually look like, but the current “rumor” going around is that it will be a cross between the one shown in the render and the keypad addon for the XBox360 controller.

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