Review: GP2X Wiz runs retrogaming rings around mainstream rivals

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Photos: Heather Beschizza

In Brief: GamePark’s GPX2 Wiz is the best portable yet for retrogamers, but the high price argues against upgrading if you already own something similar. Near-perfect Amiga gaming kicks ass. It sets a high bar for imminent rival Pandora.

GP2X Wiz, available from ThinkGeek, is a handheld gaming console about the size of a pack of slim cigarettes. It has a 533/800MHz processor, a 320×240 2.8″ AMOLED touchscreen display, 1GB of internal storage and an SD card slot. A tailored cut of the Linux operating system boots in about 15 seconds.

The latest in a series of handheld gaming consoles made by Korea’s GamePark, the GP2X Wiz differs sharply from mainstream competitors like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP. Whereas those machines incorporate strenuous measures to stop people writing their own software, the Wiz is completely open: anyone can write new applications and software, either in the machine’s native code or using Adobe Flash.

While the open architecture means that the GP2X Wiz is unlikely to see official ports of leading titles, GamePark says it plans to release new games at a regular clip. Its heart, however, is in being a perfect platform for playing homebrew games and emulated classics. At $180, however, the latest model is very expensive. Is it worth it?

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• Other hardware features include a condenser mic, a stylus, volume control keys and a standard headphone socket. On the right is a Kensington lock, on the left the power switch. Two of the eight buttons are triggers; two are reserved for select and start. It has stereo speakers and hardware-accelerated OpenGL support.

• It doesn’t come with the emulators built-in, but they’re free of charge to download. Those available for the Wiz are well-tailored to the platform and mostly need no configuration.

• Emulators are available for arcade games (MAME and FinalBurn); consoles including the NES, SNES, Gameboy, Megadrive/Genesis, PC Engine, Vectrex and SMS; and computers including Commodore Amiga, C64 and Atari ST. Interpreters are offered for ScummVM games and Quake packs. The developer scene is busy and growing fast

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• Apart from the included set of free titles–Boomshine2x is particularly good, and you can’t go far wrong with Tower Defence–finding the games you want is a matter for your own conscience. You’ll probably be visiting sites like Romkeeper and The Pirate Bay to get it up and running in the manner it is obviously intended for.

• Performance is great: arcade games released prior to the 1990s run smoothly, and the CPU can be overclocked right from MAME’s main menu for those that don’t.

• The Commodore Amiga, a legendary emulation challenge due to its complex and unusual architecture, runs a smidgin choppier than the real thing. That said, it’s nothing short of amazing to have a playable Amiga barely larger than a deck of cards.

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• SNES performance is similarly good. Mode 7 titles such as Mario Cart don’t have perfect frame rates. Megadrive games were also smooth, and earlier systems impeccable.

• At 4.8″ long, 0.7″ thick, and 2.4″ wide, the Wiz is even smaller than the Nintendo DS, but not so small that it becomes hard to use.

• It runs Flash 8; this could make portable game programming much more accessible to amateur developers. Supported media codecs include DivX/XviD, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WAV and AVI. You’ll want to transcode stuff down to an appropriate resolution before moving it over.

• Despite the smallness of the unit, the screen doesn’t feel small. It’s colorful and very bright. General build quality is fine. The ambidextrous d-pad stylings of the buttons aren’t a problem.

I love it, but $180 ain’t cheap. Then again, the games are free–and there are thousands of them.

GP2X Wiz Product Page [ThinkGeek]

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About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Email is dead, but you can try your luck at besc...@gmail.com
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23 Responses to Review: GP2X Wiz runs retrogaming rings around mainstream rivals

  1. Dan says:

    The locked down nature of the PSP and the way that Sony actively tries to defeat all attempts to open the thing up is the main reason I will never own one. You can add the way they hobble the video output for non commercial video stuff to the list of reasons I won’t buy one. I realize that it’s pretty easy to defeat the DRM/lockdowns if you are willing to spend the time/money and know what you’re doing, but no thanks. I’ve fought that fight before many times on various systems and I’m done with it.

    We have several Nintendo DS systems in our house, mostly for the multiplayer game experience. It’s a decent system for what it is, but there’s no comparison to a GP2X. Especially if you’re wanting to retrogame.

    I have an older GP2X, an F100 MkII (the early one with the clickable joystick) that I got in May of 2006. Ever since I got it, I continue to use it heavily and I love it. There are a decent number of great (and of course, by nature of what it is, some not so great)native games for it in addition to all of the emulators.

    I have to admit, I’m a bit torn as to whether to get a Wiz or not. I already have money down on a Pandora, but that system’s been “Comming Soon” for over a year now. My GP2X F100 does a good job at emulation, but there are some Amiga and SNES games that could definately use more horsepower to run full speed. I can only overclock my GP2X model to around 300Mhz and there’s no 3D hardware. The controls on the Wiz look a little goofy to me, but the screen looks great.

    Honestly, one of the main reasons I went in for a Pandora is the control options. Everyone always focuses on the screen and the raw horsepower of the thing (which granted, IS awesome), but my main draw with it is that it will be the first handheld gaming machine that is capable of emulating an Amiga and has an on-board keyboard. It should be able to do a great Intellivision emulation because of that too. (That’s a bit like using a nuclear-powered sub to emulate a rowboat in some ways..but I digress..)

    I dunno..if the Pandora doesn’t actually get done and ship soon, I will probably replace my GP2X F11 with a Wiz.

  2. G4mer says:

    To those talking about emulation on the DS there is one big problem. The screen resolution is only 256 x 192. Some quick math and you can see most game systems like Genesis that were 320 x 224, don’t fit. This leaves all kinds of cropping and ugly resolution reduction scaling. No thanks.

    As far as the Dingoo it is ok but still it has half the RAM, no 3D hardware, no touchscreen, an inferior screen with less viewing angle and contrast, and a non-removeable battery. It is cheap but you get what you pay for.

  3. Matt Nida says:

    I’d be interested in hearing what advantages this holds over a homebrew enabled PSP, particularly in terms of the quality/stability/speed of the emulators available.

    I’m an occasional retro gamer, but I write a lot of music using trackers for old systems like the Amiga, C64, Gameboy etc. Amiga emulation on a Mac is terrible, would be interested to see if the Wiz scratches that particular itch…

  4. obo says:

    Assorted errata and useful information:
    SD slot supports SDHC, up to 32GB on current firmware.

    The 2000mAh lithium polymer battery rated at 7 hours gaming/video, and is removable.

    Hardware OpenGL support is OpenGL 1.1 ES – same as the iPhone 3G, but not the iPhone 3GS.

    “You’ll want to transcode stuff down to an appropriate resolution before moving it over.”
    – While true, the Wiz supports 30fps video at up to 640×480, even though the screen doesn’t.
    – Video playback also supports SAMI-format subtitles.

    Gamepark is scheduled to open an app store for the Wiz in August. (http://www.engadget.com/2009/04/21/gamepark-wiz-app-store-coming-this-summer/)

    The Wiz supports TXT files but no other eBook formats, not that books are a great use for a 2.8″ 320×240 screen.

    The music player doesn’t have an equalizer.

    The photo viewer has a special mode designed for sequential viewing of comic-book pages.

    In a twist, development tools are only available for the Mac and Linux.

  5. Rob Beschizza says:

    Michaelfoody, this has near-perfect emulation of complex systems like the Amiga. You’re looking at a Ferrari and asking, “Why not just get a Geo Metro?”

    Which is fine. If your emulation wants are basic, a cart for your existing DS would definitely be the best way to go.

    The D-Pad is good enough, but nothing special. If your hit is old-school fighting games, the small, basic D-PAD or the buttons in the shape of another D-pad, might get on your nerves.

  6. MichaelFoody says:

    At that price why not just get a DSlite with an r4 card? It can run most of the emulators as well as DS and GBA games depending on when your scrupals kick in. I think deal extreme had something similar for like 80 dollars it looks smaller and more Chinese but had a pretty much identical feature set, possibly excepting flash games. http://www.dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.20217

  7. Rob Beschizza says:

    OBO, thanks for the typo corrections. Stuff goes live with lots of typos because we have no preview function and are too stupid to draft offline. They mostly get corrected within a short time of going up.

  8. Rob Beschizza says:

    Strider, I want a Dingoo — not having one to compare the GP2X to is the obvious screaming flaw in my review. Hence the gamegear with one of those 200-in-one game carts from Japan!

  9. strider_mt2k says:

    The folks who I’ve chatted with say it’s got great performance, but at the cost of battery life.

    I own a Dingoo A320, which is the budget contender with the GP2X Wiz.
    If I had to do it all again I’d probably still go with the Dingoo, but only because at this point I’m curious to see what the Pandora is going to be like. (If it is in fact released in my lifetime. ;) )

  10. strider_mt2k says:

    Rob, I was just chatting with some folks over at dingoo scene, and we’d like very much to make you a Dingoo fan.

    The community is growing and development of “Dingux” and games and apps running under it seems to be nothing short of explosive.
    Even the native OS has new emulators and games being developed for it.

    If I hadn’t JUST lent my other one to my bro-in-law I’d offer to lend you one to try out.

    I might have it back in a week or two if you can wait that long.

  11. Rob Beschizza says:

    No trouble; I’ll see if I can’t get one from the mfr or one of the import shops. We’re already in touch with the Pandora people, too.

    Rob

  12. hohum says:

    Curious how the size compares to a Game Boy Micro… I think I’d rather carry around something that is more capable for emulation, but I really love the size of the Micro… And the fact that I can just toss it in the bag when I’m about to hit the subway, without a care in the world about the screen cracking, etc… Unlike my DSi which I feel the need to mollycoddle…

    Still gonna keep my eye on this fellow, looks like a pretty serious device. My face lit up when I saw that giant floppy on the screen!

  13. primalchaos says:

    I got this little guy and took it with me on a long flight from Baltimore to Austin, where the seats are so cramped I can’t even used my laptop. Nothing short of awesome, being able to make the hours go by switching from watching The Wire on the media player to playing Super Punch-Out and X-Com the next. It even emulates SCUMM so you can play Monkey Island on it.

    It’s a pretty versatile little package. I won’t debate the technicalities, but I get more bang for my mobile entertainment buck out of it.

  14. wrybread says:

    Assuming it has a headphone jack, would be nice if they’d make a client for streaming radio stations, and maybe an iTunes client. Would greatly increase the usefulness/market. Granted there’s no touchscreen, but still $180 is pricey for a game console, but not for a sreaming audio gizmo.

  15. Jay Vaughan says:

    WRYBREAD: It *does have a touchscreen* .. and since its an open hardware platform there is no problem with Pandora writing a client for it, for example ..

  16. seanjjordan says:

    Rob — how’s the D-Pad? I had to take my PSP apart and fix my D-Pad so I could properly play fighting games. (It’s an easy fix, but I’m still baffled why Sony hasn’t offered its own solution in its multiple models of PSP.)

    A PSP running an 8 GB card and custom firmware can play anything short of MAME pretty capably on about 6 hours of battery life.

    It sounds like the GPX2 Wiz is a bit better, and I like that it can play Flash games and OpenGL (though… Quake without a mouse? How much fun could that be?) I’ve still got to wonder about that d-Pad, though.

  17. TJ S says:

    Rob –

    Something I’m concerned about is how the AMOLED screen performs in sunlight, as I don’t own anything with this type of screen yet.

    Is it easily washed out, or better than LCD?

  18. polossatik says:

    How can you make an article about this and NOT link to http://www.gp32x.com/? Or mention the Wiz forum http://www.gp32x.com/board/index.php?/index

    Or mention for the non-Us world (which yes, does exist) Craig’s http://www.gbax.com/ store who is (unlike thinkgeek) is actually active in “the scene” and one of the people behind the pandora.

    Please, do some effort before publishing something like this.

  19. Rob Beschizza says:

    I’ll give it a try. But the bottom photo was on a sunny windowsill.

  20. HeatherB says:

    Still love my Game Gear. It serves as an entertainment and personal defense system.

  21. Anonymous says:

    For European customers (those who don’t want custom fees surprises) the best site where GP2X-Wiz is available in stock is Adictron (http://www.adictron.eu) which sells it for a good price and even offers payment with cash on delivery for most Europe countries.

  22. G4mer says:

    The Wiz is also the FIRST gaming oriented device with AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) display technology. What this means is a superior viewing angle, FAST response time (NO ghosting like PSP), and the best contrast of any LCD ever made (black is true black, not grey like LCDs). This makes a BIG difference especially with arcade retrogaming which had allot of black backgrounds. If you are into retro and play on this you may never want to go back to an LCD, ever. Watch OLED as a display technology. I can see in the future how olde tyme LCDs will go the way of the dodo for handheld devices.

  23. Rob Beschizza says:

    Matt, the big advantage over homebrew-enabled PSP is that it’s purpose-built. You take it out the box and go. As with the DS, however, if you already own it, hacking what’s you’ve got is the best best unless you need no-nonsense Amiga emulation and other luxuries.

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