What if you could surf the web, play games and emulators, and do many other UMPC functions (word processing, etc) in a full blown multitasking Linux distro on a 4.3" device in the palm of your hand, powered by Linux and the free software spirit? This is exactly what a few members of the open source community are making a reality. And Soon.
The Pandora as it's now called was inspired by a couple of other attempts at this niche market: for years now the GP32 and GP2X have existed - open source hand-helds. The purpose of these devices was open source gaming, and maybe some other functions (see http://craig.gp2x.de/review/GP2XReview.html for some background info). The hardware was totally open and encouraged developing on by Linux people and programmers in general - hence a huge library of free downloadable software built up for the masses to use for free. However the consoles themselves had many small flaws and inadequacies - not enough to stop people buying the unit, but limiting their usefulness somewhat - They were portable with fairly small but good 320x240 screens, had only dpad, ABXY, L,R and start/select(GP32 had even less buttons) - no analog controls or keyboard, and somewhat poor battery life running on AA batteries (4-5 hours from two 2500mAh AAs...). The only networking connectivity was networking through the wired USB to the PC - no WiFi (although i personally never cared for WiFi - WiFi is scarce these days and I have a laptop at home). They were also much less powerful, for example they had 64mb of ram and no 3D graphic chip.
- ARM® Cortex-A8 600Mhz+ CPU running Linux
- 430-MHz TMS320C64x+ DSP Core (signal processing chip)
- PowerVR SGX OpenGL 2.0 ES compliant 3D hardware
- 800x480 4.3" / 10.9cm, 16.7 million colour touchscreen LCD
- 256MB DDR RAM
- Wifi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth & High Speed USB 2.0 Host
- Dual SDHC card slots & SVideo TV output
- Dual Analogue and Digital gaming controls
- 43 button QWERTY and numeric keypad
- Around 10+ Hours battery life
You can see the OpenPandora team want to improve on the GP32/GP2X vision. The unit will be the most powerful handheld in the world on release in terms of raw CPU & graphics processing power. And of course, it runs Linux. 256mb of ram may not sound like much, but the wildly successful Sony PSP console had only 32mb of ram, and the Nintendo DS a fraction of that! Yet they still browse the web, play media etc etc with no slowdown.
The Pandora was inspired by the excellent GP32 & GP2X hand-helds - to correct the many (minor) flaws these consoles had. The consoles had a massive homebrew scene and that's what they were intended for - Linux hackers and coders being able to make programs and games for the units without having to hack the console firmware(risky), or pay royalties to the company (as required with Nintendo or Sony hand-helds). The whole point of the machine is to be open source and as such, anybody with the ability can develop programs and applications and release them to the public with no strings attached, no messing about, just as it's spiritual predecessors (GP2X and GP32) did.
So, whats the catch? well, getting one, as in soon. The main problem is due to massive general likeness for the console and idea (among other factors) the console is selling out fast. It's not released yet, however. The first batch (no more will be manufactured until 2009) was set at 3000 units, the preorders started on the 30th September(2008) (the units will be shipping at the end of November) and they sold 2,000 within 6 hours! Craig himself (the head of the project) says 3800 have now been sold in total, however they are increasing the first batch to however many are sold until 5th October 2008. If you wouldn't want to preorder this soon i would recommend waiting until early 2009 - by this time manufacturing will be steady, and reviews of the hardware and software will exist. As with the gp32 and gp2x, after release of the console the available software library becomes much more mature over time, as more projects are started, released and improved. If you're convinced, the preorder page can be found at:http://openpandora.org/worldmap.html
for more information:
http://gbax.com (shop owned by the head of the Pandora project (craig) - I've bought many items from there over time and so trust them)
Also, this is not a laptop. Specifically, it has an ARM processor - it is not PC-compatible. This means Windows will never run on the machine, (without full CPU emulation - this is slow and will likely only be powerful enough to run windows 98 or so.) so forget things like Halo and Counter Strike - only open source projects (there are many games being developed this way for free) that are actively ported to ARM (including emulators) will work. This isn't a bad thing at all; it allows for much better battery life - x86 (PC processor) CPUs are quite power-inefficient and require other power-using things. This is why a much larger laptop (such as the eeePC) only lasts 3-4 hours despite having a much larger battery than the Pandora. The unit is predicted to last around 100 hours (!) in power-saving MP3 player mode, as well as longer than 10 hours when downclocked (reducing the system speed (mhz) to save power for low-demand tasks)
How small is it? Here's an official mockup up against an eeePC and a full-size laptop:
I view the Pandora as a gaming device but also a good alternative to a laptop - it costs less than even an eeePC, has a very decent amount of storage (two SDHC slots can take two 32GB cards, 64GB!), is much smaller and lighter, and lasts on the battery much longer. We(SoSLUG) run Linux anyway: this is the true beauty of open source software - it's not gonna restrict us to one platform (PC / x86). I will likely use it to type up documents at school - there will be much office software available plus the USB port on the unit will allow me to easily save files onto a USB flash drive and transfer them to a computer.
When I receive my Pandora I will post a full review with comparisons to my own GP2X and available software for the two platforms. I'm much looking forward to it.
more information: http://openpandora.org
official wiki article: http://www.pandorawiki.org/FAQ
Note: The Pandora has been delayed by the financial crisis, banks, production company delays and other factors (likely optimistic estimates). It's not released yet. Currently set to launch somewhere from October-December 2009.
Main updates on the project can be found at: