Back in January 2013 I backed a popular kickstarter for a retro handheld console called the GCW Zero ([Only registered and activated users can see links. ]). It looked like a worthy successor to the GP* consoles and the dingoo one's, all running off Linux and ideal for emulation on the go as the specs are
We'll get back to that 2800mAh battery laterCPU: Ingenic JZ4770 1 GHz MIPS processor
GPU: Vivante GC860, capable of OpenGL ES 2.0
Display: 3.5 inch LCD with 320x240 pixels; 4:3 aspect ratio is ideal for retro gaming
Memory: 512 MB DDR2
Internal storage: 16 GB, most of which is available for applications and data
External storage: micro SDHC up to 32 GB or micro SDXC up to 64 GB (SDXC cards must be reformatted before use)
Mini USB 2.0 OTG
Mini HDMI 1.3 out
3.5 mm (mini jack) A/V port for earphone and analog TV-out
Stereo speakers, mono microphone
Accelerometer (g-sensor) and vibration motors
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4 GHz, can connect to access point or direct device-to-device
Dimensions: 143 * 70 * 18 mm
Weight: 8 oz / 225 g
Battery: 2800 mAh
Now initially this was due to be sent to kickstarter backers in March... 2013! Suffice to say, that never happened, it must be said, GCW as a company are pretty awful at keeping their customers updated, I dread to think what would happen if I need raise some kind of warranty claim, 16 months late it only got delivered this week! There are backers still waiting for theirs to get delivered. Annoyingly you've been able to buy it from a couple of big retailers for about 6 months already so it really has left a sour taste in my mouth about backing anything else on Kickstarter (especially after I also backed Ouya which was both rubbish as well as released to kickstarters after retail).
Anyway, that aside, the unit arrived yesterday and I couldn't believe it was finally here. It comes packed with (well, the kickstarter units do anyway), a soft carry pouch, AV cable, HDMI cable, USB cable and a USB OTG adapter. It did not come with the screen protector that it was supposed to come with, but that I can live without at this stage.
So on to the unit, it's about the size of the original GBA, with a decent 3.5" screen, which does suffer a bit from light bleeding it must be said but you barely notice that when gaming. It comes with a digital pad, an analogue stick, which is very similar to the PSP's one, and 4 buttons X,Y,B,A and a start/select button on the front. There have been a lot of complaints about the buttons sticking, and tbh I've noticed my dpad sticks at times, their solution is to use some grease on it, but I'm hoping it'll just loosen up with use. I find the 4 face buttons have a little too much travel in them for my liking and when you roll your thumb over to press a different button you can see why it will end up sticking, it doesn't press softly at all when rolling onto a button. Some people have suggested putting some silicon grease in to sort the problem, so I may well do that if it becomes a problem.
It has a power slider on the side, and as you can see from the images above, USB, power MicroSD slots, along with the speakers at the bottom.
The top of the console hosts the HDMI & AV Out buttons as well as the 2 shoulder buttons.
[Updated] The HDMI-Out doesn't actually work at the moment Seems they still need to developer the drivers in for that, so don't get this on the basis of you being able to plug it into your TV
One thing that I clearly did not notice when reading the spec or viewing the pictures was the absence of any way to control the volume from a button/slider and yes, you have to go into a settings app in the console to change the volume, this is a real pain in the rear tbh and one of my biggest gripes with the design, it wouldn't have been hard to put a volume slider on the left hand side (where there is a mic hole) and as a lot of the apps don't have an option to change volume you're stuffed if you suddenly need to change volume up/down at all. Should they ever make a v2 then I'd hope they fix this shortcoming.
Talking of audio the speakers, as they are placed at the bottom of the unit, depending on how you hold it you may end up covering the speakers, perhaps they'd have been better placed on the front, perhaps at the top? Still they're not brilliant Bose speakers anyway but do the job, everything sounding as tinny as you remember back in the 80's
The unit itself does feel very "cheap" especially the back which is just a slab of plastic with 4 random holes which look like they may have been intended for screws but then decided to just glue it together instead.
So on to the OS + Apps, it runs a version of DinguX called Open DinguX so there's no shortage of apps + games available, I'm not sure what that means for compatibility with other ODGX devices as I've only installed GCW specific emulators. It comes pre-installed with a number of games, they're "ok", there's a version of Doom on there which runs very well. It doesn't come installed with any emulators but a quick visit to one of these URL's will sort that out for you
[Only registered and activated users can see links. ]
[Only registered and activated users can see links. ]
Installing them is pretty easy, I just connected the GCW over Wifi and FTP'd the files over, there must be a way of doing it all over USB but it wasn't immediately obvious to me. One nice feature was that once i'd installed the emulators, the OS created a new "Emulators" tab automatically and put them all in there. I filled an SD card with roms for each emulator and put that in. It is to be noted, that each emulator will need configuring with it's ROM path, some use the built-in OS file manager, but some do not but it's hardly a big deal. The emulators I tried are NES, SNES, Megadrive, Gameboy, SMS and MSX. There are loads of others available but i've not tried them yet, I'll have a go at converting my MAME roms later to work with the version of FBA + MAME available just so I can play Bubble Bobble on the move (again ).
Every game I tried on each emulator worked fine, even tough to emulate games like Starfox on the SNES worked flawlessly. The only problem I had was with super mario land on the gameboy emulator, for some reason it hung on the main screen, but a random combo of button presses seemed to make it spring into life, no idea why but the game worked fine after that. Otherwise everything I tried worked fine. I do wish that when I power the unit on it remembered which tab I was on, so straight into emulators for example, that would be a help.
So, is it worth it? tbh there are soo many of these devices out now, and in the 16 months this has been delayed the market is flooded with android based devices which will play newer stuff like N64 (and even dreamcast) which there's no chance of playing on this. One other annoying thing is that the kickstarter specs show the battery as being a 2800 mAh battery, whereas the units we've received actually have a 2200 mAh. No idea what this translates to in terms of battery life as not run out of it yet. I'm not sure what these will eventually retail at, but if you can get hold of one for say £75 quid then it's a decent device for older emulators, decent size to fit in your pocket and good software support.
OMG! Someone just pointed out to me that you can actually change the volume without going into the OS, just hold the power slider up and use the dpad up/down to change volume up/down, and also left/right to decrease/increase the brightness lol, I'd never read that anywhere before Ok so ignore my previous comment (I'll leave it in there anyway so you don't fall into the same trap )
So there we have it, a decent device for old retro, but not sure it'll hold it's own against the myriad of android devices out there these days. Software support is really good, it's pocketable and runs everything that I've thrown at it so far. I just wish it had arrived last March like promised then it would have been even better and would have recommended it in a heartbeat.
[Update 5th June] Just noticed one small problemette, there's no power-saving/standby mode, so unless you fully power the device down and not just turn the screen off the device keeps running so you'll have run out of power overnight
[Update 5th June #2] Had a chance to play FBA + Mame4All and the games I tried worked well, which were of course bubble bobble, silk worm and metal slug.