Gizmondo handheld games console
Time for Sony, Nintendo and Tapwave to tremble?
Review I want to be nice, I really do, and I want to like the Gizmondo, because it's brave for an independent company to try and launch a handheld games device at the same time as Nintendo and Sony are slugging it out for mobile market supremacy. I'll praise the design by Rick Dickinson, the man who brought us the Sinclair Spectrum, I'll rave about of the quality of Flextronics' manufacturing and the carefully created GUI from the Swedish company TAT (The Astonishing Tribe) because the Gizmondo does look great. The body is something you intuitively want to pick up and play with, writes Charlie Brewer.
The combination of the black and the silver styling works, and as for the graphics quality of the 320 x 240pixel, 65,000-colour screen, powered by an Nvidia GoForce 4500 accelerator, well it's great too.
But the simple fact is that almost all other aspects of the device have something wrong with them. As a colleague rather rudely pointed out: "It's like they though of a name and made a product to fit."
The layout looks like a games controller from the next PlayStation. There's a four-way paddle on the left, four classically annotated buttons in a very PS2 configuration on the right, two larger function buttons on the top edge and five quick-keys above the screen. All of the controls work fine in doing what they are meant, but not the five quick-keys. They're too small and stiff and there's simply not enough depression on them. You press and hold but you're never sure that the button has made contact properly. This especially serious considering that the penultimate button to the right is meant to be an Emergency Alarm, activating a GPS tracking system sending the device's location by SMS to up to five pre-set mobile phones.
Besides being a games console, the Gizmondo's big sells are that it plays music, movies, has a camera, Bluetooth, sends and receives SMS and MMS via GPRS, and does satellite tracking via GPS. The content is all stored on SD cards that fit into a slot in the bottom of the device. The GPRS connectivity comes via a Vodafone pre-pay SIM card, located underneath the battery, though there's no phone. The reasoning behind this being that as Gizmondo is aimed at kids, who will be more into texting than calling, apparently. But since most children seem to have mobiles now anyway, this would mean that you'll have one phone and one SMS device, so two numbers and two bills to pay. Cynics might also point out that how many youngsters are going to shell out £230 on a games device that has two poorly known games at launch.
On the topic of games I played both Fathammer and Trailblazer and must admit that I enjoyed both titles. The games take a little time to load but one they're up and running they work well. Gizmondo is promising more games but without confirmed launch dates you're stuck with goodwill and just the above two to choose from.
What is interesting, however, is the idea of location-based games, such as the forthcoming Colours. Your interact and battle for gang supremacy with other Gizmondo owners who stray into your 'turf', with the gameplay monitored via GPS. Which will be ingenious, if the GPS can be made more reliable.
The SMS and MMS text entry relies on a propriety system called 'EZ tap' and although quite easy to use it does require some experimentation to figure how to make the cursor move from the selecting letters to moving around the message, to make correction or alter words. There also seems to be a lack of a key to select the suggested words that appear at the foot of the screen as you are typing, which is annoying.
The GPRS function sadly does nothing more than allow you to browse and download tones, themes and wallpapers or access the GPS map service, presumable to prevent the user from downloading huge swathes of data and wasting all the pre-paid credit on the SIM card. Second-generation devices are rumoured to offer full web browsing and may even include e-mail access.
The GPS tracking feature, when it works, offers a number of interesting features. You can register the device, via the Gizmondo website, so it can be tracked via satellite. The rationale being that little Johnny has the device in his pocket and so you always know where little he is. It seems though that little Johnny will need to take the Gizmondo out of his pocket and having it in clear line-of-sight of the sky for a good while to allow the GPS system to initiate and detect enough satellites to get a bearing. The previously mentioned emergency button only works if there is a signal. There is also a 'Geofence', a self-created boundary around the device. This can either be set on the device or via the operator of the device's Guardian account, using the website. All these functions are fine in principle but rely on the device establishing contact with the above and beyond, which the Gizmondo seems to resist.
Amazingly the service also relies on you to have some prepaid credit on your SIM-Card. Because there is no on-board memory all the maps are stored remotely and accessed via GPRS. In fact, it seems that 99 per cent of all messaging and connectivity ceases to function once your credit runs out, thus making it a wholly unwise proposition as a device you are going to used to keep track of your children with. Gizmondo does point out that as the device runs low below the £5 credit mark, the administrator of the Guardian account will be notified. The device only comes with £1 of credit on it. If you join the automated SIM update scheme, you receive another £4 of free credit, but you're still below the warning level, so no message. Unless you top the card up with more than £5 of credit this vital function will never work. Strangely, the device never alerts itself to the dropping credits unless you check your SIM balance manually.
But the problems don't stop there. Battery life is appalling. We failed to get more than 24 hours' usage out of the device. Of course, you can't charge the battery outside the device so you are hampered at your every turn. Naturally there are power saving methods, such as 'stand-by', which interesting seem to always kick in just before you get a fix from the GPS satellites.
The Gizmondo is a work in progress, and feels like it was pushed onto the High Street before it was ready. The body of the device looks good but nothing works properly besides the games, and even those were partly to blame for the device 'crashing' more a dozen times during the test. The software is buggy and recent excitements include a problem with the conversion of the clocks to BST, which took 14 days before a software upgrade could be offered to users. But all is not lost, the first version of any new system is filled with problems, you only have to look at the issues that dogged the PS2 and are dogging the PSP. Don't write the Gizmondo off just yet, but give its developer six months to fix all its niggles, otherwise you'll end up dashing it against the wall in fury, as I nearly did.
|Pros||Its looks, graphics and sound.|
|Cons||The OS, speed, battery, buttons, cost, storage capacity.|
|Price||£230 inc. VAT|
|More info||The Gizmondo site|
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