Review: Open Pandora

Dec 12, 2012

Episode 63 of the Geeks With Wives Podcast will feature an exclusive interview with Mark Linkhorst, president/owner of Ithic.com a shop dedicated to the Open Pandora and a member of the Open Pandora community!

I have always wanted a portable device that could do anything. The concept of a portable PC is not new, but the past implementations have not been truly scaled down PCs. Instead we’ve had underpowered, virtually useless devices, such as the Casio Cassiopeia. To boot, these devices ran on Windows CE – not even a smart OS such as iOS or Andriod. You were still expected to buy disc-based software and download it to your device from a typical PC. In the end, these were flawed devices finally killed by the death of Palm and the birth of the iPhone. Now, in 2012, what we have as our alternatives are devices with operating systems and hardware designed portable (note: not simply scaled-down desktop OSs). Consequently, there is a gap between the experienced PC user, and the person who wants to use their portable device for quick activities such as Facebook, Twitter, or browsing the web. The experienced users are fewer in number, and the Open Pandora aims directly at them. Finally, a portable PC, shaped like a Nintendo DS, that offers a full PC experience on the go.

 

Hardware

The Open Pandora has the following technical specifications:

  • Texas Instruments OMAP3530 processor at 600MHz or DM3730 processor at 1000MHz
  • 256MB or 512MB DDR-333 SDRAM
  • 512MB NAND FLASH memory
  • integrated Wifi 802.11b/g (up to 18dBm output)
  • integrated Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR (3Mbps) (Class 2, + 4dBm)
  • 4.3″ widescreen at 800×480 resolution LTPS LCD with resistive touch screen
  • Dual analog controllers
  • Full gamepad controls plus shoulder buttons
  • Dual SDHC card slots
  • TV output (composite and S-Video)
  • 43 button QWERTY and numeric keypad
  • Linux, pre-installed
  • Dimensions: 140×83.4×27.5mm
  • Weight: 335g (with 4000mAh battery – rated at 10 hours)
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Software

Out of the box it runs Angstrom XFCE, it can run Slackware, Ubuntu, Debian, & Archlinux to name a few.  Also it will run a build of Android Gingerbread. That’s heavy. For enthusiasts, it’s an incredible opportunity for portable computing. During my time with the device, I played NES/Atari games, coded a small “hello world” app in Java, and watched some serious YouTube. All worked flawlessly.

Possibilities

Everything in life has a limit. Planes only fly so high, and cars only drive so fast. It’s entirely possible all the individual components of these examples may have the capacity to exceed the stated limits, save for one, which is the reason for the limit. In a gaming PC, that may be the graphics card. If you have a 5GHz Hex Core processor but a PCI graphics card from 2001 – you won’t be playing Far Cry 3…at all. The Open Pandora presently has one limiting agent: competition. At $499, the Pandora is an expensive machine. Granted, it’s a powerful mini-PC that loads quickly, looks great, and gives the user the ability to stream movies/music, play big-boy PC games (not portable versions we’ve seen on the PSP), and even take your programming on the go. The danger is, all of these activities have tremendous competitors. Nintendo’s 3DS handheld or Sony’s Vita are superior gaming machines and cost a fraction of the price. Apple’s iPad can be had at only $399, and offers a much better entertainment experience. Where Pandora has hitched it’s wagon is community support. A quick look at the openpandora.org forums shows a registered membership of more than 5,000 folks. There is no known limit to what this group of dedicated geeks can create. The title of “Pandora” and the devices box-like shape are perfectly fitting. The OpenPandora is a modern-day Pandora’s box, without the negative consequences.

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Verdict

10 years ago, this is what I wanted. As a college student I was more open to the idea of building over buying. With this device in my possession, I can envision myself hacking it and building programs that would help me manage my day (and show off the hardware to my friends). Those days are behind me. I now prefer the closed ecosystem of Apple’s iPad/iPhone, and I no longer have the desire to code. But in my 2 weeks with the OpenPandora, I couldn’t wait to show it off! Using the native apps was second-nature, and the gaming emulators were a blast. When compared to other devices, no single device can do OpenPandora does. On the other hand, the OpenPandora does not do what those dedicated devices do, near as well. Thus, this is a device for enthusiasts. No question about that. I expect the growing community will augment the possibilities substantially in the coming year. I’m excited to watch the evolution!

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