What's all this then?
This is the Pandora, a pocket-sized gaming computer. It's a console, UMPC, PMP, MID, BFG and any number of TLAs, some of which haven't been invented yet. It began life as a community project of sorts, headed by several prominent members of the GP32X.com community and funded by 4,000 pre-orderers. It's the spiritual successor to open handhelds such as the GP32 and GP2X, designed with community input to answer all the complaints of the systems that came before. Read all the specs on the official Pandora website.
Wasn't it coming out over a year ago? Why is it so late?
Shut up! That's why! This little device has survived production delays, bank meltdowns, angry mobs, natural disasters, vapourware trolls, other detractors who may have had valid points in hindsight but not today ok, and much more. Perhaps the biggest time factor though, was that it was designed and built from the ground up by a bunch of guys who'd never done it before. Turns out it's pretty difficult to build something like this with no experience, no corporate backing and no millions. Who'da thunk? But it's finally real, and it's shipping out to patient pre-orderers right now.
How do they expect to compete with Nintendo and Sony?
They don't. The Pandora is a niche device aimed at retro gamers, homebrew lovers, and anyone who likes open devices. It's expected to sell in the thousands, not millions. Not that they'll say no if a million people want one.
What's "open" about it?
Put simply, "open" means you can do what you want with it. Developers can write or port software and release it how they like (free, open source if they want, commercial is cool too). Users bask in the glory of all this, installing what they want without restrictions, without DRM, without tiresome rules or terms of service. It runs a completely open source operating system, which you're also free to hack, slash or just replace. And that's just the software. Want to tether to your phone or use a DualShock pad via Bluetooth? Go for it. Fancy plugging in a USB broadband modem, or HDD, or MIDI controller? Do it. Got a use for UART? It's at the rear expansion port. Want to add more buttons and lights? There are spare solder pads inside, go nuts.
I'm a gamer, not a hacker!
That's cool baby. A large portion of Pandora buyers are more interested in mashing buttons than making and modding things. It's a gaming handheld for gamers! It just so happens that you're allowed to hack it, if that's what blows your skirt up.
What about the Linux thing though? I don't know how to Linux.
That's ok, you don't need to! Countless hours have been spent customising the Pandora operating system (based on Ångström Linux) to make it as seamless and user friendly as possible. You can switch between several different GUIs, from a mobile-style icon grid to a fully fledged desktop environment which is as easy to use as Windows. The finger-friendly Ubuntu Netbook Launcher is even in there. Managing your installed software is extremely simple too, thanks to the specially developed "pnd" system. All apps are downloaded as a single .pnd file. Save it to your SD card and installation is complete - it automatically appears in your menu and it's ready to run. To uninstall, just delete the .pnd file. Linux isn't supposed to be this simple! It's a disgrace!
Yeah well, it's big and ugly.
Be fair now, it's not that big. It's only a touch bigger than the NDS Lite. As for looks, well, 4,000 people saw fit to throw their money down in advance, so it must be bringing sexy back for someone, right? (Yes!). If you're not quite seeing it, just think of that plain kid in high school who you never really noticed until you found out they had every kind of console and the keys to the liquor cabinet. Pretty enough now? Giggity.
Wait, $330? I can buy a PS3 for that!
Yes, you can. But when you buy a big brand console, you're only covering part of the manufacturing cost. These companies typically sell high volumes of hardware at a loss, and rely on software revenues to turn a profit. Open Pandora Ltd is a low volume manufacturer, and each sale needs to cover the cost of the hardware. Once you buy, the deal is done; they are not relying on you to buy software to make more money. This is good news for developers too - no SDK costs or licensing fees, just make your software and release it at your leisure.
Does the name have anything to do with the radio service, or the jewellery, or the PSP battery haxx, or those blue people, or the Greek mythology?
No, no, no, no, and yes.
Show me some things then.
K, here are some videos. They're not promo vids, just bits and pieces of development progress filmed for the benefit of pre-orderers. The first group of videos were made on pre-production Pandoras in the last few months:
A platter of Pandoras | Office apps, OS tweaks | Theme changes | Adjusting nub settings | LCD gamma manager | Switching GUIs, installing apps and a bit of Atari ST | DOSBox frontend + Warcraft | Amiga | D-pad workout with Picodrive | Commodore 64 | Developing on the Pandora with PyGame
The next group of videos are older, and were made on a range of old prototypes and dev boards. They do not represent the current state of software (or hardware, obviously!):
Wolf3D | Doom | Quake 1 | Quake 2 | Quake 3 (using dual nubs) | Descent | Descent 2 | Marathon | Heroes of Might & Magic 2 | SNES | PSX | MAME
Many more videos can be found in the (community maintained) Pandora Video Vault.
Can I buy one now?
Yes! You can now secure a second batch preorder from the official site. First batch Pandoras are still being assembled and shipped, and it's expected to take until October to get them all out. The production line will then keep rolling into the second batch. Be aware before ordering that this is a small project and delivery times can be "loose". It's possible that not every second batch order will make it out by Christmas.
More links and information:
Official site: http://www.open-pandora.org
Community blog (unofficial): http://pandorapress.net
GP32X forums: http://www.gp32x.com/board/index.php?showforum=61
Pandora Wiki/FAQ: http://pandorawiki.org/FAQ
Pandora Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora_(console)
Thanks to Lafazar and Crasherball, whose many words and links I drew upon to create this thread.