Open source handhelds are like buses. You wait years for one and two of the bloody things come along at once. We're already whipping ourselves into a frenzy over the Pandora, which is set to be the most powerful handheld console of all time, but now Gamepark Holdings (the company behind the immensely popular GP2X) is getting ready to launch its successor: the Wiz.
This brand spanking new machine runs Linux and boasts an impressive list of specifications, including touchscreen support, an ARM9 CPU running at 533mhz, 64MB RAM, 3D capabilities, 1GB internal storage, TV-out and the ability to use SDHC cards up to a capacity of 32GB. It also contains a 2,000Mah Li-ion battery that charges via USB – a feature which will endear the console to those GP2X users who hate having to rely on AA rechargables.
Keen for more information on this development, we got in touch with Craig Rothwell, the official UK distributor of both the GP2X and the Wiz. In an ironic twist of fate, Rothwell is also one of the enterprising chaps behind the aforementioned Pandora project, which was ultimately borne out of his frustration with the shortcomings of the GP2X. Clearly a man who doesn't mind having a lot of plates in the air at once, we probed him regarding this potentially groundbreaking new console.
Pocket Gamer: When did Gamepark inform you that the Wiz was in development?
Craig Rothwell: We knew about it from the start, although they were very secretive. We were able to guess they would be using the 'Pollux' SOC chipset as it was the successor to the MMSP2 and we had had dealings with MagicEyes (the maker of that chip) previously.
Do you think Gamepark is wise to release a new machine so soon after the launch of the GP2X-F200?
Well, strictly speaking the F200 was what the F100 should have been from the start; it could have been far more successful had that been the case. They had been working on the F200 for some time and we even went over to Korea to try to steer things in the right direction with it; some of the ideas ended up being used.
You've been quite critical of Gamepark's design choices in the past. With the Wiz, do you think the company has done enough to make up for previous mistakes?
Well, when we saw those dual D-pads all our hopes did fade; they still don't seem to actually play games and therefore they understand nothing about how to design good controls. The reason I was given for using dual D-pads was because "it looked good". Make of that what you will.
Speaking of the D-pad, is it true that Gamepark Holdings has listened to the public reaction and gone back to the drawing board to modify it?
I was quite vocal about this on the forums and in news posts and encouraged others to speak out too, which seemed to annoy some people but it had to be done.
EvilDragon (the chap behind the German distribution of the machine) met them in person in Germany and spent a long time telling them the opinions of the customers: the design was going to be impossible to use and would result in the Wiz going down faster than a lead balloon. Eventually they came to understand why they needed to revert to a traditional 'pad and buttons' layout.
Can you give us an indication of how powerful the Wiz will be, compared to the GP2X and the Pandora?
It will be more powerful than the GP2X but it's ultimately still using similar low cost hardware which is being stretched to its limits. The software and emulators will be faster but probably not a generation jump faster. The Pandora is substantially more powerful but it isn't really fair to compare them as they are a generation apart in terms of hardware.
Can you give us a brief summary of the machine's unique selling points?
It's very small and neat, rather like a Game Boy micro version of the GP2X. It's low cost and can be charged via USB and it should have some excellent puzzle games built in from the GP2X back catalogue.
Will the Wiz be compatible with GP2X emulators or will it require new ones to be coded for it?
They will need to be ported (as they do for the Pandora, too) but there isn't too much work involved.
When do you expect the first units to arrive and how much will they cost?
They are expected to arrive now towards the end of November. They will be £129.99 including VAT.
And how many units do you expect to sell over in the first 12 months?
This is difficult to call. The interest has certainly not been as great as we expected. This is possibly to do with Gamepark Holdings' policy of total secrecy and refusal to publish videos on sites like YouTube. You really have to embrace things like YouTube in this day and age, as we've done with the Pandora.
Do you think you will experience any conflict of interest by selling both the Pandora and the Wiz on your site?
No, as I've said before I think the more open source devices there are out there, the more good software will be made. This can only benefit us all in the end. We would be prepared to sell any other exciting open source device that might be released in the future, too. The important thing is that the devices are good quality, work well and show that we don't need Microsoft or Apple controlling us or our downloads.
Would you say the Pandora and the Wiz are fighting for the same market, or do you think that they will appeal to two different types of users?
I think the market is different. The Pandora is much more of a portable mini gaming computer; it has wi-fi and real computer applications in addition to games. The Wiz on the other hand is just a small gaming machine, more of a mini-GP2X.Our thanks to Craig for his time. If you're sufficiently interested, the Wiz can be pre-ordered here.