All manner of gaming hardware could be found at PAX East 2013, but tucked way in a far off corner was perhaps its most interesting piece of tech: the GCW Zero.
Some might remember its Kickstater not too long ago, or at least for the one gaming machine that wasn’t some Android-based solution. Billed as being “built by gamers, for gamers,” it appeared to be exactly that: a robust little handheld that could emulate classic games of all kinds.
I was able to handle a pair of production-ready models. Other than the screen bezel being missing, I was told that they were basically the finished product. First, what’s inside: the entire thing is run by a Ingenic JZ4770 1GHz MIPS processor, along with a Vivante GC860 GPU, which supports OpenGL ES 2.0. I’m no tech head, but I’m assuming that it’s enough horsepower to run Linux, along with a host of emulators.
I was told by Justin Barwick, Founder and CEO of Games Consoles Worldwide, maker of the GCW Zero, that Unity was entertained as an option, but that Unity Technologies basically blew him and his company off. As such, those who are interested in Unity support “should all pester them, on our behalf!”
As such, the Zero comes with two emulators: Commodore and Amiga. Their BIOS can be legally distributed with the hardware.
The games all appear on a 3.5 inch LCD display that has a 4:3 ratio and a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. This is rather anemic when compared to the smart phone displays of today, but that’s not what it’s meant to be. It plays classic games, no more, nor less. This is why a touchscreen is not enabled. Again, there was some thought initially, but “it would have come at the cost of true analogue and true digital, so we said no,” explained Barwick.
The device itself is very light and feels great in one’s hand, thanks to its finish. It’s only 9.5 ounces. As for how long it lasts, the 2800 mAh battery ensures about 8 hours of playtime, which is not bad.
Overall, the machine would be damn near perfect at what it does, if not for one thing: the inputs. The buttons are nice and click-y, yet somehow also very mushy at the same time. It’s also funny how the same material that feels to good resting against your palm is not ideal as the basis of the D-pad. The analogue stick is worse. Its closest approximation is the PSP’s nub, which already has plenty of detractors. Whereas that one was way too loose, the GCW-Zero’s pad is very stiff, with lots of resistance. Too much so. And due to its build quality, it just feels cheap, as if it’ll break after some wear and tear.
Unfortunately, I was not able to get an accurate assessment of the screen’s performance. Only a single, black and white game was playable, one that did not run very fast, so the jury is still out as it pertains to blurriness and the like. Nor was I able to check out its interface/OS.
In the end, the GCW-Zero certainly has a number of positives working in its favor, but it has some significant points against it. But we still have too little info to make a real call. And ultimately, with any kind of machine of its kind, one will simply have to see if versatility when it comes to software can trump over its foibles when it comes to hardware.