The Committed Sardine Blog

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

This is a test

OK, get your giggles out now. The name of this system is Gizmondo. "Giz" like "gigabyte," not like "giraffe." First launched in the United Kingdom almost a year ago, the Gizmondo handheld game-multimedia system experienced underwhelming sales and (recently settled) legal troubles.

After a couple of launch delays, the $229 Giz is finally invading the U.S. handheld market, where the Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable already are well established, and the Nokia N-Gage flopped.

The 6.8 ounce Gizmondo has the look of a classy dashboard, wrapped in a molded rubber shell with shiny highlights and not a single straight edge.

It ships with a removable battery, battery charger, bud-style earphones, Universal Serial Bus cable, demo Secure Digital card and SIM with some prepaid credit. Built-in features include a digital JPEG camera, Bluetooth for multiplayer games, Global Positioning System applications and cellular text messaging.

Users can also play MP3 audio files and Windows Media Video, MPEG 4, MIDI and WAV tones with the Gizmondo, either downloading files through the GPS or by synching with a PC through the USB port.

Games, costing $20 to $40, are released on SD cards that slide into an open spring port at the bottom of the system.

Of the nine games tested on the Gizmondo, only one, the grid-based shooter "POD: Point of Destruction" by Gizmondo Studio, was enjoyable enough to play for an hour or more. The system's design made holding it that long a little uncomfortable. The company says the battery should allow up to six hours of continuous gaming.

Most titles seemed just slightly better than cellphone games, having only a few levels and chunky graphics, likely due to the limited space of tiny SD cards. Puzzle and shooter games work just fine since they often don't rely on elaborate graphics. Sports and racing games are not so playable.

The Giz has decent sound when listening with headphones, and horrible tinny sound through the built-in mono speaker. Video is jumpy, often skipping and appearing "pixelated."

Once registered online, the built-in GPS allows parents to track their kids, as long as they have their Gizmondos on, well charged and are in a relatively open area. However, GPS sessions can be spotty at best in areas in which satellite access is obstructed.

The Gizmondo's 2.8-inch screen is about the same size as a Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP's screen — about half the size of the screen on the PSP, a far more successful multimedia player. The company minimized glare, making it a little more usable than the GameBoy Micro and PSP in sunny areas.

The four main face buttons are marked with the familiar Play, Stop, Rewind and Fast Forward icons, which is useful for most applications, but a little confusing for games. A round directional pad is included, but not an analog stick, making it difficult to control vehicles or athletes in racing or sports games. The two trigger buttons on the top look like stubby antennae, with the right button used to open the action menu when browsing the system. Five thin buttons handle system functions such as the power, audio and display brightness.

The built-in Bluetooth is used only to connect to another Gizmondo system for multiplayer games. It would make sense to allow it to connect to a PC instead of relying on the USB. Synching is relatively easy, after a driver download and installing the sync software. You can then surf the Giz's system and the SD card once connected, making it easy to install media files or grab JPEG photos.

Also a mystery is the cellular connectivity. You can't use the system as a phone, but you can send text messages through your cellular account. Typing with four buttons and a direction pad is slow and painful, especially when you need to send a compete sentence.

The Microsoft system software includes a few neat little features, like an alarm clock with vibrate feature, currency converter, calculator and the ability to sync the contacts list with Outlook.

The built-in camera is at par with most modern middle-grade cellphone cameras. It takes a couple button presses to access, but is relatively nice.

The device can't surf the Web, though users can download some items with GPS services.

If you are hunting for a handheld game system, this one is somewhere behind the PSP, DS and GBA-SP, at par with cellphones and the Nokia N-Gage, but before the Game Boy Micro. If you are looking for a multimedia player, the PSP is a clear winner with surround-sound stereo and amazing video quality.

Giving people another reason to put off — possibly forever — buying a Gizmondo, Tiger Telematics has announced that an upgraded wide-screen version will be released next year. The article can be found at this link.