The One Lab

I've Opened Pandora's Box

Fri Feb 25, 2011 17:12:00 -0700

Well, it's happened -- I've finally recieved my Pandora via UPS today! It's an interesting machine, indeed. Has a bit of heft to it, but everything feels solid.

The package came in a slightly beat up cardboard box sealed up in a UPS plastic bag mailer. Not really surprising, if you know the project's history and beginnings. I imagine the lack of protection in the UPS mailer didn't help much as the parcel went through customs and overseas. Unboxing photos are after the break.

You can see the unboxing here (apologies for the photo quality -- camera thought it was nighttime), though what you can't see is the smell. Once I pulled the cardboard box out, I was overwhelmed with a smell I totally didn't expect. Either the delivery guy was smoking heavily around the package, or the folks at OpenPandora that packaged it up were smoking while doing so. I suspect the latter, because once I got to the innards of the box, the plastic wrapped items smelled like plastic (the charger, the pandora itself, etc.), while the cables and papers that were loose smelled heavily of cigarette smoke. And yes, before you respond, I can tell the difference between smoke and electronics manufacturing: I work with electronics quite a bit.

Aside from the smell, the rest of the package was rather professional. My unit even came with a fancy case (I'll say more on that later) and a fancy printed quick start guide that looks just as professional as any other major manufacturer's guides. In my case, though, the battery had been left inside the unit, so it was literally just a matter of pulling things out of their wrappings and pushing the "on" switch.

The build quality of the unit is good -- sturdy materials, good layout, and tight tolerances overall leading to a very solid feel. The nubs feel nice and smooth, the D-pad is very responsive, and the keyboard keys have a good tactile feel so you know when you've pressed them. I think the casing might have been using too tight tolerances in some places, however, since my unit's stylus is impossible to remove from its housing by hand. After repeated attempts to do so with the pad of my thumb and forefinger, and after tearing my thumbnail, I finally had to grab a pen and push it out with the cap. The stylus itself is pretty standard stuff and feels like it's made out of ABS plastic with a hard plastic tip. I think I'll probably end up using an extra Nintendo DS stylus, though, as it fits nearly perfectly in the stylus holder and has a soft rubber tip which won't scratch the screen. Aside from that one niggle, everything else feels solid.

Upon inspecting the battery compartment (which contains a 4000mAh battery -- friggin' huge compared to the PSP or Nintendo DS), I popped out the battery to find this label. I have to say, guys -- and this goes out to the OpenPandora folks on the front lines -- I haven't seen this kind of dedication and heart in a product since the old Amiga 1000 days. Kudos to you!

As I said earlier, my unit came with a carrying case, and a nice one at that. It's a clean black and white zipper case made of nylon that has three clear vinyl slots for SD cards and the pandora itself. It also has an additional strip of fabric attached to a small bit of velcro on the top half of the case, which I can only guess as to the use. When I said the device seemed to be built with tight tolerances, I meant it: even the carrying case is nearly too tight to fit. I can barely fit my pandora inside, and when I do, the shoulder buttons end up depressed rather hard. Worse still, the back of the zipper itself has little room to wiggle when it goes around the corners of the pandora. I have noticed, however, that it seems to stretch out a bit each time I insert and remove the pandora, so it might just be the "newness" of it that I'm experiencing. Sadly, the case was the hardest hit with the smoke and smells like an ashtray simply because it's made of fabric. With any luck, some Febreeze will help with that.

On startup, the first run wizard starts up and asks the usual things. Interestingly, it even asked for a hostname for the little black brick -- so naturally, I called it "nozomi", which means "hope" in Japanese, and happens to be the last thing left in Pandora's Box after everything else was released.

The operating system itself is pretty simple: it's what mostly feels like a bog-standard build of Angstrom, with a few gxmessage scripts to glue together the many /proc and /sys tweakables together into something useable for non-shell junkies. The two UIs also follow this design and focus on function rather than form as well. Minimenu is pretty minimal -- hence the name -- and essentially just sits in as a quick way to launch apps without having to mess with UI controls much. In fact, the touchscreen is almost completely useless in minimenu and almost all operations are done using the D-pad, shoulder buttons, and others. The other UI present in this build of the OS is XFCE. This revision of the suite is decent, though, and works rather well for a desktop environment.

Overall, I'm fairly impressed, and if OpenPandora survives long enough to come out with a Pandora 2, I'll be happy to invest. I'll have more details on what it's like to write and play games for the thing later, but for now, I'm out.

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