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The handheld games console business is a ruthless one. We've lost count of the number ofand only Sony, with its billions, has been able to make a dent in Nintendo's unquestioned dominance. On the surface, the little-known GP2X, complete with its idiosyncratic use of Linux, looks doomed to failure, but can its apparent Achilles heel be its saviour?
The GP2X is the spiritual successor to the GP32, also from GamePark Holdings. Aesthetically, it sits somewhere between the Sony PSP and the Sega Game Gear, which obviously isn't a bad thing. It feels great in the hands, although its build quality is obviously not in the same league as its more established rivals.
The unit has four controller buttons on the face, two shoulder triggers and a small thumbstick on the left side. Below this is a volume rocker for adjusting the sound levels of the tinny, front-facing speakers, and in the middle of it all is an ample 89mm (3.5-inch) screen.
There's a sliding power button on the left, which is pretty much impossible to press accidentally, so there's no chance of inadvertantly losing your progress in a game. At the top there's an SD memory card slot plus a 2.5mm headphone jack, and at the right there are DC power and mini-USB ports. At the bottom of the device there's a port labelled EXT, which can be used to connect the GP2X to an external monitor, or to install additional memory.
The GP2X is more than just a handheld games console. From the device's main menu you can play video, listen to music, view photos, and read ebooks. It's compatible with a variety of file formats straight out of the box including DivX/XviD, MP3, OGG, WMA, JPEG and GIF.
Behind the scenes, the GP2X uses a stripped-down version of the Linux operating system, which for the most part is a tremendous strength. This, in effect, makes it a handheld computer on which you can run a wide variety of Linux applications, or even create your own.
More impressively for gamers, the GP2X can run a variety of emulators. It'll let you run games designed for arcade machines, SNES, Game Boy, PlayStation and just about everything else. Unfortunately you'll need to own the original games in order to play them legally, but there are some freeware or 'abandonware' titles you can play without fear of becoming a software pirate.
For all its potential, the GP2X doesn't have the feel of mainstream product. You simply cannot pick it up and play with the same reckless abandon as a Nintendo DS or Sony PSP. Actually getting it to do anything requires a fair bit of tinkering, as well as (occasionally) some hair pulling.
We were slightly disappointed at the amount of internal storage on the device. Only 64MB of NAND memory is available, so having an SD memory card is a necessity. We recommend having at least 512MB, but if you intend to use the device as a platform for watching full-length video you'll need at least double that.
The 89mm screen isn't as good as it could be. It isn't as bright as we'd like, some text is illegible, and the display flickers at the faintest sign of a low battery. This in itself can be a common occurrence as the unit only lasts a few minutes on AA alkaline cells. It's almost not worth bothering to slip a couple of Duracells in -- you're better off with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which will last anywhere up to 6 hours.
The GP2X's speakers are also utterly rubbish. They're nowhere near loud enough, so listening to music in a noisy environment is usually out of the question unless you're prepared to wear headphones.
Ultimately, the GP2X will only appeal to users who are prepared to invest time and effort -- it's simply not a pick-up-and-play platform. Those looking for immediate thrills are better off using the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP. Having said that, we think users with a geeky side will get plenty of satisfaction from the GP2X. There's a wealth of exciting old-school games available for its various emulators, and the possibilities for creating your own on-the-go applications make it worthy of consideration.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide