Friday, 21 October 2011


Hardware reviews? On Blog Squirrel? Gasp.

With real life getting in the way at this time of year, it's the perfect time to try something a bit different. This, is a Caanoo. One of the latest entries in the line of open-source GP2X handhelds that nobody buys. I'm forced to use this as part of my course, but you likely won't buy one. Let me explain why that is.

I don't find myself too thrilled with handheld gaming anymore. Maybe it's a side effect of growing older - in modern times, hiding behind screens to avoid talking to people is rarely the best course of action. I also suspect most adults are happy with their Angry Birds-equipped smartphones, of which double up as both an entertainment device and a means of contact. Either way, I haven't felt inspired to purchase a handheld since the Game Boy Advance, and that isn't likely to change in the near future.

But even though I suspect dedicated handheld gaming devices are on their way out, South Korean firm GamePark Holdings seems to disagree. Or at least they did disagree last year when they released the GP2X Caanoo, a successor to the GP2X and GP2X Wiz (if you've not heard of either I don't blame you). The Caanoo is a cheaper, open-source handheld for those who don't want to invest in a collection of cartridges. Nobody bought it, leading to its recent discontinuation little more than a year after its debut.

On the surface, the Caanoo looks fairly adequate. It runs reasonably simple games, plays music and video and isn't too painful to work with. A Nintendo DS without the second screen, plus a few nicer features like an analogue thumbstick, accelerometer, microphone and the ability to shove it into your PC and load an SD card up with content. It comes in a few colours - white seems to look the best, though you can also get black and (I think) blue. It also has a dodgy resistive touch screen and stylus.

The Caanoo is essentially a handheld equivalent of a desktop Linux computer, and wouldn't you know it, it suffers from all of the same flaws! Linux struggles because even though its hardcore fanbase swear by its super-fast speeds and open-source nature, the software support is limited and it often needs to resort to emulation (or methods such as WINE) to be deemed worthwhile. And then there's the other issue - very little of the software available in Linux can't be found on Windows in some form, so if money isn't an issue and you're not against capitalism, the logical conclusion is to side with the world of Microsoft.

Now, considering the Caanoo doesn't even have speed on its side when compared to its competition, there's not a lot going for this little unit. You can screw about with the thing to your heart's content, but you're unlikely to find a vast supply of decent games exclusive to the handheld unless you physically go out of your way to make them. If you're buying it for pleasure, you'll quickly find your SD card will be loaded with emulators and ports of PC freeware releases.

The person who bought a Caanoo over a Nintendo (3)DS or Sony PSP likely needs a checkup with their local GP. All the Caanoo does is emulate better systems, and even if that sort of thing floats your boat, a much better option would be to invest in the Pandora handheld instead (that one has a keyboard, and it's British!). If you're fanatical about the GNU General Public License perhaps this is the console for you, but don't expect it to ever hit the mainstream audience because the game library simply isn't there.

However, it's a nice piece of kit for aspiring developers, who may lack the funds and expertise to deal with official software development kits. Whereas I would have obviously preferred to use something more recognisable for my studies, the Caanoo fits the bill well enough. You stick it in a USB port and move files around - things couldn't get simpler. However, trainee programmers stand as the only area of society I could possibly recommend the Caanoo to - unless you're desperate to play Sqrzx or Doom again it's worth avoiding unless you can get it hilariously cheaply.

And it's a shame, because if it weren't for the internals, the Caanoo would be almost the perfect handheld for me. It would have been nice, of course, to see a protective cover on the screen, but it's surprisingly well made aside from that. It's sturdy yet comfortable, and is incredibly easy to use. It also has a fairly long battery life, which is always an important factor. And lest we forget, there's a port of Ken's Labyrinth and a number of Toaplan arcade shooters - games I've reviewed on this blog before now so the developers clearly share my taste in games. I've yet to see how good the Caanoo port of Quake is though.

So, to reiterate - don't buy this console if you're looking for games. Whereas it's certainly a better deal than previous GP2Xes, is pales in comparison to the work of the Japanese. Even the Nintendo 3DS. Don't bother with it.


  1. You can play Robotron 2084 on it. Any entity that doesn't appreciate this game is a devolved personality with bad self-esteem and a dislike of all that is pure, good, wholesome and delightful.

  2. Well the whole point of this is to run emulators, really. It can't compete with the DS or PSP for new/commercial games but it isn't trying to. (And the Pandora is something like four times the price.)

  3. I think the idea is if you're building a console whose greatest strength is its ability to ride on the past successes of others... you're not likely to sell many units.

    With the Pandora, at least you can fall back on its desktop computer-like abilities. I don't think either are particularly useful in this day and age - my Android phone can have a good stab at emulating things like the Mega Drive, but the Pandora has more of a use, if you catch my drift.