Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dingoo A380 Review

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The nice folk at isharegifts gracefully sent me a sample Dingoo A380 for review.

Having declared my pecuniary interest, in truth though, after playing with this new Dingoo, bribery and graft is strictly unnecessary for its promotion.  IMHO, the product does stand on its own merits. 
It remains a testament to the original A320, and its rabid, passionate community (hey, that’s us dudes) that even in 2011, some 3 years after the word “Dingoo” became somewhat a part of the English language,  that it still remains the best Dingoo-type device.  This is because it is still the best supported, thanks to Booboo’s original Dingux, and now OpenDingux.  Dingux means access to emulators and software other than those that came with the original A320’s native uCos firmware.  Dingux allows for ports of games like Doom and Duke Nukem.  Dingux is what turned the A320 from a glorified media player into the device we know and love.
It’s still necessary to put Dingux onto a stock standard A320 though, and though relatively easy, it remains a bitch to have to do.  Here then, we hit the main claim to fame of the A380: it comes with Dingux preinstalled – or at least, some shadowy, controversial version of it – to save you the trouble of having to mod the device.  It also comes therefore with the full range of emulators that the community has developed over the years, out of the box.  Unlike with a stock A320, you get Gameboy and Gameboy Colour emulators, PSX4All and critically, MAME, as well as, for good measure, Midpath and Open Beats of Rage.

1. BOX

For those of you who like unboxing porn (and who doesn’t?), here we go:
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It’s a lovely little package, but nothing we haven’t seen before.  In addition to the A380, you get the usual: headphones, TV out cable, USB/Charger cable, mains charger and “manual”.
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The A380 device itself is also clingwrapped in some heavy duty plastic anti-scratch protection that peels off with no special difficulty. You might happily choose to leave this on with little downside, as it does seem good for the A380. I ripped it off though, as this stuff bothers me, like unpopped bubblewrap.

2. SPECS

  • 1. Model: Dingoo A-380 console
  • 2. Gaming Console Modes: GBA SFC FC MD NEO-GEO CPS-1CPS-2 GBC SMS GG
  • 3. Operation System: Windows2000/XP/Vista/Windows7
  • 4. Default System: Dingux (Dingoo Linux)
  • 5. Internal wireless receiver: Internal 2.4GHz receiver module, support two 2.4GHz wireless controllers
  • 6. Multi-players mode: Support 2 -player gaming
  • 7. CPU: 500MHz
  • 8. Ram: 64MB
  • 9. Capacity: 4GB
  • 10. G-Sensor: Vibration Motor [This is very likely a mistranslation of “Tilt Control” – I’ve felt no evidence of a motor.]
  • 11. Console design: Cross direction buttons, A/B/X/Y buttons, Left/Right shoulder buttons, START/SELECT buttons, power switch, hold-button, internal RESET button
  • 12. Video port: AV-Out
  • 13. Display: TFT 3.2" QVGA LCD(16:10), resolution 400X240
  • 14. Audio Port: 3.5mm Stereo Audio Output, microphone output
  • 15. Audio Type: Stereo Speakers
  • 16. Card Slot: TF(Micro SD), up to 32GB
  • 17. Additional Port: USB2.0 port/Charging port
  • 18. MAME PS JAVA(after later firmware up-grade.)
  • 19. Compatible Video Formats: RM,RMVB,MPEG1,MPEG2,MKV(H.264,DIVX,XVID),WMV,MOV,MP4,3GP,AVI(H.264,DIVX,XVID),ASF,MPE,FLV,MPEG,MPG,DAT,VOD(no more than 480P)
  • 20. Compatible Audio Formats: MP3,WMA,WAV,OGG,ACC,APE,FLAC,M4a
  • 21. Additional Media Functions: Audio function supports MP3, WMA APE, FLAC audio format; synchronous lyrics display function, multiple EQ options, and 3D virtual sound field, surround sound effect and play mode options. Music can keep playing while using other application
  • 22. Video playback supporting many types of multiple scaling screen modes
  • 23. Image viewer formats: JPG,BMP,GIF,PNG. Supports zoom/rotation /PPT display
  • 24. FM radio: 76.0MHz~108.0MHz,up to 40 channels. Supports recording
  • 25. Audio Recorder formats: MP3,WAV Recording time up to the rest of capacity
  • 26. E-book Formats: TXT,HTML,RTF,DOC. Supports bookmark, auto browsing, font sizing, TTS oral reading functions
  • 27. Languages: English, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Japanese, Korean, Russian, German, Spanish, French
  • 28. Color: Black/White/Pink
  • 29. Special functions: Supports firmware up-grade and software expansion
  • 30. Battery: 1800MAh Lithium ion battery
  • 31. External power supply: D C 5V 500m
  • 32. Weight: 130g
  • 33. Dimension: 136×59×15(length × width× height,in mm)
Now, about that dang darn Dingux on ‘dis thang, Dingoo Ironchef Zear reveals:
* the system A380 is running is Linux (./uImage_oob: u-boot legacy uImage, Linux-2.6.24.3L009-g84074b29-dir\037\010\235\234\002vmlinux.bin, Linux/MIPS, OS Kernel Image (gzip), 1183771 bytes, Wed Apr  6 11:55:42 2011, Load Address: 0x80010000, Entry Point: 0x801EAF80, Header CRC: 0xF59EBB75, Data CRC: 0x652E5F56)
* the menu system is (most likely) based on dmenu. Or at least I can find dmenu config files inside
* the rootfs is filled with GPLed stuff, like emulators and applications developed for Dingux by Joyrider, Sience, Darfgarf and Slaanesh, among the others
It’s not all princesses and peaches though, dear readers.  More on this later.

3. BUILD AND FORM FACTOR

The A320’s plastic is glossy, and feels quite a cut above cheap and nasty.  It feels quite like an NDS lite in texture and build. It also feels heavier than the A320. Either there’s a whopping heavy CPU in there, or can it be that the battery is bigger, promising much for battery life? I might open her up in a day or two, so stay tuned.
It puzzled me somewhat that the A380 seems more comfortable to hold than the A320.  It’s bizzare – they look practically alike!  However, the A380 is about .5cm taller, and a few mm thicker than the A320.  It’s corners are also less angular, so they don’t dig into your palm quite so much. Overall, these little improvements seem to add up to a comfier experience.

4. TF CARD STORAGE

Nothing more to say here, except that TF beats those accursed hard to find mini-SD abominations that passes for expandable storage on the A320, both for availability, and price per GB. Now you can finally almost afford to carry that MAME romset in your pocket.

5. CONTROLS AND BUTTONS

The A380 also has a tilt sensor that works – but you wouldn’t honestly bother with it – even in games, like Mario Kart. It’s just not precise enough. Tilt control is completely against the laws of nature when it comes to 8/16 bit gaming, and if Dingoo manufacturers keep this up, these machines will mutate and lead to Judgement Day.
It also has a 2 player wireless mode which I am unable to test, as I only have one free sample Dingoo. Check out this link though, to see it 2 player mode in action, which is also by the nice folk from isharegifts, in case I haven’t mentioned them before (and also in case the A400 is just around the corner, and requires a review).
As for the traditional controls, the first thing that strikes about the A380 are those Xbox 360 controller-like coloured buttons.
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Dreamy, aren’t they? (Says the  frustrated art photographer in me.)
This is what they look like after an 8 hour session of SFC Mario Kart. However, such a session is not going to be ergonomically a pain at all as the control buttons feel considerably firmer, and are much more satisfying to press than those on the A320. They in fact feel like a 360’s controller buttons. The Dpad also feels firmer than the A320’s, which provides better responsiveness, all the better to control you, Mr Do.  The shoulder buttons benefit from being larger than those on the A320, and therefore are easier to press.  The START and SELECT buttons are a massive improvement over the A320’s for the same reason. 
As one reason for buying these devices is because we can’t stomach the awful thought of playing emulators on touchscreens, Dingoo Technologies gets this critical aspect right on the A380. 

6. SCREEN

Like all the other Dingoo devices, the screen is bright and beautiful, with one flaw: the optimal viewing angle may not be the best one for you, depending on how you like to tilt your head when holding the device.  The A320 always looked fine from top down; the GA330 screen was optimal when viewed with the device tilted slightly to the right.  The A380 has the same predilection.  If you enjoy playing with your eyes slightly to the left of the A380’s screen, you’ll be fine. Otherwise, it’s not like the screen goes black or something, but the difference in brightness and vibrancy experienced is perceptible enough to be irritating.
The screen, by the way, is 16:9. MAME and the Gameboy emulators default to 4:3 by default, but the other emulators do not. You’ll have to set this yourself, where the relevant emulator is capable of this.

7. EMULATORS

The A380 comes with the following emulators out of the box: Gameboy Advance (GBA), Super Famicom (SFC), Famicom (FC), Megadrive (MD), NEO-GEO, CPS-1, CPS-2, Gameboy Colour and Gameboy, Gamegear (GG) and Sega Master System (SMS). * While the specs imply PSX and MAME need to be installed separately, as mentioned above, mine came with these out of the box, as well as Midpath and OpenBOR.

8. USER INTERFACE AND OTHER FUNCTIONS

If an ipad’s user interface is Angelina Jolie, the A380’s is Hillary Swank.  And working out how to change the default language to English is not quite as involved as it was with the A320.
You also get Radio, MP3, Movies, ebook reader, stopwatch, pictures, ya, da and yada. All work, but you didn’t buy this to replace an ipod touch. The A380 does come with a .pdf reader that seems to work well, as long as your .pdf doesn’t contain lots of pictures. It also comes with a calculator and stopwatch, which the A320 did not, all of which are courtesy of the A380 being Johnny come lately in terms of Dingux.

9. PERFORMANCE

All the emulators work really well for 2d ROMS and gaming. I’d like to have tested all of them, but the benefits of actually doing this would outweigh the obvious axiom that some people might want to read about the A380 while there is still an “11” in the year. Having played with enough ROMS though, I’d honestly say that generally speaking, there is no issue with the way the A380 performs.  Unless you’re the fussiest of retrogamers, there is nothing you could really fault with the way each of the classic consoles are emulated on the A380.  From the Gameboy to the most demanding Neo-Geo sprite based games, there is no discernable frameskip or slowdown. Even the Megadrive and SNES, that performed less than satisfactorily out of the box on the A320, run completely smoothly on the A380. TV out works fine. I’m not sure if the improvements are due to hardware (the A380 does have an extra 100mhz extra CPU speed, and 32mb of extra system RAM over the A320), or if it’s just that the software is better optimised, but the peddling monkeys inside the A380 are definitely working harder for the same bananas.
3d is another story of course; sadly the wait for a Dingoo that will run SFC Starfox continues.  And needless to say, the PSX emulator’s performance also remains on par with its A320 experience.
Enough blabbering - a video beats any text description, and full kudos to greenmush, who released this rather astute emulator performance wrap-up:

Good on you greenmush.  I completely agree.

10. INSTALLING DINGUX SOFTWARE

The calculator, pdf reader and stopwatch that come out of the box do look familiar. Yes guys, it’s all been scene before (boom boom). As the A380 runs Dingux out of the box, as at the date of this review, success has been reported by some Dingoonity members in getting some other A320 emulators like VICE and Frodo running on the A380.  Renaming the relevant file with a .dge extension seems to work.  Read this, this, and keep and eye on this, and I’m sure lots more information will emerge over time.
How is this so? I do need to segue here into preachy soapbox land and say that you should all read this: http://boards.dingoonity.org/dingoo-technology-a380/new-dingoo-tech-a380-firmware-and-emulators/msg29590/#msg29590 , which will expose you not only to where any Dingux apps you’d like to try should be installed, and also to the controversy that surrounds this device. Somewhat ironically - given we are talking about a Chinese made console designed to play ROMS here - a fair few Dingoo community members are unhappy about the fact that Dingoo Technologies does not credit work properly, or comply with the GPL licence requirements associated with the software at the heart of the A380.  Y’all should know this. 
OK, now it’s back to gaming, eating meat and leaving behind a massive carbon footprint.

11. CONCLUSION

Not cool:
  • Currently about $40 to $60 more expensive than a Dingoo A320
  • 3d performance still sucks
  • Screen viewing angle may bother people who swing the wrong way
  • Made by a bunch of morally suspect pirates with no respect for intellectual property, unlike you and me
  • No support for A320 native games as this runs Dingux
Cool:
  • Good build quality
  • Comes with Dingux, and most of the emulators you’re likely going to want, preinstalled  
  • Emulators generally perform better – for 2D gaming - than on a stock standard A320
  • Better ergonomics and standard controls
  • Wireless 2 player capability is promising
  • Uses TF cards, which are much cheaper than Mini-SD
  • Other Dingux software should also work
  • No support for A320 native games as this runs Dingux
The A380 is the perfect Dingoo for beginners without the time or inclination to get Dingux to go on an A320. It has all of the advantages of a Dingux enabled A320, without the hassle or risk, of bricking your Dingoo, or of being unable to get Dingux up and running at all. If you’re into retrogaming, and would prefer knocking back another Galaga session instead of messing with u-boot and Dingux installation packages, and words like “rootfs” scare you, this is the Dingoo for you.

Update: You can get a Dingoo A380 from Willgoo here for only $119.99!
Update: Since the original review above, Alien Grey has been religious in updating the firmware for this device.  You can find the CFW here!
Update: Here is another page that contains all A380 community software and other emulators!

11 comments:

  1. "Uses TF cards, which are much cheaper than Mini-SD"

    ...What?

    I haven't checked the costs of Mini-SD cards, but I /highly/ doubt this. And even if it were true for Mini-SD, most people (myself included) use MicroSD cards with Mini-SD adapters, which can be gotten with shipping for $1.50 from Amazon, plus the cost of the MicroSD card. Are you sure about this claim?

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  2. ...Wait, scratch the previous comment. Derp. I thought you said CF cards for some stupid reason. TF cards /are/ MicroSD. Still, it's not "much cheaper" if you can get a Micro-to-Mini adapter for $1.50.

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  3. would you buy a Caanoo or A380 ? (exclude price as an issue).

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  4. Are there 'multiple versions' of the A380 with clones etc. Or are all the A380s the same on ebay etc.
    In the words from the Marathon Man 'Is it safe?'

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  5. Has anyone had any luck with the a380 PSX emulator? I've been tinkering for a few days and can't get past the SONY screen...

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  6. This page says the A380 does not have Dingux preinstalled:

    https://obscurehandhelds.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/dingoo-a380-on-sale-already/

    True or false?

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  7. @ jrichec74

    http://obscurehandhelds.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/dingoo-a380-runs-linux-after-all/

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  8. Has it got autofire? Just curious.

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  9. Ok I'm new to emulators and all this nonsense, but I do enjoy older games, especially since there's quite a few I've never gotten a chance to play/beat. Anyways the system has an SNES emulator on it, but when i go to download snes roms from any site they download as 7Z files. I' figured it was the same as GB and NES roms and you just did the whole copy and paste thing, but it's not working. What do I have to do to get the SNES roms to work?

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    Replies
    1. You need to install 7-Zip on your computer and open the .7z files with it. Press the "extract" button in 7-Zip and it will extract the SNES ROMs to your hard drive. (In OS X and Linux you can do this with a program called p7zip) Then you can copy the extracted ROMs to your device and they should work.

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