A word from the sponsors:
www.willgoo.com generously provided us with a YDPG18 for review. Thank you to our generous sponsors at www.willgoo.com , for all things handheld, console, android and retro!You can get one here for the special price of $109.99!
For the new (and better supported) updated version, get one here!
1. The next big thing?The best thing about watching this corner of handheld gaming hardware is that stuff blindsides you on idle Tuesdays. Would we give up the visceral thrill of such sudden adrenalin rushes for those slick, well telegraphed, stage managed - and so, just a little boring – Ninsony Viitas?
And so, sometime in December 2011, and without announcement – at least on this side of China’s export markets - Yinlips Technology (Shenzen) Co Ltd started shipping something called a Yinlips YDPG18. Yinlips are no stranger to this type of thing. Based in Shenzen, China, they’re not fly by night, having been around since 2001, and have got some form in the manufacture of cheap (and not so cheap) and cheerful portable entertainment devices, most of them as ruthlessly functional as they are instantly forgettable. But the YDPG18 has caused some excitement among open handheld gaming sceners because for the first time, gaming controls were married to a cheap Chinese Android tablet.
It was one of those eureka!, though not terribly unobvious moments, where this equation springs to mind:
Android + Physical Gaming Controls = Future of Open Retrogaming Handheld Devices?Does the YDPG18 have the right stuff for this destiny?
2. SpecificationsLet’s get the cold hard relevant facts out first, because the YDPG18 is sold largely through Chinese websites, which tend to be a little loose with the truth when it comes to accurate technical information. The YDPG18 is widely quoted as having clock speeds of 1.2 to 1.5 ghz for example – neither is actually correct.
As at the date of this review, there are two models of YDPG18 available. The first was released about November 2011, and appears now to have been discontinued in favour of a faster, different CPU.
|YDPG18 Old Model |
Release date: circa November 2011
CPU: Amlogic meson-m1 8726m sz SoC (System on Chip) 800Mhz Cortex A9 ARM Core
GPU: Mali 400 Mhz
Single touch resistive screen
|YDPG18 New Model |
Release date: Circa January 2012
CPU: Allwinner A10 SoC (System on Chip) 1.5 Ghz theoretically; actually clocked about 1 Ghz Cortex A8 ARM Core
GPU: Mali 400 Mhz
Multi touch resistive screen
Price: ~US $120-$160
Ever progressing, there’s no messing about in the just-in-time manufacturing and supply chain juggernaut that is Chinese device making, as reports of a new model YDPG18 surfaced about mid January 2012. In a nutshell, the new model features a faster Core Speed on the SoC’s CPU (though the new model utilises an older Cortex core architecture!) , multitouch screen and runs Android Gingerbread. They are shipping now.
Sadly, we have only the old model to review, but I’d encourage you all to read about the updated YDPG18 in our YDPG18 forum, thanks to Jlpotocki’s great work!
3. Form FactorThe YDPG18 is a fatty, and isn’t one for little hands:
The YDPG18 is big. The device is built around a 5 inch (12.8 cm) screen after all, and measures in at about 7.5 x 3.5 inches (19 x 9 cm). Compared with the venerable Dingoo A320’s 2.8 inch screen, for instance, this is not one for discreet gaming on public transport, or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, if it were thicker we’d almost be in Atari Lynx (9 x 4 inches) territory. Thankfully, it does not share the weight of the monstrous Lynx, being relatively speaking, light as a feather at 255 grams - just under the weight of a Nintendo DS – though dimension wise, it is larger than an NDS XL!
I found that the length of the device makes it somewhat of a challenge to hold comfortably while lying down if you’re gripping the controls, and particularly so when lying on your side, so it’s not as bed friendly as say, a Dingoo sized machine. For non-reclining use, this is of course not an issue.
In fact, it only just qualifies as pocketable, and you’ve got to have a big pocket:
(OK … is that a YDPG18 in your pocket or are you just … ?)
4. Ports and ConnectivityOn the underside, there is a mic, TF (Micro SD) Card slot (up to 32GB – but if anyone tries a 64 GB, let me know and I’ll update this), TWO standard headphone jacks, USB port, power port, and a recessed RESET button.
This being an android device, the USB port allows for the full range of connectivity options, including via ADB. Updating to Bitrider’s v 1.2 Firmware will enable the YDPG18 to operate in host mode, allowing the connection of keyboards and mice to the YDPG18, via a USB OTG adapter. Sadly, no gaming controller has yet been found to work through this, but the hunt continues for a compatible controller by the community. The device cannot be charged through the USB port.
The YDPG18 has WiFi (802.11g) but no Bluetooth. Connection via wifi is quick, dependable and stable. The lack of Bluetooth is unfortunate, as it rules out using Bluetooth PS3 or Wii controllers, bypassing all that OTG malarkey.
There is both a front and back facing camera. I couldn’t get the front camera to work in Skype. Anyone had any luck?
5. Build quality and ErgonomicsDespite suggestions to the contrary, the YDPG18 is decently built. All seams are tight. There are no flimsy unaligned joints or unseemly creaks! Snide observations about its build quality, which unfortunately comprised many of the webpieces on this device when it was announced just aren’t true. This isn’t going to fall apart in your hands without considerable effort. The case plastic is shiny and attractive, and overall, it is a nice little package.
When news of the YDPG18 first broke, much was made of the device’s design similarity to the PSP Vita. And no wonder – Yinlips basically copied it, though not quite inch for inch, because PSP Vita cases WILL NOT fit the YDPG18. However, blatantly disregarding Son’s rights over design IP probably works in the YDPG18’s favour. Coming up with a comfortable and attractive design takes time and money. Why not stick with what ain’t broke, and pass the savings on? As you’d expect then, the design’s rounded corners make the console comfortable to hold, allowing your hands to wrap around it comfortably, where more acute angles edges would dig into your palm. You will be grateful for this during extended gaming sessions. There are also two well placed recesses on the back of the device, which serve as gentle grip points. Thanks to these, the YDPG18 never ever feels like it is going to slip out of your hands, which would be the case if its back was completely smooth.
Notice the impressive collection of speaker vents on the back. These also provide tactile feel, all the better to grip.
6. ControlsLet’s jump straight to the money shot – what are the controls like?
Across the top of the YDPG18 are a Menu, HOME and the POWER button.
MENU is critically important in Android, particularly for game emulators. This is as when most emulators are in fullscreen, it is impossible to call up the emulator menu (and therefore, load ROMS, or perform other important functions like save states or adjust emulator options) without using the MENU button. HOME of course returns to the device’s home screen. In truth, for a first time Android user, there are probably too many buttons, but once you figure out what they do - and they all behave consistently – you’ll probably prefer using them over the touchscreen.
The dpad is of the four button type, not a single cross which I frankly, prefer. However, the shape of the buttons – round edged wedges which flow towards the centre point - and their spacing work together and the overall dpad is comfortable, and handles well. They individual buttons were a little stiff to start, but break in quickly, settling in to be firm without being hard to press. As with all dpad based consoles, diagonal Haryukens on Street Fighter are as challenging to perfectly nail every time as on any other handheld, but certainly no more difficult IMHO than on those other devices to achieve. Manoeuvring in 2d shoot ‘em ups is not a problem.
The “analog” nub, unfortunately, does not work as an analog nub. It is usable as another dpad in all emulators. Android 2.2, which the old version ships with, does not evidently support analog sticks. However, there have been no reports that the analog nub works as an analog controller from owners of the updated Android 2.3.4 model either. With its roots as a touchscreen heavy phone OS, catering for analog stick functionality appear to have been a lesser priority for Android developers. Used as a dpad however, the analog nub is a welcome addition to this type of console. Diagonals are much simpler to achieve. The nub is stiff, so you’ll find your thumb tiring after a while, but it is good to have a choice between dpad and nub.
The four A, OK, B and X buttons feel good to the press. Additionally, LEFT and RIGHT shoulder buttons, are also present, turning this into a Retrogamer’s dream. The shoulder buttons are spongy and on the flimsy side, and do not give any satisfying ”clicky” or feedback, just like a PSP’s. 4 shoulder buttons would also have been absolutely perfect of course, and should have been mandated for a device that emulates the PS1 and N64, but hey, we’re thankful there are shoulder buttons at all.
The shoulder buttons however, cannot be pressed at the same time as the normal game buttons. This makes some games extremely difficult to play – Metroid Prime on GBA for example, where the shoulder buttons are employed to change Samus’ gun angle, and firing while changing the angle quickly is critical to gameplay. No solution yet, unfortunately but you can read about the problem, and hopefully, one day, the end of it, here: http://boards.dingoonity.org/other-game-systems/new-opensource-console-announced-the-rg/msg35361/#msg35361
(The A, OK, X and B buttons can be pressed in combination with no trouble, by the way.)
7: Mini HDMI TV OutThe YDPG18 has a mini HDMI TV out port – not the more common standard sized HDMI port. Yinlips takes the view that you’ll have such a cable lying around and don’t include it in their package, so make sure you order one if TV Out is important to you. Some users have reported a less than satisfactory controller lag with emulators through the TV out. Sadly, my mini HDMI cable is still winging its way to me, so I can’t validate this. Here is a video of TV out in action:
8. ScreenThe 5 inch 800 x 480 touchscreen is crisp, sharp and very bright, and viewing angles are absolutely not an issue. The resolution works well for a 5 inch screen. Some dimming does manifest from an extreme top or bottom view, but honestly, you’d have to twist the YDPG18 beyond the realms of usability before the screen colours even start to look odd. The bright, vibrant screen, combined with its larger size and good viewing angles (not to mention the HDMI TV out, and the fact it is capable of playing 720/1080 .mkv media smoothly without conversion) means this makes a much better media player than most media players out of China. If you’re comparing the YDPG18 against a Dingoo for media playing duties, the YDPG18 wins hands down.
Sadly, the touch aspect of the YDPG18’s resistive – not capacitive - touchscreen has developed a bad reputation, and in truth, it is awful to use without a stylus for navigating on the Android menu screens, and for any typing. Selecting onscreen apps to launch requires several taps, and often results in adjacent apps being launched unintentionally instead. Typing on the onscreen keyboard with fingers is a frustrating and torturous experience, and I estimate about 40% of letters appear seemingly at random when attempting to do so, with no regard for the onscreen key actually pressed. The width of the device also means that it is not that comfortable for dual thumb typing when in landscape mode (which, given the orientation of the gaming controls, is how you’re going to mostly hold the YDPG18). This is for me, perhaps the YDPG18’s most infuriating issue, particularly if you’re more interested in this as a tablet than a retrogaming device. Objectively though, what it all means is that for any meaningful touchscreen interaction in Android, a stylus is a no-brainer. Yinlips really should’ve done us all the courtesy of building one into a nice recess in the case, but I’m sure if you’re reading about devices like this, finding one among your collection of of spare parts will not be a problem. I blame Steve Jobs; spoilt by capacitive iphones, we’ve forgotten all too quickly that the Nintendo DS itself, the biggest selling purpose built for touch gaming device of all time, relies on a stylus.
Thankfully, the touchscreen works much better when using virtual sticks in emulators, if you’re so inclined. Most games were quite surprisingly playable by sliding my thumb on the virtual touch analog controls, and it all works much better than the dodgy typing experience in Android would have suggested. For the purists among us who can’t bear the thought of the mapping the analog stick to the dpad, it is good to have this option for those games where proportional control is an unfortunate absolute must – N64 Starcraft, for instance – although this’ll be a last resort as gaming N64 on a touchscreen is likely not why you bought a console with poor resistive touch controls, but a full complement of physical game controls.
9. Retro Emulator PerformanceMore or less acceptable to incredibly good quality 8 and 16 bit console emulation has been a reality since the Gp32, so if gaming controls and a big screen were all that the Yinlips YDPG18 had to offer, we would’ve yawned and clicked “next”. The fact is however, the 800Mhz cpu speed and 400mhz Mali Gfx chips of the YDPG18, paired with Android’s impressive range of mature emulators, means that for the first time since the expensive (new anyway) Sony Xperia Play, proper PS1 and N64 emulation is within reach. As an added bonus, those trickier games to emulate, like SNES Yoshi’s Island and Starfox, promise to perform better.
So we’re expecting with this device basically perfect emulation of the 8/16 bit consoles we all love. Do they perform as expected? Rather than wax lyrical, it is best to let the videos do the talking, so you can judge for yourself:
What of the promise of PSX and N64 emulation? Here is PSX emulation in action:
And finally, the N64:
10. Android appsThe icing on the YDPG18, if you’d rather not call it the cake, is that this is a fully featured KIRF Android tablet that should satisfy your need for all the sorts of things tablets do – albeit one without capacitive screen multitouch (but we don’t want to labour that point). The 5 inch screen is not a bad size at all for a tablet, and is an ideal size in portrait format for ebook reading. Web browsing is stable and sites render quickly.
11. Android UpgradesAs at the date of this article, Bitrider has released an improved firmware for the YDPG18. There has been ominously little news on this front since that release, and the improved YDPG18 means that any further development efforts are likely to focus on the later version, as it is likely to sell in greater volumes.
Sadly, the YDPG18 does not avoid the inexplicable secrecy that Chinese manufacturers apply to protecting their position in the marketplace, when it comes to improving the firmware, or publicly divulging tech data to enable the community to pick up where it chooses not to. With Yinlips confirming Android 2.3 will not be released on the old version, the latter is a critical ingredient for any future improvements to the Android build on this device.
12. Battery LifeIt’s not the best – I count 3 hours with intense gaming use. Additionally, while In standby, the battery drains rapidly nonetheless. It is important therefore, to shut the YDPG18 OFF when not in use, as it will not hold charge in standby state for more than 5 or 6 hours. Charging though, is quick, taking 1.5 hours to achieve a full charge.
13. The VerdictPros:
- Physical gaming controls that mostly work
- Powerful enough to run the full range of Android retro emulators well
- Open Android OS means continually well supported emulators
- Full functioning Android tablet (web browsing, especially, works well)
- Large sharp, bright screen; great resolution
- TV out and VLC make for a versatile media player
- Comfortable to use sitting up and good size to hold
- Great price for a device with so much functionality
- The best Chinese console since the original Dingoo A320
- Touchscreen frustration unless using a stylus
- Analog stick not functioning as truly analog
- Shoulder button combo issue
- Not truly open open – Yinlips secrecy and no upgrade to Android 2.3 for the original
- Battery life could be better
- Size can be a problem - avoid where discretion sought, or where user’s pants have tight pockets
- Uncomfortable to use lying down
14. ConclusionThink of the Dingoo, and one cannot help but think of the handheld emulation consoles that preceded it, and that came after it: the GP32, GP2X, Wiz, Caanoo and the Pandora. They all, it can safely be said, emulate just about every 8 and 16 bit systems remarkably well, and each has its own charm, and devoted following. PS1 and N64 emulation however remains out of reach for these handhelds. Even the most powerful of these, the Pandora, suffers from undercooked developer support – though this may hopefully change if Evildragon’s new Openpandora company succeeds in getting more units out there in 2012, in bulk.
The list is so … 2009! The gadget fetishist in you demands another acquisition, another hit, another hunt, and for a long time after the A320, we’ve staggered warily through the A330s, A380s, Letcools and generic PMPs of that great factory of the world searching for the next big thing to capture our imagination as the Dingoo once did. Well, we’re here: the YDPG18 is the best handheld console out of China since the Dingoo A320, despite its few flaws. We can at last play PSX and N64 handheld, for under $150.
But the best part about the Yinlips YDPG18 is how it brashly and confidently heralds the arrival of a new breed of cheap handheld gaming devices that comprehensively blows - in bang for buck - the Dingoo class away. With its competition right behind it, 2012 is going to be an exciting year for this sort of thing, and I can’t help but be thrilled at how suddenly we can all hunt again.
Another word from the sponsors:
www.willgoo.com generously provided us with a YDPG18 for review. Thank you to our generous sponsors at www.willgoo.com , for all things handheld, console, android and retro!
You can get one here for the special price of $109.99!
For the new (and better supported) updated version, get one here!