Since the introduction of the somewhat venerable Yinlips YDPG18, Android handheld gaming devices have been released pretty much continuously, by any number of Chinese manufacturers.
They’re not released with retrogaming in mind however. Dedicated Android handhelds with physical controls for the consumption of nostalgic childhood memories are simply not in great demand in China, and accordingly, these devices have never been well supported by their makers, as far as the multitude of little tweaks and twerks that the Western retrogamer demands in the quest for ultimate emulation fidelity are concerned. The view of China based manufacturers seems to be that the physical controls are an adjunct to the primary function of the device – hey, it’s an Android tablet, what else do you want? Foremost among such frustrations has been OASS: “ornamental analog stick syndrome”, which sadly afflicts many of the devices released to date. What use are any physical controls if they do not work with popular games and emulators?
Among manufacturers however, JXD has been rather more prolific and attentive to such concerns. JXD appears to at least try to listen to the Western retrogaming/Android gaming crowd who are natural buyers for this sort of niche device. This is not an easy task when you factor in the language and cultural barriers involved. Considering that it is a small manufacturer, making disposable devices in perhaps one of the most competitive, high churn, “gotta have the latest gear”, dog-eat-dog consumer tech markets in the world, let alone one where punters have no teary eyed attachment to the playing of old 8/16 bit games, and it’s a small miracle they are still making these things at all.
But nonetheless, here we are, and we should sing hymns of joy or at least a few Katy Perry songs, because they’re up to version three of this thing!
Announced in around August 2013, the JXD S7800 is the third iteration of JXD’s range of 7 inch Android gaming tablet console. Both the JXD S7100 and S7300 were successful, relatively speaking: they sold well enough to warrant an ongoing model range and, as evidenced by the existence of community third party developer support for customized firmware, found some favor with Western users. Both were impressive but flawed devices, with the main gripes of users being limited battery life, performance limitations, button location and design issues, and controller mapping flaws.
As a quick refresher, here are the S7800B’s predecessors – first the JXD S7100:
The JXD S7300:
And now, the S7800:
At a glance on the key specs you’re certainly getting more device per buck:
|S7100||800MHz Cortex A9 Single-core |
(MTK 6577 SOC)
|Mali 400 GPU||512MB DDR2||7 inch |
800 x 480
|3800 mAH||Android 2.2|
|S7300||1.3GHz Cortex A9 CPU, Dual core(Amlogic 8726 MX SOC)||Mali 400 GPU||1 GB DDR3||7 inch |
1024 x 600
|4000 mAH||Android 4.1|
|S7800A||1GHz Cortex A7 Quad Core GPU |
(All Winner A31s SOC)
|Power VR SGX 544||1 GB DDR 3 ||7 inch |
1200 x 800
|5000 maH||Android 4.2.2|
|S7800B||1.6GHz Cortex A9 Quad Core |
(RockChip 3188 SOC)
|Mali400||2 GB DDR3||7 inch |
1200 x 800
|5000 maH||Android 4.2.2|
The S7800 comes in A and B variants. The S7800A is powered by the Allwinner A31 system on chip (SOC), which is not on the basis of the SOC alone, necessarily an inferior product. While there seems to be an ongoing debate about the differences between both SOCS and what this actually means in real world use, the great Dingoonity hive mind seems to have concluded that the S7800B is the contender to watch, so much so that there has been little buzz around the S7800A, which was quietly released a few weeks ago. Its stablemate however, the S7800B, which is powered by a Rockchip 3188 SOC, has received most of the online anticipation.
Has the S7800B been worth the wait?
|JXD S7800B Specifications |
3. Design and Form FactorAnd here is my very own real life JXD S7300B, without makeup or decent lighting, but still resplendent IMHO, all Sandra Bullock in Gravity-like:
The JXD S7800B departs significantly from its predecessors’ rectangular lines, with rounded sides that make it look more gaming console, and less tablet. The new shape could be a less than subtle declaration that by the third iteration, JXD believes the gamer tablet niche is one to be taken seriously, a fact that is further reinforced by JXD’s inclusion of certain pieces of software in its stock firmware that is clearly meant to appeal only to the retrogaming market (see Section 9 below). More importantly, the rounded sides serve to make the main shoulder buttons on the S7800B more accessible, as they are now pressed at a less straining 45, instead of 90 degree angle. The curvature is also more palm friendly overall, and noticably so during extended gaming sessions.
Another design note of interest is that the S7800 is available in half as many colours as its older siblings – that is a choice of black, black or black. The black does allow the screen to dominate more visibly than before, with the overall impression presenting an illusion of a slim bezel along the top and bottom. These edges are also angled sharply, to further reduce the prominence of non-screen plastic when viewed straight on. Some thought has been put into this, and the whole effect, while not the epitome of sleekness, is pleasing, given that what is being attempted here is the fusion of a game controller to a tablet. The results from an aesthetic point of view, could have been much much worse (*cough*nvidiashield*cough).
There are two handstrap handles on the left and right sides, catering to the southpaws among us (or perhaps to hang it on your neck like an SLR). It’s another subtle feature, but one that reveals an unexpected attention to detail in a design sense. Admittedly, this may be driven by practical necessity as well: handstraps should come standard in the box (they don’t), for this is a big device, likely to fall hard should this unfortunately ever occur. JXD gets the handles right anyway – I’d encourage anyone who gets one of these to cannibalize a Wii remote or old digicam and install one before using it.
4. HandlingThe device feels solid and well built. Sure, it’s not cast from a single unibody block of ultra sexy aluminium, but for a budget device, there are no misaligned edges, or uncut flash residue, bucket grade plastic or poor finishing either.
The JXD S7800B is heavy, weighing in at 500 grams, 20% heavier than the S7300. That’s porker territory for a portable device, however you put it:
|Google Nexus 7||290g|
|Galaxy Tab 3||302g|
Ergonomically speaking, the JXD S7800B reminded me of handling one of these:
You’d not expect any 7 inch Android device to be pocketable, but its weighty heft makes it quite unsuitable for jeans pocket on the run gaming. Even pre-bedtime sessions of emulation goodness are not physically enjoyable without some sort of support as in addition to its weight, the S7800B is also too physically long for comfortable use while lying down.
So, this is strictly a sitting upright, comfy sofa device, and you’re going to be sorely disappointed (and more so around the wrist) if you buy this for extended portable handheld gaming on the bus in mind. Going on about the device’s weight is probably unfair, given its price range, the size of JXD’s design department compared with major manufacturers, and the fact that despite its relatively heavier weight, it is far from being so unacceptably heavy or bulky as to be unusable, and in fact, is quite the opposite. Still, if you’re on the weedy side arm wise, a trial run simulated with a heavy novel might be in order before fully committing.
On the positive side, the S7800B does feel heavily solid and well built.
There are 2 noticeable bumps on the underside of the device to assist with gripping it, and these do make the S7800B feel decent in hand, especially when finger scrambling during hyperactive action games.
As can be seen from the above, the central part of the back of the device is textured plastic, which provides friction to assist while holding the device. The plastic on the outer edges, by contrast, are smooth, which feels better against your palm. Once again, it is evident some thought has been put into this.
5. ControlsThe R and L analog sticks look like those on the Playstation Vita, and feel like them too:
The tops are textured plastic, providing thumbs with the grip needed for fine use. Critically, the self centering is firm and assured, with no sign of any looseness at home position. Their height from the base makes them graspable with your index finger and thumb, for when a game demands the tactile feel of a joystick, and while this is tiring unless you have strong fingers, it’s nice to be able to do this at all.
Most importantly, these are true analog sticks that actually work out of the box. Both MUPEN64 and PSPPP for example, recognized the left stick on launch with no need for any configuration. Sadly, the right stick did not seem to work with any current tested emulator, but it is indeed fully functional as showcased by the Android game Expendable Rearmed, which comes helpfully preinstalled. Hopefully, this will be remedied in short order by emulator or future firmware tweaks, and it is comforting to know that this is not a hardware issue per se.
The DPad is of the solid T piece type, and has low-moderate travel; think NDS XL. It’s a little too spongy to my touch, but perfectly usable. I prefer them firmer and mounted higher myself, but this is a matter of personal taste. There are no responsiveness issues, though if you’re fond of hadouken, you’ll be better served using the analog stick keymapped.
I’ve commented on the well placed R1 and L1 buttons above due to the rounded case design. R2 and L2 are conversely, harder to reach, and a fair bit of hand contortion is required if you have short fingers, like me. I found myself winding my index finger over the top of the screen, and pressing on the upper edge of R2/L2. This, surprisingly, doesn’t work too badly at all, but I can see it getting irritating if you have to press them a lot.
There’s not much to be said about the ABCD buttons; they work just fine.
Controls aside, the JXD S7800B comes with 6 function buttons. On the right, START and SELECT are self explanatory, and the welcome Android BACK and MENU buttons, while redundant, are never missed until they are not there. As they are largely mappable in various emulators as well, this wealth of hardware buttons provides considerable flexibility.
On the left is the self explanatory Android HOME button, and this:
The button formerly known as a messy omelet launches what appears to be JXD’s own game controller key mapping software (which is also available from the slide up Android screen menu). The function is always accessible whatever app you’re in. This is what the manual says about it:
The written instructions are actually quite clear, but the poor picture quality and their small size - made them difficult to decipher. Being somewhat slow in my dotage, it took me a while to figure the mapping out. Once I did however, mapping keys with this feature was a breeze, and particularly impressive because the function is only a keypress away to invoke and available in any app – provided the app running has overlaid virtual onscreen controls.
Simply drag an icon for the relevant hardware control or button you want mapped over the running app’s corresponding onscreen control, press SAVE/HIDE and you’re done. Remember to press SAVE/HIDE or it won’t work. Gratifyingly, the JXD S7300B also stores the unique key maps required of each app, so you’ll only have to do this once for each app that needs it.
The mapping feature is much more intuitive than using the inbuilt configuration menus of the various emulators, with the downside of course is that you’ll have to put up with onscreen controls being displayed when you play games. It also means that pretty much any Android game with onscreen controls is playable with the hardware controls. More impressively, the JXD S7800B also comes with an auto update app to provide access to updated and new keymaps for popular Android games:
This function is similar in spirit to Valve’s Steam Controller Configuration Library, which allows users to download the most popular keymap configurations for games for use on the new Steam Controller. If JXD follow through properly with this feature, it’ll be an impressive outcome, and a first for any budget Android device.
If you think all of the above approach to keymapping is a little too fussy, there are of course many Google Play alternatives. It is however incredibly refreshing to find a decent attempt already built into a budget device of this pedigree. Kudos to JXD.
6. Screen and battery lifeThe 7-inch, 1280x800 IPS touchscreen, has good contrast and brightness, updates well, and viewing angles are very good. It’s not quite the ultra high res of the 2013 Nexus 7 (1920 x 1200) or iPad mini (2048 x 1536), but is certainly a step up from the S7300’s 1024 x 600 screen. In any event, higher resolutions also consume more processing resources to maintain a smooth experience, and 1280 x 800 is a good match to the aspect ratios of many 8/16 bit game system resolutions.
JXD claims 8 hours of battery life out of the S7800’s 5000 mAH battery. Actual life will depend on your use profile of course, but I can confirm this is certainly not one of those ultra cheap devices that loses its charge within 60 minutes of light use. On standby, with no use, the battery dropped to 85% over 24 hours. With 2 to 3 hours use (casual web surfing and Android/emulator gaming) over a day, the battery was still at 55% at day’s end for me.
7. Android – GeneralHow well does the S7800B perform as an Android tablet? You can chuck stats, specs, hardware differences and benchmarks around, but the truth is that generic made in China Android tablets that are perfectly functional are everywhere, and they all work much better than the generic Android tablets of six months ago. The S7800B is blessedly, no exception.
Android tablets are clearly like the clone IBM PCs of the early 1980s, and as time goes on, are destined to become the white box equivalents of today’s desktops. This so, Android is the MS-DOS of this decade, and like its spiritual ancestor, while there will naturally be quirks and peculiarities between platforms, if all you’re doing is the things that you’d expect to be able to do on a stock Android tablet – surf, check emails, consume media, download Google Play apps and run apps - you’ll find that the S7800B hardware performs admirably, and never gets in the way.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can offer it then is that it was remarkably easy to forget that I wasn’t using using an Asus/Nexus, Samsung or other major brand device. The JXD S7800’s Android implementation is a smooth, lag and trouble free experience, and it did not crash once over days of use. It did slow once, becoming choppy when I had too many apps opened, but recovered after a few minutes and was fine again.
For the purists, here is the device making 19056 points of Antutu bragging rights:
Here it is, defiantly eking out 3777 marks in 3d Mark:
While its results are respectable, this is not a top of the range tablet as far as benchmark performance is concerned, placing around the Google Nexus/Galaxy Tab (2012 generation) performance levels in Antutu. For 3D Mark, the S7800B is clearly a weaker performer, coming in in the bottom third of devices, largely due to the reliable and highly compatible, but now relatively long in the tooth, Mali 400 GPU.
User experience aside, the device is not all roses or without technical issues. A list of emerging concerns from early users has already surfaced here. Some of these are notable and hardware related (such as the device not charging through the USB slot), while others are on the high end of irritating (such as the main partition containing only 1GB of space, imperfect rooting, and some Google Play download incompatibilities). Whether they affect your ultimate enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for imperfection, your thirst level for poking around under the hood of stuff, and, almost certainly, your philosophical attitude towards fast food. A firmware update, by the way, is already available from JXD, though it might be best to wait a little longer before installing it, as it’s not completely clear what the update does.
On the other hand I can honestly say that none of the numbers or flaws above manifested in any impaired normal user experience. This is a stable, very usable Android implementation that you can happily abuse out of the box.
8. Android GamingFor Android gaming use, the device is capable of running very playable instances of 3D games like Expendable Rearmed, Riptide GP2 (both of which come installed), ExZeus, Modern Combat 4 or Nova 3, Dead Trigger 2. See here, here, here, here, here, here for some other people’s videos:
My own experiences of these games running on the S7800B are similar to those shown in the videos: controls are fluid and responsive, and while framerates do suffer from time to time, I never once encountered unplayable stutter vision or crashing. This’ll be my Android gaming device of choice over anything without controls for now.
It’s however worth noting that the JXD S7300A has a theoretically better 3d GPU (although it has 1Gb less RAM) than the Mali 400 used in the S7800B. Bearing in mind that the S7800B is already perfectly playable running these games, if your focus is on squeezing the maximum possible framerates from your next Android gaming console, you might want to find out more about the S7300A before you commit to the B model.
9. RetrogamingFor retrogaming there is always a system threshold that reveals the upper limit of any device’s capabilities. With the S7800B, the threshold is the Dolphin Emulator which reputedly runs Gamecube and Wii games – but dissing the S7800B for this is a little unfair as no Android device at present can seems equal to the task of running Dolphin.
Pushing the envelope aside, the S7800B emulates newer systems like the Playstation 1, N64, PSP (though, check compatibility first) and NDS admirably. Most games work on playable framerates, some have choppy sound, and as is to be expected some don’t run at all. When things go swimmingly though, which is more often than not, the device fades into the background as any good tool of this nature should. I would have been left in awe of how far things have come since emulating this generation of consoles appeared to be an insurmountable hurdle for a handheld, except that I was too busy trying to remember old tactics, controller combos and just generally, how to play.
Once again, other people’s videos say it best:
The emulation of older systems has an even better success rate, nearing perfection, with practically all such platforms as supported, and performing as well as the best emulators that run on Android might be expected to. Whether it be SNES (which emulation passes the Starfox/Yoshi Island tests); MAME, NeoGeo, NES, Megadrive, PC Engine, SMS, GBA, GBC, GB, C64, Atari ST, MSX, Sinclair Spectrum, DOS - whatever your poison of choice, my experience was that you’ll pretty much be able to play any game for these systems with no issues.
Here are some other people’s vids, yet again:
(I do apologise for not inserting self-made videos on Android gaming/emulator performance above, but there are just not enough hours in the day, and there is very little they would really add to the surfeit of videos already out there. I do promise that what you’re seeing on Youtube is reflective of what I found the S7800B capable of.)
No discussion of the S7800’s retrogaming chops would be complete without mentioning that it comes installed with an app of shady predilections, a presence best put down to a discrepancy in cultural understanding over what is a quintessentially incompatible Western construct, the law of copyright. Or maybe they just don’t give a shit.
In any case, “GameX” or “Happy Chick” is another measure of JXD’s apparent commitment to serving the retrogaming market, albeit in this case one that is probably best characterized as way beyond the call of duty. Those ancient enough may recall the long extinct Happy Puppy game review website from the pre-Paleolithic internet era, from which the Happy Chick undoubtedly draws naming inspiration. Whatever its muse, the Happy Chick serves to deliver the ultimate in convenience, not unlike Steam for oldie gamers (another Valve inspired feature here!). It is best seen in action rather than described:
Ironically, this game is not available on it:
10. Is it for me?What’s the JXD S7800B for?
Let’s all agree what it is not. It’s not a Dingoo-type device. It’s too big and too heavy for pocketable retro goodness, its screen resolution is arguably too high for purists who like native screen res to match the systems emulated, and Android itself can get in the way when all one wants to do is launch immediately to emulators. So if you’re looking for something like a Dingoo, this isn’t it, even though it will emulate everything a Dingoo can, and then some. If you absolutely must have a dedicated retrogaming handheld akin to a 2013 version of the Dingoo A320 you’ll probably want to go to GCW Zero land (and be prepared to wait a bit for actual delivery).
What’s the JXD S7800B for? Any analysis would begin by asking what you need it to do for you. Here’s the thing though: the JXD S7800B isn’t about what you need. It’s entirely about what you want, and it is only successful when measured by that metric, because it will do what you want, straight out of the box, whether you need it to or not.
Without the physical controls, the device would be a rather cumbersome 2013 clone tablet. With them, the decent physical design, convenient in-built keymapping function, the Happy Chick, the generally solid Android performance, and critically, the playability of both Android and emulator games, the use case for the JXD 7800B becomes quite distinct. It excites the want want must have bright shiny thing part of one’s reptilian brain: it’s a Wii U Gamepad you can use without tethering; an Nvidia Shield that is functional as a tablet; a Razer Edge Pro mere mortals can afford; the Nintendo XL of generic 5 inch Android gaming tablets; a reason not to carry a separate bluetooth controller – it can be all this, but is also so much less if you’re seeking perfection, and so much more if you’re seeking value. The internal struggles that will presage this purchase decision are clear. No one needs a S7800B as their primary device. It’s a guilty luxury and an unnecessary unnecessity, a bit of cream on the cake of life.
For under $200 then, it is the perfect disposable Christmas gift this year, and with one considerable upside. While not without its flaws, its price is right and its modest winsome charms out of the box might see you using it well beyond both your reasonable expectations - and your better judgment.
11. The Low Down
|* Decent design |
* Good build quality, solid feeling and handling
* Controls that work largely as advertised, and largely universally
* In built keymapping function always accessible
* Puk, puk, puk, have you made me an egg today little Happy Chick?
* Technical specifications very decent for a 2013 Android clone tablet
* Good battery life – quoted 8 hours seems to be real
* Stable and reliable real life Android implementation
* Very playable Android 3d Gaming performance
* Good hit rate emulating newer systems; excellent hit rate on classic systems
* Runs Android, not closed walled garden OS
* Great value for sub $200 device of this type
|* Heavy |
* Be prepared for rough edges: http://wiki.dingoonity.org/index.php?title=Other_Devices:JXD_S7800B
* Emulation of newer systems not perfect
* Controls that work largely as advertised, and largely universally, but not 100% so
* Runs Android, not closed walled garden OS
* Happy Chick might cause moral outrage
* No choice of colour
* As always with non-mainstream devices of this nature, don’t expect much after sales service (so that if you do get any, you’ll be pleasantly surprised)
Want one? Where to buy a JXD S7800B
I bought mine from Willgoo.com for USD $199.95. It was not a free review device. If you think this is for you, and would like to get one, please consider using this link, or this link for the JXD S7800B SPECIAL SUPERPACK OFFER WITH FREE DHL SHIPPING (Only $209.99), and I’ll get a few bucks to help me out. You can get this cheaper from other places, but Willgoo.com has a good reputation, and besides, why wouldn’t you want to help l’il ol’ me?
(Or click to buy something else, I’m not proud).
Happy silly season all!