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A Different Kind Of Handheld - GPD Win Review - Article
 
Link: http://www.vgchartz.com/article/267464/a-different-kind-of-handheld-gpd-win-review/

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I’ve never been much of a portable gamer.  I’ve played, even owned, many portable devices, but ultimately I’d almost always find the experiences too limited compared to console gaming.  There have always been exceptions to this, most notably and consistently with Mario titles.  But even then, I still often find myself thinking how much I’d prefer the ability to have those games on a console.  To me, it seems that a goal for mobile gaming device manufacturers has long been to blur the line between mobile and console experiences. 

Regardless, that’s been my dream for some time now too; full scale, console quality games that you could somehow take on the go.  Fittingly, Nintendo is setting out to deliver such an option with the Switch in just a couple of weeks.  However, the Switch will not be the first, nor only, interesting and versatile device on the market.

There’s been no shortage of handheld gaming devices over the years, with a wide range of capabilities, game selection, and success; but my reaction when I learned about the GPD Win was quite similar to the Switch.  I was incredibly intrigued by the concept and potential.  Really, I’ve never seen anything quite like either of them.  As I mentioned in my GearBest.com controllers review, I've been provided with a GPD Win to review.  Now, having had it in my hands for about a week, these are my first impressions.

 From its price (which seems to hover around the $350-400 range), to its packaging and, most importantly, its construction, the GPD Win presents itself as, and feels like, a quality product.  It sports a 5.5 inch, multi-directional touch, 720p screen, reinforced with Gorilla Glass 3.  Because of its relatively small size and decent resolution, the screen is pretty flattering to the content it displays.  Under the hood, the GPD Win has an Intel Z8700 1.6 GHz processor (with bursts up to 2.4 GHz) with integrated Intel HD 405 Graphics (200MHz, 600 MHz maximum), a manually adjustable fan for active cooling, 4GB RAM, and 64GB eMMC storage, running Windows 10 Home.  It has built in wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.1 capabilities.  Additionally, there are inputs for a micro SD card, a mini-HDMI, a USB 3.0, a 3.5 mm jack, and a USB type C for transferring data and charging.   There's another model with a different processor, but I can't speak to how it compares, particularly in performance.

It features a full QWERTY keyboard, but of more interest to me are the built-in gaming controls.  The GPD Win has every button from the more conventional 7th and 8th generation controllers (i.e. 360/X1 or PS3/PS4).  It’s worth pointing out that some of those buttons have been relocated on the right side of the device.  Where you might expect to find the Start, Select, and Xbox/PS button, is a toggle to switch between the seldom-used direct input function, mouse, and the XInput.  Select, Start, L3, R3 (more on that later), the power and Xbox buttons, and volume controls are all on the right side of the keyboard.  Wisely, the power button is the only one that is not raised, helping ensure you only press it when intended. 

Owing mostly to its all plastic construction, it doesn’t come off as a premium device, but it does feel sturdy and well-made.  A gripe I’ve heard, but that has not presented me an issue of any kind, is that the triggers have some wobble to them.  For me, the wobble has thus far only served to increase my comfort when I’m pressing them.  It’s like they slightly conform to the approach of my fingers, but roll in as I apply pressure.  I can’t say that the wobble is by design, but it doesn’t feel wobbly in a way that causes me to be concerned about their well-being.  In time, which I intend to give this thing, I suppose issues will manifest if it is a design flaw.  Finally, the hinge for the clam-shell device feels well-made, even though the unit I have has less than a 1/16th of an inch of wiggle on the right side once opened (interestingly, both of my 3DSs have nearly the same thing, only on the left side).


Aside from the switch on the back of the device to toggle the fan between off, low, and high, the front facing picture tells the story of its design.  The shoulder buttons are reminiscent of those on the New 3DS.  Actually, the GPD Win looks and feels a lot like a DS/3DS, especially the XL variants.  Its screen appears to be thinner than the 3DS XL's, but the body is thicker, likely to accommodate the fan.  But the picture above doesn’t do much to indicate how it feels to hold, which was a big concern for me. 

Once in hand, most of my concerns were assuaged.  For starters, the aforementioned extra thickness adds to the comfort when holding it.  By no means is the device bulky (my kids found it plenty comfortable to hold) - that extra girth just gave a little more to grip.  Compared to a 3DS, I much prefer holding and using the GPD Win.  The placement of the thumbsticks is much more comfortable for me, compared to cramping my thumbs on the outer edge of the device as the 3DS does.  The face buttons and D-pad are placed near the edge, as they are on a DS, but there is slightly more room.


Altogether, with the added girth, as well the layout that it employs, I don’t just find the GPD Win more comfortable to hold and use than a 3DS, but comfortable period.  To be clear, it is not as comfortable as a conventional controller, but for a pocket-sized, portable device it’s as good as anything else I can recall.  One bummer about the location of its speaker is that while you’re enjoying that comfortable grip, there is a tendency for your palm to cover the speaker and muffle the otherwise decent sound.

The full keyboard and mouse functionality are useful, even essential to get the most out of this device.  Not just in web-browsing and basic computing, but in setting up a variety of gaming related programs and settings.  That said, you won’t want to be doing much serious typing on the keyboard.  And while it is otherwise nicely laid out, it being placed to the left side seems to slightly hinder its usefulness for thumb-typing, not that being perfectly centered would have made much of a difference.


The gaming controls perform quite well overall.  Thumbstick movement and button presses are both responsive and satisfying.  While I’d prefer the shoulder buttons (R1/R2, L1, L2) to be behind one another,  on this form factor, being side by side is understandable.  With my fingers on the triggers (L2 and R2), I can feel the L1 and R1 with my middle phalanx.  This made me fear that I’d accidentally press them, but it hasn’t happened once.  That’s probably because all of the shoulder buttons have a decent throw, or range, before they actually click.  One problem the triggers have, or rather a limitation, is that they are digital rather than analog, and therefore not ideal for some racing games. 

Unfortunately, one concern that I had going in proved to be valid, that being the placement of L3 and R3.  I assume, or hope, there was some reason they couldn’t include clickable thumbsticks.  All the same, placing the now standalone buttons closer to the thumbsticks, perhaps at the top of the keyboard, would have been so much more practical.  Their location can make the controls of certain games feel very awkward.  The silver-lining is that it only affects some games, and even then, I was able to cope fairly well.


Which brings me to the last, most important aspect of this device - games and gaming.  Some of you may have noticed that the specs for the GPD Win are fairly modest.  I’m impressed by everything they’ve crammed into this small device, but ultimately, it’s meant for games; so how does it fare in that department?

As a full-fledged Windows 10 device, the GPD Win has about as many options for games as you could ask for.  It’s billed as a device that can stream games from modern consoles and PCs, run emulators, as well as natively run many PC games.  The caveat for the latter two capabilities is whether the GPD Win can run the particular game or emulator you might want to throw at it.  I’ve spent the last week trying to figure out its imitations.

I’ve run a handful of 7th generation games, and most of them run very well.  Assassin’s Creed III ran and looked very good, but it was clear that the GPD Win wasn’t quite up to the task as it became bogged down beyond a reasonable point for a game that relies on precise timing and movement.  Mass Effect 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Fallout 3, however, have run perfectly.  I tried a demo of Batman: Arkham Asylum and that too played well.


In addition, I’ve seen footage of Fallout: New Vegas running well on the device and Skyrim running at nearly 30fps.  Interestingly, I’ve also seen modified/stripped down versions of a few 8th generation games running on it, though not quite in a way that I’d consider playable.  These included Rocket League and I’m now tempted to buy a copy of it for PC.

As an emulator, the GPD Win has handled games through the 5th generation without a problem.  As for the 6th generation, depending on the emulator and game, it handles Dreamcast just fine.  Gamecube games are hit and miss.  Between two variations of Dolphin, nearly the entirety of my Gamecube collection has been playable.  The Rogue Squadron games are the only games that come to mind that are blatantly not playable.  Wind Waker has been running at 25-30fps (of the 30fps target), normally in the middle to high end of that range too.  Mario Sunshine is in the same boat.  Paper Mario has been struggling a bit more, hitting as low as the low 40s of the target 60fps.  Because of its pacing in general, I might still consider it playable, but it can be marginal.  Aside from that, Mario Kart, Eternal Darkness, and Phantasy Star Online, among others, have worked very well.


Disappointingly, despite the manufacturer actually advertising New Super Mario Bros. on the DS being a title this machine can handle, I have not been able to get it running in a way that I’d consider acceptable, but the dual-screen setup of the DS being squeezed onto this 5.5” screen is less than ideal anyhow.  Out of curiosity, I ripped a copy of New Super Mario Bros. Wii and attempted to run it.  To my surprise, it actually runs very well!  The 60fps occasionally drops a few frames, but it hasn’t affected my gameplay much, if at all.  Even at its worst it has played better than its DS cousin.


That experience prompted me to rip a few more Wii games, but the success on those hasn’t been too hot.  Both Super Mario Galaxy games run at just over 50% speed.  However, Xenoblade Chronicles may be considered playable.  It bogged down during the demanding opening scenes, and does the same during battles, but the little bit of the early moments that I’ve played of it on the GPD Win has mostly been above 20fps, sometimes hovering near 30fps.  It would take some optimizations (or concessions on expectations), but I plan to tinker with it to see if there's some way tom improve the experience.

In both native PC games and emulators, the system does experience the occasional hangup of maybe a second.  It hasn’t happened too often, but it has occurred.  With emulators, especially running Gamecube games, it sometimes struggles more with videos, menus, or level selection than with the actual gameplay.  I mention that because at times I almost didn’t bother to actually play the title based on the opening moments, but found the gameplay to be decent, even good.


As for game streaming, I’ve tested streaming from both the Xbox One and PS4.  Unfortunately, the official Sony Remote Play can’t be installed because of the resolution of the screen.  There may be a workaround, but the route I went was paying $10 for an unofficial Remote Play app that was immediately compatible.  Once installed and activated, it worked fine.  Xbox streaming was simpler as it was supported by default through the Xbox App, and the experience was at least as good. 
 
Your experience with streaming is largely dependent on your network, but the GPD Win is very well-suited for the task with both the PS4, Xbox One and, presumably, Steam.  Because of its ability to be an all-in-one solution, compared to perhaps a tablet or PC which will need a detached controller connected in some way, it makes game streaming a compelling option for me with my gaming setup and habits. 


Game streaming and playing more modern games with the GPD Win has the same drawbacks, that being the lack of analog triggers and, more significantly in my opinion, the placement of L3 and R3.  For more demanding games, with the fan on low, the device delivers about 3 hours of battery life, which is less than I’d like, but apparently comparable to the Nintendo Switch.  Though I haven’t confirmed it, I suspect that nearly doubling the battery life would be feasible when running less demanding games, or simply game streaming.

The 64GB of storage, approximately 40 of which is usable, can get eaten up pretty quickly with newer games, so a micro SD card is virtually required.  It supports up to a 128GB card, but I’ve read that users have had success with 256GB cards.  I’m using and running nearly everything off of a 128GB card, and that has worked very nicely.  The last thing I want to note at this point as a slight detractor is that when the system is working, even with the fan on high, it gets warm.  Not hot enough to cause discomfort (for me anyways), but it is noticeable and may be bothersome to others.


So the GPD Win has thus far lived up to being the handheld PC/gaming device GPD has claimed it would be, albeit with some limitations and drawbacks.  Being a portable Windows PC gaming device has a lot of upside and offers a lot of versatility.  However, that also comes with the potential obstacles of Windows PC gaming, such as incompatible hardware or drivers, Windows background processes hogging precious resources, or lack of native controller support for all games.  Out of the box, it can do quite a bit, but its capabilities, even its intended purpose, don’t feel very well defined.  It sort of has a “jack of all trades, master of none” thing going for it.

I read a while back that Steam is, or was, testing partial controller support for all Steam games.  That would do wonders for a device like this.  Also, as more of these, or perhaps other devices like it, get out into the wild, I would expect, or at least hope for, the budding community of “GPD Gamers” to grow and help define and refine the device.  As it is, people are already working on modding or optimizing the device.  I may consider some of the latter myself.  


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Brandon J. Wysocki is a writer for VGChartz.  He is also the writer of the science fiction story Space Legend: Resistance.  Click through to find links to download parts of the story for free from multiple providers.  You're invited to comment on his articles or contact him on VGChartz via private message (username SpaceLegends) to give him the attention he desperately seeks.
 
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