Hello everybody, I'm Elena and I'm a Pandora Person.

That is, I'm one who, some years ago, spent a (long) lunch break compulsively refreshing the open handhelds forum at gp32x to be among the first 3000 lucky owners of a small gem of hardware design history, probably the first state of the art device since the heroic age of computing to be created by a group of enthusiasts and not by a corporation.

We were hopeful, we were a bit naive, and we met a number of obstacles that wearied an indefinite number of preorderers into canceling, luckily to leave their place to new orders, but, as we say on the forum, two very long months[#month] later pandoras started to be built and shipped, and I finally received the two my SO and me had ordered. Now that I've had mine for a while I guess it is time to write some impressions and quick tips.

[1]a month being defined as half the time between ordering and receiving your pandora.


The OpenPandora is a bit hard to define: it's gaming legacy is evident in the row of gaming controls, but calling it a gaming console is restrictive, since it has all of the features I expect in a full purpose computer, including in random order a keyboard, network features, usb expandability, removable storage and, expecially significant to me, the ability to run alternative systems in an easy and straightforward way.

Hardwarewise, the Pandora bears some similarity to smartphones, mostly in the fact that it uses a state-of-the-art phone System on Chip (which would have been innovative if there had been less problems and it had been produced earlier) and a a battery that is able to last for most of the day, even when using some wifi. Of course, it doesn't have any GSM related hardware, so it's not able to make phone calls, and needs a phone or "internet key" to be online outside wifi coverage. The latter is not really a problem, since it is easy to connect an usb modem to the full USB A port of the Pandora, or use the bluetooth tethering capabilities of most phones.

Another smartphone feature the Pandora is lacking is a GPS chip, but I already have an excellent GPS logger that can be connected via bluetooth and works perfectly with the pandora.


I don't look much of a gamer, meaning that I don't like FPSs[#fps] nor I enjoy games that require constant and regular time (and money) investment like most big MMORPG, but I do play old-style RPGs, some adventure games and casual ones. For these kinds of games, the pandora is just perfect: confortable gaming controls for RPGs, touchscreen (or nub controlled pointer) for point and click adventures, a full keyboard for the more text oriented games and the form factor that allows carrying around and playing on both long commutes and short waiting periods.

[2]that may have to do with the fact that I suck at them :)

*nix geek productivity

The Pandora has taken the place of my netbook for productivuty on the go: it's smaller, lighter and fills most of my specific needs as well as a laptop would do.

As a *nix geek, of course, my needs in that area are a bit different from those of most "normal" people: a terminal emulator, my favourite text editor (vim) and an ssh client are available by default on the Pandora and they are a significant part of the tools I use for both productivity and communication.

Right now, the Ångström based distribution on the Pandora is lacking an official repository, so it is hard to install additional *nixly tools to the main filesystem, as opposed to the typically standalone games and apps that are available in the PND format and easily used from the SD card. Work is being done on this front, and it may be that in the future it will stop being an issue, but right now there is a quick solution in the extend utils, a set of scripts to create and manage chroots, together with a premade debian image that is available for download. Using the debian chroot, one can easily install and run the huge amount of software included in the ditribution, and since it is running from an SD card there is no need to worry about excessive writes on the nand, allowing for more experimentation.

I've installed a couple small, mostly self contained packages from the generic Ångström repository, and so far they have orked with no problems; these include git, gpsd and rxvt-unicode, that I needed to get proper utf-8 support when used run gnu screen.

Of course, this article has been written fully on the pandora, including browsing for references and everything else, and this has worked with no issues.


Unluckily, the OpenPandora is not free hardware. The people behind it are afraid that releasing hardware schematics could lead to a competitor being able to bring them out of the market and they can't afford the project to be an economical failure. There has been talks of releasing everything under a free license when they are no longer producing the hardware, but nothing has been confirmed and it may never happen.

On the other hand, user accessible parts have been documented, down to the spare pads on the board that could host additional leds or a second set of back buttons, and while opening the case does void the warranty, the producers aren't going to be extremely strict on the issue, as long as the problem is evidently indipendent from the mod.

As for software, there are the usual binary blobs for 3D acceleration and wifi that seem to plague every half decent handheld chip, the Pandora didn't do any miracle here. Everything else is of course free software, with most system software available in the upstream distributions (Ångström, but also Debian and others) and a few pandora specific tools available on the wiki, with a plan for future packaging for most mainstream arm distributions.

Back when preorder started, this was probably the best one could have hoped for an handheld, excluding the then almost dead openmoko; right now there are projects that are way better as far as freedom is concerned, but are still limited in comparison as far as features go.


OpenPandora aim was to create the Ultimate Gaming Handheld: in my opinion they succeeded. Hardwarewise I can't really find faults or missing features that could reasonably be expected from a similar device. Of course, this will change in a few years, and one hopes that the project will finally manage to overcome the many problems, get a regular production and have enough commercial success to be able when Pandora will be obsolete to produce a new version.

The only real defect I see in the Pandora is in the freedom area: here I can only hope for future developements in the free hardware community, as well as more free software support from chip producers.

Would I have preordered if I had knew how long it would have taken? maybe, and if there had been an opportunity to try it before probably yes.

Send a comment: unless requested otherwise I may add it, or some extract, to this page.

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