- Portable and sturdy
- Cheap games
- Lack of really good titles
- Laggy interface
- Clumsy controller
Remember PlayJam? This was the company that let you endure long loading screens to play games with your Sky remote many years ago and now having cast an eye over the growing Smart TV market it’s bringing gaming back to your telly, this time with the GameStick.
Like Ouya, this Android console captured the imagination of gamers looking for something different and was a Kickstarter success having raised over $600,000 - way over its $100,000 target. Due to launch in July 2013, we were invited to the PlayJam offices to get a look at a demo version of the GameStick to see how the portable home games console is shaping up.
GameStick: Design and build
The GameStick is an HDMI stick no bigger than a USB stick that hooks into the HDMI port on your TV to open up the interface where you can access the GameStick store. Here you will be able to purchase and play Android games specifically made for the platform and access content like the XMBC Media player with plans for services like Netflix to be added in the future.
Under the very small hood is an ARM A9 dualcore processor with a Mali 400 GPU which can be found in many low- cost Android tablets and has an external micro USB port.
The device has 8GB of built-in memory and is expandable to 32GB via a Micro SD card slot which was something requested by Kickstarter backers. There's also the ability to switch between MHL (Mobile High Definition Link) and HDMI for newer Smart TVs depending on what you have at home.
The GameStick also comes with a Bluetooth 4.0 gamepad which is roughly the same height as the HDMI stick and hosts two analogue sticks, a D-Pad, four action buttons and shoulder buttons with a rubbery-like grip.
At the centre of the pad you’ll find the power, back and start buttons with a big Home button while on the edge facing towards you is a micro USB port and a row of blue LED lights that notify battery life and how many controllers are synced to the system.
HID support means it can also work can work with other Android devices running on 3.0 or higher with the ability to sync up to four gamepads to one GameStick system.
You can expect to get around 40 hours of gameplay before they have to be charged. While the GamePad itself does not support touchscreen gaming, PlayJam has sought out a solution where you will be able to download an app to your smartphone which will allow you to utilize the screen as your touchscreen surface instead.
PlayJam is also offering some additional accessories at launch with a case (£10) and a docking station which was a request from the Kickstarter pledgers and adds 64GB of storage, a LAN connection with support for media centres, additional accessories and wireless charging so the gamepad can sit on top.
The user interface reminds us of the Google Play Store before its most recent makeover with tabs at the top to let you browse content by categories.
There’s a Profile section where you can see your balance and details on transaction history with parental pins and age range filters available to stop younger users from amassing huge bills.
There’s also an App Manager where you can uninstall and download apps and move games to the cloud or to other available storage spaces, whether it’s the GameStick or the dock, to help manage where you keep your content.
When you jump into the Games section you can see screenshots of the game, video content if available and integration for Facebook to post comments and scores with Twitter integration to follow later, all things not too dissimilar to Google Play.
The first titles we got to try out was Expendable Rearmed, a top down retro-style shooter. Using the analogue sticks to move around and shoot, the controls offered decent feedback and felt quite comfortable. The GamePad despite its quite square look was suitable enough for this bout of casual mobile gaming on a big screen.
We got a look at Riptide, often a game used to show off the graphical qualities of Android devices and while we can’t say it matched some quad-core powered devices graphically, the visuals were still detailed and offered an impressive high-def experience.
In terms of pricing we were told that it will range from 99p to £3 and that there will be a range of freemium and paid for titles with 100 games available at launch.
PlayJam says it has 8,000 developers on board and is having active discussions with some of the more high profile developers currently on the Google Play store which could see games like GTA supported, something which previous Android games devices like the Archos GamePad could not claim.
Our first impressions of the GameStick are generally positive ones. The gamepad, although larger than we envisaged, is sufficient for the kind of casual gaming that the system is aimed at and the simplicity of the setup gives it great appeal.
We also love the idea of the feedback taken on board by Kickstarter funders who have ensured that there's now extra storage and a handy dock that means the GameStick is not just about playing games.
The key issue though, like any device that's trying to give its own unique spin on Android, is that the content is added on a regular basis. 100 games at launch doesn’t sound entirely impressive and having to get over the fact that you will have to buy games that you already own on your smartphone is going to be an interesting concept to digest for some.
The portability is great, the pricing not outrageous and early signs suggest that if developers continue to back it, GameStick could have real appeal for those who love to take their games everywhere. PlayJam has the experience in making TV gaming and that could be the difference between this Android console succeeding or being a flop.
GameStick release date: 5 July 2013 (exclusive to Game), launching globally in September 2013
GameStick price: £79.99 (Stick and controller), £36 (additional controller), £36 (dock)
Hands-on review by Michael Sawh