Android handhelds are being churned out of busy Chinese factories at an alarming rate. At times it seems like a new model is being announced every week, keeping up with the latest and greatest would be a cripplingly expensive hobby. So before we all jump on the capacitive screen and Android 4.0 bandwagon let us stop, take a step back and have a proper look at one of the more interesting current models.
The Yinlips YDPG16 was released about a month ago and the nice folks over at willgoo* have provided me with a sample in order to test it, review it, and post my findings here. Before I start, I’d like to be clear about the nature of the review. Though this device runs Android, I am not intending to review the Android OS in its entirety. Most of us interested enough in the Android platform probably have a phone or tablet already running the OS. I’ll be reviewing the device for what it is, a gaming handheld. If you’re looking to buy one of these things for web browsing or taking photos on, you’re looking at the wrong thing.
*(I have embedded my referral number into the willgoo links on this page, if you make a purchase using the links I’ve provided I will get 3% to put towards more gadgets that I don’t really need – it won’t cost you anything. If you’d rather not encourage my frivolous spending habit then just remove the referral from the end.)
Shipping, Packaging And Contents
The parcel arrived at my house on the 2nd of April, just 10 days after it was posted from Hong Kong via standard Airmail. The unit was packed well inside a tight cardboard box which was then completely wrapped in strong waterproof tape. It required a knife to get into, which was both reassuring and infuriating in equal measure.
The device itself comes in a red and white cardboard box with some useful accessories such as earphones, U.S. mains charger and a USB cable. Also is an instruction booklet in Chinese and a warranty card in Chinese.
First Impressions And A Quick Tour
Whenever I open some new electronics for the first time my first impression is almost always “WOW, this looks WAY nicer than it does in the pics!” Things are no different here, first glance at the gadget and I’m really impressed with the way it looks and feels. First of all, the build quality is excellent – way better than my PSP E1000. It feels tight, it doesn’t creak and it weighs the perfect amount. The screen is flush to the casing and it’s covered in protective film. If I was to pick fault it’d be that the buttons rattle when you shake the unit… but it’s obvious they’re going nowhere so I’m not worried.
After peeling the protective film from the back and from the screen it’s obvious this thing is never going to look as nice as it did right out the box. Anyone who’s ever bought a shiny plastic toy will know the bane of fingerprints. A quick look around each side of the device reveals 2 headphone outputs, which is a nice feature if you’re sharing a movie with somebody – though putting them on the bottom possibly wasn’t the greatest decision if you’re using it for this purpose. Also on the bottom is a mini USB OTG port, a reset button, a micro SD slot and a mains cable port. On the top there is HDMI output, a tiny mic and 6 buttons – power, home, menu, escape and of course 2 shoulder buttons.
I’m also loving the fact it’s not based on a knock off PSP or PS Vita shell. Unique casings add something that copies cannot!
We already know that the screen in here is far from groundbreaking. It’s a 480×272 4.3” resistive touchscreen. Its closest relative in the mainstream handheld world would be the PSP screen I guess. Same size, same resolution, same touch technology.
Flicking around the menu my impressions are that for touch response this is one of the best resistive screens I’ve ever used. It’s way better than the screen on my old Nokia 5800 and I’d say it probably responds as well as the capacitive screen on my Window N50 too. More than usable, I don’t think the screen is going to pose a problem here at all. As far as colours go, well you can tell it’s a cheap screen. All colours are slightly washed out and sometimes the blacks look sort of silvery, hard to explain. But I’m being hard on it, overall the screen is fine and exactly the kind of screen I expected on a device that costs about £55 shipped.
This is where I have to give the G16 a bit of a hard time. Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. Shoulder buttons, well these are fine – great, even. They’re clicky similar to the dingoo shoulder buttons but way easier to press down and positioned much better as well. I can’t really complain about these at all. Same with most of the face buttons too. Start, select and Fn are tiny little silver buttons on the front. They’re easy to reach and positioned well. It’s the same for the ESC and Menu buttons on the top edge, they are easily reachable from your right shoulder button finger and seem solid. The A/B/X/OK buttons are a little mushy and could do with spacing apart a little more but they’re OK too.
The first tale of woe comes courtesy of the d-pad. Well you can’t really call it a d-pad because it’s 4 seperate buttons. Pretty much like the A/B/X/OK buttons on the opposite side of the screen. You’ve probably all used a d-pad like this at some point in the past and you know how it is. For turn based or racing games that use digital then it’s not really too much of an issue. For fighting games or anything that requires fast combinations of presses it’s infuriating. There is no pivot, so rolling your thumb around the buttons is hard work. This is the first thing that I would change if I could.
The second tale of woe comes from the analog stick. I wasn’t surprised to find out (in fact I was expecting it) that the analog stick is not an analog stick – it’s just a digital slider and is mapped to the same actions as the d-pad. It’s the same story for every Chinese Android handheld released to date, including all of Yinlips’ efforts, so I had no expectation that they’d fixed it. It’s not very useful in its current state. This is number 2 on the list of things I’d change.
I always tread cautiously around these things with a half-wince on my face to begin with, because you can never be sure how the Android build is going to be until you start digging. However, save for a few gripes like the camera application force closing immediately on opening – not that I care about that but I thought I’d mention it, and the screen resolution being less than ideal for Android to run on, it’s not bad. Navigation is actually really nippy and scrolling the menus with the resistive screen is surprisingly fluid. The browser works and is pretty fast too, but as I said before – if browsing the web on a screen 480 pixels across is your idea of fun then you’re probably demented. Engadget loads in about 5-7 seconds, we’ll leave it at that. The market place is installed but it’s the old version which doesn’t seem to want to update itself. I noticed that most of the pre-installed emulators don’t actually show up in the market place so updating will have to be done another way.
Overall the Android build is better than I expected, it has a few issues but no deal breakers.
Emulators and Emulation
All your ROMs are shown and launched from an application preinstalled called GameManager. I don’t know if this is something programmed by Yinlips but I suspect it might be because it’s a right old mess. The idea is great, one front end to load all of your ROMs from. The file extension determines which emulator is launched when you select a ROM. I’m new to emulation on Android, my tablet and phone have no physical buttons which always put me off. But upon launching the N64 emulator I noticed that barely any games ran properly and I wondered why it might be. Googling for latest N64oid version numbers revealed that the N64 emulator that came preinstalled was a very, very old version (v1.2 or something like that). Simple then, install a new version. Or not.
The GameManager and all the emulators are installed as system applications, so you cannot remove them or update them without rooting. First I tried unlock root but it could not see my device. Second I tried GingerBreak, which did work. A word of advice for anyone planning to use the same tool. While the app is attempting to root, touch the screen every now and again because if the screen times out GingerBreak will crash. GingerBreak will most probably crash anyway in the end, but if you reboot and install SuperUser manually you’ll find that it did actually work. Use your application of choice to uninstall N64oid and then you can finally install the latest version. Hooray. I took this time to remove all the Chinese only applications that also came preinstalled too.
So when I fired up N64oid again and tried the same games I could barely believe my eyes. I watched in awe as F-Zero X launched with both perfect graphics and sound. How can this be possible on something so small and so cheap? There are only a few N64 games out of the handful I tried that don’t run well, Goldeneye and Quake are good examples. It’s not that they don’t run but more that there aren’t enough controls to map correctly for these games.
The installed version of FPse was relatively new already (v0.10 I think) so I left it alone. You’ll be happy to know though that PS1 emulation is great, even with the older version. It boggles my mind that something so small and cheap is capable of running these games. It was only 15 and 18 years ago respectively that the N64 and PS1 were current, bleeding edge hardware… and now we have palm sized hardware powerful enough to emulate those systems almost perfectly. I cannot imagine where we’ll be in another twenty years.
For Arcade games, TigerMame is installed. Since making this review I’ve heard that it’s possibly not the best choice for MAME on Android. However, I ran through a few ROMs and noticed no problems at all. To see a wider selection of my own games being tested on this device, there is a video at the end of the review.
So, everything’s hunky dorey? Well not quite. There are some flaws, but they’re not with the emulators. Firstly the lack of a real analog pad makes some N64 games incredibly difficult to play. Difficult to the point that I’d rather just not play them. Games such as Mario Kart 64 and F Zero X really rely on the analog stick for subtle turning. With the pad set up as it is you get all or nothing – no degrees of left or right, just full on left or right. There is some speculation that the analog stick is actually a real analog and it’s just been configured incorrectly. I believe some people on the dingoonity forums are looking into it, so you never know we might get a fix for this in the future.
The next problem is a more annoying one. If you’re holding a certain button down, it renders some other buttons unusable. For example, with the default button config in F Zero X it is not possible to drift left whilst accelerating. I also noticed some problems in Tony Hawks 2 with more complicated tricks. For the most part you can make an acceptable configuration by remapping buttons for different games, but it’s far from ideal. From what I’ve read this is a problem with the hardware itself, and I know from the reviews of other consoles by JXD and Yinlips that it is a common problem affecting most if not all of the Android handhelds currently available. This would be number three on the list of things I’d have changed.
Lastly, you may notice that there is a very slight delay in the sound coming from some emulators. To be honest I mightn’t have noticed it if I wasn’t looking out for it, but it’s a common problem with emulators running on any Android device – as demonstrated by qbertaddict1 in this video.
I grabbed a mini HDMI to HDMI adaptor and plugged the G16 into my TV. There is nothing to configure for this, it simply mirrors what you have on the screen onto the TV. The output is limited to something like 800×480 which makes for a very strange looking desktop. Everything is far too large. I fired up the browser out of curiousity, but even though 800px wide should be enough to browse the internet on, the text is so stretched it’s very hard to read unless you zoom in. Just use a proper computer instead.
As you’ve probably guessed though, gaming on the TV is absolutely fine. None of these games have a resolution greater than 800×480 anyway – mostly way lower than that. So blowing them up on the TV looks just as good as if you plugged in the real console and did the same. You’ll be pleased to know that there is no delay between the console and the TV, it’s a really nice experience.
I chucked a few videos onto the MicroSD and can happily report that they play just fine. There is little point loading any HD content because there is no way to view it in its native resolution, however I did throw on a 720p episode of Game Of Thrones out of curiousity and it plays just fine. This isn’t something I’d use the gadget for though to be honest. You’re better off with a tablet or netbook for that task I reckon.
Whilst writing this review, the folks over at Willgoo have made a cool discovery. The USB port on the front is OTG, and they have managed to get a real wireless external controller working with the G16. It also works with a bunch of other consoles too! They are currently testing more controllers, including ones with real analog sticks, which might prove interesting. You can check the product on their page here.
It is also possible to plug in a wireless keyboard and mouse, though it is not something I have gotten around to. In case you’re interested, Ruffnuts from the dingoonity boards has tested this and made a video demoing how it works.
So, to summarise.
- Remarkably cheap
- Very well built
- Good touchscreen performance despite resistive tech
- Great emulator performance, even for more demanding machines like N64
- Android build is pretty quick and mostly stable
- Nice amount of buttons for properly navigating around Android
- 2 headphone outputs is great for sharing music or a film
- Could really use a real analog pad, 2 would be even better
- Button combo issues are something that should have been fixed before it went to market
- 480×272 isn’t ideal for Android
- 1080p TV output would have been good for watching movies and web browsing
Overall this is an excellent handheld. Emulation of N64 and PS1 is better than on previous devices (S601, YDPG18 etc) and at this price you’d be daft to choose any of those over this. You can’t expect perfection in a piece of hardware that’s developed in such a short time and sold for so cheap, and in this case the button combo and analog issues could have used some serious work before the device went to market. But bear in mind that up until a few months ago the main alternative was to use a detestable button overlay on the screen. Despite the button’s flaws, they’re way ahead of on-screen buttons in terms of comfort and playability. The beauty of Android means that there will always be emulator improvements being made in the future, whether Yinlips decide to support the device or not. I have heard on the grapevine that there is an interesting software update due from Yinlips in the near future though, who knows what it’ll be but I’m looking forward to finding out. What’s the chances of it being a release of the kernel source? Slim to nil I reckon 😉
If you’re interested to see some PS1, N64, MAME and GBA performance on the G16, check the video below.