Hardkernel have kicked off 2020 with the surprise release of their new Linux powered handheld – the Odroid-Go Advance. This is the second handheld from HardKernel and promises to deliver magnitudes more raw power than it’s older brother. I’ve had mine for a couple of weeks now. It’s a very impressive handheld in many areas, but the Odroid-Go Advance has a long journey ahead. Read on for the Odroid-Go Advance hands on and review.
The OGA is something of a game changer in the obscure handheld niche. The RK3326 in the Odroid-Go Advance wipes the floor with any of the Ingenic based processors we’ve been force fed over the past few years. The JZ4760B and even the JZ4770 in the New PocketGo and RG350 cannot compete with the power of the RK3326. The fact that it runs on Linux (with source code available!) means that development for the device has taken off immediately, with at least three separate teams working on their own Operating Systems. And added to all of that, the $55 price tag (excl. shipping) is very reasonable. It’s difficult to imagine what direction Chinese manufacturers will turn next, they’re going to have to come up with something rather amazing to convince people to not buy the Odroid-Go Advance.
HOW TO ASSEMBLE THE ODROID-GO ADVANCE
Just like their original handheld, the Odroid-Go Advance is only available as a DIY kit. Although this may put some people off, it’s really not as bad as it sounds. They have purposefully designed the OGA with as few parts as possible. Assembly is very straight forward (with some caveats).
Inside the box you’ll find all the bits and pieces in separate bags and wrapped in bubble wrap. Inside the red bubble wrap is the LCD, and a little slip of card telling you where to find the assembly instructions. There’s also a stark warning on the card to be careful with the LCD. It is incredibly fragile and you should take your time when clipping it in to the shell!
With the exception of the LCD, the only other slight difficulty is clipping the shell together. It requires an awkward direction of pressure to get the shell to click in to place properly. It may look as though it’s locked, but if the seams of the shell aren’t completely flush then you’re not there yet. The instructional video shows the correct way to do this, and with a little practice it’s easy enough.
BUILD QUALITY AND LCD
When the Odroid-Go Advance was first announced there was a bit of hoo-ha about the choice of TFT instead of an IPS display. As it happens, IPS technology is also known as ‘Super TFT’ and the screen in the OGA is absolutely fantastic. It is better than the display in the New PocketGo and RG350, and is most comparable to the IPS display now being used in GBA mods. On the topic of GBA, the resolution of the OGA screen is 480×320. This means that with the right scaling options (the official image uses the right scaling) GBA looks absolutely amazing on this device. 480×320 is exactly double the horizontal and vertical pixel count of the GBA’s 240×160 display. This means perfect 2x integer scaling for GBA games, and because of this they look incredible on the Odroid-Go Advance.
It has to be said that the build quality of the OGA isn’t as good as some of its rivals. The shell is made of transparent poly-carbonate and it has a matte finish on the front and back, with a glossy finish on the sides. The unit does feel solid and weighty once put together, but there is no denying that the plastic feels a little on the cheap side. Handhelds such as the RG350 feel like a more premium product and to compare this to anything from the likes of Nintendo or Sony would be silly.
THE ODROID-GO ADVANCE CONTROLS
Having said all of that, the controls mostly feel good. One gripe would be that the d-pad has sharp edges, but this is easily remedied. The d-pad from the Game Boy Pocket is a perfect drop in replacement and can be bought from AliExpress for next to nothing. I have read complaints of mushy d-pad, but honestly it feels OK to me. The analog stick is a clone of the PS-Vita stick and works fine. It’s not as good as the RG350 analogs, but vastly better than the slider on the New PocketGo.
Some people have had success customising the ABXY buttons with modded buttons from the Game Boy Pocket. It could depend who manufactured your buttons, but the ones I ordered were no good. Whilst they fitted OK after trimming a leg or 2 off – the response from them was flaky. Sometimes they registered and other times they didn’t. Because of this, I chose to stick with the stock ABXY buttons. The shoulder buttons are clicky but easy to reach and perfectly acceptable, and the six under screen buttons are OK too.
HOW’S THE SOFTWARE?
As previously mentioned, there are 3 choices of software for the Odroid-Go Advance right now. Crashoverride and his team of developers are in charge of the official image and it can be found here. The Retro Arena (aka TheRA) have a release candidate available and it’s on the Tech Toy Tinker site for download. There is also a Batocera image in development and that’s available here. I think that all of these images are based on Emulation Station, and as such they all share some similarities. One of the other similarities that they all currently share is they’re not really ready for general release yet. Yes even the official image!
Maybe we’ve been spoiled by OpenDingux and Gmenu2x over the years, but I have tried all 3 systems and each one has shocked me at how unfinished it is. Whether it be the inability to map emulator specific controllers in the software*, or having to back out of a game to change the volume, or certain emulator menus loading in portrait mode instead of landscape – the software for the Odroid-Go Advance has a long journey ahead of it.
*Apparently you need to edit a config file in the Linux terminal to set these up.
This isn’t meant as a slight on the developers, they are doing God’s work here. Rather, it seems strange that HardKernel were happy to release the device before allowing the developers to polish the official image a little more. I understand that this is a device for tinkerers, releasing it as a DIY kit makes that plainly obvious. But it would have been great to have a well rounded OS for it on release.
Having said that, part of the fun of a device like this is watching it evolve and improve over time (or contributing yourself if you have the skills). The Odroid-Go Advance is going to be around for a very long while yet. I’m confident that we’ll see some amazing advances in performance and usability in the coming months.
WHAT’S THE PERFORMANCE OF THE ODROID-GO ADVANCE LIKE?
One of the main pulls of this handheld is the promise of PSP and N64 emulation. Whilst the RK3326 isn’t powerful enough to conquer the entire library for these systems, it is already capable of playing some games at near to full speed.
Some of the 2D PSP library runs well, with 3D titles being touch and go. For example GTA Vice City Stories runs at an acceptable framerate, but the audio is messed up. Ridge Racer runs OK but occasionally lags massively. N64 is in a better state, many first party games such as Mario Kart 64 run very well indeed. I’ve played a good few hours of Diddy Kong Racing and F-Zero X on this thing with some acceptable dips in framerate once in a while.
There are plenty of videos on YouTube showcasing various games, but it’s worth taking them all with a pinch of salt right now. Performance should improve over time, and games that are unplayable today may well be playable in the future once some optimisations have been made.
Currently my favourite console to play on this is GBA on the official OS. As mentioned previously, the LCD is perfect for GBA. I can’t imagine a better non-official handheld than the Odroid-Go Advance for GBA emulation.
If you don’t run a Linux machine, I would strongly recommend getting a WiFi dongle. Not all are compatible, but I can confirm that the EW-7811Un (US / UK) works great. Someone on the HardKernel forums has also confirmed that the TL-WN725N (US / UK) works as well.
Once connected to your home WiFi, you can simply login in to the OGA by typing \\<ip_address> in to a Windows explorer window. From there, just drag your ROMs into the specific directories. It’s worth noting that some emulators or operating systems don’t yet work correctly with zipped ROMs. If you find that some are missing, try unzipping them and they should show after a refresh.
As previously mentioned, you can replace the sharp grey d-pad with one from the Game Boy Pocket. No modifications are needed, it can just be dropped in. The cheapest place for these is AliExpress.
If you feel like giving your shell some colour, The Tamiya PS (US / UK) range of paints are suitable. Just make sure to mask off the outside of the shell and give the inside a few light coats until you’ve got the depth of colour you want. Some people have also had luck dyeing their shell using Rit iDye Poly (US / UK) though that seemed like too much hassle at the time. I used Tamiya PS-45 on my shell, and it came out OK. I was perhaps a bit too eager, and the paint job is spotty due to that. But I’m happy with it.
If you’re not planning on painting your shell or you’re going to use a transparent colour, it might be worth using electricians tape on the LCD. The LCD does leak a lot of light through the left side of the shell. By adding tape (probably a little more than this if I’m honest) you’ll reduce the amount of light leakage.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE ODROID-GO ADVANCE
The Odroid-Go Advance changes everything, and presumably it has given our Chinese manufacturer friends something to think about. It’s doubtful that people will be interested in any more Ingenic handhelds after this. Hopefully the OGA will help to usher in an era of powerful ARM based handhelds with Open Source operating systems. Whilst the Odroid-Go Advance hasn’t done everything right, the steps that HardKernel have taken with it are most definitely in the right direction.
The evidence of this is that the console is already sold out in many places. The official UK vendor sold out within days and HardKernel themselves have said that they are overwhelmed with demand.
Whilst the software is rough around the edges right now, it’s going to be interesting watching it mature over the coming months. The handheld has a lot of promise and I’m really happy to be along for the ride.