GameStick - Stick and Controller
The worst new product experience I've ever had
I rarely write reviews of anything. Most things are subjective in that sense, but I have had such a miserable experience with Playjam's Game Stick that I almost find it my duty to warn people before making the same mistake as I. Now, a lot of people critically panned the Game Stick for it's current small library of games and it's lack of open-source Android functionality, emulation, etc. I knew all that going in, and didn't care. Just wanted a fun casual gaming experience on my bedroom TV. First off, the Game Stick was a nightmare to set up. A software update had to be downloaded, but the stick lost Wifi connection about six times in the process despite having an extremely strong signal. Next, I went to add money to my account, but it doesn't let you do that from the stick itself. You have to go do that on a home computer. So I go to add money there, and got an error message about not being able to complete the transaction. I tried 3 other credit/debit cards, still no dice. So now I have a system that I can't buy games for, and one that only offers about 2 free games as far as I can tell. I send an email to customer support, and decide to download one free game, Shadowgun, in the meantime. The game lags, and there is unbelievable latency with the included controller. I have to be sitting about three feet from the TV to get any response out of it, and even then it's a total gamble on whether or not it works effectively. Will I even be able to return this for a refund? I don't know, guess I'll find out later today. Avoid this piece of garbage like the plague.
Exceeded Expectations in All Areas
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when we, as gamers, were forced to purchase, support and play consoles from a few corporate juggernauts with near limitless budgets. As the old expression goes, the times, they are a changing. Thanks to a surge in popularity in crowdfunding sites (like Kickstarter) and the open-sourced nature of Google's Android operating system, just about anybody with a credit card can create a full fledge game system. No need to take my word for it; we've all heard of media-darling-turned-lackluster retail product Ouya but perhaps you're not quite as familiar with the Nvidia Shield, Gamestacks GamePop, the e-Sphere, Mad Catz M.O.J.O, or even Amazon's own yet unnamed Android game station. Of course that leads us to the console in question- PlayJam's GameStick.
To briefly get up to snuff, I am one of the 5,621 Kickstarter backers who received the unit prior to the recently announced November 15th retail release date (which of course happens to share the day with the much-anticipated release of Sony's Playstation 4).
So the fact that you're reading this suggests that you must be considering the GameStick and wonder if it's right for you (or are just perusing reviews for assurance that your money would be better spent elsewhere in what is becoming known as "the year of the microconsole"). To that end the GameStick offers a few advantages over the competition but comes up short in some areas as well. Let's start with the advantages, shall we? Consisting of two parts, a controller and a dongle that slots inside it, the GameStick is truly the most compact/ portable video game system ever produced. Additionally, at $79.99, it is by far the most affordable of the Android consoles available ($20 less than Ouya and a whopping $170 less than the M.O.J.O). Finally the user interface is perhaps the most intuitive of the lot. However, beyond these charms, the GameStick has some issues to work through and, surprisingly, not all of these are PlayJam's fault so much as they are the nature of big screen Android gaming.
If you haven't been following the hype machine that has been occupying the industry since the Ouya was first announced; the concept was supposed to change everything. With a low MSRP on the hardware and a (potentially) massive and ever-growing library of inexpensive Android games available at launch, these little systems were poised to force the industry into rethinking how we buy games, and at the same time provide smaller developers a unique audience. So far this hasn't really been proven true. Yes it's novel to play some of our favorite phone and tablet apps on the big screen with a dedicated controller but no it hasn't shifted the industry's collective approach toward home video gaming and it certainly hasn't proven a viable alternative to true console gaming (which is why it's a pretty safe bet that though they share a domestic launch date, the GameStick will lure no potential buyers away from the Playstation 4).
So what's it like to tear into the package and get underway you ask? Pretty intuitive actually. The heart of the GameStick is a dongle about the size of a pack of gum and resides within the controller when not in use. Sadly the Stick draws power via USB, from a micro-USB port on its side. This is the first major let-down in an otherwise ingenious design as it requires you to run an included micro-USB to AC power pack (or a micro-USB to standard USB if you have a computer nearby or a TV with USB ports) just to run the unit. Integrated MHL support to run on the power present within an HDMI port would certainly have been welcomed in a system that's primary selling points are portability and ease of use.
That said, you simply plug the stick into the HDMI port, run your power cord, turn it on, and the console's operating system shows up instantly on your high-def display. Press the great big Play arrow on the center of the controller to sync, and it'll pair over Bluetooth 4.0 in seconds. The rest of the initial setup process is pretty intuitive and painless: the very first step, for example, involves adjusting the user interface to fit your TV screen. From there you configure your WiFi, sign up for a GameStick account and that's that, panels of games at your disposal appear.
Now about that controller; while the console itself is remarkably small, laced with technology and the source of endless water cooler discussions, the controller isn't quite so svelte. Goals of portability and simplicity certainly take precedence over comfort and ergonomics as we have been spoiled with by the likes of Sony and Microsoft throughout the years. In practice this means the surface is quite flat in comparison to the sexy, curvatious, long handled units that have been staples since Sony's original Playstation back in 1995. What's not generally known from photos however is that there's a soft-touch finish to the back of the otherwise glossy surface and there are slight recesses in the middle of the bottom to provide fingers something to push off against. In feel, it's certainly an acquired taste but by no means uncomfortable/ unplayable. Gamers old enough to remember the original NES controller or the Super Nintendo interface that followed will likely find little to complain about. Newer generation gamers may need a little more time to feel comfortable but it's really no different than acclimating to the remotes on the original Wii for the first time- just minus the rubberized skin. Fortunately the buttons are laid out in the familiar A-B-X-Y formation and the analog sticks are well-positioned. You get shoulder buttons but forget about triggers here. Finally, in person the controller is actually far larger than it looks in photos.
The system runs Android Version 4.1.2 but you'd really never know it looking at it. PlayJam developed their own custom skin that essentially eschews all signs of the OS beneath. This is mostly a good thing as very little knowledge of Android operation is required to play. Large, bright fonts and menus that provide clear, concise instructions make navigating absolutely effortless. In a very real way, it's similar to using the dashboard of a Nintendo console; gamers of all ages can get things cooking. Of course herein lies another of the GameStick's weaknesses when compared to its competition: the system is designed to do little else but play games. If you come from the Nintendo school of thought, this isn't unreasonable by any means. If, however, you fancy yourself more of a PC gamer (or perhaps more pertinently, an Ouya aficionado), you'll likely be disappointed by the GameStick's restrictive nature, even when compared to Android-running cell phones. You do however, via the OS' Media page, get two factory-installed media players. One for viewing content on the device itself (files on a memory card for example) and ToFu; a media center app based on XBMC. ToFu in particular adds some useful functionality such as local network media streaming (DLNA, SMB shares) - something even the mighty PlayStation 4 can't match. However, hacking, side-loading, customizing and so on aren't going to be strong suits for the GameStick no matter how you slice it.
As far as the games library is concerned, there are already about 45-games on tap with more arriving daily. Granted, these aren't AAA console titles by any means, the fact is it's a pretty well rounded assortment with entries of just about every genre present. Two titles, Shadowgun and Smash Cops are 100% free and should be considered bundled games with the hardware (the rest run between $2 and $5) and so far, there aren't any freemiums present. Perplexingly, some of the GameStick library titles are actually free or cheaper through the Google Play store (which is not compatible here). Do keep in mind though that there are no ads in the GameStick version and these are ported to work directly with the GameStick controller. So far controller mapping on all of the available has proven spot-on as well, which makes the entire experience feel a lot more like console gaming than simply running a cell phone or tablet through your television.
Shadowgun really makes for a good pack-in title and checking out clips uploaded to the net should provide a pretty accurate summation of how the GameStick's hardware specs (1.5 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU, coupled to a Mali 400 graphics chip, 8GB of storage, MicroSD expandable to 32GB) handle the Gears of War clone.
All told, the GameStick will likely make a decent purchase for the buyer who has done his homework and decided that playing Android games on the television with a well-mapped controller is the secret to happiness. If customization isn't on your shortlist and you frown upon more bulky hardware to litter your entertainment shelf, the GameStick may well be a very viable option. Its MSRP will only sweeten the deal. However, for the machine to really make an impact, there are a couple of simple changes that would go far- MHL support to eliminate the need for a power cord (that doesn't fit in the controller or even the official GameStick hard case) would take the portability/ simplicity concept to new heights. Additionally while all of these new microconsoles are concerned Android-based, they are just proprietary enough to keep us purchasing the same games over and over. Granted, this is not GameJam's fault in and of itself; the fact of the matter is some form of compatibility would be welcomed in Android gaming.
better xbmc then ouya w/ built-in hardware acceler
First off do not expect this to have any of the latest AAA titles. Second this is geared towards children in game offerings for now with Parental control and age ratings prevalent. So comparisons for gaming should be against Ouya and other Android consoles and may Nintendo for game selection. Parent's don't worry the free Tofu media Player (XBMC customized by Pivos for gamestick) allows you to cut the cable cord and watch all your downloaded or stream TV shows or movies from internet for free. I haven't had cable for over a year and don't miss it because Tofu/XBMC. Its like watching everything on DVR but you have way more space and access to everything as it will add everything to your library automatically while you watch what you want. Even if 10 shows came on same time you could still watch something else and watch the 10 shows whenever you want. So essentially you can have some fun kid friendly games and all of you TV shows and movies on the road with you with carrying only the controller and powercord as the console stores in controller. Thats the Awesome now for the rest. Like other reviews said its buggy but functional right now. Keep in mind some of issues have been resolved or improved already as I did not have any wifi issues connecting or downloading the update. Of course I had this on my tv right next to my router but others have as well and said it wouldn't work and mine did. I had no issues with it accepting my credit card like mentioned. Pairing of the controller to console initially had to be right next to console to sync up but gradually that got better and now syncs at least 10 feet away. Recognizes my micro sd card formatted fat32 right away. Downloads and installs games and tofu at a less then ideal pace. You can move installs to your sd card but cant make this default so you end up installing twice but it works. Games and menu's in Tofu do have some lag but will be fixed with firmware updates. The only major issue is the User interface skin that hides all the Android UI from you which makes it simple and smooth to do things also prevents you from doing any advanced settings or tweaks. The UI biggest issue is it will lose knowledge of you game installs and wifi passwords during a reboot or power down of unit. This is definitely a software issue that I have contacted support about for a fix. Until then you have to leave device powered on or reinstall on reboot. Don't worry the online site doesn't lose track of your purchases so you won't pay twice for anything unless you bought game from google play store already. Now first hearing of no carry over of your google play games being available or having to pay for them again seems unfair and greedy. However its really to ensure that Android game developers update their games to work with Gamestick controller and not touch screen only. So not being able to play a game on gamestick that would not work right and just frustrate you anyway and have you blame gamestick instead of the developers is the right way to go. Games are ridiculously cheap and ensured user experience is worth it. So if you want AAA titles buy mainstream console after hitting lottery. IF you want more android games including ones that are not optimized for controllers, install play store apps by side loading have game emulators and sub par XBMC support as they refuse to pay for ac3 and DTS passthrough licenses and stuck with alpha gotham versions then get an Ouya. Note havent done it yet but the rom collection browser addon for xbmc should be able to allow gamestick access to game emulators through Tofu as it works in XBMC but haven't confirmed if Gamesticks UI Skin will work smoothly with it or not.
hope it works out
this looks neat i almost want it. except it looks a little small. i might ask one for christmas. but looks great and neat with the grathics
well its not a preview reall because im using it now. I just got it today and theres a lot that is different about it then what I thought. first off its wider then I thought but they made the buttons the right size to make up for that. second its a little iffy on movement. sometimes it doesn't respond and somethimes it over responds. the only trouble ive had so far is the response from the thumbstick. I just gave up and used the d-pad on it. over all its great and a good buy. id buy it again for sure.
Sounds awesome. But can we download emulators as well so we can play SNES, NES, GEN, GBA, GBC ETC...LET ME KNOW!!!
The thing that sets it apart..
The one thing most people are overlooking, is the Ouya is kind of bulky to try and pocket, unlike the GameStick - which was designed as an Ultra-Portable gaming console. The GameStick designers (PlayJam Ltd.) have already said you can use other controllers and even smartphones / tablets if you like, instead of the controller. And, as for gaming development, an SDK is freely available on the gamestick.tv website... Too bad most everyone is too busy comparing the new consoles, or they could start to understand that they are all created differently, to covet a different feature set. GameStick, Ouya, XBox One, PS4, and even the Wii U all have different bonus features (for lack of other wording).
ouya is better
I don't have anything against Wii players, but I would never buy one for me, and that controller is really weird and plain, does not look confortable at all, I bought my ouya on release day, and let me tell you the controller for the ouya feels awesome! That's it basically, the ouya looks more elegant, what if you loose that little USB thing, you are screwed. That's all folks , haters are going hate, ask if I care, I am happy and my ouya is happy with me too ha..... Ha.....( yes sarcastic laugh) but is true I love it..
Better than Ouya
Can't wait! I hope this will get a good number of sales. The developers seem to know what they're doing!
HDMI thumbdrive video game console!
The website insists it is Bluetooth compatible, so I am looking to see if my PS3 controllers work with it, even though it doesn't look like 'that' bad of a controller. I know I'd like to have this baby in my pocket if I'm going to be going to my wife's parents house for the weekend. Whether it is better or not than the OUYA, I think both have their merit and can both be bought, for cheaper than PS4, Xbox One, or a WiiU. Oh yeah, and you can freely develop for the GAMESTICK platform as well.