Editors' note: This review is adapted from the one that appears on CNET's U.K. sister site. Mary Lojkine and Nick Hide edited the original review. The North American version of the Gizmondo is expected to be available in fall 2005. The U.S. CNET team will reevaluate the product at that time and update the review as necessary. If the PSP is the iPod of the gaming world and the Nintendo DS the Creative Zen, then the Tiger Telematics Gizmondo is like something from Oregon Scientific: a device with interesting features but almost no style.
The two shoulder buttons may protrude like Shrek's ears, but they feel more comfortable than the unresponsive, clicky ones on the PSP. The Gizmondo also feels a lot more durable, with its rubbery black case absorbing all the shocks of backpack carriage without taking damage. In a nice touch, the whole screen is indented and therefore less prone to scratching.
The Game Boy Micro notwithstanding, most recent handheld consoles have not been very portable; however, the Gizmondo slips into your pocket with ease. That portability also means that the display is about half the size of the PSP's and isn't in a wide-screen format. (Gizmondo has since announced a wide-screen model for the second quarter of 2006.) The main face buttons are compact enough to cover completely with your right thumb, which is far more comfortable than the PSP's design. The main action buttons clearly take after those on Sony's classic PlayStation template, but as this is a multimedia device, they get labeled play, stop, rewind, and fast-forward. It makes no difference in a game, of course, but the labels make navigation easier when you are playing MP3s or movies.
The adequate D pad favors prolonged use, but unlike the PSP, the DS, and even the now-defunct Tapwave, the Gizmondo doesn't have an analog control. We also despise the placement and the size of the menu buttons--they're situated along the top, so you have to adjust your hands to access them. Even if you manage to overcome this crime against ergonomics, you have to push them hard to make them register, and their shape is unnaturally thin.
On the rear, the VGA camera has been intelligently placed at the top, so you're unlikely to have your finger over it when taking a quick snap. In terms of quality, it's very comparable to that of a phone camera (although the better camera phones now offer 1-megapixel or 2-megapixel resolution). There's no button to take you directly to the photography menu, so if you see David Beckham in the street and want to get a quick snapshot, you'll have to ask him to wait around for a minute while you wrestle the console into photography mode.
When you're charging the battery in Off mode, you can't turn the console on. But if you have the console turned on, you can charge up at the same time. If you use the console a lot, you'll need to remember not to let the battery wear down completely.
Opening the box, you find that you get a few free downloads from the Web site. SD cards are a reasonable choice for storing games, but they're quite fiddly and prone to getting lost. Luckily, each game comes with a Gizmondo-branded storage case for two cards. While the Tiger Telematics Gizmondo's physical design is endearing, the operating system is completely the opposite. It's based on Microsoft Windows CE, which will make the blood run cold in many gamers' veins. True to form, the Gizmondo takes about 20 seconds to boot up, which to our minds is about 19 seconds too long. The interface is simple but fairly easy to use, and you can change the color scheme or the wallpaper by downloading skins from the Gizmondo Web site.
Games are stored on standard SD memory cards, most of which are 64MB in size. Using a media reader on your PC, you can also load up spare SD cards with music, movies, and photos to take advantage of the Gizmondo's multimedia functionality. The support for standardized formats (MP3 and JPEG) makes music and photo playback simple, but movie playback is a joke. While the Gizmondo Web site promises all sorts of multimedia functionality, cheekily showing off stills from Sin City and Hitch, the reality is that unless you've encoded your collection in Windows Media Video, you'll have to start by converting it--and the Gizmondo doesn't come with tools for doing so. Support for DivX, the de facto video standard, would have transformed the Gizmondo into a worthwhile portable media player.
Your computer won't recognize the Gizmondo straightaway--you have to install the drivers from a disc. The Gizmondo might have been useful as a mass-storage device (like a USB drive), but not in its current state. Because of the support for Windows-based media, you need to set up ActiveSync, which comes on a CD. This can make it easier to keep tabs on your media collection and what's sitting on the SD card, but it makes it harder to grab a few MP3 files off your friend's PC.
The most irritating aspect of the Gizmondo is that it is a sponsored device--meaning that you're victim to adverts beamed directly to the console. Billed as Smart Adds-enabled (as though you're getting some benefit from it), the Gizmondo can send you up to three advertisements per day once you've registered the console. If you don't want this bothersome intrusion, you need to pay Â£100 more up front for the console in the United Kingdom (it's unclear how or if the U.S. version will differ). It's a good discount if you don't mind the adverts but a hefty premium if you do. The service has yet to be set up, but the promise is that you'll get context-sensitive advertising (that is, for products that should interest you). The reality is that you may be bombarded with Crazy Frog ring-tone offers.
The GPS functionality may tie in with this advertising. The device is fairly rudimentary as a positioning device--certainly not as good as anything for your car--but if you're lost, it could provide a useful tool. A game called Colors promises to take advantage of GPS in the most exciting way by pitting you against other players in the vicinity. The U.K. version also provides a Vodafone SIM card in the box with Â£5 of credit so that you can text your friends (but not make phone calls). Typing an SMS on the Gizmondo is as nightmarish as you would expect from a device with no keypad. Graphically, the Tiger Telematics Gizmondo has the power to impress, but this is probably a testament to some talented design teams. Sticky Balls, a game from John Pickford that proved popular on the Internet, looked particularly polished. We have no doubt that the Gizmondo can compete with the Nintendo DS, but without a graphical powerhouse title or any unique way of interacting with games (until the GPS-powered Colors arrives), we haven't really seen what it's capable of. Either way, there's no gaming incentive to buy the console at the moment.
The console's mono speaker sounds tinny, but it goes much louder than those on other handheld consoles. As always, though, the best way to enjoy the console is with some headphones, and preferably not the ones that you get in the box. The Gizmondo's audio is certainly as good as that on any other portable gaming machine, although the soundtracks from Sticky Balls and Trailblazer have the potential to annoy, whereas the soundtracks for Wipeout Pure and Lumines on the PSP elevate the experience.