Meet the Wikipad, a 7-inch gaming tablet that slides in and out of a portable controller dock. After Ouya made the gaming industry realise the Android platform could actually threaten consoles, a slew of new Google-friendly hardware has jumped from the drawing board and into people's homes. The latest of these is the Wikipad.
But is this Tegra 3 toting tablet enough to challenge the likes of Microsoft and Sony? Can it steal the mobile gaming crown from Nintendo? Or is this just an expensive compromise between console gaming and tablet one-ups that isn't worth the early adopting?
By the power of…
If we've learned anything from the recent Xbox One and PS4 announcements - other than DRM (digital rights management) being bad - it's that power is still important. A while back OnLive, the online and on-demand video game source, made it look like cloud gaming was going to render the power of consoles obsolete, but still the big specs are being rolled out for the next gen consoles. And since the 100,000 games on Google Play (plus Playstation Mobile titles) are improving constantly in line with tablet upgrades, the Wikipad could be powerful enough to hold its own. But is it, like, really?
The quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor that powers the WikiPad isn't the latest generation Tegra 4, but with a 12-core GPU it flies along merrily and can handle any game Android throws at it. While that fifth core is made for saving power on less intense tasks, it isn't much use while gaming as everything is in use. Combined with the 1GB DDR3 RAM we found that even Dead Trigger - the graphically marvellous, power-hungry first person shooter with its fast-paced gameplay - ran smoothly with level load times of less than five seconds.
Games are output on the Wikipad's 7-inch IPS LCD display at up to 1280 x 800 resolution - that's a 216ppi pixel density - which looks perfect and is handled fine by the processor. But it's not Full HD 1080p.
The 16:10 ratio looks a little odd at first, especially when using the Wikipad as a pure tablet. But when you're gaming you soon realise that extra bit of width adds a widescreen immersion that enhances its gaming experience compared to more traditional slates.
The joy of pads
Take the power of a tablet and a huge game development platform like Google Play, then fix the one problem that smartphones have: their controls. It seems like the idea of a genius. Adding tactile buttons, analogue joysticks and shoulder buttons should fix most people's issues with tablet-based games that lend themselves to traditional controls. It kind of does, but, somehow, it kind of doesn't.
Playing Dead Trigger, where every cross-hair movement is key to surviving the waves of zombies, we couldn't help notice how we'd be testing the throw-ability of the Wikipad any second. While the analogue sticks feel great and are perfectly positioned, the right size and feel, the game can't understand diagonal movements at slow speeds - and that's when you most need them.
So you're either going from aiming at a zombie's feet to above his head as you present your fleshy middle, or you're moving in slow motion as they nibble on you with no need to rush. Frustrating. Sure, there are other games that may come along that work better with similar controllers - Wikipad's site lists them all, including Dead Trigger - but since this was one that comes pre-installed on the Wikipad, it's a little disheartening that it doesn't feel to take full advantage. Literally, in this organ-eating instance.
But for things like football and hockey, the traditional console-like controls are great. You really forget your playing on a tablet - which is the whole point of this device.
When it comes to accelerometer- and gyroscope-controlled games, such as Real Racing 3, the Wikipad adds an extra layer of comfort. Those big grips on either side let you cruise around corners without pinching the tablet in an awkward attempt to keep the screen clear while following your racing line. Even if the actual buttons and sticks don't do much.
While the physical buttons and pads work well, they don't look very premium. Particularly at this price point.
We can't see that silvery top layer surviving long being massaged by sweaty gamers' digits and diving in and out of rucksacks all day. Aesthetically that's not the end of the world, but if corners have been cut on the outside it's hard to remain confident the Wikipad's controls will withstand the test of time.
Of course we can only review what's in front of us for a given period of time. And right now that translates ok on the outside and pretty strong on the inside too: the Wikipad seems fine and in terms of power.
Nope, not the gaming kind of power-ups but the number of times you have to plug the Wikipad into the wall. There will be plenty. It's like the Wii U all over again.
Tegra 3 is great for battery performance, any device being used for constant mobile gaming is inevitably going to take its toll on the battery. This isn't Gameboy power standards any more.
Inside the Wikipad there's a 4100mAh lithium-polymer powerhouse to keep the show running. But even with Wi-Fi turned off we didn't get more than a few hours of gaming - certainly not the claimed eight hours. Ok so that's not really so bad, considering the quality of some games, but we were hoping for more.
But with the control dock as light as it is would it have been that hard to squeeze a second battery in? It's already got two speakers for those who want to cause a fight on the bus by constantly collecting coins in Sonic at full volume. But it could have done away with those, since most people will prefer headphones anyway, in favour of a bit more juice.
Go big on going home
It's not all handheld though. The micro-HDMI output on the Wikipad is a great idea and means you can output to a larger screen.
Find yourself a long enough cable and you can sit on the sofa while gaming on your big screen TV without a console box in sight. And with the quality of most games up in the 1080p region these days - note: higher resolution than the Wikipad can handle - you really don't lose anything.
You can get a decent 2-metre cable for a fiver, but it would have been nice to get one in the box. When you're spending £250 on this console-meets-tablet, you'd think that Wikipad's makers would know most people don't have these cables kicking around. Are we expecting too much? Maybe. Aren't we always.
It is interesting though as it shows Wikipad isn't pushing to win a place in your lounge, over your Xbox or PlayStation, but it just gives you the option if needs be. Is that lack of confidence in the games or fear of the competition; both or neither? Food for thought.
The Wikipad controller adds a comfort to Android gaming, and an accuracy - on some titles, at least - that makes it an improvement on tablet touch controls. However, even when plugged into the big screen, the quality of the games aren't good enough to challenge the PC or console market. Which is to be expected as they're far more affordable. So what's it for?
At £250 you're getting a powerful tablet, but you could do that by snapping up a higher spec 2013 Nexus 7 for around £150. Then plug in your Xbox controller and play hundreds of games. Of course as an early adopter you may be helping developers to make Android games with controllers in mind for great future potential. But that's wishful thinking at this stage.
If you love mobile gaming, need a tablet, and don't mind lugging about the controller - and being seen in public with it - then the Wikipad could be for you. But with the Nvidia Shield and Razer Edge Pro already owning the top-end of Android mobile gaming this budget version offers you little more than a controller and HDMI-out.