My Day with The Pandora (atari_afternoon)

Ekianjo has asked me to write a short text about how I picture my average day as a Pandora-user, -player and -fanatic; starting from a number of list-posts I made on the OpenPandora-board, which were originally nothing more than a normal forum post listing of what I do with the Pandora besides “the obvious”, I do not believe I have to think much since I’m in love with it and the words hopefully will just come naturally now in the following few paragraphs.

[ This is a guest post from atari_afternoon from the Pandora boards ]

I consider myself a normal user, a normal gamer, emphasis on handheld gaming (I gave up serious PC-gaming over 10 years ago and never was into any TV-console after the MegaDrive/Genesis), I got raised on DOS and have not been a serious Linux-user before finally finally getting a Pandora in summer 2012. Before that, I have become an enthusiast of the good old Dingoo and its Dingux, I find it fascinating to play around with a console, not just leaving it like it left the production company and to form it a little bit software-wise. Besides these prerequisites, I have the gamer’s concept not of a console-player and no more of a PC-player, instead I’d rather like to make a nice hot cup of coffee and sit down on the sofa or on a gardening stool outside and spend a nice half-hour with gaming. This may be a reflection of age (I’m in my mid-thirties). No doubt the Pandora is the most versatile of all handhelds I’m happy to own, to my understanding of gaming the Pandora is almost ideal because it has a number of advantages and features that Nintendo or Sony or Neo Geo products do not have and do not strive to offer or fail to do it “decently” IMO. Going to expand my little list, words like ebook-reading, sound recording, radio listening and gaming are going to be central.

Is there a limit to what the Pandora can do ?

So, yes, I start with gaming. What else to do as long as the evening-welcome home-coffee mug cup is too hot for even a nip?

If I look at myself and take the past four weeks, what have I “discovered” for myself?

The Virtual Boy-emulator!

I really wanted to like the original Nintendo Virtual Boy, I’ve been having one for two years, was a heavy and costly piece of hardware, plus customs, and pretty soon I found out it does not fit my niche of gaming. With the Pandora, I can at last finish Wario Land…after fabricating a nice stylish set of bispectacles for the 3D effect. Nothing hard to do, you need a bit of green see-through plastic, same in red, and with a pair of scissors you cut out the rims of spectacles and fix the plastic to it. It won’t win a beauty award, it certainly gives you nerd points, and it is needed to see real (black and white, but bright!) 3D. (On the original Virtual Boy, as is probably well-known, it is red-black.) So, Wario jumps freely back and forth in 3D. The Pandora is the only handheld (I know) which has an okay VB-Emulator.

The same goes for another “special interest” (because Japan-released only) handheld, of the Gameboy Color/original Gameboy Advance “class”/age group, which I have discovered just the other year, the Bandai Wonderswan and I think is a great handheld. Even if just 10% of its library are playable for non-Japanese speaking enthusiasts, it is a really worthwhile little Gameboy Color-like console to have, and I love to sit in the sunshine playing a few car-racing rounds at Final Lap Special or shuttling around as a suburb train driver at the original Densha De Go or to play the original Gunpey 🙂

But wait, the original Wonderswan has no backlight. What do you do after sunset?

The Pandora, out of all handheld devices, has a GOOD and RELIABLE and FULLSCREEN Wonderswan-Emulator (thanks to mednafen). [Be warned, you better remap the keys a bit, since only very few games ever use the left keypad (the WS has two).]

So, the Pandora is my darnkess-and winter-Wonderswan 🙂 These two things (Virtual Boy and Wonderswan) are where in my opinion the Pandora (Classic) is unique at emulating it at a very satisfying level, in fullscreen.

True, The VB has no optimized sound emulation. but I don’t care much for the sound here, I also understand there aren’t really many VB-Fans around to justify more hours that any homebrew software developer might be willing to sacrifice for a too specified niche.

Leaving these two specified consoles where I think the Pandora has the best (or only) fullscreen emulation, I also love to have my old favorites, BlakeStone, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, FreeSpace on the go. I must mention CommanderBeef’s DosBox frontend here, this is really a must, BlakeStone runs fluid and everything is easy to setup – not everyone grew up with typing DOS-commands like I did. Commander Beef has really made the old DOS-games library a click-and-play treasure to (re)explore 🙂

Last, to end the gaming chapter, are the formidable emulators from the Emu EX Alpha family. Transported from touchscreen only devices to the Pandora, they work well, really well; NOT having to finish a whole mission before being able to save in any game, instead, being able to save and autoload at any place at a most convenient place is what I often must to do because of real life, right in the middle of playing, because work calls or real life sets in unexpectedly early or simply because I have reached my destination or because the phone rings or because my driver needs to be instructed how to polish my Aston Martin decently. Then later, after having saved the world, starting exactly where I have left off before, is a big plus. Perfect for 5 minute gaming, saving in between races or missions. [I’m still saving on an Aston Martin, by the way…] More realistically, the phone rings, so the Pandora feature of sleep mode comes in most handy here as well. Even if you forget it a whole day, or three, its not lethal to your game or the Pandora’s battery. You can take everything easy here. The good old Atari Lynx, for example, as much I love it, drops dead after maybe 10 hours in its sleep mode (which means “screen turned off”).

Unlike in many other respects, nowadays, you have more time than back then.

Then my all-time favorite game, Doom, must be mentioned here, as last entry of “how I play game son the Pandora on a most ordinary gaming day”. Doom was what I was (and am doing) on the GP2X Wiz most of its time but on the Pandora, the frontend is just more advanced when it comes to playing all the great community.-made WADs. Don’t forget to get the easy to install Midi-pack, with its self-installing appropriate drivers so you can hear the music that goes with the Simpsons or James Bond when you’re walking Phobos and Deimos or through “Golden Eye”.

I cannot count the hundreds of hours I have enjoyably killed with the Doom WADs (the GP2X-forum has two WAD-collections in the Wiz section which work just as fine on the Pandora).

And the Pandora does it best. Does DosBox best, does Wonderswan best, does Virtual Boy emulation best, does Doom best.

And now the Pandora-gaming exclusive Compo4all (C4A): Playing classical arcade games and homebrew-made arcade games with live-uploaded and -updated highscore tables is great fun (and also very demotivating lol). Luckily, they are updated every month so you have a good change to be number one at Rygar or Pac-Man Junior this time BEFORE that one certain #+++### comes back again and steals your number one hiscore place 😉 Compo4all is great fun and since the make of it was community-based, I have also made one or two suggestions for games to add C4A support to it. C4A for Pandora is a good example how the community is respected, games and programs are expanded with live feedback because here you don’t have an anonymous commercial global multiplayer (nothing said against them…), just people who share the same forum with you every day.

So much for the free time. Time for some work, at least. Part of my work is PC-based, involving preparing text sheets or looking over structures and settings. Firefox, with all my favorite bookmarks synchronized, works well enough on the classic Pandora to read, to receive and write emails, to do simple administrative tasks, and all these things, provided I have a WiFi around, this work better on the Pandora than on my phone, simply because all the bookmarks are there and I can open more tabs than I can on my phone. I’m not used to high-end PCs either, the Pandora (Classic) is faster and has as much RAM as my long-time Windows XP PC used to have, so I was really using it as a second PC – the last time over Christmas 2013 when my PC was at repair and I didn’t want to wait til my trusty XP box had gotten all its missed updates together. The real keyboard is a big plus as well.

I also must mention how well the use of Firefox, emailing and handheld gaming emulation works well, out off all devices, on the Openpandora. All combined, I mean. For a friend, I’m happy to test a Vectrex homebrew game, the vectrex is an early 1980ies monochrome vector graphics gaming console with an own TV screen plus controller, he is very keen on developing homebrew so on an average, he emails me one new build every day; the past weekend, rather three 😀

How do I test it? Firefox. Yahoo mail. Download attachment. Towards the “Vectrex”-folder on the “gaming”-SD card. Starting the Vectrex emulator. Playing…. Long later… The WIFI still on… Firefox still on… I email him my impressions. (We have been through the same in December for an Atari Lynx homebrew).

For writing texts or drafting sheets, AbiWord works well enough and for me, is better (easier and sufficient enough) to handle than the full LibreOffice package:) because normally I need no more than a simple text writing program which has the usual things like bald, italics, highlighting.

For reasons known, Skype is not possible on the Pandora (I haven’t tried using it with Android, or any other OS other than its own Linux-Angstrom). But Yahoo Messenger is not a problem with the Pidgin Messenger PND. I used it a lot of times on the sofa the summer before last when I had no smartphone (the Pandora BTW was my first handheld internet device altogether apart from the PSP). I believe I still type faster with two thumbs on the Pandora keyboard than on the smartphone touchscreen.

Firefox + web-based Facebook-chatting works just as well for me.

For showing photos or snapshots with your colleagues and friends (are colleagues friends? LOL), I no more not use my camera with its built-in screen for passing around, I put the camera’s SD-card into the nice little black Pandora, fire up Pandora Image Viewer and can browse and flicker through them much faster than on the phone even or than on these electric photo frames, button H gives all available options with no manual necessary, and dublets or blurred snapshots can go in an instant, saving crops is easy as well thanks to the Pandora touchscreen. Pandora Image Viewer is probably the most intuitive one, I have seen it when I give the Pandora into other hands (always a sad feeling), no one has ever asked “How do I do this? And that?”, they’ve all found out themselves by intuituion.

So, work is over, texts have been uploaded from the Pandora to the desktop PC or the cloud, so while the next inevitable coffee is waiting, a quick look into PNDmanager. I hate to miss great new software or an update on one.

How can the day end better than with a long-expected new update of an old favorite emulator that now also allows 7zip files?

Do not think I play and install and optimize and fumble around on the Pandora all day long. Life is not just screens, hobbies is not just gaming. For example, there are guitars waiting. How to tune it these days? With the Pandora. Lingot is a very good guitar tuning program. I have to fumble around with tunings a bit since I use capos quite much and also open tunings, capos, as it may be known, change the tuning towards a higher one, which is a desired effect in this case, but at times it makes me have to retune some strings as well (particularly the thicker ones), which is not so desired. Lingot helps, it works just as much as the first electrical tuning device I had (and sold) in the Nineties but fully digital now, software based.

Guitar tuning with Lingot.

I admit it took a little (MHWeston wrote a great tutorial on how to enable Pandora mic recording, once done it is set. Just turn the mixer on and enable the microphone, by default, both are off. Basically, if you can read a tutorial, you can do everything with your Pandora that the forum says you can).

It is much worth it because then you can use the Pandora for great quality recordings on the go, with MHWaveEdit. From all Linux-based handhelds I know, which all have an in-built recording function (Dingoo A320, the GP2X handhelds), the Pandora’s microphone offers BY FAR the best quality. It is mono, it has minimal hiss, good dynamics and sounds very good when compared to all other non-specialized recording solutions (high-cost commercial solutions). The quality is like mono FM. I like to be able to record myself a bit and ten comparing this with the tabs or with the teacher’s playing if it, listening with some detachment to own recordings helps to find own mistakes better. Here it is important to have a fast SD card 8class 10 is just fine), otherwise you will have very annoying recording breaks and skips. This is the only instance where a fast card really matters IMO. (I do not view videos or movies on the Pandora.)

When it gets dark, I try to leave my neighborhood in peace, and chill out with Audacious (easiest to use for me), I love the old Sherlock Holmes radio series (look on, especially the John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson late 1940ies British radio series episodes of the detective’s adventures. The PND Shutdown Manager helps here to turn the Pandora automatically off after a while, the length of one episode is long enough for me to end a day by 🙂

Some reading also works very fine, thanks to Coolreader, which remembers your position. So far, I don’t need another real ebook-reader. I have read the entire Ian Fleming James-Bond-books TWICE since last summer purely on the Pandora 🙂

Alternatively, Radiotray, provided you have a WiFi connection running over night (I am one of the obviously very very few who turn off the PC [and the router] completely overnight…), is another favorite, usually, Radtiotry plays the BBC World Service for me, useful since they have given up medium wave coverage for Central Europe some years ago.

Comparing the classical shortwave radio Sony ICF 2001D next to the Pandora receiving the BBC WS

So, Radiotray plus Shutdown Manager more often than not rock me away to good night sleep. I like to have spoken word for falling into sleep, especially since “spoken word” is what I have to pay attention to in the daytime at work 🙂

Accessing the same content on devices years apart!

Thanks for listening. 🙂

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Thanks for sharing, sure is useful to have a nice pocket computer like the Pandora.