Back in August 2017, I had a (secret!?) meeting with PtitSeb who brought his Pyra prototype for me to check it out. Since I had not relaunched GiantPockets at the time, this article was a little delayed. As the Pyra is still not out in March 2018, it may still be worth sharing what I thought about it then. Why should you care? Well, I have used the Pandora(s) extensively for many years (from 2012 with the Rebirth and afterwards with the 1Ghz Model) so that makes me well aware of what worked and did not work with the Pandora, to evaluate the Pyra prototype on.
Disclaimer: this Pyra prototype was far from being complete at the time – some would even say crippled – there were no 3D drivers, keyboard mapping had to be manually configured, the case was only half-complete (the logo part was missing and it was still using pilot mold materials – or was it 3D printing? I’m not sure anymore), nubs and buttons were not recognized by the OS… and the CPU board had the earlier instability issues meaning you had the throttle down the CPU to 1 or 1.2 Ghz. Oh, and it did not even have speakers. I guess that really fits the bill of what a prototype is supposed to be, hey?
Before you grab my throat and scream “what kind of a review is that?!“, just consider that this is NOT a review. It’s just my passing impressions based on a version that is now somewhat obsolete.
This being said, let’s be honest one second: that prototype is still pretty close to what the Pyra is expected to be like at release, so it’s not like it bears no resemblance to what will be in your hands in the near future. At best, some of the points I mention below may be marginally or significantly improved, but that remains to be seen. And even if you learn nothing new, you still get to see some nice new (exclusive!?) pictures, not taken by a crappy smartphone in the corner of a messy desk, for once. So here goes.
First, size-wise, the Pyra is a little larger and bulkier than the Pandora. Not by a huge margin, but when you have them next to each other you will clearly notice it. It won’t make much difference, and the slightly larger size brings a higher capacity battery that is more than welcome since it’s likely to consume a little more than the Pandora. Grabbing the Pyra in your hands feels natural – I was expecting it to be heavier than the Pandora (as it is, apparently) yet I could hardly tell the difference. Good.
The screen is pretty good. It’s slightly larger than the Open Pandora’s one, and it benefits from a greater resolution (720p) and it looked much better overall (better contrast for sure). Such a resolution makes most applications at home on the desktop, and while text size requires some proper adjustment, I think we will all find ways to make things work.
While the analog nubs were not functional on this unit, I was not completely delighted by how they felt. If I have to compare with other portable device’s nubs, they feel somewhat cheap and too light. Better than the Open Pandora’s, but still very much in the same category. I would have liked something that has more “weight” or resistance to movement. Well, as long as those on the Pyra are more durable than the Pandora’s, I will consider myself happy.
Buttons were pretty much like what you’d expect. The A/B/X/Y are just like they were on the Pandora, but they look much nicer. The mini-buttons to their left (called I and II) are more of an issue. On one hand they may be very useful for certain games or emulators, on the other hand their positioning makes it hard for me to press them without pressing simultaneously one of the nearby buttons. The fault of my big thumbs?
Moving on to the other side, shoulder buttons at the back of the unit are somewhat of an improvement over what the Pandora had. On the Pandora they were stiff, rectangular, had no travel at all and felt really cheap and breakable (and they did break after a bad fall for some unfortunate owners).
The Pyra features shoulder buttons as well as back buttons so that you get two intertwined rows. These back buttons were not great in this prototype, and I am not sure if they were supposed to be improved in later iterations or not. Assuming you call them R1/R2 and L1/L2, it’s apparently very hard to ever hit such back buttons without pressing the shoulder ones with a single finger. And there is no space whatsoever to fit 2 fingers on the same side, at the same time. So for certain emulators this is going to make things really difficult if you need to press R1 and R2 as separate buttons at the blink of an eye. This was never going to be easy to begin with on something of this size, and sadly my fears were confirmed. I am not sure this is a good solution.
The keyboard fits now at the lower part of the shell (the Open Pandora had a separate row at the top mostly for function keys). It looks really good and orderly, but you will find the keys footprint to be much smaller than what you were used to on the Open Pandora. Easier to press, yes, better material, sure… but I don’t really like the keys to be that small. What they did on the Pandora made sense, as in “the keys you don’t use as often are therefore smaller” – a question of priority. Now, by allowing the same size for every single key, it could become detrimental in the end for all of them.
While I am not convinced by the key size, it makes backlighting possible and this is excellent. Really, really good looking, and with real, practical uses. If you have ever used a Pandora in the dark, you would know that you don’t see a thing and it’s unusable in dark places. With the Pyra you can consider this problem solved.
And that’s pretty much it. As you can see, the Pyra feels very familiar, features some welcome improvements, and takes some risks for the keyboard and the additional buttons, that may or may not prove a hit or miss for certain types of usage.
Even if I have my qualms with some of the design decisions, this is still miles better than most portables devices out there – at least there is some thinking behind everything. I’m still very much excited at the idea of owning one down the road, and let you know what my thoughts are on a final, mass-produced version.