Pandora Review - Amiga Gaming on the Go

I pre-ordered and paid for the Pandora in the first batch of October 2008. As each Christmas passed it became increasingly clear that the device was going to be massively delayed. The project was characterised by overly optimistic dates which came and went, followed by partial explanations of what went wrong, each of which put a positive spin on bad news and then included another optimistic prediction. Some Pandoras did ship in 2010 but then there was a problem with the quality of the nubs and it all stopped again. Finding out definite information about what was going on was also difficult.

At the start of 2011 so-called “Premium” Pandoras, which came with a seven day shipping guarantee, were sold on the website. These Pandoras had a price of about £380 whereas the pre-order price was £200. It seemed that the continuing delays necessitated a fresh cash injection although this meant that Premium orders took precedence over those who pre-ordered and who had been waiting for two and half years.

Fed up with the wait, I upgraded my pre-order to a Premium Pandora and it arrived within seven days. As of now (March 2012) some original pre-orders haven't been delivered but production has moved from the UK to Germany and things are looking more positive for the project.

That's the negative part of the review out of the way!


The Pandora looks similar to the Nintendo DS but is a bit larger. This similarity might be a good thing if you want your expensive and hard-to-get device to remain inconspicuous in public. However, the device is black and doesn't have a shiny finish. There is also a keyboard where the DS's second screen would be. It's a 43 key QWERTY layout but the keys are rather more like buttons, which may take some getting used to.

As well as the keyboard there is a 16-bit console-style directional pad, two analogue nubs, four X-Y-A-B buttons and three selection buttons (start, select and “Pandora”). Two shoulder buttons complete the gaming set. There is no shortage of buttons to press.

The Pandora has an excellent 800x480 LCD with a touch screen and a stylus which slides into the unit. At the front there is a power switch, a headphone socket, two SD card slots and a volume wheel. These are a little hard to access as they are sunken into the unit slightly to avoid being pressed inadvertently. At the back there are USB slots, an expansion port and the power connector.

The USB port can only handle “Hi-Speed” devices so some mice may not work. However, I have attached a “Hi-Speed” USB hub and then attached a mini mouse to it.

There is also WiFi, Bluetooth, two speakers and a microphone. Inside there is a 600MHz ARM processor and OpenGL 3D hardware. The battery life is very good and the remaining battery indicator will sometimes show over 10 hours. In reality, the battery life depends on the usage, of course.

There is quite a lot packed into the handheld.

Operating System

The device runs a Linux distribution called Ångström and an Xfce desktop environment. If you're a Windows or Mac person you'll find it easy to use. If you're a Linux person you can immediately get a command line terminal up and running or swap virtual desktops. If you don't want to run a full environment you can boot up with a basic menu application which is great for selecting programs using only the controls.

In case you're thinking about running Windows natively on the Pandora, there is no available ARM version so you can't.

The full operating system opens up a world of standard applications, such as Firefox, VLC media player, GIMP and Pidgin. In order to install an application you have to get hold of a PND file. This is a packaged installation file. Place the PND on an SD card in a special directory and it suddenly becomes available. For example, put the Firefox PND in a /pandora/menu directory on an SD card and it appears in the menu on the fly. This is very convenient.

PNDs can be downloaded from various sites:


If you buy a Pandora it'll most likely be for the emulators. Even with two 32Gb SD cards in the Pandora the space soon fills up, so being selective is a good idea. Here are some of the emulator highlights.


Running the UAE emulator is clearly going to be a big draw for Amiga fans.

You have a choice of P-UAE (by GnoStiC ) or UAE4All (by john4p and others). P-UAE is more WinUAE-like and emulates the A1200. UAE4All is geared towards instant A500 action. Both are good and will hopefully see lots of updates and better compatibility. At the time of writing (March 2012), UAE4All is much more regularly updated.

A few gaming suggestions: Pinball Dreams, No Second Prize, Hunter, SWOS, Moonstone etc.


The ZX Pandy (ZXGP32) emulator has a number of options and emulates the 48K and 128K models. Another Spectrum emulator is called Fuse. A portable Spectrum with the familiar loading style and sound is a must have.

A few gaming suggestions: Jetpac, Chuckie Egg, Lords of Midnight, Saboteur, Starquake

Commodore 64

Vice is a well known and mature C64 emulator that has been ported to the Pandora. Like the Spectrum emulator there are lots of options.

A few gaming suggestions: Paradroid, Thrust, Green Beret, Impossible Mission


The excellent PC DOS emulator DOSBox brings a large library of games to the Pandora. DOS games were often a pain to set up but sometimes it's preferable to play a 256 colour PC game rather than the Amiga conversion. Classics from later years, such as Ultima Underworld or Tie Fighter, work but can be slow on the Pandora.

A few gaming suggestions: Civilization, Ultima VI: The False Prophet, Wing Commander


The obligatory emulator MAME comes in several versions on the Pandora. MAME 4 All is an older release of MAME but will run a significant number of games. There is also a straight MAME port and MAME EX which seems to be a newer version. Final Burn Alpha is another familiar emulator that is available on the Pandora.

The quality of arcade conversions on the Amiga varied but if you have the option it's usually a good idea to play the arcade original.

A few gaming suggestions: Ghosts ‘n Ghouls, The New Zealand Story, R-Type 1&2

Neo Geo

GnGeo is a great emulator that brings the Neo Geo's high quality games to the Pandora. The Metal Slug series is a must have!

A few gaming suggestions: Metal Slug, Samurai Shodown, Puzzle Bobble

Gameboy Classic, Colour & Advance

Emulators such as GnuBoy and gpSP bring Nintendo's handheld games to the Pandora. These games are very well suited to the Pandora because they were originally written as handheld releases.

A few gaming suggestions: Tetris, Advance Wars 1&2, Mr. Driller

Megadrive / Genesis

PicoDrive does an admirable job of emulating Sega's console. 16-bit console games work well on the Pandora.

A few gaming suggestions: Sonic the Hedgehog, Ecco the Dolphin, Gunstar Heroes


SNES9x4P is another great emulator that runs SNES games. Like the Megadrive, the SNES is a good match for the Pandora.

A few gaming suggestions: F-Zero, Super Street Fighter II: Turbo, Starfox

Nintendo 64

Mupen64Plus opens up Nintendo 64 emulation to the Pandora. The compatibility isn't perfect but it's good enough to play a number of N64 classics. The CPU speed will need to be increased to emulate the 3D games fast enough.

A few gaming suggestions: Super Smash Bros, GoldenEye, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time


PlayStation games are ably accommodated by PCSX ReARMed, a slick emulator with pretty good compatibility. CD images are used by the emulator.

A few gaming suggestions: Gran Turismo, Carmageddon, Grand Theft Auto, WipEout, Tomb Raider

Interpreted and Open Source Games

There are a number of interpreted and Open Source games available for the Pandora.

First Person Shooter fans  can play native versions of famous games like Doom I and II, Quake I, II and III, Duke Nukem 3D, Hexen 1&2, Heretic, Marathon and Rise of the Triad.

There are RPG games such as Ultima 7 (the Exult interpreter), Baldur's Gate (the GemRB interpreter) and Albion.

Thanks to ScummVM there are a lot of classic adventure games such as Sam & Max, The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle.

Strategy gamers will like FreeCiv, Homeworld, Battle for Wesnoth, Theme Hospital and Open Transport Tycoon Deluxe.


The Pandora is quite the cornucopia of gaming goodness. The variety of emulator types available open up a large slice of gaming history, from the earliest games to the PlayStation era. The benefit of this is that you can play the best version of a game when it was released on multiple systems.

One issue with so much choice is that every emulator is different and usually features a unique interface. This is understandable and the situation is similar with PC emulators, for example, but standardisation would be preferable. Another issue is that some software and emulators may have been ported to the Pandora once but not updated on an ongoing basis.

The Pandora is sometimes criticised as being out of date. Of course this is true for all hardware and the manufacturing delays didn't help but it's the sort of device which is future proof to a certain extent. That's not to say that a Pandora II wouldn't be welcome, but it is similar to the Kindle which fulfils its purpose of displaying books admirably. The Pandora plays a lot of retro games well and can be used for this purpose for as long as the hardware functions.

It is a niche device so it is not competing with popular handhelds like the Nintendo DS or the PS Vita. The Pandora is targeted at retrogamers and includes features to that end, such as the mini-keyboard and variety of gaming controls.

The Pandora's Linux operating system and Open Source ethos allows it to become a mini computer and operate outside of narrow restrictions that would normally be defined by the manufacturer. A good way to imagine the Pandora is to think of it as a handheld-sized netbook rather than solely as a gaming handheld.

If the Pandora team can sort out the manufacturing issues and deliver devices quickly then the availability will increase and the software and emulators will multiply and improve. If not then it will be a niche device in a niche area.