Review: GCW Zero (Hardware)

Reviewed by Kouen Hasuki, posted Jul 31, 2014
Jul 31, 2014
We, that is Kouen and Lasharus, recently got our hands on the GCW-Zero handheld, homebrew based console. In this write-up, we want to share our thoughts and impressions on the device as we go over its advantages and disadvantages.
Kouen Hasuki
The device is pretty well constructed, using a control scheme very similar to that of the Nintendo 3DS, albeit without the second screen or touch screen functionality. It does feel a little cheaper to hand than said 3DS, but it also doesn’t feel like a cheap-ass Popstation (for reference, see Ashens’ videos on those fake console… things).
The screen quality on the device is quite high, despite its 320 x 240 resolution. This resolution caught some flak for being ‘too low’, but frankly, it doesn’t matter. Everything we played worked smoothly, and displayed with nice sharp textures. Remember, after all, that the vast majority of games one would typically play on the GCW, especially emulated games, had a native resolution of 320 x 240 or less, so nothing is truly lost.
It does have some minor issues with sound, primarily the fact that the speakers are placed at the bottom of the device. In fairness, there’s not much space to place the speakers anywhere else, but it’s very easy to deaden the sound from it by accidentally covering it with your palms, or when resting the device on your primary flab shelf. Or stomach, whichever you think you have. However, as with most handheld devices, chances are fairly good you’ll plug in earbuds or a headphone anyway, so it’s not a massive issue. This also counteracts the fact that the speakers don’t exactly provide 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound – it’s inevitable.
The GCW has some powerful technology behind it. It can run many emulators and homebrew games with near-perfect 60 FPS without too much issue, although it must be remembered that every program you get for the device is, essentially, homebrew. This means that you may sometimes have to wait a long time between fixes, because those programming this stuff are doing all of this on their own time. Once you pay ‘em for it, you get to hound ‘em for it. A vast array of homebrew programs and games are already available for the device as well, ranging from homebrew ports of the DooM engine or Tyrian to emulation from any old-school device, such as the Genesis/Mega Drive and NES.
This device is ideal for those who enjoy the homebrew scene and community. The GCW has this community in spades. The people are dedicated, involved, and generally nice to ramble with on their IRC channel or the Dingoonity forums.

Dingoonity Forums:

You can do a great deal with the device at any given time, making it lovely to bring along on a trip as well – you’ve got many different systems to hand in one little handheld, after all.
However, at the same time, this is a tinkerer’s console. If you want a device where you can just charge it up, shove a cartridge in, and move, you’re probably better off picking up a GBA or DS or the like.

- Or a Nomad. -

Stop editing the text file, Kouen.

Why should you get a GCW then? Well, the primary reasons have already been listed above. It’s powerful, versatile, and handles well. Other reasons to get one include being part of a very nice, if small, community, and it’s a great initial stepping stone for budding programmers. If you want to start off programming or developing, this isn’t a bad place to start off.
Why shouldn’t you get one? Simply put, the device is a bit more maintenance-heavy than most. Whilst the hardware itself is perfectly solid, you’re going to have to do some more work to install programs and files than if you were to get mainstream gaming handhelds. Installing programs takes a bit of effort, and you do need to occasionally set things up to your own preference – the device starts off very much as a blank slate, and if you want plug ‘n play, it’s probably better to walk away now. So in short, don’t get this for your 7-year-old.
We’ve done a video review and unboxing of the device as well. Please see the enclosed links for those, if this write-up has sparked your interest in the GCW-Zero. Or as Lasharus calls his - the Egg-Zero.

The Unboxing

The Review

Thanks f’r reading, and we’ll see you next time!
+ Reasonably well built
+ Emulators on the system run very well with only minor exceptions
+ Small but strong community
+ Sharp screen for retro gaming
+ Great for those who wish to try to program their own games (all tools needed are free and open source)
+ Dedicated controls
+ 16GB Internal storage with the possibility of adding up to 64GB externally
- Some features are still "Work in progress"
- Some projects may come to a halt depending on the developer of the game/emulator
- Speakers sound a bit tinny
- D-Pad and face buttons could be a bit better but get better over time
- $150 Price tag and harder to source a unit in Europe
- Harder to get spare parts if your console breaks
out of 10
It's a great handheld console, which is out of the norm, and whilst it's a niche device it does show a great deal of promise thanks to a dedicated community. However, the price tag and lack of European distribution does hold back device adoption.

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