With the rise of tablet computers more and more people are getting into portable gaming. A majority of games on tablets are high definition ports of their smartphone brethren. As such they have the similar, if not the same, controls. Many games have taken advantage of the touch interface and tilt sensitivity of these devices and have done some amazing things. Then there are some games that have created virtual joysticks, direction pads, and buttons. These games tend to have fickle control, barely work, or just plain don't work. A new tablet, the Wikipad, looks to fix that situation.
Not long ago I got some hands-on time with the Wikipad behind closed doors at PAX Prime 2012.
The first thing that was pointed out to me was the design of the Wikipad, specifically the rectangular ridge on the back of the tablet. Wikipad CEO, James Bower, showed me how it helps with gripping the Wikipad, giving you a more secure hold. He handed it to me to hold and I'll be damned if it didn't make holding the tablet more secure, but it also felt natural. The other thing I noticed as I held it was how light the Wikipad was. I had my Sony PSVita with me so I decide to compare the two. They felt close. Technically the Wikipad is heavier clocking in at 1.23 pounds compared to the Vita's 9.8 ounces. James told me there is more to the ridge than just grip. For example, when it is set on a table the ridge holds it up off the flat surface allowing it to keep out of messes if someone spills some water, pop, or other objectional things. It was also pointed out that the ridge helps with sound. Again with the Wikipad lying on a table, the ridge gives the built in speakers enough air space to create a slight echo chamber, giving it a surprisingly fuller sound.
He then talked about the tech specs. The Wikipad has a nVidia Tegra 3 Quad-core 1.4GHz processor which will give it a good amount of horsepower for playing games. There is 1 GB of internal memory, 16 GB of flash memory and it will have a Micro SD port for even more storage. The operating system will be Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) which is optimized for tablets. The screen is 10.1 inches diagonal with a 1280X800 resolution. All this makes for a powerful system in the palm of your hand.
As a regular tablet it will be great for everyday tasks such as email, social media, etc., but when fitted into its controller housing it becomes something more. The game controller housing will be instantly familiar for gamers; dual analog thumbsticks, a direction pad on the left, four face buttons in the right in a diamond pattern, two shoulder buttons and two trigger buttons. Holding it in your hand is not unlike holding a regular controller, it's just wider. All the buttons and thumbsticks were within a good reach, no stretching your thumbs to reach anything. The controller housing does not add a lot of weight to the Wikipad, in fact that is one of the main goals they had in creating it; keep it as light as possible. To that end there are no speakers built into it, but there are audio ports. These ports are over the speakers on the Wikipad and direct the audio at the user.
What I really like about the controller housing is that it gives you much better control over your game. With games that have virtual controllers you can't feel when your thumb has slid off of the control spot, nor does the controller mistake your thumb for pushing the wrong button. You have real buttons and sticks. There are joysticks and gamepads out there for other tablets, but those are not connected to the tablet. In others you have to set the tablet down to hold the controller making it essentially a monitor and controller, not very portable. With the Wikipad's controller housing the tablet slides and locks in, making it just like the other popular portable game systems out there, only with a much bigger and prettier screen.
I got to play a cute side scrolling game on it. The controls worked very well, like I was playing with a home system. The graphics were sharp and clean and the sound was good and in stereo, unlike many tablets with a single speaker. There was some touch screen interaction as well. With the controller housing I always had a firm grip with one hand as I reached to tap the screen.
The Wikipad has got some great support going for it too. Along with Android’s Google Play market the Wikipad will have the nVidia Tegrazone and Sony PlayStation Mobile. The nVidia Tegrazone will let gamers get games built specifically for the nVidia Tegra processor, while the Sony PlayStation Mobile library will let gamers play ported classic games and new PlayStation games. The creators of the Wikipad were also working with Gaikai prior to the Sony buy out. Gaikai is a streaming game service that lets gamers play games without having to download them. The Wikipad creators say they are still working with Gaikai, but the service won't be available at launch. Even so, with all that gamers will able to do they will be hard pressed to not find something to play.
Overall I was very impressed with the Wikipad. While it might seem as if the Wikipad is marketed to a niche market, it really could be something anyone would want to take advantage of. Without the game controller housing it's a high end tablet capable of being a workhorse. When the time for work is over it can become a great entertainment system.
Sadly my time with the Wikipad closed much too quickly. I could have easily spent much more time playing around with it. At the time of this writing GameStop is currently the only retailer announced that is taking pre-orders with its release later this later this month.
For more information see the Wikipad website.