I’ve finally gotten around to putting my thoughts down on the new OUYA game console. In case you don’t know what it is, it’s a tiny (Rubik’s Cube size) Android game console that raised over $8M in a very successful Kickstarter campaign and sells for $99. I’m not going to bore you with the details, just head off to the official OUYA website for the specs and story.
Unfortunately, I only came to know its existence shortly after the Kickstarter closed, but I pre-ordered one in early January and it was supposed to ship in April. That didn’t happen. It finally shipped near the end of June, although I did expect a delay and I really don’t blame them. Apparently there were a few issues with the initial consoles, especially the controller, that they ironed out. Shipping was from Hong Kong to South Africa via DHL Global Mail Packet Plus and the dispatch email gave me a tracking number, but no tracking link (even though it was mentioned in the email). Their support took six days to respond to my email asking for the tracking url, which is understandable given that they had just launched the console, but I hope they improve their after sales service.
Anyhow, I finally got my package and I was disappointed to find that it shipped in a bland dark grey shoe box (essentially) that ripped when I took the sealing tape off (it appears that the retail packaging is much better) and the interior packaging is pretty cheap too. I know it’s a cheap product, but I’d expected a bit better. The console is a different story though. It’s solid and well built, although I’m not crazy about the dark matt colouring. I know they’re trying to go for a premium look, but I would have preferred a more funky colour scheme (maybe bright white with neon colour insets). I really think that they should have gone the Nokia Lumia route and not the Samsung route. The controller is nice and functional, but the removable magnetic face plates that cover that batteries pop off if you drop it and are finicky to replace. Apparently you can use an Xbox 360 controller with a bit of effort, although the button mappings will be a bit unintuitive.
By the time I had actually received the console I had pretty much lost interest in it, so it sat on a shelf for over a week until I decided to set it up. Setting up the console was dead easy, I just plugged it in, connected it to my TV with the supplied HDMI cable and I was off. Well, sort of, only after the firmware had been updated. Again, I found the user interface to be rather dull and uninspiring but hopefully that will be changed in a subsequent update. One major complaint that I have is that you are forced to enter a credit card number before you can use the console. I think that’s a bit of a cheek and you should only have to do that when you want to make your first purchase.
I downloaded a few games to try out (the trial versions) and I must admit that I’m underwhelmed. I wasn’t expecting Xbox quality games, but it really felt that I was playing a cell phone game. I’m sure this is temporary (there’s only 300 games available at the time of writing) and better games will appear. My main gripe is that the colours seem a bit muted (I’m using a Samsung 5 Series full HD SmartTV, and my Xbox is just fine), the graphics are sometimes badly upscaled and the controller isn’t very responsive at times. The controller is the only real weak point, because the responsiveness is variable (this is particularly noticeable when using it with the soft keyboard).
So, overall, I rate the different components as follows:
An overall score of 3/5 looks bad, but for $99 it is actually a good console. It’s definitely not a replacement for your Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 and doesn’t even begin to compete with them, but if you’re looking for a simple console to play simple games then the OUYA is definitely worth a look. Two very big plusses, however, are they facts that the hardware will be updated on a yearly cycle, apparently (which means you need to get a new console, but at $99 it’s no big deal really) and anyone can write and release games for it (more on this in a subsequent blog post). I’m sure that the developer community will turn the OUYA into something far better.
So, should you buy an OUYA? I don’t see why not. It’s functional and will most likely have a good selection of fun games (just be patient). There’s also a few other cheap and small Android game consoles in the works, and a rumour that Google is working on one as well. I’m sure the OUYA will have serious competition fairly soon, so it remains to be seen if it can hold on an be the “premium” cheap Android console. No matter what though, you can expect most games to be available on all of the Android consoles because they have a common platform and the controllers will all have similar button layouts.