As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of the nvidia shield, and have been using it for quite a while now. However, I have two major gripes with the system - it’s quite heavy for a handheld, and not really pocket-sized by any stretch of the imagination. So then, enter the GPD XD - can this product from a Far East manufacturer displace the mighty Nvidia for my handheld gaming loyalties?
Right away I want to address the form factor of the GPD XD - it is virtually identical to that of NIntendo’s 3DS XL console, to the point where most cases designed for it will also fit the XD. GPD has another offering similar in appearance to Sony’s Vita console, so this seems to be their attempt at the modern clamshell style portable design.
The system sports a Rockchip quad-core ARM processor that maxes out at 1.8GHz, 2GB of onboard memory and the Mali-T764 GPU chip clocked at 600MHz. I have the black version, there is a blue model out there too and mine came with 16GB of onboard storage, but there is a 32GB skew available as well. Of course, the option of expansion up to 128GB via microSD makes the 16GB variant a better purchase in my opinion.
Up top you’ll be immediately drawn to the very pretty 5 inch IPS touchscreen, which matches the resolution of the Shield at 1280x720 (I can’t believe people still complain about this, you DO NOT need 1080p+ for gameplay at this size!). We get two very snappy control sticks (reputedly the same used in the aforementioned PSVita), a nice d-pad, standard face buttons with both Xbox and Playstation marking (a very nice touch) and L3/R3 buttons. Centrally you’ll find the power switch, flanked by discrete volume controls, a task manager button and the control assignment button. Finally, the bottom edge houses the start/select buttons, along with standard Android home and return commands.
While the front edge of the device is bare save for a microphone, flipping it over reveals four very clicky L and R buttons, a headphone jack, mini-HDMI, a micro-usb charge/interface port and the microSD expansion slot, which I currently have populated with a 64GB card. Internal to the unit is a very generous 6000mAh battery, which I have found consistently delivers a solid 6-8 hours of system use, depending of course on your particular taskset. I will point out that the more central L2 and R2 buttons are quite difficult to reach, but this made no great difference during my testing. Unfortunately there’s no bluetooth onboard, but external controllers do work via USB-OTG.
The GPD XD runs android 4.4 KitKat, with a tiled overlay of their own design. Personally I think it’s a bit too cluttered for my taste, or that of any power user, but GPD actually includes a tutorial video in this interface explaining how to change it to a more standard Android affair. Of course if you prefer, any standard launcher will work too, as the device itself is simply a glorified tablet.
I spent the bulk of my time with the XD in emulators, and for all but the most extreme of cases it’s an absolute dream. The CPU is powerful enough to breeze through most games, although Dreamcast and PSP titles will test its limits - if you want comfortably play many of these titles you might need the more powerful K1 Tegra chip in the Nvidia Shield.
Speaking of which, you can achieve very similar functionality to the Shield’s main selling point through an excellent free app called Moonlight. It allows you to stream games from a PC to the XD over a wifi network - I’ve tested this using standard Steam titles as well as Gamecube and PS2 emulators through the same interface, and it works absolutely flawlessly - I was able to maintain 60FPS over my home network without issue, even moving between rooms.
It’s not perfect - the screen hinge frequently creaks when adjusted and only supports a few positions, the d-pad is a tad mushy and the HDMI output can become horrendously laggy when trying to deliver more intense games to the big screen due to the protocol’s inherent overheads. There’s sadly no support for 5GHz wifi which would have been great for game streaming, but to be fair to it this is not a touted feature of the device.
The ultimate question here lies in my recommendation to fill this niche - is the XD better than the Shield? It’s not as well built and not as powerful, but I think the form factor and much lower asking price make it a better deal for virtually all consumers. While the Shield is technically portable, it certainly isn’t pocketable, which gives the edge to GPD’s offering. At a retail price of around £130 here in the UK, you certainly won’t be disappointed.