Tying with Sunflex’s unu for ‘most mysterious and hidden hardware’ at the show was PlayJam’s GameStick, which is exactly that: an Android-powered console-on-a-stick. Touted as “the World’s Most Portable TV Games Console” it’s set to join the growing ranks of sub-$100 Android consoles when it launches.
The concept is tantalizingly simple: a thumb drive-sized console that easily snaps out from the undercarriage of a wireless controller and into your HDTV’s HDMI port for fast ‘n easy gaming whenever you want it. And when finished, simply unplug and snap back into the controller for just as easy cleanup.
Despite my barging in at the last moment unannounced CMO Anthony Johnson was kind enough to demonstrate the console, though in full disclosure I wasn’t able to test the unit myself (though I did manhandle the controller and found it acceptably comfortable). The interface seemed clean, if somewhat bland, though anything could change before its oft-delayed release.
Powering the itty-bitty stick console is a Amlogic 8726-MXS processor coupled with a dual-core 400MHz Mali 400 GPU sporting 1GB DDR3 RAM and 8GB onboard Flash storage (though users can upgrade up to 32GB via a microSD expansion slot). The GameStick is less powerful than its most crucial competitor – OUYA – but very much capable of running pretty much anything that’s how there currently in the marketplace. The demo I witnessed had complex games like Riptide and Shadowgun running smoothly and with few technical hiccups on a nice HD display.
In case you’re curious, the GameStick isn’t self-powered, and requires charging either through its own USB cable or through your display’s MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) port. Displays that support their own USB ports should cut back on charge times but such is the reality for having a console this portable and tiny.
Worth noting is that while the hardware supports Bluetooth 4.0 the GameStick controller scales back to Bluetooth 3.0, though you’ll be able to use other Bluetooth controllers (or even iOS/Android device) as alternatives.
PlayJam will also sell a separate GameStick dock, which adds functionality missing from the HDMI-only stick, including ethernet support, extra storage (up to 64GB), three USB ports for peripherals, as well as using it to charge the hardware and controller.
GameStick won’t be quite as open as others, as you’ll add games and applications via its own proprietary storefront (like OUYA), though from what I witnessed it looks like most of the usual Android staples will be present (Shadowgun, Riptide, etc). There’s nothing technically keeping the hardware from accepting other storefronts, which may be a wise decision in the future, but it looks like users can at least look forward to most marquee hits when it ships.
And just as with unu the folks at PlayJam are downplaying the obvious: a $79 hardware stick simply can’t compete within the hardcore market directly. That’s even if such a market exists, outside the hopes and dreams of enthusiasts, which given the glut of Android tablets, phones and now consoles, still has a ways to go before a standard is established. As it stands now, GameStick has as good a chance as any of them.