[PAX] Wikipad Hands-On Impressions

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While at PAX, Yami, Keith, and I ventured outside of the showroom floor to a nearby hotel to get a hands-on look at the Wikipad: the first tablet with a detachable controller. Its creator, James Bower, gave us a demonstration of the tablet and I have to say, I was fairly impressed. Hit the jump for my thoughts on what went down.

Apparently “wiki” means “fast” in Hawaiian. Did you know that? I didn’t until Keith asked what the inspiration behind the Wikipad name was. This “Fastpad” was shown to us as an attempt to build not only an excellent tablet, but a powerful mobile gaming system.

At the very beginning of our showing, Bower showed us just how thin the Wikipad is. It really is quite thin. It’s light as well, but the more important aspect of the design to me was a square-shaped groove along the back center of the tablet. The most obvious reason for this is grip. Holding along the contour allowed for a much more secure-feeling grasp of the tablet. The second aspect of this groove was that it provides a better area for heat dispersion (at least according to Bower; this may be complete hogwash as far as I know), which will keep the tablet cool under stressful gaming power-consumption. Seemingly the best reason for the groove, though, was that when set on its back on a table or other surface, it allows for amplification of the speakers. Bower played us some David Guetta and we were all impressed by the sound quality. You can tell because Yami was practically biting her lips trying not to burst into song and dance.

At 10.1″, the Wikipad has a large screen, more comparable to the iPad than something like the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire. Based on a few minutes playing around with the interface, the screen seemed very responsive and not overly delicate. I should note that the prototype version of the Wikipad that we were shown was running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), but we were promised that it would be running 4.1 (the much-improved Jelly Bean) before launch.

Additionally, it will be sporting an NVIDIA Tegra 3 T30 (slightly overpowering the T30L used by the Nexus 7), 1GB of DDR2 RAM, and will rock a 16GB hard drive. For the less tech-minded out there, this means that the Wikipad will have plenty of power to process the top Android games of today, but will be overpowered by the Asus Transformer Infinity 700 and (if it ever sees the light of day) Ouya.

And it’s not all smoke and mirrors. Perhaps because Keith had launched it earlier, Bower showed us Max Payne Mobile, the Android port of the original Max Payne, running on the Wikipad. Sliding on the detachable controller, he let Keith mess around with it for a little while. Talking tech while Max’s family was being brutally murdered was a bit awkward, but Keith says that the dual analog controls felt nice.

Next he showed us Cordy, a cute Android platformer that gave us a chance to test out the controller on a game that wasn’t originally made to be played with one. It worked fairly well. The simple game also gave us a colorful way to test out the screen, which had no noticeable color-banding and images looked crisp. Despite being terrible at it, I still managed to have a good time with the game. It ran really well on the Wikipad! With the controller attached, the device did feel a little heavy, though, so long gaming marathons may not be comfortable.

If you’re looking for a tablet more centered around gaming, the Wikipad may be just what you’re looking for. It releases this fall for $499 and is available for pre-order at Gamestop. It will also support games purchased on PlayStation Mobile. We’ll have to see where the Wikipad stands in this crowded market when it comes out later this year, but I have to say that with excellent devices like the Nexus 7 (on which I’ve used both a Wii remote and a PS3 controller) coming out at extraordinarily reasonable prices, I’m a bit worried about Wikipad’s reception. Being only slightly less expensive than the iPad and significantly more expensive than closer competitors, it will be a challenge for the Wikipad to carve out a market share.

The Wikipad will be an interesting experiment for sure; it will be fascinating to find out just how much interest there actually is in a tablet for gamers. Is Wikipad on your radar? Is the concept something you’re interested in? Will you be pre-ordering? Let us know in the comments!

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Tyler Humphrey is a bearded fan of all things video game, Tarantino films, comic books, and professional wrestling. Follow him on Twitter (@AlmostApollo) to keep up with his nonsense and misadventures.

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