OUYA Review: Can An Android Console Really Work?



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Having raked in over $8.5 million dollars in Kickstarter funding, the OUYA is the poster boy for a new wave of Android-based consoles. Seriously, there are a handful of game consoles powered by Android on the horizon from companies such as GameStick and Mad Catz. Can the OUYA, a micro-console built from mobile guts, carve out a slice of the living room gaming pie from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft? Keep reading for our full review.

Hardware



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Designed by Yves Béhar (of Jambox and OLPC XO fame), the OUYA itself is surprisingly well-made. The 2.9 x 2.9 x 3.2-inch “micro-console” is not quite a perfect cube, but its minuscule size is welcome in an entertainment center filled with dull black boxes — “proper” game consoles, DVD players and whatever other set-top boxes one may have. Aside from a faint OUYA logo engraved on the front, a power button on the top, the OUYA is quite minimal.



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On the back, the OUYA team included only the essential ports: power adapter plug, micro USB port, ethernet port, one HDMI port and a full-sized USB 2.0 port. That’s all you get. (The box also includes an HDMI cable, in case you don’t have a spare one lying around.)

From a hardware standpoint, the OUYA’s internal guts are really nothing more than typical tablet and smartphone bits. It has an NVIDIA Tegra 3 system on a chip, which includes a 1.7GHz quad-core ARM Cortex A9 processor and 1GB of RAM. Internal storage is capped at only 8GB with 5.78GB actually usable for storage. For wireless connectivity, the OUYA has 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth LE 4.0. For software, the OUYA runs on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. The specs are “good enough”, but terribly outdated if you consider the fact that companies are already starting to ship devices running NVIDIA’s new Tegra 4 and Google’s new Android 4.3 Jelly Bean OS.



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We’re not going to knock the OUYA for having last year’s specs, since most of the games aren’t graphic-intensive, but don’t be surprised if future games that do do need more processing power and run better with more than 1GB of RAM chug badly on first-gen OUYAs.

Controller



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While the OUYA console is a solid product, it’s s shame the same can’t be said for the controller that connects via Bluetooth. Just slightly larger than an Xbox 360 controller, the OUYA controller has all of the buttons that qualify it as “proper” controller, but it isn’t perfect. It’s about as much as you’d expect from a budget console.

Two analog sticks present, although they could use some better grip. There’s a D-pad, but it’s somewhat stiff. Instead of A/B/X/Y buttons, the OUYA team thought they’d be cute by using O/U/Y/A, but it only confuses. For instance, a game will ask you to press the U button, and sometimes you just forget its position. Up top, the controller has a pair of shoulder buttons and triggers — probably our favorite buttons on the entire controller. Oh, and there’s no rumble/vibration feedback, which is disappointing.



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Let’s move back to front of the controller for a second. Smack in the front is a black strip. At the top are four LED indicators that tell you which controller number you are. Then below that is the controller’s touchpad. Touch it, and it brings up an arrow cursor. Honestly, we didn’t care for it much. While it can be used for navigating around the OS, very few games even support it and when they do, the execution in them is next to useless. We’ve used the touchpad on the PS4′s upcoming DualShock 4 controller, and we can say Sony’s done a much better job in terms of cursor accuracy and precision.



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Pop off the two silver panels that are held in place by tiny magnets and you’ll find two slots for AA batteries (included in the box, too). Many Kickstarter backers who received their early consoles complained about faceplates that would pop off very easily, but it appears the OUYA team fixed that issue on the final retail version. Additionally, the faceplates now sit completely flush with the touchpad.



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Lastly, and we’re not sure if this was just our review unit or not, but the controller seemed to have a hard time keeping its connection to the OUYA console. Sometimes button presses wouldn’t register and connections would drop sporadically and we’d have to just manually unplug the OUYA from its power adapter to do a manual reset just to get the connection going again.

Operating System



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As we mentioned earlier, the OUYA’s backbone OS is Android — specifically, Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. Polished as 4.1.2 is, we really hope the OUYA gets updated to Android 4.3 soon so it can take advantage of the added OpenGL ES 3.0 support. In a nutshell, OpenGL ES 3.0 improves graphic and text rendering in games and boosts overall speed, which results in smoother framerates and fasters loading times.

Upon boot-up, the OUYA’s main screen shows four options, which we’ve broken down and dissected below.

PLAY: This is where all of your downloaded games live — two rows of infinitely scrollable games. Our main complaint is that there’s no way to categorize the games in an orderly manner based on genre, recently downloaded or even make a playlist for favorites. Newly downloaded games appear on the far left and older downloaded games appear on the far right. It’s a very chaotic way to display your games, that’s for sure.

There is a search option that lets you find a specific game, but when every game is barely memorable, there’s no way we could possibly remember every title.

Our suggestion to make finding games a little faster: make the PLAY title at the top of the screen smaller, and display more rows of games. When you’ve an entire HD screen full of pixels to work with, at least make the most use of the screen estate.



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DISCOVER: As its name implies, this menu is where you’ll find games. There are various highlighted sections including “Featured”, “Trending Now”, and “Only on Ouya”. And every few days, the featured playlists of games will change. Sometimes there will be something like “Sonic, Speed, & Racing” to showcase fast/racing-style games and sometimes a person’s OUYA game playlist will be featured. When we first powered on our OUYA, we saw a game list from Penny Arcade’s Ben Kuchera.

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