Panic’s quirky Playdate goes up for pre-order later this month, and based on feedback from some early previews, there’s a lot to like about the retro handheld. It’s an oddity for sure, but its limitations are precisely why the device is so charming. And the hand crank, that’s pretty neat, too.
Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech has spent the last three weeks testing a “near-final” version of the Playdate. “I’ve yet to hand a Playdate to a friend without them remarking on how much they liked it,” Machkovech said. “And usually, that praise comes with a statement along the lines of “this thing is way better than it looks online.”
The Playdate is the polar opposite of Valve’s recently announced Steam Deck, or even Nintendo’s aging Switch. It’s a low-power device that lacks a color display. There also isn’t a touch screen, nor do you get Bluetooth connectivity (not yet, anyway, but Panic indicates that it is coming soon). Sorry, there’s no SD expansion card, either, so you’ll have to make do with the 4GB of internal storage.
Andrew Webster with The Verge described the Playdate as a Game Boy from a different dimension:
It stands out in a world of smartphones that are mostly black slabs. It’s also a square, measuring at 76 x 74mm, as opposed to the more common rectangle, and it’s only 9mm thick. Basically, it’s tiny. About half the front is taken up by a glossy 400 × 240 display, with a shiny D-pad and A and B buttons below, much like on an original Game Boy. There’s also a home / menu button on the top right corner, a lock button on the right shoulder, and a headphone jack and USB-C port on the bottom. A tiny, yet surprisingly loud, speaker runs down the right side of the display.
Polygon’s Chris Plante sees it quite similarly:
So no, this isn’t the future of video games, but it’s a promising historical revision of a world in which some of the world’s best game makers ignored the world of complex big-budget games and invested their time and talent into a smaller, cheaper, more accessible gizmo. Because despite what tech companies will tell you, great ideas aren’t inherently limited by raw computing power. They’re limited because they need an audience and a home. Maybe Playdate can provide both.
Eurogamer’s Chris Tapsell absolutely loved the Playdate’s display:
What I didn’t find as frustrating as others might, too, was the screen. Playdate sports a 400×240 1-bit display, and it’s utterly gorgeous. The effects that developers have managed to get from it are quite stunning, all pointillist backgrounds and hazy wipes. It’s pinprick sharp, and the blacks and gameboy silver-green-grey background just sings next to the lovely sweet yolk of the console itself. I adore it.
The Playdate will be available to pre-order starting July 29 priced at $179. It’s one of four new handhelds due out this year alongside the OLED Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck and the Analogue Pocket.