Hardware Review: Gamepad Digital GPD XD (Android Gaming Tablet)

Review-GPD-XD-Android-Gaming-TabletFrom the early days of NESticle offering Nintendo NES action on 486 computers, emulation has always been something I’ve followed closely. The ability to have our gaming past on newer platforms has always been a fantastic asset to retro gamers, and the perfect excuse to avoid digging out and hooking up your consoles in the attic. Further adding to this, save states have also provided a new way of playing, eliminating the need to set aside a good few hours to beat an old favourite too. Simply put, although a grey area, emulation has revolutionised the retro gaming scene and the way we play games today.

As time has gone on, both the codebase behind these emulators and the hardware we enjoy them on has increased tenfold. Today we’re able to enjoy Sega Dreamcast titles on devices that fit in our pocket, play unreleased video games within a web browser, and even watch experts utilise emulation to create the perfect (tool assisted) playthroughs of games.

The latest addition to the emulation scene hails from Hong Kong via a company known as Gamepad Digital. Following in the footsteps of JXD who previously brought us the S7800b Android gaming tablet, Gamepad Digital have made a huge dent in the market with their newly released GPD XD. Although the device itself is mainly being marketed as a way to play high-end Android game releases on the Google Play store, the product’s description on countless retailers talks about the thousands of classic games you’ll soon be enjoying on the GPD XD. While again this may touch upon that grey area already mentioned, they’re not wrong. The GPD XD’s spec has more than enough firepower to handle early entries into the sixth generation of video game consoles.

Gamepad Digital XD Specs

  • CPU - Rockchip RK3288 Quad-Core (ARM Cortex-A17)ARM structure
  • GPU - ARM Mali-T764 600MHz
  • RAM - DDR3-SDRAM 2GB
  • ROM - Samsung eMMC PRO 16/32GB,10nm NAND Flash
  • Wi-Fi - 802.11b/g/n/ac(2.4GHz)
  • Bluetooth - N/A
  • Operate System - Android 4.4.4
  • Storage extended - Support MicroSD card,maximum up to 128GB card expansion
  • Screen size - Capacitive H-PIS touch screen 5.0 inches resolution:1280×720
  • Sensor - Gravity
  • HDMI - HDMI 2.0
  • Camera - N/A
  • Input-output ports - Mini HDMI, Micro USB 2.0 interface, 3.5mm Stereo Jack, MicoSD Card Slot
  • Battery - Lithium polymer battery Normal voltage :3.8V Capacity :6000mAH, 22.8Wh
  • Product size - 155×89×24mm
  • Weight - 325g

But what is an Android Gaming Tablet?

If the above specifications make no sense to you and you’re only just finding out about Android gaming tablets, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. To put it simply, unlike Apple’s App Store for iPhones and iPad, the Android marketplace (Google Play) features a very open and hands off approach that allows just about any type of application to be released for it. This has seen a plethora of video game emulators arriving on Google Play, allowing gamers to experience old favourites once more on their mobile phones and tablets. As great as this is, more and more complex emulators began arriving, however, the limitations of using a touchscreen to play games began to show.

Seeing the potential in these emulators, the Chinese tech industry decided to start releasing Android tablets that featured physical controls. The beauty to this was they managed to step away from the grey area surrounding emulation by providing nothing more than the Android operating system on each device - it was up to you what you downloaded, and whether or not you intended to turn your new piece of kit into an emulation station.

GPD-XD-SNES-Emulation

Introducing the GPD XD

Prior to the GPD XD, the most popular Android gaming tablet out there was the JXD S7800b. Boasting a massive 7” screen, retro gamers could finally enjoy countless classics on the go at a fantastically high resolution. Our review of the device from last year praised the JXD S7800b massively, stating there was nothing else out there at cost that could beat it. Over time though, we have to admit that the large form factor of the handheld began to wear on us. Other mainstream handhelds such as the Nintendo 3DS XL were just the right size for gaming on the go, whilst carrying around a 245mm wide JXD S7800b wasn’t exactly easy.

Gamepad Digital were clearly aware of this limitation, especially as their other handheld on the market - the GPD Q9 - was guilty of this. Seeing the benefits of Nintendo’s fold away portable, Gamepad Digital simply opted to make their new handheld follow this style. Folded in half like a Nintendo DS / 3DS, the GPD XD unfolds to reveal a decent 5” display on the top half, and a collection of physical controls/buttons on the bottom half. Alongside the expected D-Pad and familiar four face buttons is a wide selection of controls. The device offers dual analog sticks either side below the screen, a collection of shoulder buttons round the back, L3 and R3 buttons beside the sticks, start and select buttons, and a range of Android specific buttons too (Volume, Power, Menu, Home, Back, and one more exclusive one we’ll touch upon later).

This device’s touchscreen display is also worth noting, as despite being much smaller than the JXD S7800b in size, it matches its resolution perfectly. This in turn provides a more crisp picture with a higher pixel density, something which is also enhanced by what is possibly the brightest and most saturated display we’ve seen on an Android gaming tablet. Nearly everything we’ve emulated on the GPD XD looks to be the correct colour, vibrant, and as we remember.

As impressive as the 5” touchscreen may be, the first time unfolding this device will make you wonder where the second screen is. Having grown accustomed to Nintendo’s dual-screen handheld approach, it almost feels as if something is missing the first time you hold a GPD XD - something which isn’t helped by the large void in the middle of the handheld’s lower half. Having said that though, you would be foolish to write off this Android gaming tablet for not matching the screen count of a Nintendo DS / 3DS, even if the device looks near identical in places. Afterall, it’s not only it’s what’s inside that counts.

GPD-XD-Mega-Drive-Genesis-Emulation

Unleashing the GPD XD’s Power

Arriving as pretty much a barebone Android tablet, the fun begins once you get the device connected to the internet and downloading applications from the Google Play store. With a huge wealth of emulators available (see our out of date guide to them for an example), you’ll soon have the ability to play 8-bit classics from the Nintendo NES to ZX Spectrum, all the way up to graphic intensive Sega Dreamcast and PlayStation games too. At the time of speaking, there’s also Sega Saturn emulation in the works, along with a half-working PlayStation 2 emulator and port of the popular Nintendo Gamecube equivalent, Dolphin. But without getting ahead of ourselves here, how does the GPD XD hold up?

Referring back to our review of the JXD S7800b, it’s almost as if we’re repeating history here. The newly released GPD XD matches everything last year’s handheld offers in terms of compatibility with 16-bit and below classics. Using emulators such as MD.emu (Mega Drive), Marvin (ZX Spectrum), Beebdroid (BBC Micro), NES.emu (Nintendo NES), MAME (aFBA and MAME4Droid), Snes9x EX+ (Super Nintendo), NEO.emu (Neo Geo AES) and many others, we are still yet to find a game from the early years that doesn’t work well on the GPD XD. Simply put fans of Sonic The Hegdehog, Super Mario Bros, Manic Miner and the rest can take pleasure in knowing that their tastes are catered for.

With this in mind we decided to up the ante with our 32-bit and beyond tests on the GPD XD. Looking back at our experiences with the JXD S7800b, there were several standout titles we wanted to experience on the go, but stuttering gameplay and glitchy audio held us back. Starting out with the PlayStation 1 emulator FPse we tackled some old favourites such as Ridge Racer and Tekken. Using the emulator’s default settings, both games played through as if they were made for the GPD XD. Where our tests really began though was with the likes of Final Fantasy IX and Gran Turismo 2 - two games known for pushing the PlayStation 1 to its limits. Going into the settings of FPse we setup the emulator to display what framerate the games were playing at in real time and then booted up Final Fantasy IX.

PS1-Final-Fantasy-IX-Emulated-on-Android

For those unfamiliar with Final Fantasy IX, before one of the turn based battles begins a rather trippy screen-warp effect is applied to warn players that a fight is approaching. As great as it looks morphing the environment into a absorbing twirl, for years it has been the achilles heel in PlayStation 1 emulation. For example, historically on the JXD S7800b Final Fantasy IX was somewhat unplayable as the framerate was reduced down to a mere few frames per second. To our surprise though, using the most basic of settings available to FPse (basically keeping the visuals to the blocky look we know and love) the GPD XD powers through this transition with a resounding 60fps, only to then maintain that within the battle screen too. Needless to say we were speechless and yet another classic adventure had become playable on the go. Having said that though, attempting the same test with the emulator’s openGL mode (to smooth out the graphics and enhance the visuals), the issue is once again present.

On a similar note Gran Turismo 2 also far exceeded our expectations. Having grown accustomed to our prior attempts to emulate the game on an Android gaming tablets, it was also amazing to see such an intensive 32-bit racer running flawlessly at 60fps too. Even those busy moments with multiple cars battling for first place presented no problems at all. If anything, we feel confident suggesting that very few (if any) PlayStation 1 games will trouble the GPD XD.

While it’s safe to say that the GPD XD’s extra firepower definitely helps here, credit is also due with the developers behind these emulators. Over the years these emulators have seen countless updates, which in turn often allow older devices to also benefit from these changes too.

GPD-XD-Running-Nintendo-64-Games-Fullspeed

To 64-Bit, and Beyond...

Moving on from the 32-bit era, we once again tackle the juggernaut that is the Nintendo 64. Using Mupen64 Plus AE as our emulator of choice, we decide to push our luck and change every possible video setting we can find to its limit. With the video output set to render at the device’s resolution, Super Mario 64 is chosen - a game which has quickly become the benchmark for Nintendo 64 emulation. Within seconds of booting up the game we find our gamble has paid off. Believe it or not but the GPD XD is capable of running a large majority of Nintendo 64 games at a resolution that far exceeds the console’s original output, many of which at a solid and constant 30fps, with no slowdown whatsoever. Mario Kart 64 performed even smoother than the original, Star Fox 64 looked incredible, and even Banjo-Kazooie worked a treat. Even Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask performed well on the device, however, both of the Zelda epics dropped the occasion frame during graphic-intensive cutscenes and scenarios. Nevertheless they were fully playable and the slowdown was no issue whatsoever. Unfortunately though, more recent titles such as Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Resident Evil 2 presented some major graphical glitches, while F-Zero X somehow crashed the emulator completely.

Testing out the Nintendo 64 emulator also gave us the perfect excuse to sample the analog control sticks either side of the handheld. When compared to older similar devices, the GPD XD’s analog sticks are a breath of fresh air. They were responsive, accurate, and easy to use. The only fault we could really find with them was through extended use. For example pushing Mario in a straight direction over time did find our grip slipping from the smooth top of the stick. At the same time, another positive to these was being able to map the second analog stick to the C-Buttons found on a Nintendo 64 control pad.

Sega-Dreamcast-Reicast-Full-Speed-Emulator-Android

Moving on, the Sega Dreamcast was next. Android device owners have been in luck over the last few years through the on-going development of Reicast. This emulator has been the subject of a rather active development, providing an incredible platform for playing Dreamcast games on a modern device. One of the main breakthroughs with Reicast though is the ability to expand the in-game cameras to display more than you’d normally see when playing on the console. This means that the in-game visuals match that of your device’s display, which more often than not provides a widescreen viewport and more on show than ever before. Although this can occasionally show graphical glitches an unwanted scenes, it does mean that in the likes of Shenmue you can see all around Dobuita beyond the console’s original 4:3 limitations.

As for the games themselves, we’re pleased to report that the GPD XD combined with Reicast provides some incredible results. Sonic Adventure plays at full speed with only the slightest drop in framerate, as does Shenmue, Power Stone and Crazy Taxi. More intensive games like Ikaruga work pretty well, but could do with a slight boost in speed and performance, whilst Sega Rally 2 flat out refuses to boot. Regardless, all of the Sega Dreamcast favourites work fantastically on the GPD XD - leaving just Reicast’s continued development to make it even better.

And last but not least, our tests found us sampling more recent haandheld devices on the GPD XD. Starting out with the Nintendo DS using the emulator Drastic, we were simply stunned at how many more games were suddenly at our fingertips. Titles such as Mario Kart DS and Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow were playing at full speed too, with other releases such as the later Pokemon games performing incredibly well. For those wondering too, Drastic offers a range of display modes for Nintendo DS emulation, allowing you to reposition and rescale the two screens side by one another. The PlayStation Portable is also catered for via Android emulation too via the impressive PPSSPP application - another emulator which is frequently updated and enhanced. This time round we had mixed results depending on which game we were hoping to play. OutRun 2006 Coast to Coast was completely unplayable, whilst Burnout Revenge had impressive results. Others online have reported the likes of God Of War performing pretty well too, along with other titles such as Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core. But the one which threw us off guard was the way it handled the more recent Valkyria Chronicles II. The critically acclaimed release from just five years ago ran like a breeze on the GPD XD, rounding up an overly successful selection of tests.

ZX-Spectrum-GPD-XD-Emulator

Emulation Round-Up

As many of our tests have shown, there’s very little the GPD XD can’t handle. From handhelds such as the original Game Boy to the Commodore Amiga, we’re overwhelmed with the amount of choice on offer given the expansive compatibility. One downside to all of this though is that some of the best emulators out there are sometimes hard to find. For example, for the more obscure gaming fans amongst us there’s a Sharp X68000 emulator known as Px68k out there, but you have to download it manually from a Japanese blog rather than Google Play. On a similar note there’s also a Panasonic 3DO emulator available, something which we stumbled upon by pure chance. And Sega Saturn fans should also take note that emulation is progressing well on Android through uoYabause - again, another hard to find emulator given its name.

Taking Control of the GPD XD’s Power

With our performance tests out the way, and a brief look at the handheld’s analog sticks, it’s time to take a closer look at the controls. If anything, we have to say that this area of the device, although passible, is what lets it down the most. Starting out with the D-Pad, although it’s fairly easy to get the movement you want out of it in quick fire situations, it does feel somewhat spongy in places - a theme which carries over to the face buttons too. Again, although they work just fine, the buttons you’ll be using most on the front of the handheld sink in quite far to the handheld upon pressing. While neither of these present any real issues while playing, over the years we’ve grown accustomed to high quality controls with the likes of the Sony PlayStation control pad, and in handheld terms, what the Nintendo 3DS XL has to offer. Elsewhere around the handheld the other buttons are more solid and responsive. The L1 and R1 buttons are great, although the smaller (and more clicky) L2 and R2 buttons aren’t too well positioned.

GPD-XD-Touchscreen-Overlay-Controls

Where the GPD XD does excel in the controls department is through its ability to map the physical controls to touchscreen controls with the click of a button. This features isn’t exactly new to Android gaming tablets, but like fine wine, the growing age of these devices has given this functionality time to mature. If you’re yet to use this feature on one of these devices, upon pressing the gamepad button on the device a wide range of semi-transparent control pad icons will be placed on top of a game you’re playing. The idea here is that you can move each of the floating buttons/pads on-screen to sit above those in games that usually rely on touchscreen controls. Once placed how you want, you’ll be able to take control of a touchscreen only game with the controls on the handheld. The greatest aspect to this custom control method is that it remembers your layout for each and every application, meaning you only need to define your layout once.

HDMI Out & Other GPD XD Features

And last but not least, it’s worth touching upon some of the added extras the GPD XD brings. On the back of the console beside the Micro USB port and Stereo Jack, you’ll notice a Micro HDMI port. This, as you’d expect allows you to output the on-screen action to a compatible monitor or TV set. Generally speaking this is a welcome addition, however, we found mixed results with the HDMI output depending on what TV/monitor was used. Some screens were subject to a noticeable input delay, while others seems to stay in sync with what the device’s display showed. Nevertheless it’s worth noting that there was a slight performance drop once the HDMI port was in use, most notably with 32-bit and above system games.

If you’re also planning to make use of the HDMI output and play your GPD XD via the big screen, it’s crucial to note that there is no bluetooth compatibility within. This means that all of those fantastic wireless gamepads such as the 8Bitdo NES30 will only work through a USB connection. We ended up buying a small USB to Micro USB adapter which allowed us to take control of our games using a wired gamepad instead.

Elsewhere on the GPD XD, the device’s battery is definitely worth a mention. According to the Gamepad Digital website the handheld can play ‘emulator games’ for a good 9 - 11 hours, and to be honest, that’s probably about right. Without exaggerating what the 6000mAH lithium battery can do, we’ve had some pretty intensive emulation sessions on the go, left the device in stand-by mode, only to then return a few days later to the GPD XD still holding charge.

The final point to discuss regarding the GPD XD is more to do with the merits of the Android operating system. Simply put, the handheld can become the ultimate gaming device through a range of different applications used in conjunction with each other. For example, whilst tackling an RPG you may want to quickly check GameFAQs for a solution - something FAQr can help with. If you’re feeling sociable, many emulators can take screenshots of the games you’re playing - all of which can then be shared through a quick tweet or post on Facebook or Twitter’s applications. There’s also memory card manager applications to take control of your PlayStation 1 save files, and even applications to compress PlayStation Portable ISO files. On top of this, there are also some fantastic MOD music players out there that also allow you to enjoy video game soundtracks on the go too.

The point we’re trying to make is that the GPD XD is so much more than just an emulation handheld. It’s an Android tablet that offers some fantastic features for every type of gamer out there.

GPD XD Gameplay Videos

Conclusion

After extensive testing and comparisons made between other similar devices currently on the market, there is nothing out there that comes anywhere near to what the GPD XD can offer. While the Nvidia Shield may outclass the GPD XD in terms of power, Gamepad Digital’s gaming tablet provides a much more impressive form factor and portability. While the controls on the GPD XD aren’t perfect, they’re easily the best we’ve used to date on an Android gaming tablet, and could be a lot worse. This of course could be overlooked had bluetooth functionality been added though.

Overall, given that you’ll be able to house thousands of classic games all within such a tiny device, 99% of which will play perfectly fine at full speed, this is a no brainer for both retro gamers and emulation enthusiasts. What makes it even better is that it’s also fairly cheap too.

The GPD XD can be found at various retailers online such as Willgoo, however, those in the UK will be pleased to known Funstock are due to be stocking the device - with pre-orders now open.

Link: Pre-Order the GPD XD Android Gaming Tablet at Funstock


Last Updated ( 09 November 2015 )  

Cauterize

Better known as Adam offline, Cauterize is one of RetroCollect's final bosses with an unhealthy addiction to pixels. When he's not out searching the web for the latest retro gaming news or creating content for RetroCollect, he'll will most likely be found working on his Sensible Soccer skills.

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Comments 

+1 (Link to this comment) zhu 2015-12-02 09:36
Hello,Everyone. This is kendy from GPD~did you ever used our product?? Any feedback,you could be freely to tell me!! we are trying to make it better!!
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