Is This The Handheld Gaming PC You’ve Been Waiting For?

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The Smach Z promises almost everything a PC gamer could ask for in a mobile gaming device. But, is all as it seems?

As a PC gamer, I’ve long sought for a solution to take my gaming collection on the road. The choices are limited:

  • You can buy a tablet and play on really low settings (the Linx Vision is probably the best option with a controller built in);
  • You can buy a gaming laptop (expensive and not exactly practical when waiting for the bus, but a good hotel solution);
  • You can stream from your PC to a handheld device (the Nvidia Shield Portable, for Nvidia graphics card owners) or a mobile phone (KinoConsole, Teamviewer, and so on).

I chose to Stream to my mobile phone using KinoConsole. I used a Sat-Nav holder to create a clasp for my 360 controller and my phone. The catch is, I can only play within my 360 controllers wireless range from my PC, but it gets me into the garden and cost me £3 for the Sat-Nav holder.

But, I’m not delusional enough to pretend that this is a solution. If anything, it highlights the need for a real solution.

Enter the Smach Z.

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They have chosen AMD’s powerful embedded low-powered SoC for its “blazing fast performance and power efficiency on portable devices.”  The Smach Z boasts 10,000 games out of the box (via Steam), 5 hours battery life and the power to play games like Portal 2, DOTA, Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, SOMA, Civilization V, Metro: Last Light Redux, Borderlands 2 and The Witcher 2.

So, it all sounds great, right?  Wait until you see the specs:

  • CPU: AMD Merlin Falcon RX-421BD (12-15w) SoC at 2.1 GHz
  • Cores: 4/4
  • iGPU: Radeon R7 at 800 MHz
  • RAM: 4GB (SMACH Z) || 8GB (SMACH Z PRO) DDR4 2133 MHz
  • HD: 64GB (SMACH Z) || 128GB (SMACH Z PRO)
  • Screen: 6” FULL HD (1920×1080). Capacitive touch-screen.
  • Battery: 5 hours of gaming.
  • MicroSD Card Slot.
  • USB 3.0 type C.
  • HDMI video output connection.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity 5.0 Ghz. 4G LTE mobile network connectivity (PRO model only)
  • Bluetooth connectivity.
  • Front-camera 1.3-megapixels (PRO model only)
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They stress that some of these specs depend on stretch goals, but it doesn’t seem too bad.

Now, I’ll readily admit that I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to Kickstarter. Promises are made and, unfortunately, many are not delivered. The Smach Z could be the mobile gaming device I’ve spent countless hours of my life searching for – but there are a few too many gray areas for me to make the call yet.

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For example, when pre-ordering Smach Z you can choose between Windows 10 or Linux. Windows 10 has more compatible games and programs, but will not be adapted to the console – a bizarre decision when you consider that the Linux only has around 2,500 compatible games. Essentially, you can choose from lower performance or fewer games.

Then come the benchmarks, which have been run on the final hardware of the Smach Z PRO (not the normal Smach Z): Merlin Falcon RX-421BD (12-15w) SoC at 2.1 GHz with Radeon R7 at 800 MHz and 8 RAM, running on Windows 10.

  • Metro: Last Light Redux (720p. High settings) ~ 35 FPS
  • Company of Heroes 2 (720p. Medium settings) ~ 25 FPS
  • Jotun (1080p) ~ 45 FPS
  • Skyrim (720p. High setting) ~ 25 FPS
  • Just Cause 2 (720p. Medium settings) ~ 35 FPS
  • Spiral Knights (1080p) ~ 50 FPS
  • Overwatch (720p. Medium) ~ 30 FPS
  • Torchlight II (1080p. Very high settings) ~ 35 FPS
  • Xcom: Enemy Unknown (720p. High settings) ~30 FPS
  • Civilization 5 (1080p. High settings) ~ 28 FPS
  • Tomb Raider: Survivor (720p. Medium settings) ~ 40 FPS
  • Alien: Isolation (720p. Ultra settings) ~ 35 FPS
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Admittedly, those are very impressive framerates for a handheld gaming device.

Now look at how the Smach Z compares to the consoles currently on the market:

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The Smach Z is more powerful than a Wii U, PS3 and Xbox 360 by a considerable margin, while only approximately 1/3 less powerful than a PS4. Jaw-dropping. But, then the developers drop in the following disclaimer:

Remember that these benchmarks are being run on the AMD development board with the final hardware, and not directly on the current cased prototype, which have weaker hardware. Check the prototypes section for more information.

By the end of the Kickstarter campaign, I don’t know where I stand. On paper, the Smach Z is my dream handheld console, but there are too many gray areas. Unfortunately, in the past Kickstarter campaigns have overpromised and underdelivered, and seeing so many disclaimers dropped throughout this campaign makes me more than a little nervous.

But then the other part of me feels optimistic. If this handheld console is legitimately as powerful and capable as we are being promised then we could be looking at the ultimate handheld gaming device.

I won’t be backing this project, but I will be following it with bated breath.

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