Thursday, May 30, 2013

OUYA First Impressions


I got my Kickstarter backer version of the OUYA last week.  I took it with me on a business trip to test it out in the hotel and I decided to post my review for those who are interested.

Form Factor


The OUYA console itself is tiny, which is what excited me most.  I've long dreamed of bringing a gaming console with me on business trips without the hassle of worrying about packing it in checked baggage or the burden of lugging it around in my carry-on.  I can easily toss the OUYA into my carry-on, so the form factor is a big plus for mobility.  The only downside I've noticed to doing that is that the controller bumps up against objects in my bag, which activates Bluetooth connection attempts.  I can see that easily draining the controller batteries so make sure to remove one of them prior to traveling if you bring it with you.

The console has a good weight to it, thanks to the weight placed in the bottom.  Otherwise it might feel too light.  If you haven't seen the inside of the OUYA yet, check it out.  The controller also feels really good to handle.  The metal finish components on the top of the controller slide off and each side stores a battery.  The top middle flat area is a touch pad for mouse control, which works like a champ.

User Interface


When you first power on the OUYA, you have to register for a new account or login to your existing account.  After you login, there are four menu options: Play, Discover, Make, and Manage.  The Play area takes you to the games you have installed and the games you've downloaded waiting to be installed.  Discover brings you to the app market with different filters like "Staff Picks" you can navigate through, or you can search by name.  Make is the developers section, but it's also where you can access installed applications.  If you sideload an app, it'll be available in Make > Software.  I'll discuss the process to sideload an app later.  Lastly, through Manage, you can connect to wireless networks, check for system updates, and access the advanced menu which is the stock Settings menu in Android 4.1.  Through this menu you can access the Storage area for any installed apps or downloaded apps.

As you'll see if you research the OUYA at all, anyone who's experimented with it complains first about the sparse app landscape.  The OUYA homepage has a counter in the upper right to inform visitors of the current number of games/apps available, which at the time of this post is at 128.  Thankfully, OUYA was developed to be an open platform, so you can sideload apps/games.

Usability

Overall, everything works as expected.  I have noticed a slight delay when using the directional pad to navigate through selecting letters when filling in information or navigating through menus.  I don't know if it's the controller Bluetooth latency, the directional pad connectivity to the controller board, or the console controller board latency but I find myself having to press the directional pad more than once to accomplish the task at hand.  Aside from that, everything else flows smoothly.


Side Loading Apps

IT World has a good write-up on side loading apps, so I don't really have anything new to add there.  To sum up, the best way to accomplish this is to throw the .apk file you want to load into a cloud-based file share like Dropbox.  Then take the download URL and pop it into a URL shortener service.  Once you get the smaller URL, you can open the OUYA browser to access the apk file.  Download it, install it, and then open it via Make > Software.


I've found success side loading a Netflix 1.8.1 apk file from the xda forums.  I tried 2.1.2 from androiddrawer.com, but it wouldn't install.  Interestingly, the 1.8.1 apk shows an OUYA icon when the app is accessed via the Storage manager, but the 2.1.2 apk does not.  I may look at them forensically to see what the different is later.

Summary

I'm impressed with the form factor and weight, both inside and out.  The user interface is easy to navigate, which is a definite plus.  The biggest aspect to the OUYA is its promise of an open gaming system.  The biggest downside is that it's a sparse landscape right now.  Hopefully it will continue to receive enough media attention to keep that awareness in the forefront of developer's minds.  For me personally, it's perfect for travel and I can watch Netflix on it while being on my laptop at same time.  I'm eager to see what the future holds for this device!