When the Ouya first hit its funding goal on Kickstarter, some people were greatly excited, and others, well, they didn’t care very much. It’s been quite a long period of time since it reached its funding goal, but that still seems to be the general tone when you talk to people about the Ouya.
The question is: is it worth it to you? That really depends on what you want to get out of this device, however, I wouldn’t hold my expectations too high, or too low, for that matter. Stick with us as we take a closer look at this piece of Android gaming hardware.
While you might expect top of the line specs in a unit ostensibly dedicated to gaming, that’s not the case with the Ouya. They aren’t particularly wimp either, but what else would you expect from such a cheap console? Powered by an outdated, Tegra 3 chipset it runs a 1.7GHz quad-core CPU, backed by a ULP GPU and 1GB of RAM. Memory wise, you have 8GB to play around with, though, some of that is taken up by the OS.
As for connectivity, it has 802.11b, g and n WiFi, wired ethernet and Bluetooth LE 4.0 (more on that later). Furthermore, it has one, standard USB slot, one microUSB slot, and video output is through HDMI. Current-gen high end smartphones blow these specs away, but for a mere $99, this package is pretty impressive on the hardware front.
The console itself is fairly small, being a 3-inch cube. Although, it does look really nice and has a sleekness about it. Setup is super easy as well — simply plug in the AC adapter, plug in the HDMI cable, and you’re ready to go!
If you’ve ever used an Xbox 360 controller, the Ouya’s controller should look and feel very familiar. So it won’t take you long to learn the button placement, however, it’s not quite as smooth in its general feel, and obviously, the buttons are different. In an entirely unsurprising twist, instead of the traditional letters you might see on a console controller, you’ve got the letters O, U, Y and A. Guess what that spells?
Despite being similar to an Xbox 360 controller, it does have a few differentiating factors, such as its built-in touchpad. This isn’t clearly marked on the controller, and at first, I honestly, had no idea it was there. Still, it’s a pretty cool feature, especially when you’re using an app instead of just general gaming.
On either side of the controller, there is a removable faceplate with an AA battery underneath each. I’ve heard stories of the batteries becoming loose, effectively making the controller useless until they’re situated correctly, but during my time with the Ouya, I never experienced this. It is a little weird taking off two faceplates to change the batteries, due to the extra hassle, but it’s not a huge deal.
It’s worth noting that you can also use a PS3 controller via Bluetooth or a wired Xbox 360 controller via USB, which is pretty handy if you’re not comfortable with the Ouya controller.
This is where things get interesting. The Ouya runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, but you probably won’t ever notice unless you go look under the hood. The interface is entirely Ouya, and the only trace of Android that you’ll see, is the occasional progress dialog.
Once the Ouya boots up, you are met with a screen offering four options. Play is a simple list of all the games that you have loaded onto your Ouya. You can look at Discover sort of like an app store, as you can browse all of the games and apps on the Ouya there. Make is mainly for developers, but it’s also pretty useful for those who want to sideload apps, due to the lack of the Play Store on this device. Finally, manage is where you change console options, check for updates, and generally manage things.
One of the cool things about the Ouya is that it uses a try before you buy model. In other words, any game you see can be downloaded and played for free. What you get to play from the game and how long you get play is entirely up to the developer. Some games are really short demos, or simply demos of a single mode in a game. Then, there are others that basically give you the game for free and ask for donations.
There are some cool games available, but the selection are is where the Ouya is lacking the most. For every fun and interesting game, there are an additional 10 games that are either straight ports of simple Android games or are just plain bad. A lack of content like this is a huge deal breaker — just look at Windows Phone 8, for example. The one thing the Ouya needs most is a killer app, one game that by itself makes the system worth buying.
In addition to games, there are also a few rudimentary media-box features. For a long time, the only streaming app the Ouya had was Twitch.tv, a service for game streams. Recently it got support for Plex which greatly increases its use as a media box.
Now the one thing that will definitely make the system worth buying for a lot of people exists in a legal gray area: emulators. There are at on of emulators available right in the Ouya store. You can find everything from the original NES to PlayStation to odd systems like the MSX. Keep in mind that they’re not legal by themselves, but chanes are, a lot of ROMs that you might use with them could be. Still, I’m sure this will sell more than a few units, if not just because of the emulators.
Right now, the main thing that the Ouya delivers is potential. Well, that and a lot of emulators. It’s definitely a neat little device, and for $99, it’s not quite an impulse buy, but it’s pretty close.
If you’re looking for really compelling games, they’re not quite there. Yet, anyway. Luckily, the try before you buy model keeps you from buying a game that you end up hating. If some great games come out and we see Netflix and the like, this could end up being a very worthy, little box.
Brad Ward contributed to this review