Posted September 12, 2013 by Amy in Features

GCW Zero (Handheld) Review


What is the GCW Zero – and is it worth your money?

At first glance, the GCW Zero looks quite similar to a PSP. It has a boxy shape with a matte black finish, and is close in size to a large smart phone (which makes it easily tucked into a purse or backpack for gaming on the go).  But this isn’t your average gaming device. Designed on an open source platform, the GCW Zero is meant to be played with and customized to a level that is rarely seen. Linux fans may well rejoice at the opportunity to play in more than one sense.  But is this a device that can make open source accessible to a wide audience, or is it simply a toy for a niche crowd?

Looks aren’t everything, but with hardware they certainly do count. The setup of a handheld can affect everything response time in game to performance under (pocket) pressure. In this sense, the GCW Zero gets both high and low marks. First the most part, the configuration is fairly standard. The screen is naturally centered in the middle of the device, with a directional pad and stick on the left. To the right of the screen, you have your x,y,a,b buttons, with “select” and “start” below them. The top of the device holds the left and right shoulder buttons, as well as TV-OUT and HDMI hookups. The bottom of the device houses a reset button, and ports for usb, DC, and an SD card. This sort of setup feels pretty familiar right from the start, and makes playing the GCW Zero a task that doesn’t really need any settling in period.

With this handheld, the issue is more which buttons it doesn’t have than the configuration of the ones it does. The power on slider is located on the right side of the device, but there isn’t a power off button, or even a battery level indicator. To turn the device off, and to adjust volume, you must access the settings screen on the device. Having dedicated buttons for these functions is the norm for good reason – it’s just much more convenient. While it isn’t something that would make me shy away from purchasing a device, it is one of those things that is an annoyance on a regular basis.


The device itself is pretty sturdy, while still being lightweight. The screen isn’t overly scratch prone, and the device holds up well to standard use, even with the inevitable occasional drops to the floor. However, the buttons are not as high quality as the device. They feel a bit flimsy to the touch, and have a tendency to stick – a real issue when playing certain games. It can affect responsiveness, and even results in double taps being needed at times. While this seems to resolve a bit with extended use, it certainly isn’t an issue you expect to encounter in your shiny new handheld.

The GCW Zero comes preloaded with a variety of games that offer some quality gaming right from the start. From puzzle games to shooters to platformers to rpgs, the included games are meant to show you what the device can do – and it’s impressive. With an open source platform, there are endless options for games and more to be added, provided you have either have the expertise or the desire to learn. One thing the GCW Zero does not do is teach you how to use it.

There are forums available online, but an average gamer without much in the way of open source experience will likely be rather confused at the lack of instruction available with the device – no manual in the box, no helpful paper telling you where to find instructions online, no tutorial built into the device. You’re pretty much on your own, and even things like connecting the device to wifi are perhaps more work than they needed to be. While this is could conceivably be considered a plus for those already familiar with the platform, I can’t help but think it’s a wasted opportunity to draw more gamers in to the open source community.


The GCW Zero is a curious mix of a quality handheld with some unusual oversights. Lack of dedicated buttons for things like power down and volume are minor inconveniences that, when added to buttons that stick really affect your enjoyment of the device. While the button issues resolve somewhat with extended use, it’s something that frankly should never be an issue with this type of device, even for a little while. Still, knowledgeable users are getting a lot of bang for their buck in a device that puts the power of open source into your hands, your pockets, your purse – this is a relatively inexpensive device that gives the convenience of portability to an open source playground.


U.S. Senior Editor & Deputy EIC, @averyzoe on Twitter, mother of 5, gamer, reader, wife to @macanthony, and all-around bad-ass (no, not really)