The DragonBox Pyra is a handheld computer with a 5 inch display, a QWERTY keyboard and a built-in gamepad. It’s designed to run free and open source software, and it’s been under development for more than six years… and after all that time, project leader Michael Mzorek (EvilDragon) has finally begun shipping prototypes to customers who placed pre-orders for pre-production hardware.

Pyra-handheld forum member Grench ordered one of the first prototypes almost three years ago. He received it last week, and has shared some photos and initial impressions.

@EvilDragon1717

The DragonBox Pyra features a 720 pixel resistive touchscreen display, a 1.5 GHz TI OMAP 5 dual-core ARM Cortex-A15 processor, up to 4GB of RAM, 32GB of eMMC storage, and a microSDXC card reader.

It also supports 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 and has stereo speakers, a headset jack, a micro USB port, and an HDMI port. There’s also a “Mobile Edition” version of the Pyra with a 3G/4G modem.

The handheld PC features a backlit keyboard, a D-pad, analog sticks, a D-pad, and buttons that make the Pyra usable as a handheld gaming device. But it’s also a full-fledged computer that ships with a custom version of Debian Linux, although it also supports alternate operating systems.

@EvilDragon1717

In other words, you can use the Pyra to run desktop Linux applications on the go, plug in an external display and use it as a desktop-style computer, and install emulators to play classic console games.

While the OMAP 5 processor is rather dated at this point, the little computer has been under development for a long time — and the chipset was selected because there’s support for open source software.

At this point it seems pretty clear that the Pyra is still very much a work in progress. The hardware is nearly finalized, but the software is still under development.

EvilDragon has opened a new prototype info and bug tracker section of the forum, where he highlights some known issues. For example, the touchscreen can be inaccurate. The system sometimes hangs when you try to do a soft reboot. Clicking the pointing nub doesn’t do anything yet. And it takes a few moments after the system boots for the modem to show up in software.

Grench/Pyra-handheld forum

Battery status reporting is also a bit wonky, but a software update is said to fix that. But it also seems that the battery drains when the system is powered off, and when it’s plugged in and turned on, the battery drains more quickly than it can charge so the best way to charge the Pyra prototype is to turn it off and plug it in.

That said, part of the point of shipping prototypes is to get feedback to help improve the performance of the little computer before making it more widely available. Unlike some other handheld PCs we’ve seen in recent years (like the GPD Win and Pocket lineup, and the One Mix Yoga line of devices), the DragonBox Pyra is built by and for enthusiasts of open source hardware. The goal isn’t necessarily to manufacture and sell tens of thousands of units so much as to bring something into the world that meets a very specific set of needs for a very specific set of individuals. And doing that apparently takes a lot of time and a lot of troubleshooting.

That said, there’s something to be said about volunteer-driven development. Some of the software issues mentioned above, for example, only apply to the DragonBox Pyra’s default software. Installing Letux-OS, an open source operating system originally designed for PDAs, resolves some issues affecting battery drain and the modem, for example.

For now, it’s unclear when all of the kinks will be worked out and the DragonBox Pyra will be ready to ship to customers who want something a little more solid than a prototype. But you can keep up on the latest news at the Pyra News section of the Pyra-handheld forum.

Update: Another prototype has been spotted in the wild — Michael McQuaid has posted a series of videos showing the out-of-the box experience of using one of the first 8 prototypes of the DragonBox Pyra, including an unboxing video, the first-boot experience, and a follow-up showing how the system works after a few days of tinkering.

 

 

 

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  1. Interested in seeing how this thing fairs for general desktop use: Firefox browsing (“heavy” pages, muti-page loadinng, video streaming, etc.), SSH/terminal stuff to see how well the keyboard works for that, local video playback of various formats, LTE speeds (US carriers for me), how well a joystick works as a mouse and others.

    I’m not looking for big performance. If it’s decent at least to me, I’d probably opt for the 4G version.

  2. For me and some others here already, the main draw for me is the built-in LTE. I have a GPD MicroPC but I don’t use it as much as I would when on the go. Phone tethering is a huge battery drain. I don’t carry a bag with me so I’d rather not stuff too many things in my pants/jacket pockets with dongles and battery packs. The MicroPC is way more than powerful enough for what I do as well.

    If DragonBox can resolve the SW issues and ship before other OEMs release a desktop OS handheld UMPC with built-in mobile broadband, then I’d be happy to send them my money and have my MicroPC collect dust in a drawer somewhere. Of course, if another OEM beats them to production, well, that’s where my money will go. Although, there’s nothing announced worth mentioning that I know of.

    1. Pulling my old Pandora out of a drawer, the case (which is very similar to this) is a bit chunky but fits nicely in the hands. Honestly, it’s a good design overall, but the specs are so out of date at this point, it’s crazy to consider one for the money they’re asking.

  3. It’s been fun reading the forums and seeing the adventures of the prototype owners figuring out the Pyra from user error to encountering the known issues.

    Typing this from my GPD MicroPC killing my phone’s battery while at the mall waiting for the family to do their post holiday returns/shopping. I’d swap this out with the more pocket friendly 4G Pyra if I could.

    Thank you to the prototype owners for posting. It’s helping me pass time right now.

  4. Hi, this is my first time visiting liliputing, and the first time I have heard about this Pyra.

    I have become somewhat obsessed with handheld gaming devices in recent years – around 3 years ago I bought my first Playstation Vita, jaillbroke/hacked it, coughed up the most money I have ever paid for a Micro SD card (256 gigabytes though!) and since then I have put a PSP emulator, Enso, PKGJ and a bunch of other pirate-related apps, along with enough games to fill up almost the entire MicroSD card.

    Ever since then I have acquired a humble collection of handheld and mobile gaming toys, including Android tablets, a Nintendo 3DS, 2DS, Sega Game Gear, Atari Lynx, Wonderswan, and my latest treasure, a slightly used HP Omen gaming laptop that I got a few months ago. It was made in 2017, and only has an NVidia 1050 graphics card in it, but I love it so. Next on my list are a good Android gaming phone (maybe an ASUS ROG Phone 2?), a GAEMS Sentinel, and a Nintendo Switch or Switch Lite. I very much wish that Sony would make a followup to the Vita to compete with the Switch, although that seems as likely as Microsoft making an Xbox handheld.

    I was going to try to save up for an SMACH Z, or maybe a GDP Win Max, but seeing this Pyra for the first time today, I think I might get that instead. It would probably be a lot cheaper than the SMACH Z anyway. Ahh boy, this hobby is getting expensive 😉

    1. Well, sorry to be the bearer for bad news… but the Pyra is severly underpowered to any of the devices you mentioned to like to have. It’s pretty much a decade old design. Not only that, but it’s a really small number run made by enthusiasts for themselves, pretty much no company involved. You’d have to register to a waiting list to get your unit, pay upfront and pretty much wait for literal years to get a Pyra (as many people have already waited 6 years for one). It’s like a kickstarter, but even smaller scale and slower. And because it’s such a small scale run, the Pyra is relatively expensive for what you get, definitely more expensive than a Switch at around €600.

      I see your main profile is emulation, so out of the bunch the best choice would be the GPD WM, but that’s understandably a bit more expensive (although would probably play whatever emulation you’d throw at it, except current gen). I would skip the Smatch Z, they are not a really trustworthy bunch, could burn yourself with that. Maybe at the middle ground a GPD Win 2 would be still more powerful than the Pyra and cheaper than the GPD WM. Note that all of these are able to run linux natively, so anything that would run on the Pyra will run on the GPD devices too, but also x86/64 software (like Windows).

      As for the switch, you could get an old one and run homebrew emulators on it, but there are already news of a Switch Lite hack in the coming months, so if video output is no concern to you it’s a bit cheaper.

      As for gaming phones I’m not a big fan, they are usually not IP-rated, and for me the longevity of a phone matters more than a couple of extra frames, but then again if it’s not your daily driver it’s not a concern (probably). Anyhow I’d get something like a used S9 if I were to go down that road, might be quite a bit cheaper (just make sure to get the Snapdragon ones, Exynos is an absolute potato when it comes to emulation).

      1. Thank you for the informative reply!

        I don’t know if emulation is my main thing, although I guess it could be. To be honest, I am just only now getting heavlly into gaming, since I stopped caring in the early 2000s. (I am not a fan of early 3D/polygon based games. I grew up playing NES,SNES and arcade games, and stopped for the most part in 1997 except for PS1 RPGs, dabbled a bit with Playstation 2, then just stopped completely once I couldn’t take the Atari-level ugly polygon games) The Omen is my first ever true gaming PC, and it’s just that I have 20 years worth of games (hopefully with modded HD graphics) to catch up on. And I love the Vita, but the selection of games for it is kind of slim, especially the types of games I like (mainly JRPGs, although any game with a good plot and good storytelling will do – as long as it’s not an otome game or FPS), which is why I often play older games on it.

        That being said, I do want a handheld device powerful enough to play recent games. The Galaxy S9 is a great idea by the way, thank you very much for recommending it; like I said, I have pretty much decided to dive in head first into gaming all at once, which means consoles, PC games and Android games, and I want a good Android device powerful enough to play games like Overhit and Black Desert. Not gonna lie, I mainly have been wanting the ASUS ROG Phone 2 for the Switch-like controller add-ons that they made for it, I was pumped (and geeked out) when I saw those 😉

  5. Cool, but it’s really too niche nowadays to bother with. If course there are people still interested in this as an all in one type of thing with what they want to do, but there are plenty of “all in one” devices nowadays and it’s also not that big of a problem carrying a peripheral or extra device along with your smartphone nowadays. And to be honest, considering how THICK this thing is it really would not be any different to carrying a second device.

  6. I was following this device back when the original concept was shown. I was a member of the old Gamepark/GP32/GP2x community, which is where the Pandora spawned from, which is what the Pyra spawned from. While the Pandora and the Pyra are both great community efforts, they aren’t up to par with 2019 devices.

    Its a shame that this couldn’t be developed and launched when it was first designed, because it would have been an absolute buy for me back then. Today, I’d rather buy an x86 netbook from GPD.

    1. Yeah I was a Pandora pre-orderer myself and have a couple of GP2Xes in a drawer. The delay on getting the Pandora out killed it for me, by the time I got mine, I had kind of moved on. I’ve been kinda-sorta following the Pyra and it’s the same problem. The form factor is almost perfect, but they took so long to get it out the door that it’s wildly out of date.

      I should dig my GP2X out and give it another go, though. I’ve started checking out some of the newer emu/homebrew handhelds out and it’s kind of surprising how well it still holds up.

  7. Great to see this reaching such a major milestone. Put me in the pocket friendly, desktop OS, mouse and LTE camp. No tethering and dongles for me.

    I won’t be holding my breath but, hopefully, they resolve everything and start shipping final versions next year. I’d be a buyer then.

  8. Talk about a blast from the past.
    Man this thing is old. It’s obsolete. Kudos to those continuing work on it as their passion, but it’s really outside of a niche for even die-hard enthusiasts.

    At this point, you could get a GPD XD and have a better experience. Not to mention the XD Plus, or even the Scham-Z. Yet both the GPD Win 1 and GPD Win 2 blow this thing out the water. For those complaining about the LTE support, you know there are USB dongles for that, right?

    …and I’m not even being negative, I came from the OpenPandora back when that was a thing in 2009 and Android was still in version 1.6, and the iPhone 3GS was the best flagship device. The thing reminds me of my old Nokia N900 and the whole MeeGo/Windows Phone debacle.

    1. To be fair the N900 was waaay ahead of everything back then including the Pandora. It only needed a bit more RAM, something Nokia was always known for to be cheap out on, since Symbian would work with so little RAM. Not Maemo thou, it really needed 1GB. But apart from that it would mop the floor with those early Androids, WinMo and the iPhone 3GS. I’m really bummed the N950 never materialized apart from a few developer devices. Stephen Elop was really the trojan horse sent from MS to kill Nokia…

      1. Totally agree.
        My only frustration is that Windows Phone had the potential to be a great ecosystem as well, but not whilst using Windows CE in the early versions. Windows 10 Mobile was great, and was what the platform needed to fight against the incoming Android 4.0.3 and the iOS 7 operating systems. Of course, it was a case of “too little, too late” and that is entirely the responsibility of bad management.

        The opposite happened with Nokia, it’s not that they did “too little, too late”, they practically threw in the towel and quit. Truly, there was no need to sacrifice Nokia, and it’s OVI ecosystem, and the Maemo operating system. We could have had a proper Linux Distro built for a Mobile Ecosystem, and perhaps have it extend to Laptops and Desktops. I even think they could have tempted the likes of Valve/Steam and of Nvidia/Tegra for a collaboration. That would’ve bought out even more competition in the market.

        And with having Linux in the mainstream, and getting acquainted with high-end ARM CPUs, and with powerful GPUs…. you also have the building blocks for a new Desktop and Server. So many missed opportunities. Then again hindsight is 20/20, but not for the few of us who saw the trainwreck a decade a go :'(

  9. Congrats on the Pyra finally shipping something! Good luck on the rest. Maybe production devices and software will ship in 2020. If so, I have my credit card ready for the 4G model.

  10. Oh, man… I remember when Nokia axed the N900 and the N9/N950, and we all at the Maemo forums were “F U, we’re gonna make our own qwerty linux handheld, with blackjack and hookers!” And then many years later the OpenPandora when everyone was already using quad-core rooted Android phones with several GB of RAM, and we were “okay, we need to upgrade this, how hard can it be?”, and now 6 years have passed already and I’m not even sure the CSSU is still a thing or not as I’ve not even looked at the forums for years…

  11. How does the performance of the OMAP5 compare to the Raspberry Pi 3 CM? I’m not sure if that was even available at the time they started with this, but this form factor seems like it would be perfect for that sort of thing. Provide the controls, peripherals, and display and provide an easily upgradable main module. I know that’s their goal going forward, but their track record so far doesn’t inspire confidence about timeliness and the Pi is well supported and reputable. Doing custom everything just ensures this same rigmarole next time.

  12. Has DragonBox ever distributed any of their products via Amazon Prime? I looked at their shop pages and, well, I’m not sure I’d enter my credit card details there. I’m sure Michael is an upstanding person but that doesn’t necessarily equate to security.

    Anyway, a huge milestone for the Pyra. If I can get it from Amazon Prime, I’d get the US 4G version. Hope they get all the SW issues resolved and there are no HW problems.

    1. Same. I wouldn’t enter any real info into that site. Not my name, address, email, phone number, etc. Michael does seem to be an honest person based on his forum but that site just looks like it’s waiting to be hacked.

      Really hope Michael decides to leverage Amazon Prime when the Pyra hits production.

  13. With it being open-source focused, I was surprised to see the OMAP 5 with PowerVR GPU. PowerVR is known for being closed source. Perhaps there is something in this situation I do not know and I’m not assuming anything more. Nice to see this product make progress and I hope they work out the issues. The battery drain while off reminds me of my old PSP. I knew I was turning the system off, yet it would be dead a week later. I was able to determine that it was draining about 10 percent a day while off. I got into the habit of pulling the battery whenever I was done.

    1. I recall the PowerVR thing being brought up a lot several years ago when they announced the SoC. Something about the “shim” between the kernel and the binary blob being open source and they just need to update the shim if the kernel changes the interfaces so they can keep the kernel updated. Of course, if there are bugs in the binary blob itself,well, it’ll never be updated.

      Not sure if anything changed since then. I haven’t kept up to date.

  14. If they make it past the prototype stage and go into production, I’d buy this. It seems like a nice on the go micro PC. Does this support US AT&T LTE bands?

    1. I think it supports AT&T’s LTE bands but it doesn’t support Verizon’s primary band (the non-primary bands are supported).

  15. Cool. Glad to see things are progressing to tangible stages now. Pocket desktop PCs with mobile broadband are rare (non-existent?) within the already small market.

  16. I’m not interested in the gaming aspect of this but I’ve looking for a pocketable thumbable UMPC with built-in LTE and mouse for a long time (no battery killing phone tethering and dongles for me). So far, there have been devices that have been close but the critical LTE or a mouse pointer (needed for any Linux desktop OS) are always missing.

    Despite the Pyra taking so long, still has a ways to go and the performance for me is still TBD, it’s still the device that checks the most boxes for my uses compared to what’s actually out and what’s been announced/work in progress.

    Hoping for the prototype owners to find, report and help fix all the kinks. Good luck.

    1. Same. I’ve been eyeing the resurgence of UMPCs hoping to replace my long gone Viliv N5 with 3G.

      The GPD handhelds seem to be okay but it seems that GPD doesn’t see the costs of integrating LTE and certifying it to be worthwhile for their target markets.

      The Planet Computers devices don’t have a mouse (major enough issue for me to not consider them) and who knows if they’ll make Debian Linux on it work properly (I don’t think it works decently for their previous Gemini product).

      I guess we’ll see how the Pyra goes. It’s not like there’s anything I’d buy right now anyway.

      1. For me and my non-gaming UMPC uses, the built-in LTE is what would make me still buy this over anything out right now/known to be released despite the old slow SoC. However, if GPD puts out an LTE version of the MicroPC, then I’d get that instead.

        1. If GPD makes their next MicroPC have built-in LTE (US bands) or the current one (it’s several times more powerful for my mobile desktop needs already), then I’d also buy that over the Pyra despite GPD’s perpetual battery and broken hinge issues on nearly all their products.

          Unfortunately, they haven’t indicated LTE will be making it into future products. They still have time though since I’m sure the Pyra still has a ways to go despite this major milestone.

          1. LTE on Intel will not be always on like LTE on ARM. However, I run Linux on my GPD MicroPC and it is compatible with a lot more Linux programs than run on ARM

      2. I’m the same in that hotspots and dongles are no gos.

        The only reason I’m still considering getting the Pyra is the built-in LTE. If GPD or any other company makes a more powerful handheld desktop OS PC with a mouse pointer and LTE, then I no longer have a reason to get the Pyra.

    2. I’ve been looking for a pocketable UMPC with built-in LTE. I’m not going to carry a hotspot nor a USB modem. I’m not going to kill my phone’s battery either. I don’t need the latest SoC for what I’d use a UMPC running a desktop OS for.

      If the Pyra ever goes into production, then I’ll be a buyer. Still a ways to go though.