The DragonBox Pyra is a handheld computer with 5 inch display, a QWERTY keyboard for thumb typing and built-in game controllers. It’s been in development for more than half a decade, but the project’s lead developer says the Pyra is finally ready to ship.
Michael Mrozek has been posting a few progress updates on Twitter, and now says the team is assembling Pyra units and getting ready to ship them to customers who had pre-ordered within a matter of days.
Update: It took a little more than a few days, but Mrozek announced in late December, 2020 that the first units were ready to ship to customers who placed the earliest pre-orders.
The announcement comes more than four years after the Pyra went up for pre-order.
If you’re wondering what’s taken so long, it’s worth noting that the DragonBox Pyra is a project made by open hardware and software enthusiasts for open hardware and software enthusiasts.
Unlike many modern mobile devices, the Pyra has a removable battery and a modular design, allowing you to easily remove and replace individual components (such as the display board, the mainboard, or the SoC board). All you need are spare parts and a screwdriver.
The components were also chosen because they’re well documented, allowing developers to create free and open source software for the platform.
Unfortunately, since the Pyra has been under development for so long, a lot of its hardware looks pretty dated by 2020 standards. It has a micro USB 3.0 port rather than USB-C and two USB 2.0 Type-A ports. There’s support for WiFi 4 (802.11n) and Bluetooth 4.1 rather than newer, faster standards.
And the most dated spec is probably the processor – the Pyra is powered by a 1.5 GHz TI OMAP5 ARM Cortex-A15 dual-core 32-bit processor with PowerVR SGX544 graphics, for example.
Theoretically the modular design means that it’s possible you might be able to upgrade to a more powerful processor one day. But the slow pace of development means that it could be a while before any upgrade boards are available.
In the time that it’s taken Mrozek and friends to get the Pyra into a state where it’s ready to ship, companies like GPD and One Netbook have developed and shipped multiple generations of handheld gaming computers. But while you can install and run Ubuntu and other GNU/Linux distributions on some models, none of the GPD Win or One Netbook devices are designed to be open hardware platforms.
So while you’ll probably get better gaming performance from a OneGx1 Pro or GPD Win Max, the Pyra may still be a better option for folks who value hacker-friendly hardware with an emphasis on privacy and software freedom. But make no mistake that this is very much a device for enthusiasts only. For example there’s a hardware bug in the OMAP5 processor that prevents low-power idle mode. Mrozek says “in normal usage, battery life seems to be about 10 hours,” while idle (or less under heavy load), but you won’t get the 30 hours of standby time on the Pyra that was available with its predecessor, the OpenPandora unless a workaround/fix is found.
There are a few different pricing/configuration options for the Pyra, although only the 4GB model is still available for pre-order:
- DragonBox Pyra Standard Edition (2GB RAM) for $500 Euros (before taxes)
- DragonBox Pyra Standard Edition (4GB RAM) for 529 Euros (before taxes)
- DragonBox Pyra Mobile Edition (2GB RAM + 3G/4G) for 600 Euros (before taxes
- DragonBox Pyra Mobile Edition (4GB + 3G/4G) for 626 Euros (before taxes)
Note that those prices are excluding value added tax. The Mobile Edition comes with support for either EU or US cellular networks.
Each model of the DragonBox Pyra features:
1280 x 720 pixel LCD
|Processor||TI OMAP 5|
2 x ARM Cortex-A15 @ 1.5 GHz
2 x ARM Cortex-M4
PowerVR SGX544-MP2 graphics
1 x internal microSD card reader
2 x SD card slots
|Ports||1 x HDMI|
1 x 3.5mm headset
2 x USB 2.0 Type-A
1 x micro USB 3.0 (full function)
1 x micro USB (charging and debugging)
|Keyboard||Backlit QWERTY keyboard|
2 x analog sticks
4 x shoulder buttons
6 x face buttons
|Battery||6,000 mAh (removable)|
|Wireless||802.11a/b/g/n (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz)|
3G/4G & GPS (optional)
Configurable RGB LED notification lights
|Dimensions||139mm x 87mm x 32mm|
Update: This article originally stated that the Pyra would only get 10 hours of battery life in standby, but it has been updated to reflect an estimated 10 hours of battery life during “normal usage.” Future optimizations, such as disabling certain hardware when it’s not in use, may also be able to extend battery life.