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.
I don’t know why you would even compare it to the OneGx1 Pro or GPD Win Max. The OneGx1 Pro is exactly two Pyras put next to each other in size and that’s the smaller of the two, you ain’t going to put those in your pocket.
Considering how thick this thing is, you’re not putting this into your pocket either unless you exclusively wear cargo pants.
I think they used way too much keys or created a too small device.
Just measured my wallet for comparison and it’s the same thickness, no problem with regular jeans pockets.
Here’s the quote from Evil Dragon about the hardware CPU bug:
Sounds pretty bad to me. All the talk about this is all unoptimized SW/drivers isn’t going to make that HW defect go away. Also, that 10 hours is when the Pyra is closed but still on doing nothing. Not active use.
Even if this has okay performance (non-gaming stuff for me), this is a deal breaker.
Thanks for the full quote here.
I wish this had been made more public- I’ve been casually following the forum news posts as someone who had preordered ages ago, and I don’t remember reading anything about it there.
To drive the point that the 10 hour time is idle/non-active time. Another quote from Michael from the Pyra forums:
Yeah, Michael said in the forums that the 10 hour time is when the Pyra is doing nothing. I assume screen off/lid closed. Active time is likely much shorter.
This is a major issue that could prevent non-pre-order folks like me from ordering one post-production/shipping.
I also have zero plans using this for games so, hopefully, this performs decently doing PC things.
Congratulations on the milestone.
Still going to see how this thing actually performs. Even if it ships now, it seems it may take a very very very long time before the SW side of things are good enough for people who want to use it more than tinkering with it. I’m a consumer who wants a UMPC product not a DIY thing. The most fiddling I do with my devices is installing a Linux distro and that’s just clicking through things on most things nowadays.
The problem, and the reason Pyra project exist and continues to have sense today, is that there is no pocket computer like Pyra in market.
We have had various GPD Win models, but they are faulty for me:
1/ GPD Win is too much big, not really a POCKET device. While Pyra is really pocket device.
2/ GPD Win keyboards doesn’t have backlight. How can you use it in the move if you don’t see keys on a lot of situations.
3/ GPD Win keyboards are bad: keys are put together without space between, and device is so wide probably you can’t reach all keyboard comfortably with your finger. Pyra has the exact wide so you can type comfortably. Sometimes bigger is worse.
4/ Battery is not removable (without tools). In Pyra you have a removable battery in old-style (a lid you can open with your finger), so you can have various batteries on the move if you need them.
5/ I have seen a lot of hard problems with GPD devices. For example damaged batteries.
Finally: I love pocket computer format, and actually I don’t know of other POCKET device (really pocket, not bigger), that have keyboard plus gaming controls (including 4 shoulder buttons, used in games and for text as modifiers), like Pyra.
Reductio ad absurdum.
Seems like an awfully slow cpu!
There’s a reason most other brands go with an rk 33xx cpu. Even they are slow.
You are partially wrong. Most Rockchip 33xx are slower than that OMAP5 at least in mono-core use.
For example RK3308 uses Cortex-A35, much less powerful than Cortex-A15 in OMPA5.
RK3368 uses Cortex-A35, while Cortex-A15 is much more powerful.
Cortex-A15 yields 3.5 to 4.01 DMIPS/MHz. It was top line with 15 stage integer/17–25 stage floating point pipeline, with out-of-order speculative issue 3-way superscalar execution pipeline.
Cortex-A35 yields 1.78 DMIPS/MHz, and Cortex-A53 yields 2.24 DMIPS/MHz. Both are 8 stage with in-order 2-way superescalar execution pipeline.
Cortex-A15 was top line in 32-bits ARM, while Cortex-A35/A53 are low line in 64-bits ARM.
Errata: RK3368 uses Cortex-A53.
RK3329 uses A53 as well.
At 1.8Ghz some consoles…
This device should be reasonably easy to mod.
I just do not want to be the first one to mod it.
That’s one ugly looking gaming device. Worst looking than OneGX.
Ugly? It is done exactly in the way you can use it comfortable while typing or playing on the move: if you get it bigger you can’t use it so good because your thumbs can’t reach keyboard/controls comfortably and you’d need to force your fingers (and if it would be bigger it would not be pocket size. For example GPD Win computers aren’t really pocket size).
The same for thickness: if you made it slim like modern smartphones, you wouldn’t be able to use it comfortably, it would be a pain in your hands.
Simply this pocket computer is BEAUTIFUL because it is designed to be comfortably used, no to look like modern slim smartphones.
no rs? no ethernet?
no firewire? … hm
for game? where potenciometer for arcade tempest game?
It has two analogue sticks, so potenciometers can be emulated 😀
Ethernet? A simple USB Ethernet dongle do that work.
Lol all the people citing “might be too slow for my use case” …..which is what?
As far as idle you would be surprised what the community comes up with. Drastic (Nintendo DS emulator) was first developed for the Pandora (Pyra predecessor), there are quite a few brilliant minds that will come up with a workable solution.
If this thing performs decently for non-gaming UMPC purposes, I may get the LTE version. I don’t care about gaming. However, that really old SoC is big concern.
Sorry, clicked on the wrong reply button. This was not meant to be a reply to “Sword”.
Wow, that’s one ugly looking device. I would have thought it was some hobby DIY project posted in Hackaday.
Anyway, if the performance is decent, I’d get the 4 GB LTE model if it works on Verizon bands.
I recall it only supports some Verizon bands. That’s why I’m passing on the Pyra.
Same. I don’t care about the gaming aspect of this. Probably the same for many people on this site looking for UMPCs.
I wonder how long this thing can even load an Amazon product page or some “mainstream” news site (ie. those typically badly coded/bloated sites) where even my Surface Go 1 LTE can take annoyingly long to load. How about loading multiple of them at the same time?
I use Octave (MATLAB clone) which can be compute intensive. I wonder how well the Pyra will perform with what I use it for on mobile PCs.
Yeah, even my Surface Go LTE takes a while to fully load these bloated news sites even with ad blockers on.
No idea what’s going on with Amazon product pages but they also taking annoyingly long to completely load (ie. be able click on the photos, etc.) also with ad blocking on.
That doesn’t bode well for the Pyra for people who want to use it for UMPC purposes.
This is a tool, not an iPhone 🙂
A tool is beauty when it is designed to do its work in correct way, and Pyra is designed in that way: its size design (small but “fat”) is exactly done that way so you can type and hold it in a good way. If it were thin like modern smartphones or wider, it would be “beauty” but horrible to use because you could not to handle with your hands and type/game on a good way.
In a tool beauty is in usefulness and utility design not in fashion design.
I’ll wait for some UMPC (ie. non-gaming) performance feedback (ie. not those “hey I loaded 30 browsers tabs of light weight sites plus I didn’t show you how long they loaded either “performance” tests).
Been looking for a handheld UMPC with built-in LTE and the Pyra is the only one I can see. Although, the performance of it could be way too low for my needs.
Yeah, the performance of this is going to decide whether I get the 4GB/LTE model or not. Need to weed out the user feedback from those who are overly “enthusiastic” about it and tend to gloss over issues.
If the performance ends up being bad for what you want to do and care more about non-gaming use cases (ie. no built in game controller), you may be better off getting a GPD MicroPC and taping an LTE modem to it.
That’s what I did with my GPD MicroPC until the battery died and hinge broke (GPD’s support is useless). Taping a USB LTE modem and a short extension cable worked out okay. Too bad Verizon’s USB modems are bit large.
I’ll keep an eye on the Pyra (not going to game on it) since built-in LTE is important to me for mobile PCs. However, if this thing is slower than my old Surface 3 LTE, then it’s a no buy.
Brad, can you link to the hardware OMAP5 idle bug? This is news to me and I’d like to read more about it.
It’s something Mzorek/EvilDragon mentioned in a Discord chat.
Is there a potential SW or HW (for later buyers) solution being looked into?
It’s described as a hardware bug, so I’d guess not. Apparently you can underclock the CPU to run as low as 200 MHz to extend battery life a bit, but it’d probably take a toll on performance.
“bug in the OMAP5 processor” sounds like it’s a bug in the chip itself. Doesn’t seem like a fix is going to be likely.
This is a major deal breaker for me. The very old CPU is already TBD on whether it’s fast enough for my use cases at max clock speeds so under clocking it to 200 MHz is a no go right off the bat.
I would be surprisedif there isn’t a sw fix developed. ThePandora also had idle consumption issues. Now it works fine. I last charged it in July. Booted recently to 80ish%.
I believe the 200mhz is in reference to lowering clock speed when closed, when opened it would likely spin back up.
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