The oddly named Smach Zero is a handheld SteamOS gaming system

Smach Zero booth at Gamescom
Credit: Smach Zero

Over the weekend I learned about a gadget that should be right up my alley but somehow has stayed off my radar until now. Time to catch up!

It's called Smach Zero, and it's basically a portable Steam Machine. Steam Machines, to recap, are PCs devoted to playing computer games and running SteamOS, a Linux variant from Valve Software. Steam Machines are (kind of) going after the gaming console user experience. and the Smach Zero looks like it's trying to do the same thing, only in the handheld space. In fact the device looks vaguely like a Playstation Vita with circular trackpads rather than analog sticks.

So the news that surfaced and caught my attention is that the company is going to start taking pre-orders on November 10th, 2015. $299 reserves a Smach Zero, but the device won't ship until Q4 2016. That's a long time to wait for a pre-order, but the $299 price is supposed to be an introductory price so presumably you'll save some cash if you buy early. It all still feels pretty vague.

The Smach Zero has a 5", 720P touch screen, 4 GB RAM, 32 GB of internal storage plus an SD slot, and it's powered by an AMD G-Series SoC 'Steppe Eagle'. The company says the device will be able to run games like Half-Life 2, Civilization V, DOTA 2, and Cities: Skylines, but makes no claims that this is a cutting edge machine. A 2014 post at The Escapist quotes a company representative as saying Smach Zero "... won't be as powerful as other announced Steam Machines in the same way [the] Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita performance is not comparable to Wii U or PlayStation 4. However, it will be possible to play the majority of current games in Steam."

That same post embeds a YouTube video from when the device was called the SteamBoy (presumably the name was changed either at Valve Software's request or just to avoid having Valve's lawyers come knocking):

I like the idea of this gadget but I think they need to share a lot more info before November 10th if they expect people to start pre-ordering. Currently the website is just a place-holder and your best source of info is their Facebook page.

My advice to prospective buyers is wait for both a more concrete ship date from Smach Zero, and to see what kind of traction SteamOS gets once it launches this autumn. No matter how good the hardware, it's not a good buy unless there's solid software support and it's much too early to tell if Valve's grand SteamOS experiment is going to pay off.

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