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Check out the portable, cranky Playdate before our review goes live next week

Next week, we can show you way more of Playdate's final retail version. For now, settle on this capture from the system's setup process, along with a look at its unboxing.
Enlarge / Next week, we can show you way more of Playdate’s final retail version. For now, settle on this capture from the system’s setup process, along with a look at its unboxing.

Sam Machkovech

Nine months ago, the team responsible for the portable Playdate game system sent us the device’s “near-final” version for preview. I spent weeks carrying, tapping, and cranking it while testing four preinstalled games. It’s a unique and fun device, even if it lands more in the “quirky hipster” column than the “must-have” one.

Unboxing time.

Sam Machkovech

But that preview was inherently limited by issues like a non-final OS and 83 percent of the system’s games not being ready. Next week, I will be able to report on everything else about the retail version of the Playdate, which I’ve been testing for a couple of weeks now. In particular, I’ll answer whether the device’s mix of unique shape and 24 built-in games are worth its $179 retail price (and its “2023” estimate for new orders placed as of press time).

My Playdate system review will be published in one week, on Monday, April 18, at 1 pm ET.

Ahead of that review, the system’s producers at Panic and Teenage Engineering have invited me to share a tease of how the final hardware looks… so long as I don’t show anything beyond its adorable introductory animation, which appears after a brief setup process and a control introduction. The intro requires new users to tap every gameplay button (A, B, all D-pad directions, plus a few rotations of the crank). Doing this sets simple Rube Goldberg devices into motion. The cartoony animations and catchy music are charming.

The Playdate intro animation, captured by Panic.

Although I’m embedding a video of the full animation, it looks different on a standard web browser than it does on the Playdate’s responsive, high-DPI e-ink screen. The still photos in this article, taken with my personal smartphone, are quite crisp, despite some of the pictures capturing full-blown animations. I will have more to say about the screen’s crispness in my Playdate review.

The system and its box, meanwhile, should look familiar. Last year’s box was the same shape and design, only with newly revised logos and text. Aesthetically, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between either system, thanks to identical buttons and dimensions.

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