How Gizmondo Works

The Gizmondo is a handheld gaming console -- but it's also an MP3 player, a camera, a movie player, and a GPS reciever. See more video game system pictures.
Photo courtesy Gizmondo

Gizmondo is part of the next wave of portable gaming devices -- the handheld electronic equivalent of a Swiss Army knife that does far more than simply play games. Gizmondo's designers included a GPS system, a camera, and the ability to play MP3s and movies. Add text messaging capability and Bluetooth support, and you've got something that could change the way people look at portable gaming.

In this article, we'll learn what the Gizmondo can do, find out how it stacks up against other portable gaming devices on the market, and learn about the sometimes troubled company that makes the Gizmondo. We'll also get a sneak peek at the Gizmondos that have already been released in Europe. ­

Gizmondo Design

At its core, the Gizmondo is built for gaming. It looks a lot like a controller for a console game system, except for the view screen in the middle. The Gizmondo is roughly the same size as a controller, with four gaming buttons on the right, an eight-way game pad on the left, and two additional buttons at the left and right sides of the top of the unit. Five function buttons placed above the screen provide menu navigation and easy access to some of the Gizmondo's modes of operation. The Gizmondo is powered by a 400 Mhz ARM9 processor from Samsung.

The display is a 320 x 240 pixel TFT (thin-film transistor) screen capable of showing 60,000 colors. It's powered by an Nvidia GoForce 4500 3-D graphics accelerator, the development of which delayed Gizmondo's release in England by several months.

Gizmondo runs Windows CE (Microsoft's operating system for mobile devices), which allows access to various CE-compatible applications with a network service plan.

Next, we'll check out some of Gizmondo's features.

Gizmondo Features

Photo courtesy Gizmondo

The Gizmondo has several features that make it more than just a gaming device. It includes a Windows MP3 playing center which "enables users to download and enjoy their music on the move, in digital quality through the stereo headset socket" [ref]. Without headphones, you have to rely on a small built-in mono speaker. Companies can also offer audio content via multi-media messaging service (MMS) streams. A scaled-down version of Windows Media Player lets users play movies in the MPEG 4 format, and they can send film clips and movie previews to other users with MMS.

In addition to playing music and movies, Gizmondo users can also take photos. The fixed-focal-length lens for the VGA camera function is in the back of the unit, so you can view the subject of your photo on the screen. Photos can then be shared among other Gizmondo users or with Bluetooth-enabled devices.

But how do Gizmondo users store and transfer MP3s, movies, pictures, and games onto the Gizmondo? The unit has a very small amount of internal memory, but it accepts Secure Digital (SD) cards. These cards are about the size of a postage stamp, and a one-gigabyte card will cost between $50 and $100. Two-gig cards are already available in Europe, and cards holding up to eight gigs of data are planned.

­ The built-in GPS is what really sets Gizmondo apart from other portable gaming devices. In addition to the basic navigation and map applications, parents can keep up with their children by tracking the Gizmondo and owners can set up a virtual fence around a geographic area (and get an automatic alert if the Gizmondo crosses the fence). Games that integrate the device's GPS position with game play are also generating a lot of excitement. We'll talk about those games in more detail in the next section.

Adding to the list of connectivity options is Gizmondo's Bluetooth support. This allows other Bluetooth-enabled devices to share data with Gizmondo, and two or more Gizmondo users can play multi-player games together.

Built-in copyright security features include digital handshake and the ominous sounding "destruct at engagement," which deletes certain kinds of unauthorized media files (it doesn't make your Gizmondo explode).

In the next section, we'll take a look at the games that are available for Gizmondo.

Gizmondo Games

British racing star Jenson Button
British racing star Jenson Button
Photo courtesy Gizmondo

A great gaming device is nothing without excellent games. So far, the options for Gizmondo have been slim. All the initial launch games were published in-house by Gizmondo. An unspecified "major title" by a United States game publisher is planned for the North American launch.

The lineup of currently available games includes racing games like Gizmondo Motorcross 2005, Stuntcar Extreme, Trailblazer, and Richard Burns Rally; sports games like Hockey Rage 2005, Pocket Ping Pong and Toy Golf; and puzzle games like Sticky Balls and Super Drop Mania. There's also a remake of the action classic Point of Destruction. One of the biggest releases is the extreme sports game SSX3.

FIFA Soccer 2005 is highly anticipated, as well as Chicane Racing, a street racing game promoted by British racing star Jenson Button. Fans of RPGs will want to watch for Hit and Myth, while Future Tactics will satisfy strategy gamers. The classic side-scrolling sci-fi game Guardian has been revamped for Gizmondo as well.

A screenshot from Colors
Photo courtesy Gizmondo

Most of the hype surrounding Gizmondo is about Colors, the first game to use the GPS function. In Colors, players are members of a street gang fighting other gangs for control of turf. The GPS pays attention to the player's real world location, so when he or she wins control of turf in the game, their gang color takes control of that area in the real world. Players can move into other gangs' areas and start gang wars to win control of more turf. Colors will likely be a controversial game, with its violent content and gritty urban setting.

Next, we'll take a look at the Gizmondo facts and figures.

Gizmondo Statistics

Perhaps the most important statistic of all to potential Gizmondo owners is the price tag. At launch, the British version cost 229 pounds -- more than $400. Tiger recently announced plans to offer their "Smart Ads" Gizmondo in the United States (it's already available in Britain). With Smart Ads the Gizmondo's price is almost cut in half, but the owner has to watch three 30-second commercials transmitted to the device each day.

Here's a summary of the Gizmondo's features from the official Gizmondo Web site:

  • TFT screen ~ 240 x 320 pixels
  • 400 Mhz ARM9 Samsung processor
  • 128-bit 3D NvidiaGraphics accelerator
  • GPS tracking and mapping applications
  • MP3, MIDI, and WAV playback
  • SMS
  • Windows Media Player 9
  • MPEG 4 video playback
  • JPEG camera
  • SD flash card reader
  • Mini-USB client
  • Bluetooth class 2 for multiplayer gaming
  • Temperature range 0° to 55°C (32° to 131°F)
  • Removable SIM card
  • Removable battery
  • Polyphonic ring tones
  • Stereo headset socket for MP3 and games
  • Flight Mode
  • GSM tri-band
  • GPRS Class 10
  • WAP 2.0
  • MMS receive and send

How does Gizmondo compare to the Nintendo DS or the PSP? The built-in GPS function is the biggest difference. It's a more versatile machine than the Nintendo DS, but the PSP is capable of offering Gizmondo's extra functions in the future. Gizmondo is more expensive than both the PSP and the DS, and it suffers most when it comes to games. But it is early in Gizmondo's development and more games will be available in the next year. The Gizmondo has a lot of potential, but for now PSP players have a vastly greater number of options for their gaming needs.

For lots more information on the Gizmondo and related topics, check out the links in the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Carless, Simon. "Gizmondo Acquires Model Agency, Defends Lawsuits." June 6, 2005. GamaSutra.
  • Carless, Simon. "Gizmondo U.S. Release Delayed, Portfolio Diversifies Further." August 5, 2005. GamaSutra.
  • "Gizmondo Maps Out New Functionality." August 30, 2005. Gizmondo Europe Ltd.
  • Lint, Pocket. "Gizmondo handheld games console." April 8, 2005, The Register.
  • Palley, Steve. "Colors Hands-On." April 6, 2005. GameSpot.
  • Rojas, Peter. "Gizmondo bringing Smart Adds to the US." September 6, 2005. Engadget.
  • Score, Avery. "Gizmondo Hands-On Preview." July 1, 2005. GameSpot.
  • Smith, Tony. "Gizmondo US launch 'put back to October.'" August 5, 2005, The Register.
  • "Tiger Telematics Reaches Out of Court Mediation Settlement with Jordan." July 7, 2005, PR Newswire Europe Ltd.