gamepad


Back when we first reviewed the Wii U hardware, we called the touchscreen GamePad's three to five hours of battery life the system's "Achilles' heel." Nintendo is now taking some action to toughen up that weak heel, in Japan at least, by offering an optional expanded battery pack that extends the GamePad's functional life away from a charging outlet.

The new battery pack, which will retail for ¥3,150 (about $30) when it hits Japan on July 25, extends the standard battery capacity of 1500 mAh to 2550 mAh, providing what Nintendo says is five to eight hours of juice. The battery is the same physical size as the built-in battery included with the standard Wii U GamePad, and it requires a quick installation with a Phillips head screwdriver.

There's no word yet on whether this official expanded battery will be available in the US or other regions or whether an imported Japanese version will work on Wii U GamePads designed for other countries. For those who don't want to wait, Nyko currently offers an internal Wii U PowerPak rated at 4000 mAh and a bulky clip-on external battery extender that claims to double the GamePad's battery life (and doubles as a handy kickstand for the touchscreen).

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There are a lot of things I’d love to tell you about the Wii U. I’d love to tell you how the Miiverse social networking service lets you play games and exchange messages with friends. I’d love to tell you how the GamePad’s built-in camera works for video chatting with other Wii U owners all over the world. I’d love to tell you about the transfer process for content from your old Wii, or how the new system handles old Wii retail games, or how easy it is to expand the storage space with a USB hard drive, or what the sign-up process for the new Nintendo Network ID is like, or how functional the Web browser and free video apps are, or how the new eShop compares to other digital download services.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any of that. As of mid-day Saturday, mere hours from the system's North American launch, Nintendo had not yet pushed out a promised firmware update to activate all of these features (and maybe a few that I’m not aware of). (Note: Nintendo did push the firmware update at about 6pm CT, five hours before the company's embargo on reviews of the hardware was set to lift. We'll have reporting on the extra features as soon as we've tested them.)

As a result, this first review of the Wii U is going to be necessarily incomplete. While I can offer an extensive review on the Wii U hardware and the unique new touchscreen GamePad controller (Ars reviewed some of the system's big launch games earlier this week as well), I can't yet offer an opinion on many of the system's promised features.

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We already knew a lot about the Wii U based on previous hands-on time with the system and announcements from Nintendo. But now that we have the actual hardware in Opposable Thumbs HQ (read: my Pittsburgh apartment), we've noticed a few things that were a bit surprising. Here’s a quick, picture-filled look at some of those surprises. We’ll have much more Wii U coverage, including an in-depth review of the system and major games, as we get closer to the November 18 North American launch.

There’s a mystery connector at the bottom of the GamePad


In addition to a slot for the charger and a standard headphone jack at the top, the bottom of the tablet GamePad has a mysterious connector at the bottom. The user’s manual says this connector is for "controller accessories," but none have yet been announced. The connector is a thinner than the Wii Remote connector that was used for things like the Nunchuk and Classic Controller. Karaoke launch game We Sing doesn’t use it either—the microphone that comes with that game plugs into the USB slots on the base system. Curious...

UPDATE: Thanks to former Ars writer Ben Kuchera for pointing us towards yet another mystery connector on the back side of the GamePad, as shown above. The female screw hole in the middle of the controller's back ridge is very similar to the kind you'd see on a camera tripod, though the ridge would seem to get in the way of the base for most such tripods. The screw hole, and the divots next to it, line up with the mystery connector at the bottom in such a way that it looks like it could be used to secure a bulky accessory that latches in to both connectors and sits flush with the back of the GamePad. Our best guess at this point: an expanded battery pack to extend that three to five hour battery life...

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We already knew a lot about the Wii U based on previous hands-on time with the system and announcements from Nintendo. But now that we have the actual hardware in Opposable Thumbs HQ (read: my Pittsburgh apartment), we've noticed a few things that were a bit surprising. Here’s a quick, picture-filled look at some of those surprises. We’ll have much more Wii U coverage, including an in-depth review of the system and major games, as we get closer to the November 18 North American launch.

There’s a mystery connector at the bottom of the GamePad


In addition to a slot for the charger and a standard headphone jack at the top, the bottom of the tablet GamePad has a mysterious connector at the bottom. The user’s manual says this connector is for "controller accessories," but none have yet been announced. The connector is a thinner than the Wii Remote connector that was used for things like the Nunchuk and Classic Controller. Karaoke launch game We Sing doesn’t use it either—the microphone that comes with that game plugs into the USB slots on the base system. Curious...

UPDATE: Thanks to former Ars writer Ben Kuchera for pointing us towards yet another mystery connector on the back side of the GamePad, as shown above. The female screw hole in the middle of the controller's back ridge is very similar to the kind you'd see on a camera tripod, though the ridge would seem to get in the way of the base for most such tripods. The screw hole, and the divots next to it, line up with the mystery connector at the bottom in such a way that it looks like it could be used to secure a bulky accessory that latches in to both connectors and sits flush with the back of the GamePad. Our best guess at this point: an expanded battery pack to extend that three to five hour battery life...

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Since the Wii U was first unveiled, quite a few people have asked if the system was really powerful enough to handle HD graphics while pushing an 854×480 image out to the tablet GamePad wirelessly in real time. Has to come with significant lag, right? We haven't noticed any latency between the GamePad and the on-screen action in any of our hands-on tests with the system, but other reports differed on this score. Rayman Legends developer Michel Ancel has now confirmed the GamePad image on the Wii U suffers only 1/60th of a second delay.

"It's crazy because the game is running in full HD [on the television], we are streaming another picture on the GamePad screen, and it's still 60 frames per second," Ancel told Nintendo Power (as noticed by Nintendo Everything). "And the latency on the controller is just 1/60 of a second, so it’s one frame late. It’s crazy, it’s so fast. It’s almost instant. That’s why it responds so well. So it can be used as a real game-design thing."

While a one-frame delay might actually be noticeable by some of the craziest pro fighting game players, the minute difference is going to be practically undetectable for most gamers. On a game like Black Ops 2, for instance, the player using the tablet screen shouldn't be at any real disadvantage over the player on the HDTV.

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From the system's first unveiling at E3 2011 to Thursday's final announcement of launch details, Nintendo has been releasing information about its next home console, the Wii U, in bits and pieces for about 15 months now. Unless you've been closely following all those data drops, you may have missed some important details about Nintendo's future hardware plans.

That's where we come in. The below FAQ collects all the pertinent information we currently know about the Wii U.

Basic information

Q: So when is this thing coming out?

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From the system's first unveiling at E3 2011 to Thursday's final announcement of launch details, Nintendo has been releasing information about its next home console, the Wii U, in bits and pieces for about 15 months now. Unless you've been closely following all those data drops, you may have missed some important details about Nintendo's future hardware plans.

That's where we come in. The below FAQ collects all the pertinent information we currently know about the Wii U.

Basic information

Q: So when is this thing coming out?

Read 63 remaining paragraphs | Comments


Metroid Blast on the Wii U

After Nintendo's E3 announcement event this morning, the company provided some time for the assembled press to check out a bunch of Wii U demo kiosks. While a lot of the games available had been previously shown at other press events, I took the opportunity to put the GamePad through its paces on a few new experiences.

First up was Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which Activision announced for the Wii U this morning. When I approached the CoD demo, it wasn't in perfect shape. The game was working fine when set up in a co-op multiplayer game (the GamePad displayed and controlled one player's view of the game, giving the TV over fully to the player using a Pro controller). But when the CoD rep tried to set me up with a single-player campaign using the GamePad as a controller, the game kept wanting to switch control over to the Pro Controller that other players were constantly fiddling with.

Enlarge / The display for single-player mode on the GamePad: fast access to menus, friends, and Killstreak bonuses.

When I could get the game to stay focused on the GamePad, I found that the screen on the controller let me quickly get to many in-game menus. Touchscreen buttons allowed me to switch classes and tweak controller settings on the fly, and also provided convenient access to Killstreak buttons to drop vehicles into the game as I earned them.

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Tomorrow, Nintendo is set to give us the final details on what we can expect from the Wii U's launch later this year. Yesterday and today, Ars readers shared their thoughts on what they want to hear from Nintendo, and what (if anything) could convince them to purchase the system, either at launch or after.

The more than 200 comments we received ran the gamut from Nintendo haters to self-described fanboys, with plenty of people falling somewhere in between. Here are some of the most interesting, thought-provoking, or just representative comments from the Ars readership.

Fool me once, shame on me...

By far the most common sentiment among the Ars readership was to hold off on the Wii U simply because Nintendo had failed to deliver a compelling experience with the original Wii. Commenter superslav23 said the experience of the Wii taught him to expect "the same games slightly changed to use the gimmicky tablet." damarv said he loved the Wii's motion controls as a concept, but complained that "rather than improving my physical abilities, I ended up jiggling a controller around."

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Tomorrow, Nintendo is set to give us the final details on what we can expect from the Wii U's launch later this year. Yesterday and today, Ars readers shared their thoughts on what they want to hear from Nintendo, and what (if anything) could convince them to purchase the system, either at launch or after.

The more than 200 comments we received ran the gamut from Nintendo haters to self-described fanboys, with plenty of people falling somewhere in between. Here are some of the most interesting, thought-provoking, or just representative comments from the Ars readership.

Fool me once, shame on me...

By far the most common sentiment among the Ars readership was to hold off on the Wii U simply because Nintendo had failed to deliver a compelling experience with the original Wii. Commenter superslav23 said the experience of the Wii taught him to expect "the same games slightly changed to use the gimmicky tablet." damarv said he loved the Wii's motion controls as a concept, but complained that "rather than improving my physical abilities, I ended up jiggling a controller around."

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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