The story: Back in 2005 Shanda, a Chinese electronics firm ( not as shady as it sounds: for what it's worth, they're traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange) decided the time was right for china to enter the videogame market in a serious and legitimate way. It was announced that they were going to challenge Nintendo and Sony, and develop a home console and a handheld.
They apparently test marketed the home console, the EZ Station ($800 retail?), and claimed to have had a very positive response. Then with much fanfare Shanda's handheld, known as the EZ Mini, was shown at a electronics expo in late 2005. And then.....nothing. Well almost nothing. Records seem to indicate that Shanda was forced to pull the plug on their entire video game venture due to a conflict of interest with one of their corporate partners.
So recently I friend of mine in China actually found a pair of production samples for the EZ Mini, and I bought them. They arrived today and here are my impressions:
Each unit appears brand new. They are both white, with removable plastic film still covering the screen. They each have a custom wall charger. No box was ever produced, so they came in plastic bags and soft pink foam. A small barcode sticker is on the back of the system. These appear to be enabled with both BlueTooth and WiFi, but I have not yet tested these features. There is a slot on the top, between the speakers, that accepts SD and MMC cards. The unit has a touch screen, and a small retractable stylus is included. The EZ Mini takes a second for the load screen to activate. The main menu offers games, Music, video, ebooks, and downloads. These menus appear in a combination of Chinese and English. As you can see, the EZ Mini is about the same length and thickness as a DS Lite, in it's closed position.
*note: screen protector-film has not been removed in some pics.
Shanda planned to develop 1500 (!) games which would have been downloadable from an online store, through the EZ Mini's USB port. Since the "store" never materialized, and I have no technical "hacking" experience, I assumed that actually using a Production sample of a canceled handheld to play games was out of the question. Yet much to my surprise, I quickly discovered that mine had a small amount of pre-loaded software included.
Some of the text is Chinese, but I've found a Kirby/Zelda hybrid, a beautiful medieval hack-n-slash (koei-esque), and a fun space shooter, which prompts you to hold the unit vertically, wonderswan style :) Also is a much appreciated pack a Taito classics including Bubble Bobble, Space Invaders, and many others. (the Taito games all contain the proper copy-write credentials and seem like fully authorized ports).
Everything looks surprisingly professional and it seems a real shame that Shanda didn’t get the opportunity to push things past the test phase. Some of the load screens seem incomplete and during boot-up some raw code-gibberish can be seen briefly, but otherwise things are very polished. I'm optimistic that with a bit of translation help from my friend, I can unlock more of the EZ Mini's potential. In fact I just made the menu background flip to green instead of default red.
Here's some links: