It's difficult to avoid comparisons to the Sony PSP (which might be why Gizmondo Europe was so reluctant to send out review units), so we may as well get it out of the way: the Gizmondo doesn't come close to touching the PSP. It won't even challenge our increasingly neglected Nintendo DS for second place.
In hardware terms, it looks three years too late, sitting next to the Game Boy Advance as something you'd be embarrassed to get out in public. On software terms, it's sorely lacking a 'must-have' title, and the games are highly derivative (although support from EA is imminent). The PSP and DS are offering games that rival the home consoles, whereas Gizmondo currently offers many games that originated on the Internet.
Despite all this, the Gizmondo has a certain homegrown British charm and is one of the few handheld consoles that can lay realistic claim to being portable. It has some promising features that need software support to gain consumer interest, but in the meantime the Gizmondo looks likely to remain a curate's egg for the gadget fan and an urban myth for everyone else.
The two shoulder buttons may protrude like Shrek's ears, but they feel more comfortable than the unresponsive, clicky ones on the PSP. The Gizmondo also feels a lot more durable, with its rubbery black casing absorbing all the shocks of backpack carriage without taking damage. In a nice touch, the whole screen is indented and therefore less prone to scratching.
Most handheld consoles of late have not been very portable, but the Gizmondo slips into your pocket with ease. It also means that the screen is about half the size of the PSP's, and isn't in a widescreen format. The main face buttons are compact enough to be covered completely by your right thumb, which is far more comfortable than the PSP's design. They've clearly been modelled on Sony's classic PlayStation template, but as this is a 'mulitmedia' device, the main action buttons have been replaced with play, stop, rewind and fast-forward labels. It makes no difference in-game, of course, but if you are playing MP3s or movies, it makes it easier to naviagate.
The D-pad is adequate and crucially it favours prolonged use, but the Gizmondo doesn't have an analogue control -- making it the only major handheld console without this form of interface. We also despise the placement and size of the menu buttons -- they're situated along the top so you have to adjust your hands to access them, and even if you manage to overcome this crime against ergonomics, you have to push them hard to register and their shape is unnaturally thin.
On the rear, the VGA camera has been intelligently placed at the top, meaning that you're unlikely to have your finger over it when taking a quick snap. In terms of quality, it's very much like a phone camera (although the better camera phones are now offering 1- or 2-megapixel cameras). There's no button to take you directly to the photography menu quickly, so if you see David Beckham in the street and want to get a quick snapshot, you'll have to ask him to wait around for a minute while you wrestle the console into photography mode.
When you're charging the battery in the off mode, you can't turn the console on. But if you have the console turned on, you can charge up at the same time. If you use the console a lot you'll need to remember not to let the battery wear down completely. Like a mobile phone, though, the battery will vibrate as a feature of certain games, which is a vaguely embarrassing nuisance when you're playing on the bus.
Gizmondo's branding is very strong, with a nicely packaged unit, and when you open the box you find you get a few free downloads from the Web site. The SD format is a logical way of storing games but it also makes them quite fiddly and prone to getting lost. Luckily, each game comes with a Gizmondo-branded storage case for two cards.