Since its announcement as a crowdfunded game console in 2018, the Intellivision Amico has had a weird public image. There have been many YouTube pronouncements about its family-friendliness, yet there are few concrete details that have convinced us it will stand out in an increasingly crowded home-gaming market. And this year, public scrutiny about the $250 system (currently open for $100 preorder “down payments” or full-price preorders, which include two controllers and six pack-in games) has grown, particularly after Intellivision joined the 2021 virtual E3-showcase fray—and did so with a resounding thud.
Thus far, the Amico has used video presentations to show what the company hopes will set this handheld apart from the pack. Those videos mostly originate from Intellivision and a few hand-picked fan YouTube channels. Until we can go hands on with live hardware ourselves, these videos leave us with question marks about dev kits and other potentially inauthentic presentations. Leaks from an Intellivision developer portal this week will have to suffice for now, as it’s a great opportunity to finally take a closer look at what the heck an Intellivision Amico actually is.
“Exactly what stock photos are meant for”
I began closely watching the Amico once I noticed that its E3 2021 presentation video included unclear footage of how the device actually works. These “live gameplay” videos hint at Amico’s central gimmick: gameplay happens primarily on a TV screen, but the device can also integrate content on an LCD screen embedded in every controller (controllers resemble Nintendo’s Wii U, albeit with smaller gamepads). However, the E3 video cuts and pans so much that we can’t tell if the Amico controllers are legitimately interacting with the nearby TV set. Older Amico videos have shown apparent lag between controller input and TV display—when those videos haven’t hidden the controller from view altogether, that is. This recent E3 presentation did nothing to reduce concern on that front.
The E3 presentation included multiple stock images of happy families playing with Amico, and Intellivision CEO Tommy Tallarico later confirmed those images were doctored—DualShock-like controllers were digitally replaced with Amico’s touchscreen-filled pads. Tallarico defended the promotional choice on Twitter by saying, “That is exactly what stock photos are meant for and why they exist.”
Next to the stock photos was direct-feed footage of apparent Amico gameplay that looked simplistic and sometimes stuttering. It didn’t inspire confidence in a price category that includes competent $200 to $300 options like the Nintendo Switch and Apple TV 4K. To picture it, imagine an online Flash gaming portal full of mostly flat, 2D game designs with a few 3D twists and visual flourishes, and you get some idea of Amico’s visual aesthetic.
Perhaps a different sizzle-reel approach would have done a better job selling the Amico concept, and I don’t envy any marketing department dealing with a pandemic-related expo drought where a physical demo might fill in these gaps. But for a console that revolves around the lukewarm Wii U concept of “gameplay on TV, extra screen in your hand,” whose last announced launch date was October 10, 2021, it sure seems like time to release more details. This is especially true for a new, unproven hardware maker, since the Intellivision brand name was acquired in 2018 by an entirely new team.
“Smart Display 200” doesn’t sound as cute as “Amico”
Intellivision has been frank that Amico was built with budget-priced gaming in mind. Its official “specs” page makes that clear, with performance numbers that resemble lower-powered Android smartphones. But this recent leak from Intellivision’s online “developer” portal provided concrete specifics about how much hardware power this $250 system and its controllers will eventually deliver.
The Intellivision developer portal was recently publicly available online, no password needed, for long enough to have the details saved at archive.org earlier this month. Sources with knowledge about Amico have confirmed to Ars Technica that the leaked specs we’ve seen were legitimate. While the specs were live as recently as June 14 and line up with Amico’s own official specs page, they could still change between now and the system’s launch.
The Intellivision developer portal includes precise specs for various system elements in order to help game makers begin building Amico software before they receive official dev kits. Before listing all of its specs, Intellivision’s own comparison makes the point more simply:
We’ve found the ZTE ZMax Pro Z981 (Snapdragon 617, Adreno 405) is a good benchmark test and runs just a little slower than the Amico hardware.
This model of ZTE smartphone debuted in 2016 at a budget price point of $100 unlocked—and that included a 13 MP camera sensor, a 6-inch, 1080p display, and a 3,400 mAh battery. In comparison, Amico works as a set-top box for your TV while embedding a 3.2-inch, 240p capacitive touchscreen into each of its controllers (two will be included in the box).
The developer portal calls out Qualcomm’s Smart Display 200 platform—and specifies its “APQ8053-Lite” model, which includes a 1.8GHz Snapdragon 624, an Adreno 506 GPU, 2GB of LPDDR3 DRAM, 16GB of Flash storage, and built-in controllers for interfaces like HDMI, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth (but not Ethernet). While prices on bulk-manufactured SoC motherboards can vary for many reasons, this one appears to be available in bulk orders at rates near $38 per board (though that one includes a camera sensor, which Amico will not have in either its primary box or its controllers).