And it looks like this is the end of the road for the Smach Z handheld project. We covered that project since the early days, and we have had a chance to test the various prototypes in hands a couple of times when they were presented in exhibitions like the Tokyo Games Show. It’s regretable to see that they will not be going forward but the signs had been there for a while now (poor communication, unreliable committments, very slow updates, and more and more early supporters asking for refunds).

About 10 days ago, Daniel Fernandez, Smach Z’s project founder, has communicated via the user forum, that they would be entering bankruptcy soon, following the fact that the investors have pulled away from the project. The following reasons are given:

- The covid pandemic. We don’t want to blame it as the sole cause, but the timing was extremely bad for our project, to put it blandly. We were just arranging the last details of production when it started, forcing us to change production partners from China to Spain, resetting key production elements. After that, the company felt forced to start an ERTE (a measure from the Spanish Government to help companies survive), meaning we reduced our workforce… considerably. For us, the mentioned ERTE lasted almost for one year and a half, due to the lack of funds. Because of that, since then, we have been moving things forward being 3-5 workers.
  • Before starting production, we were proceeding with a final testing in a CE certification laboratory, and an emissions test failed, driven from the charger even though the manufacturer had certified it. The defect in question was never resolved by them. It was another unexpected issue that halted production once again, meaning more funds were needed until it was fixed. It was not too serious or difficult to resolve, but again it was a new problem at a critical moment.

  • During the assembling and testing of the first 200 units, problems related to the final batteries were found; we have not been able to determine or solve them and, therefore, an analysis by an external technical expert team is required. When the device has a load of less than 10% and the charger is plugged, a heating occurs in the batteries. This increase of heat activates automatically the system protection, which stops the batteries to avoid degradation, leading to a shut down of the system. Even if we turned off this automatic protection, the batteries would degrade sooner than expected, reducing their full charge in a matter of months, so that was not something acceptable for final units.

As the bankruptcy prospects are now ahead, it’s still possible that another investor jumps in, but the probability is low:

Does this mean your device will never come out? As hard as it is to say it, we think the chances are low. We have a few months to look for new investors until declaring bankruptcy; if we are able to find them, we might have the necessary funds to, at least, produce your devices. And from there, whatever comes next. However, we want to be clear about our current situation: the future looks tough for us, even more in the current economic landscape. Being at the current time a team of 3, we are doing our best to focus all our strengths into looking for a way to make this happen.

If you have ever reserved a unit, after bankruptcy the remaining funds and assets will be used towards refunding early supporters:

What about refunds? If we finally declare bankruptcy, then all the resources obtained by selling our remaining assets will move towards your refunds. Please understand that there are priorities to follow; for example, direct customers from our website will be refunded first, and so on. We have been refunding for a very long time, but those refunds were emitted thanks to the private inversion. As you know we haven’t been able to keep refunding these last months for the same reason, and as we hope you understand, right now we are not able to keep refunding you either.

They also touch upon the fact that the project was NOT a scam in this comment:

We understand that from your point of view you will be angry with us, we can only say that we did all we can with the best intention and efforts. We can guarantee that all the money raised has been dedicated exclusively to cover the project costs. The company has been audited by an external entity and we can show the certification. Also, as you can imagine, in order to get financial support from the government, we have passed strong controls and requirements. Our investors have lost much more money than the money raised in the crowdfunding campaign. So there is nothing weird or dishonest, just a project that has failed, we’re very sorry for that but we hope that you can understand it.

While I do agree it certainly did not look like a scam (scammers would have disappeared with the money long ago, without bothering to deliver any prototype after the initial kickstarter), the team certainly lacked transparency and announced multiple times actual delivery dates, while keeping things in the dark and coming with excuses after the fact over and over again. This has definitely shed a bad light on whatever they were doing and progressively destroyed any trust in the project.

Now, it’s really a shame that the Smach Z will never make it to the market, as it was the only project of this kind with its unique haptic control scheme similar to the Steam Controller. However the writing was on the wall when the Nintendo Switch came out: this was directly eating into the target audience for this kind of devices, with a very serious backing from Nintendo’s. Of course, you can’t run Steam on the Switch so it is not strictly equivalent, but there is a very large amount of games that make it on the Switch these days (especially indies) that it is becoming a good alternative as well.

On the actual handheld PC front there are now several projects that are making it to market, such as the ONEXPLAYER using Intel Xe hardware:

Let’s not forget the GPD Win 3 as well, in a smaller format:

And for a more powerful version, you can find the Aya Neo (with an AMD APU):

So even if Smach Z made it to the market now, it would face a truckload of competition and it would be very surprising if it would do well at all. If anything, the vision of PC Gaming on the go promised by Smach Z years ago has now become true in many shapes, and there’s no need to rely on kickstarter projects anymore.