The Pandora open-source portable video game console, which claims to be "the most powerful gaming handheld there is", finally began shipping this week, slightly delayed from its initial estimated 2007 release date. The OpenPandora team has already sent out some of its units, and have around 4,000 preorders to fulfill.

If you haven't followed development on the Pandora, it's almost like a subnotebook computer with its ARM Cortex-A8 processor, IVA2+ audio and video processor , 256MB of DDR RAM, 512MB of on-board NAND memory, two SDHC slots, almost-full QWERTY keyboard, integrated Bluetooth, and TV-out, all squeezed into a shell that's only a little larger than a DS Lite.

Like the DS, the lid flips closed, and it has a touchscreen display (800x480, 4.3" widescreen). The Pandora also offers a directional pad, two analog pads,, two shoulder buttons, four standard face buttons, and three function buttons (Start/Select/Home). You can charge it with an AC Adapter or via USB (battery life is around 10 hours for a "reasonable load").

All that hardware makes the system perfect for running homebrew titles or emulators. The portable has already been shown running emulators like MAME4ALL, DOSBox, PSX4Pandora (PlayStation), PicoDrive (Sega Genesis/Mega Drive), PandaSNES, and many others. You can see a full list of projects under development for the system at Pandora Wiki.

It also features a lot of non-gaming functions. It runs a Linux distribution that's "basically Ångström-Linux with some Pandora-specific changes", and allows you to access the internet through FireFox, listen to MP3s (up to 100 hours of battery life when just playing MP3s), and more.

Unless you put in a preorder for this first run of handhelds, you'll likely have to wait until OpenPandora starts focusing on producing its second run before you can order one for yourself. Expect to pay around $339, and keep an eye on this page to see where and when you buy a Pandora.