An emulation-based gaming handheld is the way to go if you want to enjoy retro games on the go (and don’t mind exploring the murky and churning emulation waters). Last year, we were pleased by the Retroid Pocket 2’s excellent build quality and solid results, but its Android platform is a nightmare to customize into a smooth, easy-to-use gui. The Anbernic RG351P, on the other side, is much more user-friendly. The EmuElec/RetroArch frontend on the Linux-based handheld is easy to use right out of the box. The Anbernic RG351P isn’t as strong as the Retroid Pocket 2, and it lacks things including Wi-Fi and HDMI performance, but it’s well-made and easy to use. That is an encounter well worth the $98.99 price tag.
Shell that is strong
The Retroid Pocket 2 is about the same size and form as the RG351P, measuring 2.8 by 6 by 0.7 inches (HWD). It comes in three colors: black, white, and purple (inspired by the original Game Boy Advance). The corners are a little more squared than on the Retroid Pocket, and the back panel has two rubberized handles.
A 3.5-inch 480-by-320 IPS LCD dominates the RG351P’s core.While it just has partially the pixels of the Retroid Pocket 2’s 3.5-inch 640-by-480 screen, this isn’t a challenge for the games it’s supposed to emulate. The 3:2 aspect ratio is uncomfortable in comparison to the more normal 4:3 aspect ratio that the Retroid Pocket 2′ has, allowing 4:3 games to be somewhat pillarboxed. And with black bands that fit in with the black screen frame, they always look fine. The aspect ratio is actually advantageous for 3:2 games on the Game Boy Advance, which scale perfectly to the RG351P’s frame. Regardless of resolution or aspect ratio, the panel is vivid and vibrant, making it easier to see under any lighting situations.
The buttons are laid out exactly the same way as a Nintendo Switch or a PlayStation gamepad, with two parallel analog sticks on each side of the panel. The L1 and R1 controls are readily accessible on the top left and right corners of the handheld, whereas the L2 and R2 controls are placed more inward on the top side. It allows the buttons more difficult to access than traditional controls, but it also gives the RG351P a much flatter design that is simpler to tuck into a pocket.
Between the path pad, face keys, and computer are the Start and Select buttons. The handheld lacks a designated Home button, but pressing both analog sticks simultaneously when playing a game brings up the RetroArch’s main menu. The power button is located on the left side of the RG351P and is recessed so that you can not inadvertently hit it when playing. A volume wheel on the opposite side allows for simple changes to the system’s audio, which is output by two tiny speakers on the bottom edge. A slot for the appropriate (and included) micro SD card is also located on the bottom edge, as is a recessed Reset button. The top of the handheld has two USB-C OTG connectors, one of which is used for charging, as well as a 3.5mm headphone socket.
The machine, like the Retroid Pocket 2, feels really sturdy and well-made. There are no loose parts in the machine, which has a solid matte-plastic shell. Above the left stick is a plus-shaped direction panel, and above the right stick are A/B/X/Y face keys. The analog sticks, including Switch sticks, are smooth and sensitive, and the direction pad and face buttons are springy. It’s another good-feeling portable that gets close to meeting Nintendo’s expectations.
The RG351P is a Linux-based platform with a quad-core, 1.5GHz RK3326 Processor. It has 1GB of RAM but no internal storage; everything is stored on the included micro SD card. The machine will simulate gaming consoles up to and including the fifth console generation, including the NES, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Neo Geo, Neo Geo Pocket Color, Super NES, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Nintendo 64, Sony PlayStation, TurboGrafx-16, and (with differing degrees of success) PlayStation Portable. A 64GB micro SD card is supplied, which is preconfigured with the EmuElec Linux frontend for game emulation.
In terms of preconfigured content, the RG351P can come with a few thousand games depending on where you purchase it. Certain Amazon and Aliexpress sellers will send the device with a plethora of game roms preinstalled on the micro SD card. Obviously, this is illegal, since the roms were not duly approved by the vendor.
We can’t specifically assist you with bringing your own games into the system. Ripping disc-based games and placing them on a micro SD card should be relatively simple, but cartridge-based games would need you to find a way to extract roms from cartridges you already possess. I use my imported Retro Freak console for that functionality as well as checking. We are unable to comment about any other rom outlets.
The RG351P lags behind the Retroid Pocket 2 in two communication regions. Any in-system upgrades or game scraping (loading additional content such as box art including screenshots to render the menu appear nicer) must be performed manually with the micro SD card or via an OTC-compatible USB adapter and Wi-Fi dongle due to the absence of Wi-Fi. The machine still lacks an HDMI output, so you won’t be able to play its games on your TV.
Gaming on Linux
Gaming on Linux
The EmuElec frontend for Linux comes preconfigured on the RG351P, which manages browsing some games on the card and running the right simulator for each one. On its own, it’s an appealing and functional interface, but it can occasionally feel sluggish or janky. Long-named game files may be cut off by the interface’s default view, and I experienced strange quirks with the system intermittently entering and exiting sleep mode.
Performance of Emulation
Predictably, the RG351P performs admirably in 2D play. Games from the NES, SNES, Game Boy, and Game Boy Advance all worked flawlessly on the handheld. I had to manually set the scaling to core-specific so that non-GBA games weren’t extended to 3:2 while using ArkOS, but this was a minor problem.
GBA games appear best on the console because the system’s aspect ratio and resolution automatically scale to twice the native GBA resolution. However, the bilinear scaling in other games appears to be quite good. I discovered that enabling the RGA Scaling option in RetroArch made non-GBA games look best when scaling them to fit the screen with pillar boxing, so if your games look jaggy or awkward, try that setting. With the proper settings, Yoshi (NES), Super Mario World (SNES), Shantae (GBC), Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Falzar (GBA), and Sonic CD (Sega CD) everything looked and played nice.
PlayStation games function well on the RG351P as well. On the handheld, I had no difficulty playing Tomb Raider or Pepsiman, and both had reliably smooth 3D graphics and audio.