The Best Handheld Retro Games Console in 2021 [October Update]

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It can be overwhelming trying to decide what the best handheld retro games console is for you. With so many different choices on the market, it is easy to just throw your hands up and go “I’ll do it later!”. So we at DroiX have put together a handy guide to help you decide on the perfect handheld for your needs.

What is a handheld retro games console?

A handheld retro games console is a handheld console used for playing retro games. Self-explanatory, right?

Your typical handheld retro games console will consist of a single SoC (System-on-a-Chip) combined with a screen, speakers, and a built-in controller. For those unfamiliar with the concept of an SoC, think of it as something similar to a mobile phone.

What sets these handhelds apart from the average Game Boy however is what they can do. A handheld retro games console is characterized by it’s ability to play many retro games. Primarily, arcade games and handheld games from the 80’s and 90’s. Making them excellent companions for breaks during work, or long commutes.

The Best Handheld Retro Games Consoles – A List

1. ANBERNIC RG351MP

RG351MP – Mint Green

The ANBERNIC RG351MP is (at the time of writing, what we believe to be) ANBERNIC’s final handheld retro games console of their “third generation”.

Stand-out features of the RG351MP feature a “premium-feeling” metal shell, and a crisp 640x480p IPS display with a 4:3 ratio. It also retains the dual-SD card slot design seen in the RG351V and the earlier “second generation” handhelds.

This handheld is powered by a Rockchip RK3366 SoC – with a quad-core processor that runs at 1.5 gigahertz, and 1GB of DDR3L RAM. These specs allow the RG351MP to near-perfectly handle Playstation 1 games and anything older. It can also handle some N64 and PSP games, although your mileage may vary per-game.

A nice additional feature of the RG351MP is it’s ability to make use of rudimentary online features. With a wi-fi dongle inserted into the unit, you can connect to the internet to scrape online databases of metadata for your game collections. This includes box art, descriptions, release dates, and more.
(You can also play some games online through RetroArch’s experimental online play functionality).

You can learn more about the RG351MP in our RG351MP review, as well as buy your own RG351MP from DroIX.

What we like!

  • The 4:3 display allows for pixel-perfect visuals in the majority of retro games.
  • Being able to use two SD cards makes it much easier to manage games and firmware.
  • The colour choices this time around have much more life to them. With cool Ocean Blue and refreshing Mint Green options.

What we don’t like…

  • No internal Wi-Fi functionality. You WILL need a dongle in order to perform online tasks.
  • It’s more of the same? If you already have an RG351V or RG351M, there is not much reason to upgrade.

2. ANBERNIC RG351M

ANBERNIC RG351P Black Colour Frontal View
RG351M – Matte Black

As the second entry in the third generation of ANBERNIC handhelds. The ANBERNIC RG351M was our previous favourite handheld retro games console – until it was dethroned by the RG351MP.

When compared to the RG351MP, it is extremely similar. Boasting the same rockchip SoC and the same general performance in emulation. It differs in three areas however.

  1. It has a functional built-in Wi-Fi chip
  2. The display features a lower resolution and a different aspect ratio (3:2 and 480x320p).
  3. It only has a single microSD card slot, meaning the OS and games are all stored on one card.

Compared to the earlier model, the RG351P, the RG351M was not a significant upgrade and was difficult to justify replacing your already perfectly functional RG351P for. But the small changes (the functional built in Wi-Fi chip, and the premium feel make this an excellent entry point for those who do not already own a handheld from this generation.

Want to know more? Take a look at our RG351M review for more info. Want to buy one? Buy your ANBERNIC RG351M from DroiX today!

What we like!

  • Functional built-in Wi-Fi eliminates the need for a dongle.
  • 3:2 resolution allows for pixel-perfect emulation of Game Boy Advance titles.
  • The metal shell gives the system a good sturdy feel to it.

What we don’t like…

  • 3:2 resolution means stretched visuals or black bars for many other systems.
  • The D-pad can be a little stiff until it is “broken in” after extended use.

3. Gameforce Chi

Gameforce chi green colour frontal view
GameForce Chi – Green

The GameForce Chi is a new handheld from a fresh face in the retro games console scene. Chinese startup GameForce founded in 2020 released this new handheld in early-mid 2021.

While reception was initially sketchy due to it’s unusual appearance, it quickly proved itself to be handheld worth buying.

The childish, playful appearance belies a surprisingly ergonomic feel in the hand. Coupled with a decent 4:3 IPS 640x480p display, the Gameforce Chi provides an all-around stellar experience.

One particular feature we like is the inclusion of buttons with optional backlit LEDs. Choose from a range of colours including Red, Blue, Green, Purple, and more. Or just turn them off if they’re not to your liking.

The lack of L3/R3 buttons is a bit of a bummer to us however, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

Check out more on the Gameforce Chi in our GameForce review, or buy a GameForce Chi from DroiX.

What we like!

  • The chunky design is surprisingly ergonomic.
  • Back-lit buttons with a variety of colours make for easy night-time playing.
  • The speakers are surprisingly decent.

What we don’t like…

  • The aesthetics are a little on the… “budget” side of things.
  • Lack of buttons! No L3/R3, and no dedicated volume wheel/buttons can make things awkward at times.

4. ANBERNIC RG351V

ANBERNIC RG351V – Wood

The ANBERNIC RG351V is Anbernic’s third attempt at a vertical handheld retro games console, after the RG280V and RG300. Both of those consoles were excellent in their own right, but the RG351V takes things a step further and provides a truly outstanding retro gaming experience.

Being a vertical handheld, the RG351V is much taller than its contemporaries, predecessors, and successors. With the controls for the system being present underneath the display.

Talking about the display – this is the first ANBERNIC handheld since the original RG300 to feature a 4:3 display, granting it higher compatibility with a wider array of retro titles.

Like the RG351M and RG351P, the RG351V features the same RockChip RK3326 SoC, and can expect similar performance in the same titles.

Pick up an RG351V from DroiX today, or check out our RG351V review to learn more.

What we like!

  • The vertical design is surprisingly comfortable to hold!
  • Two SD card slots make managing your firmware and games a breeze.
  • Functional built-in Wi-Fi means no dongle is necessary!
  • The screen is beautifully crisp, clear, and provides pixel-perfect scaling for many retro platforms.

What we don’t like…

  • Only one analogue stick is present.
  • Only one speaker, positioned in such a way where your hand will block it.
  • The wood colour is… unusual? Some may like it, but we’re not a huge fan.

5. RetroFlag GPi Case

Changing things up a little, allow us to introduce the RetroFlag GPi case. It is a more “DIY” handheld retro games console that is built around the Raspberry Pi Zero W.

It resembles a Game Boy through and through – there is no getting around this fact. Through the use of a Raspberry Pi present in the cartridge (which is also removable), it is possible to play a variety of retro games through RetroPie and similar distributions (Lakka, etc.).

A neat feature of the GPi case is the ability to power itself solely off of AA batteries, really driving home the nostalgia angle that the unit is going for.

The RetroFlag GPi makes an excellent gift for any gamer in the family, old or new. Particularly due to it’s DIY design, which makes it a fun, short and easy project to work on.

If you’re interested in buying a RetroFlag GPi of your own, whether it be just the case itself, or a pre-built unit, you can buy a Retro Flag GPi from DroiX. Or you can check out our review of the GPi case to learn more.

Retroflag GPi Case Frontal View
GPi Case

What we like!

  • Nostalgia galore! The Retroflag GPi case looks extremely similar to the classic Game Boy.
  • Runs on AA batteries! A nice touch that adds to the overall nostalgia presented.
  • DIY Fun! Putting the unit together ourselves makes us feel proud and even more tech-nerdy than usual.
  • The cartridge system allows you to effortlessly swap out different operating systems.

What we don’t like…

  • It’s a little on the weaker side.
  • Form over function… It’s not the most ergonomic device out there.
  • Lack of buttons – Offset by the device not really being able to handle many platforms where sticks were present.

Recap of the Best Retro Games Consoles

We’ve provided a basic recap of the 5 devices featured in this article below. They’re all fairly similar on paper, so make sure to check out our reviews for more info!

ModelProcessorDisplayOperating SystemPurchase Link
ANBERNIC RG351MPRockChip RK3326; Quad-core @ 1.5GHz640x480p; 4:3; 3.5″EmuELEC (Custom)Buy Now
Gameforce Chi RockChip RK3326; Quad-core @ 1.5GHz 640x480p; 4:3; 3.45″EmuELEC (Official)Buy Now
RetroFlag GPi BCM2835; Single-core @ 1GHz320x240p; 4:3; 2.8″Variable (RetroPie, Lakka, etc.)Buy Now
ANBERNIC RG351V RockChip RK3326; Quad-core @ 1.5GHz 640x480p; 4:3; 3.5″ EmuELEC (Custom) Buy Now
ANBERNIC RG351M RockChip RK3326; Quad-core @ 1.5GHz 480×320; 3:2; 3.5″ EmuELEC (Custom) Buy Now
The Best Handheld Retro Games Console – Table

benjamin
Mild-mannered support agent by daylight; even milder-mannered tech blogger under cover of night. Fond of gaming, virtual reality, and sleeping; not necessarily in that order.

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We've compiled a list of the best handheld retro games consoles (so you don't have to)! Read on to find out which handheld is best for you!..Read full article

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