An Arduboy, what’s that? In a world of increasingly large handhelds, you’re less likely to want to travel with a handheld. You might say “it’s too big and heavy and it hurts my back” or “I’m not taking any of these handhelds because they don’t fit in my fannypack.” All are common complaints about these new handhelds. So ask yourself, ‘why not something smaller?’ An RG35XX+? Smaller. Miyoo Mini? Smaller. Playdate? Tinier. Pocketsprite?… okay maybe not THAT little.
I’m talking about a handheld that doesn’t emulate, but rather comes with its own ecosystem of games like the Playdate: the Arduboy FX. That’s right, I’m back with another niche handheld review, and you’re gonna like it.
But before we get into it, the Arduboy FX was purchased by me from the Retro Handhelds Discord Marketplace, and all (likely poor) opinions are my own.
What Is It?
The Arduboy FX is actually an upgrade to a previously released handheld called The Arduboy. The original released in 2015 through Kickstarter, Kevin Bates brought the Arduboy to the masses for as little as $29 if you got it early enough. The similarities between the two are aplenty.
Both are small credit card sized devices with a plastic front and an aluminum back shell, featuring a 1.3” 128×64 pixel OLED display. Unlike color OLEDs these two remain in black and white, and both have a backlight – take that Playdate. Alongside that, they both come powered by an ATMega32u4 chip, with an eye-watering 2.5kb of RAM. All of which is powered by a 180mAh battery and charged over Micro USB.
Where they differ is storage. The original Arduboy had 32kb of storage which was good for a couple games, while the Arduboy FX has enough storage to come preloaded with 200 community made and developed games. All for a slightly increased price of $54.
Now that you know what it is, how about we discuss how cute it is.
Arduboy, That’s Small
As mentioned before, the Arduboy FX is a credit card sized device. In comparison to this Burger King gift card, they’re dimensions are identical outside of thickness. Stacking 5 cards on top of one another will get you to about the same size, though the FX will be quite a bit heavier.
Compared to the Playdate, it’s a little taller, but a lot narrower. And of course it’s a lot thinner and considerably more pocket friendly.
Next to the Chicken boy? It’s narrower again, but about as tall if you take into account the chicken’s hair. It’s also about 1/3rd as thick as the Chicken.
Finally here’s the Arduboy FX next to a Miyoo Mini, and an RGB30 for a couple of size comparison.
Oh and the weights of all of the devices are below:
Burger King Giftcard: 5 grams
Arduboy FX: 38 grams
Chicken Boy: 47 grams
Playdate: 85 grams
Miyoo Mini: 104 grams
RGB30: 209 grams
This will be a short section, as the Arduboy FX is not a great ergonomic experience. Its small vertical size pushes my hands closely together, and cramps them up after a short while, which is fine as you likely won’t have long gaming hours on a device like this.
What does make it a shame are the buttons, or how shockingly bad they are. They all have a soft click to them followed by a soft bottom out. My thumb can cover most of the d-pad in one go, but it hasn’t been an issue in game play. The screen is small, and only slightly difficult to look at, but it is a really lovely and responsive display.
The Arduboy Gaming Experience
Now we’re onto the important bits and bobs: the overall gameplay experience. As mentioned before, it’s a tiny, black and white OLED display, but it’s also a really nice one. Every game that I’ve tried so far has been nice and responsive. And what of those games?
Like I said, the FX comes with over 200 games preinstalled, and you can install your own at a later time as well, though it is a bit of a long process. The games are split into genres including Action, Adventure, Arcade, Runner, Platform, Strategy, Puzzle, Skill, Tabletop, Racing, RPG, Shooter, and Sports. Every single category had its own set of games, and if you didn’t see something you liked in one section, it’s likely you’d find it in another.
Arcade had games such as Kong, and Kong 2 which are very reminiscent of the classic Donkey Kong games. Racing included a Micro Machine style game in the form of Ardu-Racer. Puzzle had the classic 2048 remake as well as Circuit Dude, and Tabletop has Farkle. Even Shooters and Sports had their own great games including Tiny Asteroids and Sk8 and Die.
While overall a great time, it can easily be hindered by the battery inside. The 180mAh battery could last you up to 8 hours, but if you’re playing a game that uses a lot of white, you could get much less. Personally I was seeing as low as just 2 hours of total gameplay, which if you ask me is still fine as you likely won’t play this much outside of the lines at the DMV.
Final Thoughts and Alternatives
At its original price tag of $54, the Arduboy FX is a great little device worth having. At the current price of $74, or the $99 for the limited edition Black Model (with 300+ games) it becomes a bit of a tougher sell. For $100 you can grab yourself a Retroid Pocket 2S and have a massive library of games both from the retro market and the Android ports, a list of which can be found across many great Retro Tech Dad videos. Even at $74 you could buy yourself an RG35XX+ or an RG Nano, and have a bunch of recognizable games from your past that you’d be happy to play over and over again.
But I don’t think those are the competition. The competition comes from other devices that play bespoke games for their “platform.” The Playdate is $200, and then you can buy or side-load more games. An excellent but pricey time in a compact device. The Evercade and Super Pocket are anywhere from $60 to $140, and then you have to buy new cartridges for $20 each on average. Great library, but a rapidly growing cost. Even the RGB30 as a Pico-8 machine is still around $75, but comes in a much larger size to than the Arduboy.
Coming with 200 games pre-installed across multiple genres makes the Arduboy a great pocket-sized value device. It’s not as cheap as it used to be, the ergonomics are bad and it’s a bit of an oddball overall, but it’s a fun one. The Arduboy FX is worth a look, and if you can find one for a great deal, do yourself a favor and pick one up. Heck leave it in your wallet even. Then you’ll at least have something with a quality library always with you. I know I will.
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