The more I’ve spent time here at RH writing about, well, retro handhelds, the more I realize that I’m carving out a niche for myself as the guy who writes about the clones. The cheap entries with price points are low enough to say “screw it” when buying something else from a retail marketplace like AliExpress. There are diamonds to be found in that rough. Examples like the Powkiddy V90 show that a low cost of entry doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a decent experience. Finding these diamonds, though, requires digging through some coal.

Part of the game in emulation handhelds is seeing what the other guy has found success with, and cloning it. We’ve seen these designs, chipsets, user considerations, etc. Enter SZDiier with the D-R35Plus. The design and naming convention is clearly biting off of Game Console’s successful R35/R36S lines, which have proven themselves to be extremely capable devices for a very low consumer price point.

The R35S and R36S were clones of Powkiddy and Anbernic devices, respectively. I think that a lot of folks, myself included, saw this announcement and assumed this was a hardware refresh of the R36S offering a slimmer and more refined design. Let’s be clear upfront. It isn’t. This is a copy of a copy that’s not nearly as sharp as the original.

The Lineage

D-R35Plus next to the R36S

D-R35Plus next to the R36S

SZDiier is probably most well known for the D007 handheld that’s been floating around on various deal sites for years. This is the exact type of e-wastey device that gave a bad name to emulation for so long. Cheap plastics meet subpar operating systems, lazy ROM dumps, and shit components. The best compliment you can really give most of these devices is that they do offer what is advertised in large collections in one place. But it’s a subpar experience that will make you wonder if these games have just aged poorly if you didn’t know any better.

The shady marketing of this device wants you to think it is everything that it isn’t. The main logo on the boxing of the D-R35Plus says “Games Console”. Note the S. The competitor that it is stealing from, is “Game Console” (hilariously misprinted as Game Consoie in the first device runs). Everything in the branding of the device is designed to make you think this is a tech refresh of the R36S. If you take nothing else away from this article, let it be that this system and company have nothing to do with the devices it’s cloning.

The Internals

This device is not powered, as many had assumed, by the RK3326 processor. The chip in the D-R35Plus is the VT569B (The box lists a Cortex-A7). This chip was apparently made at some point for an unknown VR application. As so was often the case in the world of Famiclones back in the day, there was a glut of chips somewhere. So why not just make a cheap handheld? Just so we’re clear here, this chip is nowhere near as powerful as the RK3326. Any advertising you see that claims it is of the same performance as any 3326 device is flat-out lying. You, dear consumer, are being baited and switched.

D-R35Plus game selection screen

D-R35Plus game selection screen

The D-R35Plus has a single mono speaker set center in between it’s two analog sticks. Simply put, it sounds like shit. I tested a bunch of different games and systems. Some produced some audible cracks and breaks in the audio due to the poor emulation experience, and the speaker only made things worse. Everything that comes out of this device sounds horribly blown out. There was no volume setting that seemed to fix this issue. Given the lack of quality elsewhere, I’m not particularly inclined to try.

I had high hopes for the screen. Especially, given the remarkable quality found in recent years inside budget-friendly options like the Miyoo Mini and even the R35/36S. Technology has reached a point where these displays cost companies pennies and still provide an excellent experience. Not the case with SZDiier! This “3.5 inch, high-definition 640/480 IPS screen” can’t hold a candle to the devices it’s trying to copy from. Everything looks worse. Maybe some of this can be attributed to software. But as it stands the screen looks most impressive when it’s turned off. Promotional videos list this as having a “3.5 480*360 display”, which to my eyes, is what we’ve actually got here.

The Experience

The D-pad is a bit larger than you might expect from similarly sized handhelds. And, it certainly isn’t something you’d consider premium by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s largely fine. The bubble-style buttons are also wider and more pronounced than on other devices. They provide real comfort in use, and while again they don’t feel like anything special, they are entirely serviceable. I don’t know who designs the shoulder buttons on some of these things. But these are just as annoyingly clicky and loud as they can be on other cheapos.

D-R35Plus vs R36S

D-R35Plus vs R36S

Besides a handful of PS1 games, I’m not really sure why this device even comes with analog sticks at all. It can’t handle N64, PSP, etc. It can barely present PS1 competently. If you’re someone who prefers using a stick for retro systems that came out before they existed, it’s nice that you have that option here. But like the rest of the D-R35Plus, they’re really just there to make you think the device is something that it isn’t. They’re more deceptive tactics to get your money.

D-R35Plus Options Menu

No options for you!

The operating system is what they claim to be a locked version of Android. I’m not sure which, but you’d have to dig pretty far back to even find a version that supports output at this resolution. Regardless of what is actually running under the hood, it feels like a cheap imitation of Emulation Station. The numbered ROM collections make navigation browsing a total chore. And the OS is perhaps the worst part of the device.

Even with all the shady business practices and meh everything else, I’m willing to forgive quite a bit for some community firmware. It’s extremely unlikely that the D-R35Plus will see custom firmware. It’s simply because there won’t be community interest in a device this inexcusably underpowered and clunky in 2024. The options menu of the device almost taunts the user with a total lack of ANY control.

The Conclusion

This is a Wild West hobby space. Companies in China are going to continue to try to capitalize on the success of others by finding profits in the margins of their successes. This is not a device that was conceptualized, implemented, marketed, or released in good faith. This device is here to take your money by playing deceptively with your interest in retro handhelds.

While you can’t outright say it doesn’t do what they claim, there is nothing on offer here that hasn’t been done better in other places for years. So the next time you’re sitting at the AliExpress checkout and see a cheap handheld, just double-check the impulse purchase before you hit add to cart.

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