So it looks like Anbernic wants to get in on the whole console refresh game. After all, the mainstream consoles have been doing it for ages. The Switch had a refresh, the Steam Deck just had a refresh, the Miyoo Mini got a refresh for its chipset but in a whole new shell. Now Anbernic is taking their fan-favorite budget handheld, the 35XX, and releasing the 35XX PLUS. More power, more features, same overall shell, it’s a good way to renew interest without changing too much of what fans loved the first time around.
We of course reviewed the original 35XX here on the website. We’ll be doing a full review for the Plus soon, but for now I’m here to give quick first impressions of my experience with the device during the initial few days of owning it, as the impressions are still fresh in my mind. So let’s real quick jump in and examine what it is we’re dealing with here.
So this specs sheet has some obvious stand-out changes from the original model. New CPU/GPU combo, more RAM, a bigger battery, the addition of wifi and bluetooth modules. This is a fairly solid upgrade in capabilities, certainly more than we got out of the Miyoo Mini+. It comes with only a very modest price increase as well, a little less than $10 more than the original 35XX. Keeping it squarely in the budget category, this could make for an excellent Christmas gift at roughly the same price as a new full-priced video game.
On the outside it can be a bit harder to spot the changes. In fact, at first glance you might be forgiven for thinking the original 35XX just re-released with some new colorways. Very subtle repositioning of the face buttons, a little bit of shifting and reshaping the triggers and bumpers. The biggest giveaway is probably the big removable battery compartment on the back, now that’s new. That’s right, we said we loved this feature on the Miyoo Mini and Mini+, and Anbernic listened. More than that, they integrated it in a way that is more seamless when installed, rather than the typical clipped-on battery door borrowed from Gameboys of yesteryear. The loose tolerances and flimsy plastics used were especially egregious on the original Miyoo Mini, but this is a nice tight fit that feels like it’s properly part of the shell. Good job on that, Anbernic, I love a replaceable battery.
Well let’s talk about the exterior just a little bit more, first, since it’s the easiest to evaluate quickly in the hand. Being the same size and shape of the original 35XX, perhaps even being made with the same molds, this will feel basically identical in the hands. If you found the original comfortable, this will be comfortable. The plastic on the shell definitely feels like it got a bit of an upgrade in quality, this feeling more substantial and textured in the hand. The face buttons also seem to have gotten a quality bump, feeling closer to the ones featured on their recent 405 model handhelds. I am baffled, however, at the bizarre continued decision to pair a matte dpad, start/select, and menu button with glossy ABXY buttons. It’s a textural sin in my book.
The only other notable exterior change then, at least from an ergonomics perspective, is the bumpers and triggers. I’m pretty excited about this change actually, since these were my biggest problem with the original 35XX. I hated that they were perfectly aligned to make differentiation difficult. They felt like they took too much pressure to activate and too easily let off. I couldn’t stand prolonged use of them in gameplay, they made my fingers cramp up. Thankfully the 35XX+ has learned the right lessons from Anbernic’s time refining the 405V. The buttons are shaped differently, as well as completely different sizes. This creates a nice little ramp pattern to easily differentiate and use the different buttons without changing the actual shell. In addition to that these have much less travel and are much more responsive feeling than before. They also avoid the fatal flaw of the 405V wrapping the bumpers around the sides of the shell creating an easily misfiring button. These are easily some of the best shoulders and triggers to be found on any vertical handheld ever.
Beauty Is Only Skin Deep
Enough gushing about the buttons, however, let’s talk interior real quick. The 35XX wasn’t exactly starved for power or anything, it was more than capable of handling the types of systems you wanted to play on it. To me the power bump is a little confusing, more than anything. It provides better resolution scaling and fast-forward capabilities perhaps? Combined with the addition of bluetooth, however, this might point to the power being designed to create a better TV experience on the device, considering it does have an HDMI-out port on top. For the most part, however, your handheld experience will be limited more by the inputs than power. No analog sticks leaves out the likes of the N64, the Dreamcast, the PSP, and more, barring any creative remapping efforts. Still, as I said more power means higher resolution scale, faster fast forward, and more shader options, so I’m not complaining.
I’m sure the thing that’s more exciting for most people is the addition of bluetooth and wifi. After all, there are a lot of Retro Achievements fans in our community, and wifi is the key to making that work seamlessly without having to keep a dongle plugged in. This also makes scraping your artwork much easier, and even allows for the possibility of Netplay with your friends. If you were excited to use your AirPods with the new bluetooth feature, however, temper your excitement. Currently the device is not equipped to handle audio over bluetooth, and it’s purely for controller connections. Perhaps CFW can fix this problem with time, and it’s been no secret that work has already been made in advance on bringing Garlic OS to this device. Garlic 2.0 is not yet ready at the time of this impressions article, but we sure are excited to watch Black Seraph work his magic yet again. The stock OS is the same thing we’ve been seeing from Anbernic for a while, at least since the 353 devices. It’s serviceable, it has all the basic essentials for an out-of-the-box experience. We enthusiasts crave for more, however, so bring on the vampire repellent.
Only The Beginning
That should just about do it for early impressions of the 35XX+. So far I’m excited to see a very popular design receive smart and subtle enhancements for a really good price. This will easily be on a lot of people’s recommended list going into the end of the year. We’re going to be taking a good deep dive look into the device, including game and feature testing, and hopefully some Garlic OS impressions. Keep an eye out for our full review that will feature all of that info as well as our final judgment of the new 35XX+. If you’d like to see more of the Retro Handhelds team’s first impressions, check out the video below. And as always, take care of yourselves, take care of your handhelds, and stay hydrated.
Purchase the 35XX Plus from Anbernic.
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