Hey sweaty, I hope you like retro gaming because… well you being here would otherwise be weird. Who are you? The IRS? No, I’m not buying things from China again. It’s a business expense, I swear. Okay, let’s start over: Since the time that this group was birthed from Mark Zuckerberg’s metallic and well-oiled womb to the Christening of the Retro Handhelds™ moniker, we were just a bunch of Retroid simps that fell in love with the proto-cro-magnid trog of a console known as the Retroid Pocket 2.
It was cool. It had a Stan Smith chin, surprisingly toy-like but sturdy build quality, stacked shoulder buttons, terrible analog sticks, equally terrible buttons, enough power to kind of run N64 well, no touch screen, half-baked Android software, and an even worse frontend that everyone wished would make like a banana and be banished from this god loving, but forsaken realm.
I loved it dearly and spent hours setting up Windows 95 because Taki told me to. If you asked me 4 years in the future if I thought Retroid would release a near-perfect GameCube and PS2 emulation device that can uncompromisingly run Android ports for under $300 I would have told you “I mean… I sure hope so dude.” Retroid’s releases are always exciting and lukewarm at the same time.
Yes, it includes much better… everything, and the colors are always UwU *kawai* (not apologizing), but when it comes down to it, we essentially just have another well-built, pocket-friendly Retroid device with an incremental performance increase that makes my heart throb with both joy and arrhythmia caused by my excess cholesterol intake. Oh, look how far we’ve come (yes, I will write a Retroid retrospective every time they so much as waft a fart in our direction. It’s fun and I wasn’t aware of it until writing this sentence).
The Actual Review Portion
Let’s be honest… the Retroid Pocket 4 Pro by now has already been covered to death, but not really much at all in terms of the full retail release with Retroid’s recent software update applied (which seems to exist BECAUSE of the early impression reviews). That also means leaving more to the story of 6th Gen console emulation (GameCube and PS2) that my arrogant ass has a throb in my brain that says “I can fix her”.
And so in this review, you can expect a verdict from me ( <- plebian) in terms of a good baseline of optimized performance for 6th Gen consoles that are surprisingly easier to achieve than downloading and setting up 4 apps to get the same result, button and IO improvements (I’ll write it, but there’s literally nothing new here that you haven’t heard already), ergonomics (just buy the grip, it’s $15), do you actually need to buy this to avoid FOMO? Is it actually fun to use? Is there a rationality for this device’s existence? And, a wishlist from an ungrateful, insatiable bastard. In no particular order.
Editors, please make all that make sense.
[Editor’s Note: Not a chance, Joe, not a chance. Good luck brave readers.]
Touchy Feely (The actual-actual review)
Overly long opening paragraphs aside, this console feels like…. The best version of the Retroid Pocket 3+ and the 2S had a sturdy and more convenient baby that’s actually fun to hold (oh, but I’m sure yours is cool) as it takes the latest button garbo from the RP2S and Odin 2 and flops it on what’s essentially an RP3 style body and calling it that +1. Which is 4 by the way. 1+3=4. I have consulted an expert, fellow writer, and grade school teacher JaLaminal, who can confirm that 1+3 is, in fact “4”.
I know this, he knows this. But what aches me inside is if Retroid knows this. Because I’m not so sure. Retroid is one of those companies that when putting out a new console with fun new numbers in front of it, we are seeing a dramatically different and innovative console that improves on the previous. RP1 to 2? Different orientation, buttons, better ergonomics, dual speakers. RP2 to RP2+? Better performance, a touch screen, and very shitty rubber buttons. RP2+ to RP3? Better dome buttons, a curvy body (rawr), an improved 16:9 screen, different look overall. RP3 to RP3+? Beeeeeg performance boost (wowser, T618 immortal processor), and shitty rubber membranes (why do they keep getting this wrong). RP2+ to RP2S?
Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeg performance boost, better face buttons, better screen, better D-pad (RP3/Odin DPad), and better haptics. RP3+ to RP4 (& Pro)? Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeg performance boost, same new buttons as the RP2S, rationally placed Start/Select buttons, a cooling fan, better pizza, Papa Johns, and…. Textured shoulder buttons? Honestly, with the glory-to-mankind *RP4* moniker, I really didn’t expect this upgrade to FEEL so much just like that…. An upgrade. I mean, the last handheld that Retroid released last year was the RP2S, and that, in essence, is the equivalent upgrade from the RP3+ to the RP4. This is more of an RP3+S than an RP3+1 if you catch my drift. You can @ me if you want, and I will read it and hide behind the pain with a witty remark.
Now that we got that out of the way and there are 0 arguments to be had here, holding it as-is is fine. Falls into your hands like a Nintendo Switch Lite and is initially inoffensive to hold. The new rough texture kind of gives me the ick but I got used to it pretty quickly when I realized my game aggression wasn’t making it slip out of my hands. And for a pocketable handheld, this is totally fine. Mind you, in the before time of flashy and thick juicy ergonomics, we were literally gripping bricks with dull screens for hours-long car rides and loving every second of it, so I don’t want to hear you bitching that it’s clunky to hold. That being said, just buy the grip. It’s $15 and is a game changer over the exceptionally shitty, console-scratching bubkis on Etsy that cost about $30. Screw 5 year old, brick gripping Joe.
That guy was stupid and couldn’t do basic arithmetic. It’s 2024 baby and I’m almost 30. So no arthritis for me! The TPU has a texture that pairs well with the rubber on the analog sticks and it’s s u b l i m e, creating a good balance between feeling nice without the clunk. No, it doesn’t suddenly make it feel as good as a Steam Deck, but it’s good enough. The buttons themselves are otherwise easy to access and feel pretty good, as stated in my RP2S review, these new rubber membranes for the face buttons are night and day better than whatever stiff rubber tire material was used to reinforce the RP3+ rubber membranes.
If comparing them to the size of the New 3DS XL with the feeling and actuation of an Xbox controller. You can very easily compare the actuation between the dome switch d-pad and the rubber membranes on the buttons, though I’ve stolen this comment from Russ but I don’t think he reads these. Otherwise, not much else to say here. The analog sticks are fantastic, and they’re hall so that the person you end up selling your console to doesn’t have to worry about pesky drift. The shoulder buttons are… extraordinarily average and the overall feel of the console is solid with no real awkward juts, chins, or the like, etcetera, goodbye, good day, and keep reading.
You’d think that with it being Retroid’s 3rd re-release of this same exact screen, it would be…exactly the same as the others. And it is! The size, resolution, type, and nothing else to talk about here. Moving on.
Okay look, it’s green. Or at least it was green. I have no idea how this happened, who looked at this and went “Yep, that’s it. Ship it” but this is… a great idea! With this new Shrek filter, I can finally play Super Slam in peace knowing the proper settings are applied! And now every game looks like it takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a Mr. White myself, I can appreciate this. Too bad they fixed it before consumer models were sent out. I honestly love the color tweaking here, it’s actually pretty accurate. The slight loss in brightness won’t really be noticed since anything above 400 nits is something my peanut brain tells me I don’t actually need.
There’s actually one big caveat that has been caused by the OTA that hurts my brain. You notice this, especially during the setup process but it appears that the update seems to be fighting with the new color balance, and that in turn is fighting with the Android 14 theme applied that is tied to the wallpaper color scheme. It’s weird and it cycles between paper white and magenta-white. It also makes scrolling text give off this magenta hue and I’m not really sure how to describe it. All in all, this is kind of weird and I really hope that the scrolling text is fixed in another OTA. Otherwise, while playing games, the screen is very vibrant and pretty color-accurate.
I want to speak to the manager of online review meta regarding 6th Gen emulation and file a formal complaint. There’s always a big conversation going on whenever one of these doodads hits the market with a shiny new (old) processor: can it run PS3? Just kidding, but also no. Actually, can it run PS2 and GameCube? Yes… but also no. At least not out of the box.
The cool and clammy thing about emulating on pre-baked Linux operating systems is that it usually comes with a pre-configured set of emulators that are already pretty optimized by the person who made it. To which I say with a mustache and a top hat, “Cheerio, very good! Pip pop goes the merry… go… round?” I should probably make good use of the backspace button.
But yeah I do know a great deal about GameCube emulation on Android and you have to go into it assuming that it is a tweaked experience, no matter what system you are on. Sure the Odin 2 could blast through it with brute force, but the out-of-the-box experience will always be suboptimal in comparison to flicking on a few hacks the next screen over. Sure, you can download the forks and they are fine and pre-configured, but you can also keep all of your GameCube emulation to one official and continuously supported app.
I would just write up a whole guide on it, but it’s literally the case of doing a few hacks and making sure they are applied once the game is booted up. This device can do GameCube emulation to a well enough degree that this is allowed by the emulator, with enough processing overhead to handle it. No, I didn’t test Rogue Squadron, but that’s because I already know that it doesn’t run well on pretty much anything unless you brute-force it or make a bunch of sacrifices graphically.
So I’m not crazy about PS2 emulation because of the lack of stability and development in porting ages-old open-source software to Android without them going insane. I won’t name names because I already forgot them, but I hope the grass is greener on the other side (That may have sounded overly cynical, but that’s because I kinda am. I’m also coming from a point of view that is very far removed from the point of view of a developer. I am but a consumer with a podium).
For my limited testing with PS2, I started with unsafe hacks and brought the clocking tweaks back to zero. In my testing, I did Shadow of the Colossus, Kingdom Hearts, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Shadow of the Colossus has trouble running well on basically anything, So I wasn’t surprised to see it spurt along. Whereas Kingdom Hearts and Vice City were pretty playable. Honestly, I would consider this device good for PS2 as well, with the known outliers that struggled to run on pretty much anything.
Any system before the sixth generation runs as well as you would want, graphical hacks and all. And if you are looking into a device to primarily do those systems, you are seriously killing a cat with a nuke. Just be a normal person and use a brick like me when I was five. I won’t elaborate, But maybe just look into the Retroid Pocket 2S.
A Word About Android Gaming
The sort of unsung hero, or at least what I would like to say it is, is in Android titles. The form factor and the processing power are perfect for titles like Call of Duty Mobile or Dead Cells. So Netflix has actually been putting out some quality games lately for some reason and they are all native ports with controller support for the most part and I have to say this is actually a very promising way to enjoy Android gaming In a way that you can expect from something like game pass…maybe. But there’s one glaring problem that irks me to my carbon molecules and that’s the fact that we are stuck with Android 13.
It’s not really a big deal and I sound kind of bratty about it, But that’s only because I want Android 14! I want it! Give it to me now Daddy! Yeah so Netflix isn’t compatible with Android 13 right now and that actually locks certain Netflix-published titles like the updated GTA trilogy and I just think that that is a huge misstep. A big disappointment. A waste of potential. Like Gohan. That being said if they do an OTA with Android 14 support, That would be great. In the meantime though we do have Deaths Door and that runs and looks great. And honestly, it’s just a great game overall if you are into Zelda-like titles. Android has great potential, But it can be better.
Noise, DIY, and Other things you might care about
This section I reserved for miscellaneous stuff, a junk drawer of stuff you might not need now, but definitely want to know in case you do. Let’s talk noise. This puppy’s fan GROANS when on 6th Gen and Android titles, which isn’t so bad since it’s just a drone, but the noise on the ABXY buttons is kind of offensive. Clack clack. Clack clack clack. I miss the days I wasn’t brutally aware that I was clicking a button. They still feel great enough to ignore it though.
Here’s a joke for you. Why did the RP4 go to jail? Because it was charged with BATTERY. Ack ack ack ack ack. Help it’s 2 am on a work night and I’m out of Monster. Anyways battery life is fine. It’s Android, it’s efficient. Ish. Spoiler alert, overclocking the CPU drains it FAST. Performance modes will do that to you. Oh also, if you leave the RP4 in sleep mode while on High Performance, it might reset itself indefinitely as the voltage can’t really keep up. Honestly just leave the mode on standard and you’ll be fine. No need to get overzealous about power output. Battery life is fine under normal circumstances I think.
And now here is a subject that I am actually mad upsetty over, And that’s DIY. For context, DIY was always encouraged on Retroid devices and they would even supply the parts for you at a reasonable cost and shipped for an unreasonable cost, so if you were planning on doing DIY, I would suggest making that purchase with the console. Now the RP4 is an ideal setup in just about every way except one: the abxy placement. Given the kind of games that this thing plays, the Xbox-style setup is more than ideal since well… You won’t really get that far in Android titles without it and even emulated titles would benefit more from it.
Trust me, if my monkey brain could get used to having the A and y in the same spot every time but sometimes mapping the X button to the B, It’s a lot easier to get around than every button being mismatched between Nintendo and Xbox styles. So there is that, and blessed Retroid thought ahead and said “Hey! The ABXY buttons are designed to be swappable given your preferred setup!” And provided a nice little chart on the website where you order. It wasn’t until I opened a device to switch those out I found out that we have been bamboozled, hoodwinked, stupified, and dare I say fooled at these buttons are, in fact, not swappable. I was upset, and it gave me diarrhea. So I said some bad words and then sent Retroid an email that was definitely not G FUEL-induced roid rage.
Just a question, “how tho?”.
They just said “Oh those extra bits stopping the buttons from getting in there properly? Don’t need them. Got those out of there. Go dog wild on that shit, bite it if you have to” And so as you can see from my photos…. Yeah, that’s exactly what I did. I wasn’t going to let Retroid beat me. To spite God himself I cut the bits off and you know what this is actually absolutely fine.
They work as intended and anybody with a clipper or hobby knife and a safe surface can do this. And Retroid made it a lot easier to get into the system. But. A big but. Es grande el… uh. But. This process should 100% be noted on the website because it’s part of their advertisement. Now everything we do here is kind of silly and we are considered a niche market still, so I’m not really holding Retroid to the same standards as I would a Nintendo, but this could literally be fixed by slapping a PNG in their ad.
So is it worth buying?
I will be honest, I was mad hyped for this release considering it’s the first real contender of 2024. And it has everything here from a component standpoint to be something great. In theory, it is, but it’s just not quite there yet for me. I’m one of those hopeless Retroid simps that has faith or whatever, but honestly, it’s clear that they are passionate about what they do and they have a lot of confidence in their own consoles.
But honestly, I really don’t need a pocketable 6th-generation handheld when I already have a Steam Deck OLED. I’m not a collector, I just want something settled into my hands to play the games I love. And this does just that, gloriously…. But I can also do that with a cheaper device. We’ll see. eh. I’ll probably end up selling it.
Would I recommend you buy one now? I don’t really know. I don’t know you and what your tastes are. You could be a sociopath for all I know. Stranger danger, my parents said I can’t talk to you or by your drugs because Mommy said your shit is too dank for the streets. I expect over 90% purity and blue. They don’t call me Mr. White for nothing, hombre. Anyway, this is a very high-quality device and I’m pretty confident it’s fairly priced for what you get. What I got was the Pro in the crystal colorway and the translucent grip. I also overpaid for shipping so that I could sniff it within a week. For that, I made out with closer to $250, which may or may not set my fiance in a tizzle as we are looking forward to saving for our wedding. Yikes. To be honest this might be the case for the regular RP4 at $150 because that will give you all of the overhead you need to reasonably play Android titles while being able to go through a hundred percent of your retro catalog and just avoid tweaking 6th gen altogether. Because honestly for me, I usually just play these systems on my Steam Deck lol. But yeah, for me the grip makes all the difference honestly, gets my gamer neurons firing on all cylinders.
For me, I think I might just sell this one. It hit a lot of my points needed, but I’d be better off with a more scaled-down handheld like the RP2S. But please Retroid, update the console to Android 14, and let me play the ugly and cursed definitive edition GTA titles so that I can be happy again.
For the time being, the Retroid Pocket 4 and 4 Pro are still only available directly from Retroid.
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