It’s a bit funny how some handhelds seem to evolve. On one hand you have developers trying to squeeze as much power as possible into larger and larger frames, like with the ROG Ally or the Steam Deck. Then on the other side, you have developers looking to squeeze any sort of power they can into the smallest form factor possible. The Miyoo Mini was enormously successful, but many of this particular breed end up being obscure proof-of-concept handhelds rather than something you’d play on a daily basis. So with the RG Nano, Anbernic is asking the question: how small is too small? Is the RG Nano a cute party trick you keep on a keychain, or a serious contender in the handheld space? Let’s investigate further.
Well now these specifications may be a bit familiar to anyone who has played on a Funkey S or a Powkiddy Q36 Mini. 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A7, 64MB of RAM, a 240×240 1.54″ display, yeah that all rings a pretty familiar bell. It does come in with the biggest battery yet, just barely with its rated 1050mAh over the Q36’s 1000, and both of those leaving the Funkey S’s 410mAh in the dust. What all of this means, of course, is that we’re already well aware of the capabilities of this particular set of hardware, we’ve seen it twice before and seen what people have managed with it. So for all intents and purposes this is just a new frame on an old engine, but man is it a nice frame.
So let’s quickly explore the rest of the external bits and bobs on this device, it certainly won’t take long. A mono speaker on the bottom provides an adequate listening experience, it gets reasonably loud and reasonably clear, it’s not going to get any awards but it’s pleasant. On the right side you find the power/menu button, and the SD card slot for this device to load your games onto since it has no internal memory of its own. Lastly on top you find the USB-C port, which not only functions as the charging method for this device but it also allows for connection directly to a PC for transferring games and files over to the device without having to pull the SD card. Handy!
Inputs and Comfort
So let’s move on to the other exterior adornments that have gone unmentioned so far, the inputs. You may be forgiven for looking at the size of this device and thinking “those inputs cannot be comfortable.” While you would be correct, they’re not as comfortable as your average full-sized device, I think they might manage to surprise you. Even with my gargantuan sausage fingers, I’m able to easily differentiate my presses between the tiny face buttons.
This is partly due to a few different factors: the high quality glossy buttons feel really well made; the buttons have a nice long travel distance considering the miniscule size of the device and they bottom out at a nice height from the shell; and lastly Anbernic’s signature conductive rubber membranes still manage to feel as perfect as they always do even here. In fact, the entirety of the face, from the dpad and the face buttons, to the start and select, are all using rubber membrane and it all feels excellent for its size.
The only buttons that are clicky then are the power button, and the L and R buttons sitting on the top corners of the device. These shoulders manage to be in a comfortable enough place, and they’re responsive and functional. Not much to say about them, really, they just work.
Really the comfort of this device is fairly good all things considered, though you’ll certainly be leaving most of your hands floating in the air when you hold it. You may be able to slide a couple fingers behind the device to support it, but mostly you’ll be holding on with your fingertips. Due to it’s weight, however, coming in at only 75 grams, this doesn’t seem to be a problem. Your biggest comfort problem will probably end up being the diminuitive screen. At a hair over 1.5 inches, this is a screen trying to fit a lot of detail into very little space. It’s gorgeous and vibrant, a really well-made laminated IPS display, but you’ll definitely find it struggling to adequately display games that were meant to be played on large televisions. It excels the most when being used to emulate handheld consoles, since those were already designed to format to fairly small screens, not to mention the aspect ratio is closest to many popular classic handhelds.
Software and OS
Similarly to the fact that the hardware is basically a straight up Funkey S, if we take a peek into the software onboard it looks a little bit suspiciously like it might have maybe taken a cue or two from the Funkey S? Or, no no, it’s basically the exact same software, is the RG Nano basically a reshell?
Now don’t get me wrong, this has its advantages. Using a slightly modified version of a mature OS means that this thing is ready to go go go straight from the go go go. It’s already been through years of refinement and adjustment to be as good as it can be for this particular set of specs, and it winds up just feeling really nice right out of the box.
It has two main frontends you can use, one called GMenu2x which it seems to boot into by default. It has a grid-style layout of systems, but once you go into the systems it gets a little bit odd as you are basically navigating the file system at that point, though it should automatically point itself to the correct folder from the start. Just pay attention to those key prompts on the bottom, we don’t need to see you sailing off into the nethers of the file system and get lost all because you hit the “B” button now do we. We also have extra tabs up at the top that allow you to find the media player, swap your system skin, open the proper file explorer, and all that other good utility stuff. Oh and did I mention the clock? People seemed excited about the clock. Before you go into the frontend at all it’s got a clock interface on the front so it can make for a neat little desktop decoration I suppose.
Meanwhile the other frontend is called RetroFE, and it seems to mimic an EmulationStation type of layout, complete with box art display for your games and all. However, this is a more limited interface definitely more aimed at the pick-up-and-play factor, since it eschews the utility options of the other frontend to focus on just the games.
One bit of the software I’m very fond of, and really wish every retro handheld did, is the fact that it can be mounted like mass storage over USB. Just plug it into your computer, and choose the “Mount USB” option from the menu, and you can drag and drop your games and other files in and out of the device. It makes it way easy and convenient and means you don’t have to do all the SD card finangling to get your collection loaded up.
What Can It Play?
|Atari 2600, Atari 5600, Atari 7800
|Nintendo Entertainment System
|Super Nintendo Entertainment System
|Nintendo Game Boy
|Nintendo Game Boy Color
|Nintendo Game Boy Advance
|Sega Master System
|Sega Genesis / Mega Drive
|Neo Geo Pocket
|Neo Geo Pocket Color
|Out of Reach
|Sony Playstation Portable
This isn’t an Android device, so we can’t just go and try out a whole bunch of emulators off the Play Store to see where this devices limits are. Also, like a broken record I reiterate that this is a very well-documented and well-understood set of hardware and software, so really we already know what its limitations are. As such, the OS already comes preloaded with all the emulators you’ll be able to get playable on this device.
Having said that, while they’re all considered “playable” you’ll probably find big portions of the heavier systems are out of reach. My childhood favorite fighting game, Bloody Roar 2 for the PS1, for instance, has incredible amounts of slowdown. So needless to say you’re going to want to keep the PS1 library on the lighter side of its library. Meanwhile with 16 bit games you should largely be fine, though there are the usual problem children like Star Fox on the SNES.
Unfortunately, with many of these systems, you’ll be playing with black bars if you want to play them in the correct aspect ratio. There are very few systems that feature a 1:1 aspect ratio, and you’ll be really squishing down an almost-widescreen GBA display.
So at the end of the day what can I say about the Anbernic RG Nano? It’s super neat? It’s a cute desk accessory? It’s another predictably well machined Anbernic product? Well yes, all of the above, but with some qualifications. The RG Nano is not really breaking new ground here, and honestly if you had a Q36 Mini you’d have a nearly identical experience from a pure hardware specs perspective. Same screen, same game library, basically the same OS. However the RG Nano manages to be unique enough, by virtue of its premium feeling metal shell and its adorable miniaturized Gameboy look to stand out. I, for one, am buying one in blue, and it will look adorable on the shelf next to my full sized Gameboy, or even my comparatively large Miyoo Mini. Is that enough for you? A cute novelty with the cool party trick of occasionally playing a game for a few minutes? A nice little keychain to hang off your bag to sneak in a quick round of Tetris while waiting in line at the bank? I guess that’s for you to decide.
- Maybe I’m just a sucker for metal handhelds, but man this thing just feels so nice in the hand due to that premium aluminum shell.
- Actual usable inputs on a micro device, the buttons all perform well and feel good for their size.
- A custom branch of a nicely matured OS makes the software experience feel fantastic right out of the box.
- Being small is a really neat novelty, but man does it make both the viewing and control experience pretty difficult to enjoy.
- The 1:1 aspect ratio doesn’t really play nice with most of the systems you’d play on the device. Even the Gameboy was actually 10:9.
- Doesn’t really have the features for any customization beyond screen scaling. No filters, no button mapping, not even the ability to play Gameboy games in GBC mode.
- Nothing groundbreaking, but manages to be both cool looking and also feel really well-made. I think novelty handheld collectors will love it, and the rest of you will go “oh that’s neat” before going back to your properly-sized favored handheld.
Get a Anbernic RG Nano from these stores!