The Gameboy Pocket is one of my all-time favorite handhelds, and really one of my favorite pieces of gaming equipment period. So when last year I heard about a device rumored to be a GBP-style clone being made by Funnyplaying, a company known for their excellent Gameboy parts and mods, needless to say I was elated. It was to be a vertical, pocketable device with minimal buttons, no analog sticks, and a chip that can run up to PS1 and maybe even N64 and/or PSP. “Well, sign me right the heck up!” is what I said out loud as my wife gave me the side-eye. Even the aspect ratio was going to be amazing for the GB/GBC games that I have always loved. The hype was real…until it wasn’t. The device seemed to become vaporware and basically disappeared off of the map for all intents and purposes after a long period of speculation and little info.
Fast-forward to now, literally many, many months later, and the RetroPixel Pocket is actually upon us! No longer a figment of the handheld community’s collective pipe dream, I ordered one up the second that they went on sale. To my surprise, it did not take long to get to me, and then I was holding the mythical beast in my very own hands. But the surprises did not end there…unfortunately. After all the anticipation, the teased color scheme, the promises that my mind had made to me about the quality of this device, I was taken aback by a few things indeed. Which ones, you ask? Well friends, gather ‘round and let the R-Man tell you a little tale about love, loss, and an all-gray anomaly.
Okay, I have to get this out of the way right away. When I saw the dev-units of the RetroPixel Pocket, I fell in love with the half gray, half lime green color scheme. Like, HARD loved it. But alas, when the device went up for retail sales, only a completely gray version was available for purchase! I had tears and that made me cry damn near every one of them. Trauma aside, let me break down the overall layout of the RPP. As mentioned, the style is VERY much influenced by the original Gameboy Pocket, meaning it is the same size, has the same basic button layout, and identical speaker placement. It does have two added face buttons, L and R triggers on the back akin to the back of a GBA SP, a USB-C charging port on the bottom, and an SD card slot. Other than that the hardware scheme is almost a replica of the GBP, including the same placement of the d-pad and Start/Select buttons, a very similar Power button, and even clickable contrast and volume wheels. A 3” 720×720 IPS laminated screen adorns the face and has slight black bezels on the sides, while a headphone jack accompanies the USB-C port on the bottom edge. Really, the exterior of this device is very clean and free of much flash or pizazz and honestly I think that is a great look. When it comes to rummaging for that nostalgic touch, Funnyplaying came up aces with this one. I must say, the physical design is absolutely the main thing that drew me to this handheld; I simply could not resist. It keeps things simple for people who have very basic gaming wants, yet it still has enough buttons to function well for most systems that it can handle. If you are a fan of the GB/GBP/GBC design, this one will hit you right in the feels.
During reviews there is often a high point, and my friends, we have reached that pinnacle! Indeed the screen is probably the best overall aspect of this handheld, or at the least, it’s the part that I enjoy the most. It looks SHARP on this device, y’all. Combine that with the 1:1 aspect ratio and you get GB/GBC games that look amazing in both color and scale. In fact it quickly became my favorite screen for those games besides maybe an IPS on original hardware. The viewing angles are great, though I have always thought that was an odd thing to focus on, and the brightness levels are quite varied and acceptable on each end of the bar. No tearing, no washed out colors, no wondering if you can play it in bed without waking up your bed-partner. It is just straight up pleasant to look at. Even systems that use different aspect ratios look good, including GBA and all of the 4:3 systems. I should not be surprised, as Funnyplaying is certainly a company known for making great screens. The screen also is a good fit for the device physically: the amount of plastic shell around it not only frames the screen well, but helps protect it a bit. It takes up about 50% of the height of the face making it large enough to see well but not so large that it looks odd; the ratio of screen to shell is spot-on. There is not much else to say here, this screen is a big W for us handheld fans.
So Funnyplaying makes screens for older systems, and they also make buttons as well. So needless to say the buttons on the RPP are superb, right? Right?!? Well…yes and no. This is a section that I struggled with assessing. On one hand, the actual buttons feel premium to the touch and look pretty great as well. On the other, the actual use of the buttons is marred by inconsistent functionality. False diagonals, unregistered presses, a lot of pressure needed for proper input. At first it was really poor and with time it did in fact get a bit better, which I suppose means the buttons need to be “broken in” a bit before they improve. However I feel like that is fairly unacceptable, especially when coming from a company that produces great buttons regularly. Besides that frustration, the d-pad and face buttons feel natural with their rubber membrane pads and very much fit the face of the handheld. The triggers and Start/Select buttons seem to be immune from the issues that plague the other buttons which is nice, and the triggers themselves are in a comfortable spot and are nice to press. The Power button is a sort of slider that actually just bounces back to its normal position after you move it, a la the DS Lite power button. Now for two buttons that actually really did it for me: the contrast and volume wheels. Yes they are wheels, but they are also usable buttons that can be depressed for added inputs. Not only do those wheels absolutely match the aesthetic, but they function perfectly when it comes to adjusting the brightness and volume respectively. Add in the fact that they press down and they became my favorite buttons on the entire device.
So, how do I feel about the buttons as a whole? I like them. That’s it. I do not love them, they are not all-time greats. After the initial frustration of them basically not working correctly, they become serviceable. Unfortunately, buttons should just work right out of the box, and I’d have to say if you want a stellar button experience, look elsewhere.
Part of what confounds me about this device is that its capabilities are as far as emulation. For a device that is very clearly meant to play Gameboy games and some other old systems, it actually has a bit more power than you would expect; in fact it can even play some PSP games thanks to the Allwinner A64 chip it utilizes. It also has 1GB of DDR3 RAM, 8GB of EMMC storage, and on-board Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. So it is very capable in terms of gameplay and versatility. However there are some things that disappoint: the 3,000mAh battery does not hold as much of a charge as I would hope (like less than 4 hours for me, with a charge time seemingly just as long), the 2W speaker gets very loud very quickly, and washes out easily, ruining the sound quality, and the USB-C jack is just straight up finicky. Whether it is plugged into a charger or attached to a PC, the cord cannot be touched without the device losing connectivity. Once again we find plenty of upsides matched with a plethora of downsides. Thankfully none of these are what I would call deal-breakers, but boy are they regrettable. I feel like the core performance is acceptable, but have noticed that even during testing of systems that are not very demanding, the entire device gets fairly warm; much more heated than it should be running. I do not know exactly why a cooling issue like this is present but I do think it is something to note. Because of this, the solid performance is almost negated by the fact that the handheld feels like it simply does not want to be pushed too hard. Honestly it’s a shame. Running an SNES game ought to be completely doable without worrying about overheating.
As such, we find ourselves in familiar territory when it comes to how I feel about the internals on the RPP. I like them, don’t love them. They are good on paper but poor in practice at times.
I love Android. There, I said it. When it comes to retro handhelds it is my favorite OS to work with. I have always wanted a vertical handheld (my favorite orientation) paired with Android (my favorite OS). I mean what more could I want? Well…more than we were given. Funnyplaying committed the cardinal sin when it comes to using Android: they omitted a touchscreen. That’s right, they pulled a Retroid Pocket 2 and just did not put one on there. For anyone who is not aware, navigating and using Android to its full potential without touch is a remarkably futile-feeling exercise. Not only that but the build they are using is Android 7, which is very outdated and has many compatibility issues with apps and games; a BIG blow to my hopes for an amazing experience. Adding insult to injury, 1GB of RAM is generally not enough to run the OS. So where does that leave us? Not in Stokedville that’s for sure. Instead we are left with a subpar user interface that is not simple to navigate and does not feel particularly snappy. Also…no sleep function? I mean, really??
There are some positives despite my best attempts to ignore them. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities add much needed dimensions to the RPP, allowing for things like scraping box art, using wireless headphones, and updating cores in Retroarch. On that note, RA is pre-loaded as well and since it is something that many retro handheld fans are familiar with, it’s a welcome sight. Android also offers a good amount of customization as far as changing many settings, setting custom wallpapers, and the ability to hide or show different apps. The buttons are also mapped well for the OS, with a press of the volume button being used as a “home” button, and all the other buttons being used in mostly intuitive ways. Connectivity to a PC is also a snap, so transferring files to and from the device is easy to accomplish and relatively painless.
I echo my sentiments from the last two sections: like, love, all that jazz. The OS is one I regularly enjoy greatly, but the missteps taken with this device are hard to overlook. Literally just a touchscreen would have been a game-changer. Sure, CFW is a very likely possibility for the RPP, but I think being able to buy a device and enjoy it straight away is an underrated quality of these handhelds, and this one just simply does not acquiesce to that wish. If you really like Android, then you may be able to stomach this experience, but if you are a Linux fan or something other, I would at the very least wait to see what CFW options become available in the future.
|Atari 2600, Atari 5600, Atari 7800
|Nintendo Entertainment System
|Super Nintendo Entertainment System
|Nintendo Game Boy
|Nintendo Game Boy Color
|Nintendo Game Boy Advance
|Nintendo Virtual Boy
|Sega Master System
|Sega Genesis / Mega Drive
|Neo Geo Pocket
|Neo Geo Pocket Color
|Sony PlayStation Portable
|Out of Reach
|Sony PlayStation 2
As I am sure you can imagine it was not hard for me to decide what system to test first after I got my RPP all set up, and no it wasn’t Dreamcast you silly goose! It was of course GBC. I threw on some Legend of the River King and my word did it look nice! The perfect aspect ratio compliments the system greatly, and the bright, crisp screen really does it justice. And of course the performance was stellar as well, as it should be. Next up I moved over to GBA and played some Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace without any real issue. The screen of course is not the correct aspect ratio for GBA games, but honestly the game still looked good. Black bars do not bother me as much as some folks, so having somewhat substantial bars above and below the game is not a huge deal for me, but I know it could be bothersome. Besides that the performance was perfect. Next up: Dreamcast. The results here were…different for sure. The games seemed to run respectably when using the built in stand-alone emulator, but I could not for the life of me get the screen to display properly. The picture is cut off horizontally no matter which video settings I mess with, and unfortunately the game performance is not great on the RA core that runs DC. So, my DC experience was less than stellar and I basically swore off playing those games on this device. Onto one of the heavy hitters when it comes to difficulty-to-run: N64. And yes, I realize there is no analog stick and the button layout is legitimately poor for the system, but I still had to try! That’s about all I did, however. I tried to get the games running at an acceptable rate and simply could not. Even the ones that did run decent like Wave Race were filled with stutters and hard to control. Much like DC, I do not advise using this device for N64 games. The last and toughest system I attempted to play was PSP but I’m going to be honest, it really is not worth mentioning. The games simply do not look good, they do not play well, and are not complimented by the button layout. If you are thinking about getting the RetroPixel Pocket, hopefully you plan to focus on PS1 and under, with a STRONG focus on GB/GBC.
Where to Buy
- Form-factor is an all-time great
- Sexy screen
- GB/GBC look AMAZING
- Will be easily customizable when company releases buttons/shells
- Poor battery life considering it runs Android
- Buttons need “broken in”
- Performance hindered by software issues
- Expensive for what it can do
- Speaker is/gets too loud; the volume curve is poor
- I simply find myself confounded by this handheld. It does not exactly fit into the current landscape of retro handhelds very well, it runs an OS that is not optimal for it, and it shows up flawed and without so much as a screen protector, charger, or SD card. It is a tough pill to swallow considering companies like Anbernic ship their devices with all three of those things! The Android build is clunky without a touchscreen and was absolutely a poor choice. This thing BEGS for Linux. I was aware that the OS might be a bit unremarkable, but I expected the hardware to at least be stellar. Well, it is and it isn’t. The button issue is worrisome but not a deal breaker, the screen is amazing, but the speaker is overwhelming in a bad way. So I find myself asking…myself…what is it that I would tell somebody if they asked me if they should purchase a RetroPixel Pocket? After many hours pondering that question, I landed on this response: if you enjoy playing GB/GBC games in an amazing way, want a device to tinker with, whether it be hardware or software, and you love the GBP, go ahead and get one; however if this would be your first retro handheld, or you have other, stronger devices please do yourself a favor and skip it. Maybe CFW will catapult it into the ring with some of the big boys in the handheld arena, and I am sure when hardware mods come out for it, it will be a fun project device, but as it is this thing is flawed. I WANTED to love it, but damn did Funnyplaying make that awfully hard for me.
(This review has been written and provided by Rocketman824)