Form factors for your handhelds are an incredibly important thing. Do you want it to be micro, do you want it to be big chunky, and heavy, or do you just want it to be that candy bar comfy shape? If you’re only going to have one or two handhelds, this is an important question, the device needs to be comfortable regardless of what you’re doing.

On the other hand, if you’re someone like me who’s down with the sickness. You’ve got 50+ devices and no time to set all of them up. This isn’t the problem I’m trying to solve today, rather it’s a chance for me to talk about one of my favorite handheld systems; the Game Boy Advance, and what handheld comes out as my favorite device for it. 

So come along and join me in my downward spiral in deciding my favorite GBA machine.

What It’s Not

Before I get into what it is, I want to get into what it isn’t. In my time with all of these different devices, GBA is not going to live on a big bulky device. The Logitech G Cloud, despite being ridiculously comfortable, isn’t going to suit me. It’s too big and feels like it extends GBA just a bit too far for what I’d like.

With that Big and Bulky mantra already in mind, that means it’s likely not going to be an x86 Windows handheld. If I’m playing Game Boy Advance that is because it’s all I want to do right now. No notifications that my drive storage is almost full. No Gmail notifications that I have a birthday party to attend on the 4th. Just me and GBA, and the big bulky nature, paired with usually lower battery life of x86 alongside… Windows. Means those devices are just not for me. 

So what comes close?

What Comes Close

Powkiddy RGB10 Max 3

For me I’ve noticed that when it comes to what I pick up for GBA, it comes down to a couple of 16:9 options. And I do just want to share two of those as I could go for a while on my good 16:9 handhelds. 

The first of these is the Powkiddy RGB10 Max 3. Non-Pro. Non-Heart Heart Heart.

This is running the classic RK3566 but sports a nice 1280×720 display. The display is nice, I haven’t had any issues with the D-Pad or face buttons as of recently, and the more I’ve used it, the more I enjoy the ergonomics of the RGB10 Max 3. But its big downside, especially in GBA games that need it, is the shoulder buttons. L1 and R1 are both tiny, really clicky buttons that I don’t enjoy using. So I do the next best thing and map them to use L2 and R2. Honestly, it’s a small gripe that when fixed doesn’t bother me at all, but it was still annoying. 

Ayaneo Pocket Air playing Sonic 2

Now what I’ve really been picking up has been the Ayaneo Pocket Air. Shocking right? But really it takes everything I like about the RGB10 Max 3 and sizes it up for me. A larger 5.5” display, a higher resolution at 1920×1080, and OLED, and an overall more comfortable experience. The two areas it isn’t larger are the face buttons, and the THICC GRIPS of the Max 3. Despite that, and despite the extra setup to get there, the Pocket Air is my preferred way to pick up and play GBA on the go. 

Though we’ll wait and see, I recently got a Pimax Portal, and KTR1 in to check-out. 

Original Hardware

Game Boy Advance SP metal shell

This is probably my favorite category for playing GBA, even today. Though not without some modification. 

The Game Boy Micro, while being an awesome piece of kit, was just a little too small. Yes, it played Game Boy Advance natively, and yes it had a rechargeable battery. Its downsides matched its upsides. The small screen meant it felt harder to play than I’d like, which is sad considering I’m not really that old, and yes it had a rechargeable battery, but it felt oddly proprietary. Though, not like I didn’t go and fix that on another piece of OG kit.

The Game Boy Advance on its own? It’s fine, and a nice horizontal, but I also haven’t handled one long enough to give a concrete opinion on it so onto my personal choice.

Game Boy Advance SP partially open

Game Boy. Advance. SP. Yep, the flippy foldy boy. I had one in Pearl Blue as a child that sadly went missing on a trip up north. Sadness replaced by a Nintendo DSI XL, I didn’t touch an SP until much later. And while it’s good, I’ve had a couple of things done to make it better. Thanks to some help from the RH discord, my SP is now a full metal jacket, minus the shoulders and hinge. Alongside that though, a USB-C port has been added onto the side of my SP right under the volume fixing one of my gripes about the original hardware. But what hasn’t changed is the screen. An AGS-101 screen with its backlit goodness.

This and an EZ-Flash Omega DE are my preferred choice for classic hardware. It displays everything exactly how I remember my SP from 2005, but still has the modern amenities of the Retro Handhelds of today. It’s going to be pricier, but the authentic experience hits me right in the good bones. 

The Final Word

Is it wrong to have two answers? I think I have two answers. For the most original experience that’s also portable, I have to give it to the original GBA SP. But if you’re talking just the current best experience that’s the Pocket Air. Nothing can really beat this OLED screen.

As I mentioned earlier, other devices might change my mind. Maybe the KTR1 will blow my socks off. Maybe I’ll wait for that Odin 2 Mini and the Mini-LED will leave me quaking on the spot. But I don’t have or haven’t used those devices yet. Out of my collection, with my experiences, these are the devices I’ll pick up and play Sonic Advance 2 over and over again. And I mean Apotris too, there’s a lot of good ways to play that one now. 

What I find to be the best experience may not be yours, but the purpose of these handhelds are to get us playing these games again. So maybe focus on that before trying out 50 handhelds to decide.

Though I won’t say no to trying out an RG552 one day… hmm.

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