Just five months ago I called the original Retro Game 350 the best portable retro gaming machine you could buy. It’s still an excellent device, but if you haven’t pulled the trigger yet, the new RG350P includes a handful of subtle but excellent upgrades that make it a better handheld in every way, and well worth spending an extra $10 for.
Note: A sample of the Retro Game 350P was provided to Gizmodo by online retailer Retromimi.
Over the past few months, I’ve been testing a series of Linux-powered handheld consoles that rely on software emulation to play retro games from older consoles like the Game Boy, the Super Nintendo, and even the original PlayStation. Most are priced well under $100, and while they aren’t quite as polished as portables from companies like Nintendo, they’re still surprisingly well built, and the companies behind them are constantly working to improve their products. That’s the story behind the RG350P. It’s the second follow-up to the original RG350, and by actually listening to users and incorporating their feedback (what a concept!) the RG350P is a welcome improvement.
Just a few months after my review, the first follow-up to the RG350 arrived. The RG350M included a better control layout, a swanky metal housing, and a screen with more than twice the resolution. It was an excellent upgrade, but powering more pixels resulted in a small knock in battery life, and its $130 price tag was $50 more than its predecessor. The new RG350P skips the metal body and increased screen resolution, but keeps the improved layout of the handheld’s controls and its better analog joysticks, and introduces a new laminated screen that looks fantastic and all but eliminates the risk of ever getting dust trapped on the display.
The most obvious upgrade between the RG350 and the RG350P is that the positions of the directional D-pad and the analog joystick have been swapped on the left-hand side, making it more comfortable to play both retro 2D platformers and fighting games, as well as 3D games from the original PlayStation with the now side-by-side analog sticks.
The analog sticks themselves have also been upgraded with a new design that sits more flush with the RG350P’s housing. The handheld is a tiny bit thicker as a result, presumably to make more room inside for the hidden mechanisms beneath the sticks, but they don’t stick up any higher than the action buttons or the RG350P’s D-pad, so it’s much easier to carry in your pocket, and a very welcome upgrade.
For the RG350P Anbernic has also repositioned some of the buttons located on the outside frame of the console, including moving the volume up and down buttons to the left-hand side (where most smartphones position them), and the power button to the right-hand side.
On the bottom of the RG350P you’ll find the reset button repositioned to the middle where it now sits between the microSD memory card slots used for holding ROM files and the handheld’s operating system. On the original RG350 the microSD card holding the OS was trapped inside the system, making OS upgrades a big challenge. That memory card is now easily accessible on the outside, but out of the box it’s covered with a sticker that’s very, very difficult to remove. If you’re anything like me you’ll want to peel it off for aesthetic reasons, but doing so also voids your warranty, which is unfortunate given it’s rather ugly.
As with most of the handheld emulators we see coming out of China, upgrading the software on the RG350P isn’t as easy as connecting to a wireless network and popping into the system’s settings. It requires a certain level of comfort with accessing Linux file systems and flashing firmware files. It’s also that time in the review when I’m obliged to point out that playing games using ROM files, not the original cartridges or discs, is a legal gray area and an added technical challenge for these devices. You’ll need to supply your own ROM files, and if that’s not something you’re comfortable with, the RG350P might be more of a stress inducer than a stress reliever.
When I tested the original RG350 its mini-HDMI port located on the top edge wasn’t working but was promised to be a feature added in future software upgrades. On the RG350P it works right out of the box, and yes, can be used to play your favorite retro games on your TV. But they look eye-searingly ugly and after testing it for a few minutes, I have no intention of ever using that feature again. If playing retro games on a TV is important to you, I’d suggest going with a console specifically designed to make older games actually look good on modern TVs.
But the one feature that definitely justifies the RG350P’s minor price bump is its upgraded screen. The resolution hasn’t changed, but Anbernic is now using a fully-laminated 3.5-inch IPS display that sits flush with the plastic screen cover. It means you’ll never get dust trapped in there, but it also looks considerably better than what the company was using before. By eliminating the gap between it and the screen cover, everything looks noticeably sharper and crisper—particularly small text.
If you’ve already purchased the RG350 and have been thoroughly enjoying the system, you shouldn’t feel the need to unload it on eBay and immediately replace it with the RG350P. Both handhelds are powered by the same processor and both offer the exact same experience and performance with games from most older consoles, up to and including the PS1. But if, like a lot of fans of handheld retro gaming, you now find yourself with a lot of time to fill between now and the 2021 release of the Analogue Pocket, the RG350P is definitely the console you should choose.
- A handful of small changes add up to a very solid upgrade to the original RG350 that definitely justifies the small $10 to $12 price increase.
- Features the same internals as the original RG350, so there are no improvements to emulator or game performance.
- The re-arranged controls make it more comfortable for playing both 2D side scrollers as well as 3D titles from the PS1.
- The mini HDMI port now works right out of the box, but the RG350P makes retro games look downright ugly on modern TVs.
- You still need to supply your own ROM game files, and OS upgrades are still kind of a pain, even with the memory card holding the OS being accessible through an external slot.
- The new laminated display is a big improvement over previous versions of the RG350, making fine details look sharper.