Like retro gaming? If you’re an enthusiast, chances are you already have a device that you use to play retro games. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also consider this new device from a company called Anbernic: maker of the RG351V.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably never heard of this company before a few weeks ago. Or maybe you have but are just hesitant to buy due to the lack of reviews. Hopefully, I can help answer some questions or doubts by covering this device with my thoughts.
I actually bought two models – one for myself and another for my brother’s birthday present because I liked it that much. Really, the price is so good that I would recommend this device to anyone that would even just want to do some casual retro gaming.
For the price that I paid, I’ll genuinely say that I was really surprised with what I got. When you get near the $100 price point, I totally expected this device to feel cheap or the buttons to feel mushy. Or maybe the screen would just be too dim or dull. That’s just not the case. Here are my thoughts after using this device for about a month.
Specs as reviewed – Anbernic RG351V
||3.5-inch IPS 640×480 resolution
||RK3326 quad core 1.5Ghz
||1 GB DDR3L
||2x microSD card slots with support up to 256GB
||Wifi only (no Bluetooth)
||2x USB-C ports, one supporting up to 2A charging
||140 mm or 5.51” (l) x 94 mm or 3.70” (w) x 26.8 mm or 1.06” (h)
||.2 kg (.44 lbs)
||Headphone jack, D-pad, ABXY, start, select, L1,L2,R1,R2 analog joystick, function button, separate power and reset buttons, volume rocker, mono speaker
Design and first look
The RG351V comes in three models: wood grain, grey, and transparent black. I have the latter two on hand. They are identical in construction with the exception of the case color.
The coolest part about this device is its resemblance to the original Game Boy. In fact, the length and width are almost spot on, while the thickness is thankfully a little thinner. The weight is even the same. As long as you don’t have really small pockets or tight pants, this device is easily pocketable.
What I really appreciate is the number of buttons they jammed in, while maintaining an ergonomic feel. And the build quality is actually really good! The device is lightweight, being under a half-pound, and yet is a surprisingly durable feeling. Not that I plan on testing it, but I bet it could be dropped without much damage.
The casing on both the models I have is made of hard plastic, with a matte finish. The finish adds a little texture so the device doesn’t feel too slippery to the touch. Although I don’t have one on hand, I expect the wood finish version to be a smooth finish in order to get the color to look ok. If that’s the case, the grip will be slightly slipperier.
There’s a slight variation in the transparent black version to be aware of. First of all, the green power light shines through the tiny hole a whole lot more in the transparent black version. Slightly annoying but you get used to it. Also, there’s a tiny bit of light bleed from the edges of the backlight behind the panel. You can only see it at certain angles and I’m sure it varies from unit to unit.
All that said, the build quality and design are great – especially for the price.
IO and button placement
On the front of the device is the screen and most of the input buttons. There’s a standard D-Pad with an analog joystick underneath. Both work really well and feel like they are of good quality. The joystick has a click button built into it as well.
The A, B, X & Y buttons are on the right-hand side where they belong. All 4 buttons are very consistent with each other and have some depth and a positive indication that you pressed it. The start and select buttons have a little less feedback but still, feel good.
In the middle of the device is a small function button. I didn’t get to use this device much as it’s mainly used for the stock firmware which I quickly wiped. You can use this with the joystick to turn the volume up and down. I think there are other uses too but I didn’t test it. I expect the custom firmware to start making use of this more in the future.
The left side has a volume rocker and the right side has a power button and a tiny reset button. The reset button is so small that it’s pretty unlikely you’ll ever accidentally press it. It’s also very low profile.
On the back of the device are the L1, L2, R1 & R2 buttons. They are at different heights, so you definitely know which one you are pressing with your index finger. They also have firm feedback and a louder click – something that is necessary given the way you hold the device.
The placement of these back buttons is where the device was well designed. Whether you have large or small hands, it fits and feels well on the index feature. It’s clear they did their homework when designing this device.
As for the IO, there’s a pair of USB-C ports on the bottom of the device. One supports up to 2A charging, while the other supports data. I didn’t connect anything to the data side yet. I actually have no idea why I would want to, but it’s there in case you need it. Perhaps a keyboard for debugging?
Also on the bottom is a 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s really nothing else to say about this other than it works fine.
On the right-hand side are two microSD card slots. If you pay a little more you can get the device prepopulated with these cards, but I think you’re better off using your own. More on that in a bit. Both of these slots support 256GB cards.
The screen is a 3.5-inch 640×480 px resolution IPS panel. The viewing angles are very good and the color reproduction looks good as well. I couldn’t think of a good way to use my colorimeter on this, so you’ll just have to take my word on it. :)
The brightness is probably somewhere around 300 nits. Indoors this is fine, but if you’re using it outside, you may struggle a little bit with the glare. The brightness is evenly distributed and there is no backlight bleed, with the exception of the transparent black units which can show some edge bleed instead.
The screen is slightly recessed into the casing, protecting it from contact if you leave the device face down on a surface. They include in the box a perfect fit tempered glass screen protector. I highly recommend installing it, as it has good clarity and is added protection. After installing it, the glass feels flush with the casing.
Note that you should install the screen protector in good light. It really is a perfect fit, so if you’re off even by a tenth of a millimeter when aligning it, you won’t make contact on one of the corners.
All in all a great screen for this device. The resolution is perfect as anything higher is overkill for the emulators this gadget supports.
Software and performance
I’ll be blunt, the default software is probably the weak point of this device. It’s adequate but not that great. It comes with all the major emulators available but I think the UI is kind of lacking and the performance is just ok.
On top of that, the version I received seemed to be old. Since I had to update it anyways, I just assume to switch to a well-supported 3rd party firmware. 351Elec was my choice but there’s also support from ArkOS and TheRa. If you’re interested in updating to any of those, I highly recommend watching this guide:
Whatever firmware you choose, you need to install the ROMs you want. Either on the SD card containing your firmware or on a separate SD card is fine. If you have a spare card though, I recommend using a separate card. This way you’re free to update or change out the firmware as you please without having to worry about copying over your games, saves, and scrape info.
The performance of the device is very good for most emulators. As you get to N64 and PS1 though, the performance is hit or miss depending on the emulator and firmware you use. In a sense, you’ll probably gravitate to using the firmware that gives the best support for the emulator that you plan on using most. I chose 351Elec since they seem to be constantly updating the firmware and have good well-rounded performance.
For the most part, I left my device on standby when not in use. To use it, just tap the power button and give it a few seconds to resume from standby. Then choose the game you want and go. Simple as that.
If you want to save battery life, you can turn the device off after you’re done. Booting up takes about 20-30 seconds and you’ll save a little battery per day by keeping it off. I just opted for standby though since it doesn’t take all that much battery.
The only annoying thing about leaving it in standby though is the green power light stays illuminated the entire time. In fact, the light is always on as long as the device is powered up. That light will change colors based on how much battery is left and whether or not it’s charging. As far as I know, there’s no way to turn it off besides shutting the device down.
Take all this with a grain of salt. Almost all of my testing here is with a beta version of custom firmware. My toleration for bugs on stuff like this is very high and I’m an early adopter, so I don’t expect perfection and neither should you. All I can say is there’s good enough support out there so far and it’s only going to get better from here.
In other words, if you decide to keep the default software, expect bugs and hit or miss performance. If you decide to go the custom firmware route, expect bugs but fewer of them. If you expect a perfect emulating experience with all the PS1 games, you probably will want to try a different device.
Also included on the device is a Wifi module. You can use this to play head to head with other devices and also connect to the internet for updates and scraping. I didn’t go crazy with the Wifi testing on this device. All I can say it worked fine for me in the limited use I gave it.
There’s also a mono speaker on the lower right corner of the front panel. It’s surprisingly good, providing clear and audible sound. I still haven’t needed to turn it up all the way. The headphone jack is good as well and as soon as you plug in your headphones, the sound properly transfers over.
Expect 4-6 hours of continuous gameplay, depending on the screen brightness, emulator, and volume you choose. I typically leave my device on standby, which uses about 6-10% a day in battery life. Charging takes a couple of hours for a full charge.
This isn’t bad considering how small and lightweight the device is. You can also play while plugged in if you run out of juice. I’ve only done this once, but it didn’t feel abnormally warm or anything to play while charging.
Price and availability
You can get this device on various sites, but I recommend spending the extra $10 to buy it on Amazon (priced at $120 at the time of this review – subject to change). Not only do you get Prime shipping, but you also have a little less hassle dealing with returns if this ends up not being your thing. Your alternatives are eBay or Chinese websites which will take 30ish days to ship.
Like I mentioned before, I recommend buying the version without the extra microSD card. I just don’t think it’s worth it and the SD cards they include are low quality. You can buy better ones for the same price difference and load the software yourself, assuming you’re tech-savvy.
For the price you pay, it’s a really good device, assuming retro gaming is your thing. It’s hard to make your own DIY Raspberry Pi arcade console and those don’t even come with a screen.
But also keep in mind that this is a handheld only device. There’s no HDMI out, so playing on a big screen isn’t a possibility unless someone can get that USB-C to output to a TV somehow.
Either way, you look at it, this is a niche device intended for a select crowd. If that’s you, I highly recommend it. And if you’re looking for a good gift to impress that already tech junkie friend or family member, maybe this is the right one.
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