Find it on: Anbernic Website
Every retro gamer handheld collector should have at least two kinds of handhelds in their collection. The first is the mothership. The powerful handheld you reach for when you’re at home, which has your entire library sitting on a (likely overpriced) massive SD card. It is bulky, with an excellent screen, and probably does not have great battery life. It’s the one you carry around the house and plop down on the couch with for hours at a time, but it never sees the light of day.
Then, there is your second travel handheld. This is the one that you throw in your pocket when you’re headed out for the day. It’s the one you reach for when you’re bored on a train/plane/subway and you’re looking to pass the time. The travel handheld will live in your pocket and should have at least 4-5 hours of battery life in exchange for reduced raw processing power.
The Anbernic RG280V is cut from the second category of devices. The 3.5 inch x 3.0 inch form factor makes it roughly the size of a standard post-it, and should only be slightly bulkier than your wallet (unless you’re George Costanza). It’s got a 2100 mAh battery, which Anbernic claims lasts up to seven hours, but is realistically more in the four-hour range. And you do give up a bit of processing power, as the RG280V has a chipset from 2012, which means you can’t play PS2 or GameCube, but you get parts of the 32-bit generation and down.
At the moment, there’s no better device in this category on the market (though the Miyoo Mini appears just around the corner). As with most Anbernic products, the RG280V has the look and feel of a high-end product. The premium plastic feels good on the hands, and provides a sturdy frame to the gorgeous 2.8 inch IPS screen. The D pad and X/Y/A/B buttons are made of conductive rubber, which Nintendo made famous. It’s a bit squishy to mash, but it’s got just the right amount of travel and sensitivity to it. That said, I’m not a fan of the R1/2 L1/2 buttons. Anbernic would’ve been better served to used stacked buttons, and we’re left to settle for R2/L2 buttons that are slightly raised over the R1/L1 buttons. When playing PS1 games that made use of the four buttons, I personally found it a bit difficult to push those particular buttons.
The horn stereo speaker also provides high quality volume, though the speaker placement is in the back. I would’ve preferred the designers to find a place for the speakers in the front, though I do give them somewhat of a pass because there’s little room for it with the screen taking up most of the space. As for the other inputs, I do like the USB-C input for charging, but one other thing I would’ve liked to have seen is an HDMI out. The RG280V comes in a silver version and a gold and red Famiclone version. That was an easy decision for me as someone who worshiped the NES.
The stock firmware leaves a lot to be desired, though at a basic level, it does navigate you to the games you need to get to. The great news is, because there’s such a passionate developer community behind the RG280 and RG350 series, there’s plenty of support and they’ve developed Adam firmware that brings the device UI into the 2020s. As for the Ingenic JZ4770 SoC, it’s not fancy and a bit dated, but it gets the job done. It’s able to play everything from PS1 down nearly flawlessly. I fired up WipeOut (PS1) and the RG280V had no issues with it. The same was true for Genesis, SNES, GBA and GG and the generations before that. While I’ve seen some videos showing N64 compatibility, I had no real interest in trying since the RG280V doesn’t have an analog stick. And I can’t really complain about the lack of analog stick given the limited space on the form factor.
I do think Anbernic really missed an opportunity here with its pricing. When it was first released, it was retailing for around $80. Now that it’s had more shelf life, you can find it for $70, and even less if you’re patient. It’s decently priced, but to me, if Anbernic really wanted to hit a home run and completely dominate the travel market, they should’ve priced this at $49.99. But then again, there’s probably a reason why I am not a CEO of a retro gaming company.
If this was my primary device, I would be wanting more, but that’s not how I view this device. The RG280V has now replaced my BittBoy V3 as my primary travel device because it checks off everything that I look for in a travel handheld: (1) A powerful enough SoC; (2) Good battery life; (3) A highly portable and premium feeling form factor; (4) A bright and dynamic screen; and (5) A good, though not great (I got this on sale for $59) price tag.