|Retroid Pocket 2+
Find it on: Go Retroid
Every few years, there is a retro handheld that comes along and changes the entire game. Three years ago, I wrote that the BittBoy V3 was that kind of handheld because for the price point, there was no better value on the market at the time. Since then, a couple dozen retro handhelds have come on the market, mostly utilizing the RK3326 chipset. No matter what variation the handheld was used in, the retro handheld market stayed stagnant from late 2019 to late 2021, and we were mostly stuck in the fifth generation console era.
Finally, we’re starting to see some advancements in chipsets in 2022. The first company to break the mold was Powkiddy, releasing two handhelds in a relatively short period of time: The X18S featuring a Unisoc T618 processor, and the A20, with a S905D3 processor. Anbernic followed shortly after with the RG552, upgrading its chipset to the RK3399. All three units were significant upgrades in power over the RK3326 chipset, which means that the entire library of Dreamcast and PlayStation Portable is now 100 percent playable. But at what cost? The X18S is priced around $179, which is about double what an RK3326 handheld costs these days. The RG552 is even more expensive, costing you around $225. While the A20 is priced competitively at $109, it comes with a host of problems, namely the lack of L2/R2 buttons and a right analog stick. As a result, N64 is not very playable with that form factor.
All of this background leads into why the Retroid Pocket 2+ is a game changing device in the next generation of retro handhelds. Aside from coming in significantly cheaper than the current generation of handhelds at $99, it has a powerful Unisoc Quad-core Tiger T310 processor that not only plays the entire Dreamcast and PSP library nearly flawlessly, but even pushes up to a limited number (I’d say around 20%) of sixth generation GameCube and PlayStation 2 games with the right tweaks. For the price, there is nothing that comes close.
The form factor of the Retroid Pocket 2+ is mostly the same as its predecessor, the 2, but for some key changes. Perhaps the most important is that the 3.5 inch, 4:3 screen is now touch sensitive. This makes the Android 9 system its loaded with highly functional as you can use the touch screen keyboard to adjust settings and load games. There’s also improvements to the D pad and analog joystick. Both have good travel and are appropriately sensitive to input. The shoulder buttons continue to be stacked, which is something that PowKiddy and Anbernic should incorporate across their gaming lines. The drawback in terms of ergonomics comes from the right side of the handheld. The four action buttons are smaller than a standard Xbox or PS controller, and I found them jamming more often than they should. There are also lots of complaints about the analog slider below the action buttons, but I didn’t seem to mind as much as other reviewers. Also, while I did like the new touch sensitive screen, the actual screen itself is only 480p and does not have the best backlight or viewing angles. There have been better IPS displays on RK3326 handhelds.
The Retroid team heeded advice from customers about the 2, and have created a front end setup that makes it significantly easier for a user to set up the basics. When you turn on the unit for the first time, you’re greeted with a setup widget that walks you through the basics, much like you’re setting up a phone, which makes sense given the Android software. Still, while there is some handholding through the initial setup, be forewarned, you do need some technical know-how to get the Retroid Pocket 2+ set up to be playing some of the more advanced systems the way you want. While the native Retroarch can play most of the basic systems up to PSX, you’ll need to figure out how to download and configure the more advance systems (GameCube, PSP, PS2, etc). My second warning to you: The Retroid Pocket 2+ does not come preloaded with any games.
And that’s where my main criticism of the Retroid Pocket 2+ comes from. I, for one, am a tinkerer. I do like getting in the software and trying out various setups and settings, and figuring out which emulator is best for the particular console. But to a casual user that just wants to plug and play, this is not the right handheld. It took me hours of setup before I even attempted to fire up a game to play, and one week in, I still have not fully completed my configurations. Someone who is new to the retro handheld scene is not likely to know how to set up a BIOS file or figure out how to configure their SD-card to sync with the handheld. While I have my issues with PowKiddy and Anbernic, the one thing both companies do well is to set up the handheld in such a way where all of the games and settings are mostly completed by the time it gets to the end user. All the user really needs to do is turn on the machine and start playing. That’s just not true for the Retroid Pocket 2+.
This handheld also needs to be taken in context for its price range. In the coming weeks and months, there are going to be several far more powerful handheld that are coming to market: The AYANEO NEXT ($1,265), the Valve Steam Deck ($399), and the AYN Odin Handheld ($199). All of the prices mentioned are just for the entry level models, so they are in the best case scenario double the price, and in the case of the AYANEO NEXT, you’ll probably need to take out a mortgage at that point. As you’d expect, all three of these outperform the Retroid Pocket 2+, and can play sixth and even seventh generation games. But going back to the lens of bang for buck, there’s no better handheld on the market you can get than the Retroid Pocket 2+, and it blows its main competition in the similar price range out of the water.
The main takeaway is if you have a little technical know-how, or don’t mind rolling up your sleeves to figure some of the more difficult configurations, I can’t think of a better way to spend $99. This device is a game-changer, and in this price range, is the must-have device of 2022.