As I’ve recently procured yet another retro gaming handheld, I felt the need to give a quick comparison of two similar offerings that I own. Please keep in mind that this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive post, comparing sizes and weight down to the gram. This is more of my working experience with a couple of devices, and the deciding factor to use one over the other.
So having owned the Anbernic RG35XX since it launched (smaller battery, zero screen issues), I’ve found that after the initial setup, and logging a few hours of testing out games, I barely touch the thing. Keep in mind, that initial setup is a doozy. Flashing microSD cards with different OSes, and different versions of the same OS.
A lot of folks I see on Reddit took to these devices like crack, and basically just collect them, so I’m not really in the minority here. Same goes for playing “setup” for a longer than reasonable amount of time.
That said, it was a great first purchase to get me into the space.
The nostalgia feels cut deep as I now had a device reminiscent of my atomic purple Game Boy Color that barely left my side through the remainder of my high school years.
Not to get too off topic, I do have a few other devices. My Steam Deck is my daily driver for most gaming on the sofa. My Nintendo Switch (my former daily driver) is now solely for Switch exclusive titles, and occasionally travels with me as it takes up less space in my Minaal backpack.
On the retro gaming handheld front, I also own a PowKiddy V90, which not only scratches my nostalgic itch for my old Game Boy Advance SP, but also does a great job of traveling due to it’s small size and the fact that it folds up.
Sadly though, after this last trip, the device did start to feel a bit too small, and there are quite a bit of performance and display issues on newer consoles. Considering it’s obvious resemblance to the GBA SP, the device is unable to do integer scaling, so playing GBA games is either an exercise in squinting, or an upscaled fuzz fest.
So if that thing was too small, why not just use the Anbernic RG35XX for travel?
That idea definitely did cross my mind, especially as I battled the idea of buying another device.
Ultimately though, I gave into the temptation of another device. If nothing else, I didn’t have a horizontal retro gaming system. That’s a good enough reason, right? RIGHT?!
Fast forward to me picking up the Anbernic RG353M, somewhat on a whim. Well… more like riding the high of Prime Day and hungry for the joys of setting up a new operating system.
A few other deciding factors were that the device could run something other than Android, which at least at the time, the RG405M was Android-only. Also, considering the majority of my retro gaming is from systems that did not have analog controllers, so having the D-pad above the analog stick was preferable.
From an initial impression standpoint, both the RG35XX and RG353M have roughly the same amount of “pocketability”, even though I never just shove these things into my pocket.
The RG353M, being metal, and having nice little grip pads on the back, definitely feels more like a premium device. Rightfully so, at nearly three times the price.
Having flashed ArkOS on a new microSD card, and getting some ROMs onto another new microSD card (the stock ones are always junk) I was off to the races!
Keep in mind that the RG353M does run something resembling Android, but I’m a fan of running Linux when possible, so ArkOS (Ubuntu-based) seemed like the right call.
What became immediately evident with the RG353M wasn’t that it seemed to play games better, or that it supported more system (pretty sure the RG35XX doesn’t do Sega Dreamcast). It was the fact that with a device that has Wi-Fi, a ton of the initial setup woes and headaches of keeping things updated immediately vanished.
The bonus was that I could also utilize RetroAchievements like on my Steam Deck.
While this may seem trivial to some, getting things “just right” on GarlicOS was a labor of love. Long running jobs on my computer to collect artwork and other meta, only to find myself unhappy with something and needing to start over.
This small difference between the devices has actually resulted in it being the device that hangs out next to my Steam Deck and gets picked up very regularly.
Now I just need to be patient as I wait for a “grip case” to ship from Etsy to see how much the RG353M will leave the house with me.