If you’re in the market for a portable handheld device for playing old school video games… you’re a nerd. I kid! It’s easy for me to make those kind of jokes since I am that kind of nerd. As much as I appreciate the modern day performance and features of a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, I’m still at heart a gamer who grew up in the 1980’s. That means I experienced the entire gamut of gaming on what’s now called “retro” from the Atari VCS (later rebranded Atari 2600) to its competitors ColecoVision and Intellivision, moving on to the 8 bit era of NES, Sega Master System and the like, then sliding right into the 90’s when I finally had the opportunity to own consoles in college. Sure my Sega Genesis came from a pawn shop and I only got a PlayStation because my roommate got kicked out for bad grades (I adored him but it happened twice), but it didn’t make me appreciate my time with them any less. For me any device that can play that entire range of video games from 1979-1999 is right in my wheelhouse.
Now previously I looked at the Miyoo Mini Plus, which is a fun device and one I can easily recommend at the $69 price point, particularly since it surprised me with how capable it was for the money they charged. There are a couple of pros and cons that go with it — the biggest con being that you’re forced into a vertical GameBoy-esque orientation that doesn’t always look or feel right with classic systems. It can also feel a little cramped if you’re already used to horizontal display portable systems like the original GameBoy Advance, the PlayStation Portable or Vita, Nintendo 3DS, Switch Lite, et cetera. There’s also the limitation of it running on a linux build, whether you use the stock OS (eh) or custom firmware (recommended). You might want something that can play Android games like a smart phone, giving you access to titles you already own or the multitude of homebrew and free to play games out there.
This is where the Retroid Pocket 2S comes in. While it’s advertised as a $99 handheld, I’m going to be honest and say that you really want to throw another $20 on there and get the upgraded model with 4 GB of video RAM and 128 GB of internal storage. You’re also going to have to pay shipping and tax based on where you live, which in my case brought the total closer to $140. While that’s double what you would pay for the Miyoo Mini Plus, there are several advantages that aren’t immediately obvious based on price alone. The first is that you’ll be lucky to get a Miyoo Mini Plus for the base price since it constantly sells out and ends up in the hands of flippers and scalpers. I pre-ordered the one I got and it took an incredibly long time to arrive due to the seller’s backlog.
The Retroid line of products seem to be much more readily available both from the manufacturer and at slightly higher prices through sites like Amazon (but if you already have Prime the shipping is free so there’s that). And then there’s the consideration that if you want something like an Analogue Pocket you’re going to pay well over $200 up front and wait a full year or more before it ships. Pay more and have nothing for a year? Hmm. And the Steam Deck? Well you’re going to pay anywhere from 2-3 times the price of a Pocket.
You can go even further beyond the Steam Deck if you really want to go nuts with power and performance, getting the equivalent of a Windows gaming PC you can carry around with you, but at that point you could also just buy yourself a gaming rig instead of a portable device. That’s where I circle back to the $119 price point of the Retroid Pocket 2S. If this was a less capable handheld I’d think it was unjustified compared to the $69 of the Miyoo Mini, but I haven’t thrown anything at it yet it can’t handle, and I haven’t even tried anything post-1999 yet (GameCube, PS2, Nintendo Wii, et cetera) so that will come in a future video review. It also has HDMI output so you can not only play it as a portable but hook it up to a TV anywhere you go. Connect a Bluetooth controller (if you’re a gamer you’ve got a bunch already) and it’s practically a portable emulation box.
Realistically you could argue it’s a portable computer even though it’s not being marketed as a “pocket PC” or “PC in a box.” It’s a little insane to me to think a device I can slide in my pocket has more CPU and GPU power than every personal computer I used from about 1990 to 2008 combined but with a 1.8 GHz CPU and a 614MHz GPU, well quite frankly, the numbers don’t lie. You could fly to the moon and back with this thing if you had the jet fuel and the capsule to carry you. The computers that got the astronauts there and back are remarkably primitive compared to what most of take phone calls on.
How is the gaming experience though? For my money (and I spent my own on it, this review is neither sponsored nor affiliated with Retroid) it’s great. Using it as a handheld gaming console I found it’s lightweight but not flimsy or hollow feeling (think of any cheap Five Below handheld or Tiger LCD game and you’ll know what I mean). The back side has rounded curves to make it comfortable to grip, the dual analog sticks are evenly spaced out for games where you need one for motion and one for camera (or twin sticks for moving and shooting), the buttons feel precise and responsive, and my only gripe would be that the D-pad is slightly mushy. It’s fine 90% of the time but if you need tight platforming controls for a 2D game, you might want to hook it up to the HDMI output and go with the Bluetooth controller of your choice. I like the Switch Pro on mine.
Bottom line? If you love classic gaming and aren’t going to be a “FPGA vs. emulation” snob then the Retroid Pocket 2S is that sweet spot of price, performance, and portability. Now if you want to play the latest and greatest games like Starfield or Baldur’s Gate 3, this isn’t your review or your system. If you want to play anything from Pong to Super Mario Bros. to Chrono Trigger to Wild Arms, this is definitely for you.
Now I’m going to tell you from an ethical perspective that you should own a physical copy of whatever games you put on it, but I can also tell you that what I really appreciate about the Retroid is that it DOESN’T come pre-loaded with roms. If you’re going to pirate games (arr) that’s up to you, but I think selling a handheld console with games the manufacturer doesn’t own is sleazy at best and a crime at worst. This is a blank slate. You do what you want to do with it, and that’s exactly the way it should be. It’s probably going to be able to do anything you want unless you expect it to run PS3 era games on up. Have fun!