From 37 euros: handheld consoles with Linux in the test

Did you know that for 40 euros you can buy a handheld console that emulates everything you throw on it, including DOS games and Amiga, up to the Playstation 1? And that the games are even included, although this is completely illegal, even if you order something like this from Amazon.de? You can also spend a little more and then get something sugar-sweet. Or here, with a full metal housing and WLAN. We tested Powkiddy V90, Miyoo Mini and Anbernic RG351MP – good names, right? hehe. We bought all three devices as normal and tested them extensively.

Stay tuned!

Dear hackers, dear Internet surfers, welcome to…

Two things surprised me while researching this video: First, how impressively well the emulation handhelds work, how much fun they are and how many of them there are now on the market. And secondly, that with all my orders there was always a micro SD card in the package with 1000s of so-called ROM images, i.e. digital images of the modules, diskettes, cassettes. Just completely illegal, even with games that Sega and Nintendo still sell today. If you now say, yeah, in China you see it more loosely with copyright: I didn’t even order one of the consoles in China, but in Germany from Amazon.de. Difficult topic: Because I think it’s important that games are preserved regardless of the hardware they eventually ran on – imagine if you wanted to read Goethe’s Faust you would need some kind of 18th century device . Well, the manufacturers don’t do a very good job there. But of course piracy is not the way to go either. Here is a video of me explaining how to get ROMs legally.

Incidentally, the ROM collections that came with the handhelds that I tested here were all put together without love, with duplicate titles, spelling mistakes in the file names and, above all, garnished with some absurd bootleg games that were never officially released. Or does anyone of you know Super Mario 14?

Incidentally, such strange NES titles can also be found on a number of cheap consoles that have been on the market for years with names like 130-in-1 or retro mini-console. I once ordered this pseudo-Gameboy from Aliexpress for a test for 11.72 euros including shipping and it’s just really, really terrible. It’s lagging, it’s flickering, and it’s distorting and it’s just not fun at all. Above all, the things are completely hardwired, which means that there is a so-called Nintendo-on-a-chip module in it and that’s it. So you can’t put other games on it or emulate other systems – it’s just an NES with junk games built in. First of all, as a warning – don’t buy something like that.

Then it’s better to spend 22 euros more and you’ll get a REAL emulation handheld game console.

This is the PowKiddy V90, which I ordered from AliExpress for 37.40 and this is the cheapest device to start with, I would say. Here, too, a MicroSD with ROMs was included with my order, but curated very carelessly; just like the entire operating system, for example, Super Nintendo games run like a bag of screws in the normal state and everything else just doesn’t look nice either.

But fortunately it’s all Linux-based, and it’s all customizable. Or the community: there are people on all these consoles who make the operating systems more beautiful. All open source.

Very important recommendation for all three consoles:

– Always install a custom ROM, they have more up-to-date, better running emulator versions with them and it’s always nicer overall.

– You shouldn’t use the included MicroSD card, not because the stuff on it is illegal, but because they’re cheap cards that tend to give up the ghost after a short time – especially stupid if there are saved games on them.

Keyword looks nicer: Look, this is what the Powkiddy V90 looks like out of the box. More like that, right? And this is how it looks adjusted with the Miyoo custom firmware. The switch-on animation alone, just everything nicer. AND: It also runs much better.

But not all platforms are PERFECT. No wonder, the V90 only has a single-core 500 MHz Allwinner processor with 32 MB RAM, the part is seven years old. That’s the bottom edge now. All 8-bit emulations, i.e. the NES, Gameboy, Sega Master System, C64 – everything runs on them without any problems. The 16-bit stuff often too, but you should set the Super Nintendo so that frames are skipped if necessary, otherwise some titles will jerk. It also runs older DOS games with DOSBOX and even Playstation titles; but often not perfectly fluid.

In any case, you have to make some compromises with the V90: The display only has a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. That’s enough for all the 8-bit stuff, but even the SNES had a 512×448 pixel mode. So you have to scale down. Well, with a size of 3 inches (that’s 7.6 cm diagonal) it doesn’t matter that much, but it looks pretty ugly, especially when displaying text on the Amiga or PC.

The case is definitely nice though. Of course, it’s completely copied from the good old Gameboy Advance SP – but I think it’s one of the best-designed game consoles in history. Unfortunately, the V90 doesn’t feel as good as a Gameboy Advance, the V90 is made of really cheap plastic, really a surprise egg. The part is nice and light, but not well balanced, it tilts backwards a bit. Also, the keys feel cheap and the hinge isn’t that great either. But what gets me down most of all: As usual with Linux consoles, you have to shut down the part – it may be that the MicroSD is being written at the moment, so you shouldn’t just switch it off. BUT: The V90 remains switched on after shutting down – so you have to ALSO set the slide switch here to the off position. I forget about every third time, which of course means that the battery is empty. GRRRRR. Speaking of the battery: there’s an easily replaceable replica Nokia cell phone battery inside, that’s nice. But he doesn’t last long, after 2.5 hours it’s usually over.

The Miyoo Mini is available for 12 euros more; and it does ALMOST EVERYTHING better than the Powkiddy V90. It’s faster, has a higher resolution, the battery lasts twice as long, the keys feel better etc etc. I just like the V90 better in terms of the form factor simply because of the folding design, it feels less crampy than the Miyoo for my large hands Mini – but since it’s better in all other respects, I still preferred to play on it. The Miyoo Mini computing power is easily enough for all Playstation 1 titles that I have tried. And I was even able to run such old PC Demoscene demos with Dosbox – fascinating. Amiga demos too, of course. And wing commanders. And everything actually runs arcade-wise. But my absolute favorite is Pico-8: It’s a fantasy console that has put extra restrictions on itself so that you aren’t completely overwhelmed when developing games. And the scene is huge, there are really great games for Pico-8. Pico-8 runs on all three tested consoles, 100% problem-free but only on Miyoo Mini and the Anbernic RG351MP.

I really like my Miyoo Mini, so cuddly small! And the battery lasts at least four hours, and heh, I have nothing to complain about. Except that of course a little more power for the Dreamcast and even newer stuff would be nice.

What is really confusing though: The hardware revisions. I have two Miyoos here, one older, one newer. Both were simply sold to me as Miyoo Mini. The new version has slightly smoother buttons and a laminated display. That’s good, but unfortunately it also has a battery that’s no longer so easy to change: Instead of something here for easy plugging and unplugging, there’s now something with a cable. meh

Of course, the pre-installed software on the Miyoo Mini isn’t that great either, so I recommend Onion OS here. And awesome, you can even change the boot logo here, YES. And look how much cooler the charging indicator is compared to the standard software.

So, and now finally to the noble device. The Anbernic RG351MP. Instead of plastic, its housing is made of metal – that looks really classy. But also heavy: The 351MP weighs 270 grams, more than twice as much as the other two. I ordered it from Amazon for 170 euros because I wanted to know if the pirated copies would actually be included (yes, they will). The 351MP is about 20 euros cheaper on Aliexpress and others.

So it has its price, but there is also a fat quad-core SoC in there, whose performance is roughly comparable to a Raspberry Pi 4. But before I go into more detail about the thing, first of all new software on it: I recommend Amberelec here, that is really nice optimized for the Anbernic consoles. The start menu is Emulation Station, which is also often used on “big” emulation machines. Unlike the two cheaper devices, I can also run short videos of the gameplay in the menus. Chic, no?

Yes, and the 351MP runs a whole lot more, for example Playstation Portable, Nintendo DS and Dreamcast – at least many titles. Oh, and there are also Linux ports of modern games that can be run on it, such as Celeste or Shovel Knight.

Another huge difference is WiFi support. For example, you can simply activate a Samba server on the console and then copy ROMs over the network. Also, and this is a really important feature for me personally: so-called retro achievements only work with a network connection. These are community-made achievements for games that don’t actually support them. Achievements are virtual trophies, you probably know “big” consoles. If you activate this, the menus will show whether the respective game supports such trophies, recognizable by the trophy next to the title.

A little ugly, however: Apparently because of the metal housing, Anbernic could not build a WLAN chip into the housing and therefore includes a WLAN dongle. He then looks so ugly at the top, pretty much a predetermined breaking point. I glued it to the back with another adapter here, not ideal.

The part comes pretty close to my dream handheld, the size is great for me; However, I would prefer a plastic case because of the weight and an integrated WLAN.

Nevertheless: I spent most of my time with the RG351MP, simply because you can tweak the menus so nicely and do everything nicely. And you have to say that for all of these consoles: You have to be a little keen on tinkering, all-round carefree packages are not. But the community is large and there is help on every corner of the web.

Well, and now my conclusion. That’s difficult. I find the form factor of the Powkiddy V90 the cutest, but due to the lame hardware, it’s really only fun with 8-bit stuff. The Miyoo Mini is very nice due to the extremely small form factor and is also more fun in terms of performance. But my favorite is the big, expensive Anbernic RG351MP, mostly for the video previews and supported achievements. I bought this before I got my hands on a Steam deck though, so I’d probably prefer a Steam deck at the moment simply because it runs MORE software on it and feels better in your hand, although of course it’s about four times bigger is than the Anbernic and costs five times as much. Another alternative is a hacked Nintendo 3DS that runs Gameboy and Gameboy Advance games natively, or even a Raspi 4 with a handheld case. As you can see, there are millions of ways to play retro games and the number is growing every week.

If you can’t decide, this Google Docs table might help you, where the performance data of a number of handhelds are included, including an assessment of which platforms are emulated in terms of performance. The English-language YouTube channel RetroGameCorps, which regularly tests new handhelds from China, is also great. So, and now I’m going to play Pico-8 again. Bye!

#euros #handheld #consoles #Linux #test

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