A device like the Retroid Pocket 3+ scratches an itch you probably never thought you’d have. Designed as a handheld emulator, this Android-powered, $149 device with two joysticks, a directional pad, shoulder buttons, and four gaming buttons. In short, it turns your spare moments into classic gaming heaven.

The Retroid Pocket 3+ plays a number of popular emulators. The Retroid Launcher allows you to load ROMs from the Micro SD card and activate them from a central place or you can install Android games and even use the device as a Steam Link system so you can play your Steam games remotely.

In terms of hardware, the Retroid Pocket 3+ looks like a Nintendo Switch Lite. It has a smaller form factor, measuring 7.2 inches wide compared to the Switch Lite’s 8.2 inches, and a 4.7-inch screen compared to the Switch Lite’s 5.5-inch screen. It also has a 1,334-by-750 resolution that’s slightly higher than on the Switch and Switch Lite, making it look sharper with its smaller area.

The Retroid Pocket 3+ has all the features you’d expect from a handheld gaming device, including dual-analog sticks, dual triggers, and A/B/X/Y face buttons in the Nintendo configuration. It also has a micro-HDMI port, a microSD card slot, a USB-C port for charging, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Plus, it comes with 128GB of onboard memory, and you can easily add more with an inexpensive 64GB or 128GB card. This model has 4GB of RAM.

I personally love the hardware. It’s very snappy and wonderfully portable. I’ve used a number of retro handhelds in the past and the Retroid Pocket 3+ is the best one I’ve used by a mile.

In all honesty, you probably won’t use many of the features including the HDMI out but it’s nice to know they’re there.

What’s wrong with the Retroid Pocket 3+

As with nearly every handheld emulator, getting this thing to work smoothly isn’t difficult but it does take some time. First, you need to make sure that all of the ROMs you’re using will work on the handheld and the only way to test that is by dragging them onto an SD card and seeing if they launch. This can obviously become frustrating, especially since most SD card transfers can take a number of minutes. With bigger games, including ISO files, you’ll be waiting for a while just to learn a game can’t load.

Finding help for each of the emulators requires loads of Googling. Making a ROM or even an emulator work takes a lot of research and even though the launcher works with 80% of the games out there, you’ll still run into problems.

There are also some concerns regarding quality control on the Retroid Pocket 3+ – you can check out an interesting rant here – but come on: for $149, you’ve got a handheld that works most of the time and if you’re looking for true emulation you’re probably not going to depend on a device like this.

Ultimately the Retroid Pocket 3+ is great fun. It works well, performs well, and plays most of what I want it to play. It’s the first handheld I could see myself playing Ocarina of Time on, for example, simply because the game looks and plays great. Sure there are control issues with some of the games but those, again, are remedied with some putzing around with configurations.

If you have any interest in emulated gaming at all, get this device. You’ll have a blast.

By John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

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