Retroid Pocket 2: First Impressions

After over a month of waiting for it to arrive, my pre-ordered Retroid Pocket 2 finally came in the mail. It will take me some time to familiarize myself with its user interface and potential, but I wanted to make a quick post and video to share my initial thoughts. Other than watching a few videos to determine whether I wanted to buy the device, I mostly stayed away from videos and discussion about tweaking the experience. I wanted to have a fresh impression when first opening the box.

Technical Specifications

CPU: A7 Quad-Core @ 1.5GHz
GPU: Mali 400 Mp2 @ 500 MHz
RAM: 1GB DDR3
Storage: 8GB onboard, + microSD slot
Battery: 4000 mAh (full charge in 2.5 hours)
Display: 3.5″ IPS 640×480
Network: Bluetooth 4.0, // 2.4GHz WiFi
OS: Android 6.0

The Retroid Pocket 2 comes with a 1.5GHz quad-core processor and 1 GB of RAM. This should enable it to play classic retro consoles including the Nintendo 64, Sony PlayStation Portable, Sega Dreamcast, and Nintendo DS.

My device came with an OTG adapter and an HDMI cable, which were perks for pre-ordering the device. With the OTG adapter, I was able to connect wirelessly to modern controllers (PS3, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One S) via my trusty 8bitDo USB wireless adapter. The device has Bluetooth, so theoretically I could also connect to external controllers this way, but I haven’t tested this yet.

The screen is nice and crisp, but I suspect that its coloring is off. Compared to other screens (like the RG350M), this Retroid Pocket 2 screen feels like its white balance is tipped too much towards yellow, and the gamma is a little on the green side. It’s not a dealbreaker on its own, but I found it noticeable.

The device also support HDMI output, and the signal is nice and smooth. The screen doesn’t power off when in HDMI mode, which will drain the battery significantly.

The battery life on this device seems very good, thanks to its large 4000 mAh battery. It does take a long time to charge, and my charging light does not go off when it is fully charged (if you tap the power button the screen will show you how full the battery is during charging).

Button layout and feel

A lot of attention has been given to its shoulder buttons. I think that the L2 and R2 buttons (here named ZL and ZR) feel great, and they stick out a bit from the console like on the Nintendo Switch. In my opinion, they are the most premium buttons on the device. The L1 and R1 buttons have a similar “clickiness” to the RG350 shoulder buttons, and are adequate.

My impression of the face buttons (AXBY) is not great. I feel like the buttons are too flush with the faceplate, and they barely jut out from their holes. This means that the button travel is significantly lower than other devices I’ve tested. As a comparison, they feel like they have a little less travel than the original DS Lite, and significantly less travel than the mushy and satisfying RG350 or 3DS face buttons.

The D-Pad resembles that of a 3DS D-Pad, but is very stiff. This may improve over time, or I may acclimate to its style, but my initial impression is that it is too rigid to be comfortable over long gaming periods.

The left analog stick feels like a Nintendo Switch analog stick, and the right “digital slider” is a little strange but serviceable. It only slides, and does not rock around like a typical analog stick. I only briefly tested dual-analog games with these sticks, and they were a little weird on the right stick, but it worked.

User Interface

As a Chinese-made handheld, my expectation was that the UI would be clunky and a little unintuitive, but manageable. What I found was that the interface was actually more confusing that my low expectations accounted for.

Booting the system takes quite a while, a little over 39 seconds compared to 9 seconds with the RG350 devices. Once the device boots up, you’ll be greeted with an Android 6.0 operating system. Immediately I noticed significant input lag — when I moved my cursor or pressed a button, there was a discernible delay between my input and the action on the screen. It felt like running an old Windows system at your grandparents’ house. The folks at Retroid have announced that they will be rolling out an Android 8.0 operating system by late October, so fingers crossed it will make the experience zippier.

There are several pre-loaded emulators in the app menu, that I assume were optimized for the device (I know there is a lot of chatter out there about the ideal emulator and setup for each system, but for now I wanted to see how the stock apps performed). To play games on these emulators, you will need to add your own ROMs to the included SD card. That process is simple: the SD card has a folder named “roms” and folders for most systems, and you place the ROMs inside.

The issue is that the included SD card is nearly full already. It took some research to figure this out, but there is a SECOND operating system included in the device, called the “Retroid Pocket App”, and it is full of games that are encrypted. But to run this app you must first connect to WiFi, then open the Toolbox app and select “Install Retroid Pocket app” from the menu. If I hadn’t read about it on my own, I don’t know if I would have ever stumbled upon this option.

Starting up the Retroid Pocket App will give you an entirely different user interface, and dozens of pre-loaded games. It appears they curated this list with games they knew would run well with the device. The majority of these games are fighting games, and some are poorly translated (for example, Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition on the Sega Genesis is entitled “Street tyrant 2“. As far as I can tell, there is no way to rename these titles; there may be a way to add your own titles to this interface, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

There is also a “game market” within the menu of this app, where you can download other games for your system, but this market has been down for several weeks now.

Overall, this user interface is a little more user-friendly than the Android interface, because you can just navigate to the system and game you want to play and it loads right up. The emulators within the Android interface require significant tweaking, or an intimate knowledge of RetroArch and the optimal cores (emulators) for this device. It’s an entire rabbit hole of tweaking just to get an interface that you could pick up and play with ease.

There is another solution on the Android side: buying emulation apps from the Google Play Store, some of which have better performance than those that came with the device. I have yet to do this because a) buying emulators for a device already loaded with emulators seems a little ironic and b) with the introduction of an Android 8.0 operating system just weeks away, I would rather wait until we have a better understanding of which emulators will be the best purchase on the new OS.

Upgrading the SD card is very easy — simply copy the files over from the old card, and then stick the new card into the Retroid Pocket 2. This worked like a charm, and allowed me to retain the encrypted game files on the Retroid Pocket App while adding my own ROMs for the Android apps.

Game Performance

Many of the standard game consoles perform well, all the way up to PS1 games. Getting into anything beyond that (that is, games that don’t run on the RG350) is inconsistent.

Nintendo DS games are not available on the Retroid Pocket App OS, but RetroArch has several cores you can load on the Android side — and they all play terribly. This is where emulators from the Google Play Store will likely come in.

PSP games work the same on both the Retroid and Android OSs, but many games require frameskip to be playable. For now, I’m sticking with simple games like Lumines.

I haven’t fully dug into Dreamcast games yet, but of the two that are loaded on the Retroid Pocket App, one is nice and smooth (Marvel vs Capcom 2), and the other is sluggish (Ikaruga, which is translated to “Turtledove” on the system).

The shining light in all this is Nintendo 64 performance. Many games play nice and smooth on the emulator. Only Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64 are on the Retroid OS, but they play great, and other titles, like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, are just fine on the Android side.

This device also supports game streaming over its 2.4GHz WiFi connection. I was able to stream Destiny 2 through the device using Steam Link with no significant issues.

Pros and Cons

I’m nowhere near ready to write a review of this device, let alone start writing up guides, but I want to give you a quick list of pros and cons. These may be addressed in the future as I work on familiarizing myself with the system and its potential.

Pros:
– Sturdy body, nice bright/sharp screen.
– Many quality of life features: WiFi, sleep mode, Bluetooth, HDMI
– Pre-loaded games for easy pick-up-and-play

Cons:
– Confusing user interfaces which require a lot of research
– Buttons are stiff and too flush with faceplate
– Game performance is inconsistent
– Significant input lag in user interfaces

Overall, I am happy with my purchase, and I think it is of good value at $80. It will require some significant time investment to get it tweaked to my liking, but I’m excited to see what I can do with it in the future.

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