Retroid Pocket 2: In-depth review

Last updated: 18OCT2020

I’ve had my Retroid Pocket 2 for about a month now, so I think it’s time to share my final thoughts on the device. I’ve made a lengthy video (below) that walks you through all of the aspects, but here is a written review as well.

Table of Contents:
Hardware breakdown
Supported systems
Button interface
User interface
Things I love
Nice to haves
Things I don't love
Wishlist
Bottom line

I find it difficult to actually “review” a device, for many reasons. One, most of these devices are a work in progress; updates are coming out all the time, so it’s a challenge to say “at this slice of time the device is good/not good”. Next, what I find important in a device may not be the same thing that you find important. So I would encourage you to watch the video above to see my take on some of those aspects that matter most to me, like the buttons, d-pad, user interface, and customizability.

Let’s get to the facts.

Hardware breakdown

MediaTek MT6580 chipset
CPU: Cortex A7 ARM (1.5GHz)
GPU: Mali-400 MP2 (500MHz)
RAM: 1GB LPDDR3
8GB internal (3GB for Android)
4000mAh battery (5-6 hrs)
Bluetooth 4.0
Wi-Fi (b/g/n) 2.4GHz
3.5" IPS screen (640x480, 60Hz)
1x USB C port (data/power)
1x microSD slot
1x micro HDMI port

The Retroid Pocket 2 features a pretty good ARM-based chipset that runs Android 6.0. Given its sticker price ($80 USD before shipping), that is a LOT of bang for your buck. I wish it had another GB of RAM, but overall this is a nicely powered device for what it does. Speaking of what it does, let’s discuss the systems that this can device can play.

Supported systems

A lot of systems are supported on this device, and there are many routes to play each game.

My preferred way to play emulators is via the RetroArch app, which hosts a variety of “cores” (emulators) with universal settings, button mapping, cheats, achievements, and more. For an idea of all the systems supported on RetroArch, here is a pretty comprehensive list.

In addition to RetroArch, there are several Android-based standalone emulators that run well on this device. This guide from the Retroid Pocket 2 wiki has a list of all the emulators and which ones the community thinks are optimal for the system.

Some of the systems Retroid promotes as being supported don’t play 100% of its games. For example, I have had about 50% success with Nintendo 64 games, 25% success with PSP games, and 75% success with Dreamcast games. 95% of Nintendo DS games work fine, but you will be limited by whether the game requires a dual-screen or touchscreen setup.

You can also load games from the Google Play Store, as long as they support Android 6.0. Like with DS games, if the games require a lot of touch input it may not be a fun experience. But Android games that support controller input are generally going to work pretty well on this device.

Button interface

I like the shoulder buttons on this device a lot, they are well-placed and have a nice feel to them.

The left analog stick is fine, it basically feels like a Nintendo Switch joy-con. The right “analog” stick is actually an 8-way digital slider, and it’s pretty terrible. It feels cheap and playing any twin-stick game is very disorienting; you simply won’t have the finesse you’re expecting from an analog stick. Neither of the sticks “click”, so there is no L3 or R3 function.

Unfortunately, the face buttons and d-pad really hold this device back. They are small, cramped, and “clicky” feeling — you have to press pretty hard on the button for it to register, and it can be tiring on your thumbs after some time. I have found that playing this device for longer than 10 minutes becomes uncomfortable.

User interface

This device runs Android 6.0, with promises of an Android 8.0 update in the near future. I actually really like the Android setup, because of all the possibilities that Google Play Store can bring to the device.

But actually using the Android user interface is a chore, because of significant input lag in the menus. You may get used to the speed of the interface, but in over a month I still feel like it drags. To make the Android interface a little more streamlined, I have been using ATV Launcher Pro, which allows you to make custom buttons and backgrounds for your experience.

You can also launch the “RetroidOS” operating system. But I don’t recommend it for a myriad of reasons: its storefront is filled with nefariously-acquired game files, the interface is slow and unintuitive, and you cannot alter the emulation settings at all. But if you’re interested in having a user interface with minimal configuration requirements, here is the guide to set it up.

In general, I mostly just use RetroArch to launch and tweak my games for most systems, and standalone apps for Nintendo 64, PSP, and Nintendo DS. Refer to this guide if you want to check them out, and here are my specific Dreamcast and Nintendo DS configuration guides.

Things I love

So rather than go over every little detail on this device (which I do in the video above), let’s just recap the things I love about the Retroid Pocket 2, features that are ‘nice to have’ but that I don’t actually use much, things I don’t love, and some features I wish it had.

Android OS (and its potential). Retroid really blew up the potential on this device by giving it access to the Android ecosystem. There are a ton of games and apps that run well with this device, and the Android community is understandably HUGE, so tapping into that developer talent pool is really smart. The implementation of Android is not perfect — a lack of touchscreen can often be frustrating — but I like that I can access a fully-formed OS immediately.

Network features. I love that I can make a hotspot to play over NetPlay, or have achievements in RetroArch, or update RetroArch cores and assets right on the device. Or just pop into the Google Play Store to see if a certain game or app is compatible with my Retroid Pocket 2.

Sleep mode. The system takes forever to boot up — about 50 seconds from when the Retroid logo appears until you can actually move the cursor. Luckily, the sleep mode works well, just tap the power button and the device goes to sleep, and tap again to wake it up. The battery barely drains in this mode, and it saves a lot of time.

Price. At $80 before shipping, there is no single device out there that has this much value at this price point. I’d even argue that the devices at higher price points (say the $100 or $120 level) don’t due enough to justify that added cost compared to what this device can do. Honestly, it’s a steal.

Community support. The Retroid community has a robust Discord server, a Facebook group, and a very helpful wiki page. While the device will need time to mature, it’s great that so much support is already available.

Nice to haves

Some features sound great on paper, but their implementation either isn’t great, or they just aren’t applicable to me.

Streaming (Steam Link, Moonlight). I thought that the ability to stream games from my PC to the Retroid Pocket 2 was going to be awesome. But its implementation leaves a lot to be desired: in Steam Link, the games won’t recognize your L2/R2 buttons, which can cripple certain games that rely on those inputs. Low-density indie games with minimal buttons work just fine. But in the end, the hassle of booting into my PC and streaming games wasn’t very appealing in a real-world scenario. I’d much rather focus on emulation, but that’s a personal preference.

RetroidOS. I won’t belabor this point, but Retroid unfortunately did not stick the landing with this operating system. The interface is sluggish and unintuitive, and I don’t like the idea of an open marketplace where you download games that you may or may not own in the first place. And the game titles are poorly translated, which drives me nuts. And finally, you cannot configure the emulators at all. So while I appreciate the attempt to make an all-in-one system for people to download and play games, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Color options. I really like that their website offers a ton of color options. There has been some rumblings in the community about the fact that they keep introducing new colors while shipping still takes over a month to leave the factory/warehouse, but it’s still nice that the company is working on user feedback when it comes to how the devices look. Personally, I love my yellow (“orange”) model.

Headphone jack on the bottom. This is something I don’t use right now since I’m at home most of the time, but once I start traveling again, having this headphone jack on the bottom will be very convenient. This is in stark contrast to the ridiculous top-loading headphone jack on Anbernic devices.

Bluetooth. I have only used this function to get a mouse working for certain games, but bluetooth works well and further expands the potential of this device. I like it.

Things I don’t love

While this device is a steal at $80, there are some shortcomings worth mentioning.

The buttons, right “analog” stick, and d-pad. I’ve already discussed this, but the feel of this device is really compromised by the poor input interface.

Complicated user interface. This is not a pick-up-and-play device, so be prepared for a good amount of tweaking. Luckily, the wiki page is very helpful in this regard.

Android OS input lag. Perhaps the Android 8.0 update may speed things up, but for now the interface is a little sluggish. I haven’t noticed this lag in games themselves, although others have reported it.

Paying for apps. One of the shortcomings of having an Android OS is that some apps are behind a paywall. I’m all about paying developers for their work, but the rub for me is that because the Retroid Pocket 2 is a new device, there is no consensus on which emulators or apps play games the best. I’ve already spent money on an app that didn’t work the way I had hoped (thank goodness for the Play Store’s return policy). Plus, to get everything working correctly, I can see that $80 price point jumping to $100 in real-world spending over time. This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s not something you need to worry about with other handheld devices.

State of anticipation. In keeping with my previous point, the community is kind of in this state of anticipation, where they are waiting for the next update, or someone to figure out which emulator works best, or a new color, etc. This is natural in a budding community like this one, but it does make newcomers feel overwhelmed.

Wishlist

So if I was king for a day, there are the minor changes I would make to the device. This isn’t comprehensive, and I’m not going way into left field with requests for a brand new CPU, etc.

Improved buttons and analog sticks. I’d like more button travel and a “squishier” feel to the face buttons. I think the left analog stick is fine, I just with it was mirrored on the right side, and that they clicked for L3/R3 support.

5GHz WiFi. I think opening up the bandwidth would improve streaming and downloading, which would be nice.

More RAM. I think another 1GB of RAM will help with the input lag.

Rumble feature. This would be nice for PS1 and N64 games.

Touchscreen. The “mouse mode” works fairly well on this device, but I’d much rather tap the screen when needed. This would greatly improve the Nintendo DS gaming experience.

Bottom line

If you are interested in an emulation device and $80 is your price point, then this is the product for you. It’s just a stupendous deal. I think that you may need to temper your expectations in what this device can and cannot do — it won’t run as nice as a $400 SnapDragon Android device. But for what it does, and for what it costs, you will be happy with this device.

If it had better buttons and a right analog stick, I would be shouting from the rooftops about how great this device truly is. But unfortunately those compromises reduce some of my enthusiasm about the device. Overall, if you’re looking for a cheap device that can play PS1 and below games beautifully, and does a pretty good job with Dreamcast/N64/PSP/NDS, then this is a great deal.

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