Chinese firm Anbernic has produced a long line of wallet-friendly handheld emulation consoles over the years, with the RG351 being perhaps the most popular; its relatively powerful internals and appealing design have made it a hit with retro fans – not to mention bedroom coders, who have tinkered with the firmware to create custom software that gets even more performance out of the hardware.
Anbernic isn’t alone in this field, and there are several competing firms who are hoping to steal away some of that market share. That’s why Anbernic’s next system, the RG552, is so important; the arrival of capable rivals means that the company needs to impress and that motivation has resulted in a device that has many ties with past glories – but also has a few startling new features to offer.
The most instantly obvious change here is size; the RG552 feels massive when compared to the RG351, thanks mostly to the inclusion of a superb 5.36-inch 1920 x 1152 IPS touchscreen. While the screen has a large bezel around it, it still looks impressive, and that rather unusual resolution is better than you might expect for playing 4:3-ratio retro games on. The screen is most certainly the star here, and it informs a lot of the other design choices relating to the RG552. The case is bigger, as you might expect, but it’s still smaller than a Switch Lite and is arguably more comfortable to hold for prolonged periods. On the downside, the larger size means it’s slightly less mobile, and won’t slip into your pocket as effortlessly as the RG351 did.
Elsewhere, the layout of the controls will be instantly familiar to anyone who has used an Anbernic device before. The D-pad is fantastic, while the dual analogue sticks are very much like the ones on the Nintendo Switch. The shoulder buttons are laid out side-by-side, which some people might find a little awkward. The placement of the power and volume controls is also a little puzzling; they’re on the right and left-hand sides of the device respectively, and it’s too easy to accidentally touch the volume rocker during gameplay.
Previous Anbernic handhelds have used a Linux-based OS, but the RG552 gives you the option of also booting into Android, which means you get access to a wide range of apps and emulators – many of which will get regular updates via the Google Play Store. You can also run games like fan-made Metroid title AM2R, which is easy enough to find online. The Linux side of things still needs a little bit of work to get it running as well as you’d like (this guide is helpful) but it’s handly to have the option to run both – and as time goes on and the community grows, we’re likely to see huge strides taken in term of custom firmware and the like. 64GB of internal storage is included, and there are two MicroSD card slots, so space should never be an issue.
A bigger case has allowed Anbernic to improve the RG552’s internals when compared to its forerunners, and the device features a new six-core RK3399 chipset. It’s not going to challenge the very best mobile chipsets out there, but this setup is more than enough to run the vast majority of retro games. In fact, performance is very much improved when compared to the RG351, with Dreamcast, N64 and PlayStation games running brilliantly. If you’re looking for a handheld that can flawlessly run SNES, NES and Game Boy titles on a nice big screen, then this is it (of course, we’d highly recommend you source your own ROMs).
There are a few negatives to note, however. Battery life is about 4 hours, which is perhaps a little disappointing for a device of this size. There’s also no 5Ghz WiFi support, so, while the RG552 is capable of streaming games via Android-based apps, it’s not going to provide the smoothest experience. Finally, there’s the price; at around £170, this is a fair bit more expensive than Anbernic’s previous offerings; in fact, you could pick up a Switch Lite for not much more cash. While we’re not suggesting that the RG552 isn’t worth that money – it’s certainly a well-built emulation machine with plenty of potential – the high cost might prevent it from being quite so popular with customers, many of whom will have taken the plunge on the RG351 because it was priced so reasonably.
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Thanks to DroiX for supplying the Anbernic RG552 used in this review.