Retroid Pocket 3 Review

I'll be blunt here. The Retroid Pocket 3 is a device that made my dreams come true. It's something I never expected to own, nor was it something I really had that high of hopes for. It's a device I stumbled across randomly online, and only originally wanted it for streaming games. However, what I got instead was a device I didn't know I needed in my life, and one that completely shocked me with it's wide range of features and power! I didn't plan on reviewing this thing, but after spending a month with it -- I feel like I have to! It's been quite some time since I've gotten that feeling out of a game or something I bought, so here I am now to share it with the world! 

So, instead of taking up any more time -- let's just jump right in. What exactly IS the Retroid Pocket 3 (as well as the 3 +), and why might it be the device for you?

The Hardware:

The RP3 (and it's upgraded 3 + Model) is a handheld retro gaming console. These things have been quite popular in recent years, and even more attention has been brought to them lately thanks to the release of devices like the Steam Deck. These devices range from "high end" devices that cost a pretty penny, to lower end cheaper devices that mainly run older games. The RP3 however, falls nicely in the middle, but also allows for a lot more depending on your setup. It's a device that is not only cheaper, but packs a lot more power than what you'd expect.

Completely on the hardware side -- the device has a 4.7" touch screen, and features all of your standard buttons (modeled after what you would find on the Nintendo Switch). L1, L2, R1, R2, A, B, X, Y, Start, Select, volume buttons, power button, a device home screen button, and of course the two analog sticks and the D-Pad. It also features L3 and R3 buttons by clicking in said D-Pad, and thanks to the touch screen you also have extra options for buttons/settings. It basically covers all controller needs, with the exception of having pressure sensitive buttons or triggers. (Again, very similar to the Nintendo Switch.)

While the device does come in different models (as well as it's + version), functionally they are all mostly the same. The 3 come with either 2 GB or 3 GB of RAM (depending on what you want to pay for) with 32 GB internal storage, while the 3 + comes with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage. The 3 + also has a slightly stronger chip set, so it can handle slightly more demanding games. (For example, it can run more PS2 and GCN games at reasonable settings compared to the 3). 

As for the software, both devices run on Android 11, and as such they are limited to what Android can or cannot do. This however, means the devices are actually capable of a LOT to say the least.

When it comes to the build quality in general -- the device is very, VERY, nice. It fits perfectly in both larger and smaller sized hands, the buttons and their placements are spot on, and the 750x1334 @ 60fps touch screen makes everything on the screen pop. The only real down side is the fact that the start and select buttons are located on the top of the handheld just to the side of the R1 and 2 buttons, but it honestly didn't take long to adjust to this. They aren't far out of reach, and you can comfortably slide your finger over to reach them. The speakers themselves are also located on the bottom back side of the console, so the sound quality isn't as nice as on a device with front facing speakers. That doesn't mean it sounds bad or anything, but for the best audio headphones are recommended. (Although in my case, the sound usually bounces off my hands and back towards me anyway -- but that's just how I hold the device and with my size of hands).

Minus these few issues, the RP3's hardware is spot on, and has the power to run nearly every game console up until the PS2 and GameCube without issues. Which is what leads me to what this thing can actually be used for...

Game Streaming:

The initial main reason I bought the device was for its streaming capability. As someone who enjoys using handhelds, this is a feature I've been making use of off and on for roughly 9 years now. I would stream many of my PS4 games right to my Vita, and one of my main uses for my iPad was to use my PS4 controller to play both PC and PS4 games. Of course the Vita's remote play option wasn't the greatest, as it would often lag and drop frames (not to mention the poor wifi on the older device), and using an iPad to play games wasn't that convenient. (Sitting the device on your lap as you pull out a controller to play isn't exactly what you'd call handheld gaming). Still, these were the options available to me at the time, and it's what I made due with. However, with the release of the PS5, this no longer became possible with the Vita, which in return made visual novels and text heavy games more of a chore for me to play. That's the main reason I originally looked into the Retroid, and I'm happy to report that it blew my expectations out of the water.

The Retroid (and Android in general) has many streaming apps that it can access. For those with a gaming PC, you can use apps such as Steam Link or Moonlight to access your entire PC, and play every game on said PC. As long as you have a decent internet connection, there's basically no limits to what can be played. For those with a PS4 or PS5, a 3rd party PS Play app can be downloaded as well, and once again, all of these games can be played without issue. At the time of me writing this, there is not currently a PlayStation Premium app so you cannot use PlayStation's actual cloud gaming service without a physical PS4 or 5; however Microsoft's streaming service does work. Even without owning an Xbox One or Series, as long as you pay for the service you can stream all of it's games directly to the Retroid. Again this opens up many possibilities for what can be played, but it all depends on what you currently own or are willing to subscribe to. 

As for the streaming itself, I personally have had no issues with my connection on any of these platforms. Even high speed games like the newly released Sonic Frontiers running on a PS5 had no lag when playing on the Retroid. I personally expected some drops, but the most I've noticed is some graphical artifacts upon first starting the stream before the connection stabilized. But again, results will differ between person to person based on internet speed and services being used.

Android Games:

Before getting into the meat of things -- I feel it is worth mentioning this. The RP3 is in fact an Android device, and as such has access to the Play Store and other Android games/apps. While some apps may need older versions to download (as RP3 is on Android 11), the vast majority of games and apps will work on the device. Now you might be thinking "why would I play these games on anything other than my phone?" But the answer to that is simple. It depends on the game, and because of the controller. There's no denying that physical buttons will always be better than touch controls, and as such many mobile games are improved by having just that -- physical buttons. Shooters are Call of Duty Mobile can be played as a console experience, and today's popular games like Genshin Impact benefit from it as well. Of course not everyone will be interested in this aspect of the Retroid, but it's nice to keep in mind your options when playing on one of these devices.

Retro Gaming:

Upon starting up the RP3, you have the option to install their software, and have quick access to some of the more popular gaming apps for Android. These apps are typically the more well known emulation softwares, that are not included on the RP3, but are recommended to install. Once you do this, where you take the device from there is your call. It is encouraged that all games added to the Retroid are legally obtained copies of games you own, with your own console BIOs to run them. I cannot/will not provide a guide to how to obtain your console BIOs, nor will I guide you on how to extract your games into digital form. That being said... I will tell you what can/cannot be done with this console, and how well it works.

Again, looking at the base RP3, the console can basically handle everything up until the 6th generation of consoles. While the Dream Cast seems to be the exception, Game Cube and PlayStation 2 are a mixed bag of what will or will not work. The RP3 + handles these games much better, but in general they are still not 100% supported. (Although using PC streaming newer consoles can be played.) That being said, consoles you can look forward to the Retroid supporting on device are as follows: Nintendo Entertainment System, Super NES, N64, Game Boy, GBC, GBA, DS, Sega Master System, Genesis, Saturn, Dream Cast, Game Gear, PlayStation, Playstation Portable, the Neo Geo line, arcade, and many, MANY, more. Basically anything released between Generation 1-5 can be played. Of course not everything will always work 100% of the time, and there may be some work around in special cases, but if there is a will there is usually a way. Thanks to the touch screen even the DS can be played, so it's not like you are limited by too many hardware specific features.

That being said, it really is a case by case basis on what will/will not work to the fullest. The handful of more demanding PSP games will cause frame drops on the RP3, but the RP3 + should not have any of these issues. On the other hand, games that required special hardware to play (say, Seaman on the Dream Cast with the microphone) aren't going to simply just work on the device. As the RP3 does not have a microphone of it's own, not only would you need to buy a USB-C or bluetooth mic, but you'd also have to configure settings to get them to work for games as well. So again, games like this will not run perfectly on the device, but it's not like it is completely impossible to get running. But again, these are special cases, and not something you'll typically come across.

When it comes to features when playing such games, these too depend on what apps are being used to run them. One of my personal favorite uses for the console is as a replacement PSP as my original died many years ago. While I rebought many of my games digitally for the Vita, not all of them made it over to PSN, nor did the Vita itself even run the games at full resolution. The RP3 on the other hand, can run the very same games at triple the resolution without issue, and has access to features like save states to make save "snap shots" outside of normal saving. (A feature even official emulations have used in recent years, like on the Switch Online service or SNES Classic.) To top it off, it was a simple copy and paste to import all my game data and saves into the Retroid's PSP folder. Of course I had my PSP saves backed up years ago using Sony's old MediaGo, but for the Vita all it took was the Content Manager and a quick PSP save upload to my PC. In a matter of minutes, I was continuing where I left off on Vita, with the same save files I've had for years. Of course it works in reverse as well, as all you would have to do is recopy your save file back to the Vita (or PSP) to continue your save on the original device. Of course not all consoles/systems would work this seamlessly, but even other console games can be played with similar features. That being increased resolution, save states, and even access to Action Replay/Gameshark codes where supported.

To put all of this simply... The Retroid strives to be a single handheld device that can store and play all of your favorite retro games you've collected over the years, and it succeeds at doing so. No worrying about your save batteries dying and needing replaced, or disc rot, or having your old hardware breaking down on you. It's all in digital format, and it works. For those who want to be extra safe, the Retroid can be synced up to cloud storage services as well, so you can keep a backup of all your data outside of the device if you really feel the need to. Or, you could simply keep it all on an SD card, and transfer said SD card from Retroid to Retroid if you ever buy a new model/have to replace the device in the future. It's convenient, and a way to preserve your aging collection all in one place.

The Good and the Bad:

There's not a whole lot more I can say about the RP3, but to sum up it's good points... It's a solid handheld with a full controller and touch screen support, and can not only stream PlayStation, Xbox, and PC games, but also play games from generations 1-5 all on it's own hardware. It does everything it set out to do, and excels at it all, all for a much lower price than most competitors. It has its start and select buttons placed in a funny location and back facing speakers, but these are minor issues overall. The device checks pretty much every box for features a gamer could ask for, but those who buy the console do need to be informed on what it can or cannot do. Again, features like streaming games would require extra hardware or streaming services (like Xbox's Game Pass) or a gaming PC that can handle said games you want to play, but for pretty much everything else -- it can be played and ran on device as is. There are some exceptions for games that required special hardware (like microphones, light guns, etc), but these games are very few and far between. 

The biggest draw back for some will be the fact that it is not a 100% simple setup process. While turning on the device will install the basics and direct you to where you need to go, there is no step by step guide on how to actually get things done. For example to actually load games into the device that are not mobile games, you will need to create the ROM file structure folders. This might sound hard, but the reality of it is -- all you do is click a button in the settings and select Create Folder Structure. It's not hard to do, but the Retroid itself does not guide you to do such things. Thankfully there are plenty of resources online, but you do not have to follow guides unless you really get stuck on how to get things working. Still, those who are not familiar with PCs might find some things challenging, but overall it isn't bad at all. Without following a guide, and without having much experience with Android, I was able to get everything going as I needed it within 10-15 minutes. My one issue was me not realizing there was a "save settings" button at one point, and that mistake was completely on me.

Once the setup is taken care of however, it is completely smooth sailing from there. As long as you can stay within the hardware limits, or own other devices to bypass those limits, you can do pretty much anything you want with this device. It's made to be tailored to suit your own needs, and how you use it will be completely up to you. That's the magic of this device.

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