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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

At Just $40, the BittBoy PocketGo Is a Fun Retro Gaming Impulse Buy

The PocketGo portable game console with a Metroid amiibo.
Michael Crider

This year, I’ve been on a portable game console kick with ROMs in mind. I’ve tried DIY and roll-your-own solutions, so when BittBoy asked me to try its premade ROM machine, I said yes.

The PocketGo is designed to accomplish three things: portability, flexibility, and an absolute dirt-cheap price. It hits all three. As long as you don’t expect miracles from a $40 purchase, it delivers on its promise of being a fun, portable ROM machine.

Right at Home in Your Pocket

The PocketGo’s dimensions (4-1/2 inches long, 2 inches tall, and 1/2 inch thick) make it feel similar to Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance Micro (if you’re old enough to remember that). This makes it super-easy to slip into almost any pocket—and it’ll get positively lost in a purse or backpack. It’s the kind of portable that’s a joy to take with you because, even if you move around a lot, you forget you have it with you.

The PocketGo with its MicroSD card ejected.
The PocketGo plays tons of old emulated games—just load them up on the included MicroSD card. Michael Crider

The big difference between the PocketGo and the GBA Micro is, of course, it doesn’t rely on cartridges. Instead, it’s got a MicroSD card slot, filled with an 8 GB card in the standard $40 package. Fill up that sucker with game ROMs or open-source homebrew, and you can play hundreds (maybe thousands) of games at a stroke.

The layout is essentially the same as the classic Super NES controller: D-pad, four buttons for your right hand, and two shoulder buttons for your index fingers. This layout should work for any console game made before the PlayStation era—although, fighting-game fans might prefer a few more face buttons.

The mono speaker hangs out beneath the A/B/X/Y buttons, with a volume wheel on the right edge, and a power switch on the left. Both of them feel a little flakey but are surprisingly unobtrusive when you play. There’s one extra button on top, which doesn’t factor into gameplay—it’s to manage the various emulators.

The PocketGo, disassembled with its accessories.
The simple design invites disassembly; it even comes with replacement buttons. Michael Crider

That screen is a 2.4-inch IPS panel. It’s much smaller than, say, an emulation window on any modern smartphone. Despite being only 320 by 240 (a resolution that’s as good, or better, than any of the consoles it emulates), it’s also surprisingly bright and sharp. And, unlike most of the classic devices it’s aping, the screen cover is tempered glass, which is nice.

If there’s a weakness in the physical design, it’s the buttons. They’re a bit loose and mushy, and not as satisfying or clicky as those on something like the Nintendo 3DS. But considering the price, I wouldn’t expect them to be. They are worlds better than the touch screen I typically use for portable gaming. There are some alternative buttons in the package (to match the color scheme of the Japanese and European SNES), but it hardly seems worth the hassle of disassembling the device to install them.

The PocketGo sitting next to the Game Boy Advance, and a PS4 controller.
The PocketGo is tiny—about the size of the old GBA Micro. Michael Crider

Other hardware options are slim. There’s no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and while the gadget technically supports video-out, it hardly seems worth it since RCA is the only option. At least there’s a headphone jack—how weird is it that this is an advantage a $40 impulse buy has over a $1,000 phone?

Plays Everything You Throw at It

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