Sat. May 18th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Dedicated emulator handhelds provide physical controls, better form factor, and eliminate hassle with accessories.
  • Handhelds offer longer battery life thanks to low-power CPUs, large batteries, and no additional power-consuming tasks.
  • Having a dedicated handheld eliminates battery anxiety, malware risks, privacy concerns, and is more reliable for gaming.

I love game emulators on my smartphone, and it’s great that Apple is finally allowing emulators like Delta on iPhone and iPad. However, if you want to play emulated games on the go, you might want to make room in your pocket for a dedicated emulator handheld. Here’s why.

Physical Controls and Form Factor

Touch screens can be great for emulated games. I love playing RPGs like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy on my smartphone when I’m waiting in a government building or otherwise, somehow, forgot to bring any of my handheld devices with me, but as soon as you need to play an action game, things fall apart.

Anbernic RG35X H portable handheld retro gaming console.

Now, modern smartphones happily work with most modern game controllers, and there are accessories like the Backbone or Kishi that will turn your phone into a pseudo-handheld console, but it’s all a bit of a hassle. My Anbernic RG353VS and other consoles like it, however, offer a single unified design with everything you need. The controls, the screen, the speakers, everything is ready to go within a second of turning the device on.

Despite the screen being much smaller than my phone’s, I think the smaller screens might actually look better. There’s no scaling required, and the smaller size makes everything look crisp.

Longer Battery Life

Despite their large batteries, if you use a modern phone for retro emulation, you’ll find that the percentage meter runs down rather quickly. The games might be rather basic, but emulation of even relatively old video game systems still uses a fair amount of CPU power. That’s not including the power draw of the screen being on for long stretches of time!

A modern emulation handheld can often provide you with all-day gaming thanks to smaller screens, low-power CPUs, a large battery relative to the rest of the device, and no additional jobs like internet communications or Bluetooth to eat up those precious Watts.

No Battery Anxiety

On a related note—there’s no battery anxiety with a dedicated handheld. The worst that can happen if your handheld runs out of juice is that you won’t be able to play video games for a while. If your phone dies, well that’s a small-scale disaster and can actually leave you in a pretty dangerous situation. So, at the very least, keeping a dedicated emulation handheld around means you don’t have to worry about your gaming habit causing any real inconvenience to you or anyone else who needs to stay in touch with you.

Malware, Privacy, and Ads are Irrelevant

I won’t go into details here, but sometimes emulation on a mobile phone involves sideloading or downloading stuff that could put your phone at risk of a malware infection. Apart from that, emulator apps themselves might gather data you don’t want them to, or bombard you with annoying ads.

On a dedicated handheld that’s a non-issue. If your handheld console gets infected with malware somehow, well who cares? It only has games on it, and it’s not connected to anything important. Just don’t plug it into something critical!

You also don’t have to connect it to the internet, if it even has that option. Except if you want to update its software occasionally.

It Has a Headphone Jack!

Headphone jacks are all but kaput on modern smartphones, and most Bluetooth headsets have annoying amounts of latency when it comes to gaming. Seeing the sound effects play a second after you see it happen on screen gets old fast. Sure, you can connect wired headphones to your phone with a dongle, but that’s still less convenient than using the old-school jack on a dedicated emulation handheld.

There are lots of good, affordable handheld emulation systems on the market, such as the Anbernic RG353VS I use, the popular Miyoo Mini Plus, or the Premium Analog Pocket. If you care about retro gaming at all, any one of them will knock the socks off a phone any day of the week.

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By John P.

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