ANBERNIC’s first proper metal handheld, “the RG350M,” debuted in early 2020, kicking off a trend that would last for years, with many other manufacturers attempting to replicate the success, but fortunately for ANBERNIC, the majority of them failed.
After more than two and a half years, they have released the RG353M with a new look, new technology, and an upgraded chipset, rescuing ANBERNIC from months of disappointing device launches.
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As much as this device appears to be the same as the older RG351M, I can assure you that there are some significant changes to the visual aesthetics.
When I first took it out of the box, it felt different, and I had to closely inspect it to figure out what the differences were.
The most noticeable changes are the removal of the screen’s logo and the reduction in bezel size. It still has a stunning 3.5″ display, but this time it’s touch screen with 640 x 480 resolution, ideal for retro games.
The button layout is identical, with the exception of the now-colored action buttons. Because these action buttons are closer to the shell, they can become stuck and require a more forceful push. This isn’t a major issue and will most likely fade after a few weeks of consistent gameplay, but it is something I noticed.
Another significant improvement is the new analogue sticks, which now include hall joysticks, which use magnets to read the input, allowing for more precise feedback and fewer physical parts, extending the life span.
It’s a much-needed change, and they genuinely feel much better. It’s something I didn’t realise it needed until I felt it. These are recessed into the shell, allowing you to transport the handheld without it becoming entangled.
The start and select buttons are in the same location. I know many of you like these on the device’s face, but I don’t, and the outdated white text, in my opinion, detracts from the minimal metal aesthetic.
The device has newly designed shoulder buttons because it is significantly thinner than the previous model, so much so that it feels like a whole new handheld, and the reduction in size means reduction in weight, coming in at just 232g, which is fairly light for a metal device.
The shoulder buttons are nice, and while I prefer stacked shoulder buttons, it would take away the device’s pocketability.
They’re well-placed, incredibly responsive, and curve around the corners to provide a good number of touch points.
Between them is a new function button that takes you directly into the emulator settings to quickly access save states and more. You also have a DC in, HDMI out, on-the-go storage port, and a headphone jack.
In my opinion, the headphone jack should have been placed at the bottom, but it’s not the end of the world.
Volume controls, a reset button, and an on/off switch are located on the sides. Then there are two SD card slots and speaker grills at the bottom.
The back has the infamous grips, which are nice because they add comfort and prevent your device from sliding off tables, but I think they should be redesigned because they look like someone just stuck chewing gum to the back of it.
If you look closely at the front edges, you’ll notice that they’ve been rounded, whereas the previous 351MP had a sharper design. This device’s metal back panel is also much slimmer, and this appears to be where much of the size reduction has come from.
This new size, weight, and exterior tech pumps make this feel like a much more polished handheld, and I didn’t think my favourite handheld could get any better, but ANBERNIC has really nailed it here.
Yes, it’s a little more compact, and those with very large hands may feel a little cramped while playing, but I had no issues. This small size reduction makes it far more portable, and the removal of the bezels enhances the immersive experience.
I’ll say it anyway. This is the ideal portable retro handheld in a horizontal form factor. The metal shell gives it a premium feel, and like our other metal handheld reviews, this thing can take a beating. Day-to-day scratches and drops won’t be an issue for the RG353M, and we even tried running over it with a car and it survived.
We even tried driving over it with a car, but that was the car’s limit… So… don’t drive on it?
- 1.8GHZ Quadcore RK3566 CPU
- Mali G52 GPU
- 2GB RAM
- 3.5″ Touchscreen Display (640 X 480)
- 3500MAH Battery
- Weight: 232g
- Dual Android/Linux OS
So on paper it’s very similar to some of ANBERNIC’s recent releases such as the RG353P and RG353V just in a much more premium, comfortable form factor.
The RG353M can run Android or Linux. The Android OS is a little difficult to use with the tiny 3.5″ touch screen, especially when typing, so I ended up using Linux because it’s so simple to use and comes pre-setup right out of the box.
However, this can play some Android games, so keep that in mind when selecting your operating system.
The Gameboy Advance is one of my favourite consoles.
Obviously, a $150 handheld can emulate this, but I wanted to point out how good the best Gameboy Advance games look on here, especially with the horizontal form factor and metal shell, as if it’s a modded Gameboy Advance on steroids. Surprisingly, this is the console I use the most on the device.
My first home console was the SEGA Mega Drive, and it still works flawlessly, and the game fits perfectly inside the screen thanks to the 4:3 display, with bright saturated colours and nostalgic music coming from the speakers below. This is another console I found myself visiting frequently.
I then tested the Playstation 1, which, like the Mega Drive, performed admirably, with nice quality shoulder buttons and the useful use of a joystick. There are no frame rate issues or audio crackles. Again, this is a relatively simple console to emulate these days.
Moving on to slightly larger consoles, I tested the Nintendo 64. It loaded quickly, looked great on the crisp screen, and emulated extremely well. It’s an absolute joy to play Mario Kart 64 on this thing.
I then tried the Nintendo DS emulator, which has a nice feature that allows me to simply press the shoulder button to skip between screens, allowing me to fully immerse myself in the main gameplay. This isn’t the most fluid way to play DS games, but it’s a simple solution for a console with only one screen. The emulation performance was excellent.
Most PSP games can run fairly well, but as an example to show the console’s limits, I tried a very strenuous game, God of War, and if you look carefully, you can see a dip in frame rates, to the point where it’s not fluid nor really enjoyable to play on.
However, most of the best PSP games will run smoothly, but not your big boys.
Finally, Dreamcast is one of the most impressive consoles to work well on the RG353M.
Working flawlessly on a small device like this is music to my ears, and I was immediately impressed with how silky smooth large games like Sonic Adventure performed, putting a big smile on my face, and it’s one of the smallest consoles I’ve reviewed that can emulate the Dreamcast to this standard.
This makes it one of the most cost-effective Dreamcast emulators on the market. This performance from all of my favourite consoles, wrapped in a premium, high-end metal shell with an easy-to-use interface, has made this my go-to “affordable” handheld for up to Dreamcast emulation.
With so many consoles to emulate, my battery life varied, but based on my tests and experimenting with brightness and volume settings, I was able to get a solid 5 hours out of this device at high brightness, which is reasonable for a device of this power.
ANBERNIC has stayed on track with this device, fine-tuning it over the last two years to near-perfect perfection.
A statement I never expected to make because, over the last year, ANBERNIC has gone off the rails, releasing terrible handheld after terrible handheld, and we were even blacklisted for a while for being “too honest,” forcing us to source handhelds elsewhere, but with the release of this handheld, I feel like I can officially say that they are back in my good books.