New BittBoy
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

If you cast your minds back a short while, you'll recall that we reviewed the BittBoy Portable Video Game Handheld, a dinky little Game Boy clone that came packed with 300 NES games, many of which were pretty dire – not to mention legally questionable. Despite this, we couldn't help warming to this truly pocket-sized portable, thanks in no small part to the excellent IPS screen rechargeable battery. Tantalisingly, the unit came with a slot in its casing into which a MicroSD card would fit, but inside there was no actual card-reading tech – it was a tease, but one which the console's manufacturer would eventually remedy.

You see, the 'New' BittBoy has just launched and it does support MicroSD cards – in fact, if you don't insert one, it's little more than a paperweight. This new model doesn't have any games pre-loaded – a handy way of avoiding any potential legal action from copyright holders – but instead expects buyers to get their hands dirty by loading up ROM images for NES, Game Boy and Game Boy Color games.

Before we get into that, it's worth noting that the New BittBoy has a larger 2.4-inch IPS LCD screen this time around, and it's fantastic. Colours really pop and viewing angles are superb; it really says something about how far screen tech has come in the past few years that a device which costs $40 can ship with such an amazing display.

The other big news is that the console is packing the very capable AllWinner F1C500S system-on-a-chip – it's not the most powerful piece of silicon on the planet but it more than gets the job done here. Elsewhere, the 3.5mm headphone socket remains in place, and this doubles as a composite AV output if you fancy running this on your TV – the image quality is predictably poor, however. The internal lithium battery has been boosted from 500mAh to 700mAh, but that still only results in around three hours of use between charges (it comes with a Micro USB cable) – pretty much the same as the original BittBoy.

The New BittBoy comes with a suite of emulators under the 'Miyoo' banner: NES, Game Boy and Game Boy Color. All you need to do is drag-and-drop your ROM files onto a MicroSD card and insert it into the console – the Miyoo software will automatically sort the files into their respective systems, which are then presented in three different categories from the main menu.

During play, hitting the 'R' button located beneath the screen brings up the emulator's sub-menu. From here, you can adjust the ratio of the screen ('Full' stretches the image out so it uses all 2.4-inches, while 'Default' aims for the original aspect ratio, leaving black borders around the image). You can also create and load save states – which is vital as in-game saves don't work – and toggle between the console's display and your TV when using the AV-out cable. Holding down the R button in-game will return you to the main menu.

New BittBoy
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Outside of this menu, all other functions are mapped rather clumsily to button combinations. 'Select' and either A or B held together raises and lowers the volume, while 'Select' and either TA or TB (two additional buttons which simply replicate the action of the A and B buttons in-game) changes the brightness. It's not an elegant system and the lack of any instructions in the box means you're largely ignorant of such shortcuts.

So how does the New BittBoy actually perform? Well, getting it to play nice with a MicroSD card could well be your first battle. We tried three different Samsung cards (1GB, 8GB and 32GB) and only the 32GB card worked; with the other two, the console simply paused on the boot screen and refused to load up the Miyoo emulator menu. There doesn't seem to be any hard and fast rules on which cards work and which don't, but we'd recommend going for one with a relatively fast read/write rating (our 32GB card was an Evo variant). If your card was purchased in the past few years, you should be fine.

Once you've gotten past that potential hurdle, it's relatively plain sailing. The New BittBoy recognised every ROM we threw at it and performance is generally good, especially on NES games; switch the viewing mode to 'Default' and you get an almost pixel-perfect replication of what these titles looked like running on a proper TV. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles, which, even when running in 'Default' video mode, have an odd distortion effect which makes everything shimmer when there's movement. It's a real shame as it makes some titles look downright ugly, although they're all perfectly playable. Interestingly, Game Boy and Game Boy Color emulation doesn't seem to be quite as smooth as NES emulation in the Miyoo software; during Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition we noticed a small amount of stutter when moving around the game world, and audio is also rather patchy.

Speaking of which, the New BittBoy's mono speaker is surprisingly powerful but awfully tinny. There are a few bum notes as far as audio emulation is concerned, but sometimes it feels like it's the fault of the speaker rather than the software, which makes certain notes seem more painful than you remember. Playing via headphones isn't much better.

Other things to note: built quality is predictably average; there's a lot of light bleed through the plastic casing and there was a large speck of dirt under the screen on our review unit, which we'd have to take the console apart in order to remove. These issues aside, the New BittBoy is exactly how you'd expect a $40 portable console to feel – cheap, but not so cheap that you wouldn't dare take it out of the house. In fact, the New BittBoy makes for the perfect travelling companion, as it's small enough to fit in your pocket and will slip into your bag without you even noticing – in fact, it would probably get hopelessly lost in most rucksacks. It's a shame that the battery life isn't better, but you can always carry a spare; the battery is user-serviceable and is actually an aftermarket replacement for the one inside the Game Boy Advance SP.

As with the original BittBoy, we can't help but warm to this revised product, despite the obvious legal issues involved with sourcing ROMs to play on it – a process which, in 2018, has become a lot more difficult thanks to Nintendo's moves to shut down sites which illegally distribute its software. Given this moral quandary, you may wish to avoid the New BittBoy if you'd rather keep your hands clean; for less ethically-minded individuals, however, this is a cheap way of keeping your hands busy when you're travelling and rediscovering some classic titles in the process.

This article was originally published by on Fri 21st December, 2018.