Anbernic RG Nano
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

It's becoming increasingly hard to make a unique handheld emulation device these days. There are only so many times you can riff on the same basic 'Game Boy' design template, and, as a result, we've seen an awful lot of Chinese-made portables which look almost identical to one another.

Anbernic is one company which is especially guilty of this, but with the RG Nano, it's at least trying to offer something different from what has gone before – even if it's ultimately at the expense of overall usability.

Anbernic RG Nano Review - Design and Display

Anbernic RG Nano
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Just as its name suggests, the Anbernic RG Nano is tiny. Measuring just 71mm x 43mm x 17mm, it will comfortably fit in the palm of your hand and is around the same size as a box of matches (if you're old enough to remember what those are). It weighs 75 grams, which is surprisingly heavy for such a small object – this is because its case is fashioned from aluminium rather than plastic, giving it solid build quality.

The face of the unit has a cross D-pad, four face buttons and 'Start' and 'Select' keys. On the right-hand edge, there's the power button and MicroSD card slot, while on the top edge, there's the L and R shoulder triggers and USB-C port.

This port is not only used for charging and data transfer – it's also how you hook up 3.5mm headphones to the device. Just like the Game Boy Advance SP, there's no 3.5mm socket on the Anbernic RG Nano, so you'll have to use the bundled adapter. Finally, on the bottom edge of the unit, you'll find the surprisingly loud mono speaker.

The controls on the Anbernic RG Nano are very responsive, given the small size of the device. The D-pad is also a lot easier to use than we were expecting. However, we'd never try to argue this was the ideal interface for a portable gaming device; everything feels very cramped and playing for prolonged periods isn't comfortable – and this is coming from someone who has quite small hands. If you're in possession of huge claws, then you'll almost certainly struggle to play this unit.

The 1.54-inch IPS screen has an aspect ratio of 1:1 and a resolution of 240 x 240 pixels. As you might imagine, it's a tiny display, but it has good viewing angles, brightness and contrast.

Anbernic RG Nano Review - Emulation Performance

Anbernic RG Nano
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

With its ARM Cortex-A7 chipset (clocked 1.2Ghz) and 64 MB of DDR2 RAM, the Anbernic RG Nano is hardly a powerhouse when it comes to emulation performance – but the range of platforms it supports is nonetheless impressive.

The system can emulate everything from the Game Boy all the way up to the Sony PlayStation, albeit with some caveats. PlayStation emulation is rather patchy, with some titles running at painfully slow frame rates while others are relatively smooth (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night being one example). Maddeningly, this isn't consistent across PlayStation software; Ridge Racer Type 4 runs pretty well, but Tekken 3 is so sluggish it's unplayable. It would be unwise to pick one of these up expecting flawless 32-bit emulation, but it's neat that at least some of these games are playable on the Anbernic RG Nano.

For pretty much anything older than PlayStation, this is a solid piece of kit. NES, SNES, Master System, PC Engine and Mega Drive all run well, as do handhelds like Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Game Gear, WonderSwan and Neo Geo Pocket Color.

The Anbernic RG Nano's screen does cause some headaches, though; that aspect ratio works for systems like the Game Boy, Game Boy Color and NGPC – all of which have square displays – but everything else has to be stretched out to fit. You can adjust this in the UI, but then you're left with extensive black borders at the top and bottom of the screen. It also means that on-screen text is tough to read in certain titles.

Anbernic RG Nano Review - Battery Life and Software

The Anbernic RG Nano's small size means that you're getting a pretty tiny battery – the polymer lithium-ion cell inside the device has a capacity of 1050mAh and is going to last around two and a half hours, and that's a best-case scenario from our testing.

The firmware that's running the show is actually a forked version of the FunKey OS, which launched alongside the FunKey S handheld games console. It's actually quite an elegant and intuitive interface, which includes a real-time clock feature and the ability to listen to lossless music via your headphones.

Anbernic RG Nano
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The default 'launcher' is Gmenu2X, but we vastly prefer the optional RetroFE UI, which offers a more straightforward means of launching games and even shows box art for many titles (although some of these are incorrect, such as showing the modern-day remake artwork for the Mega Drive version of Castle of Illusion).

All in all, the UI feels robust and mature, with a tap of the power button granting access to volume control, brightness, save states and much more. Given the diminutive size of the system itself, this simplistic UI makes a lot of sense.

Anbernic RG Nano Review - Conclusion

There's definitely a novelty factor to the Anbernic RG Nano. It's the kind of product which is sure to turn heads when shown off in public, and the level of emulation performance is impressive, given its size. We also like the pin-sharp screen, but the 1:1 aspect ratio is best suited to Game Boy and Neo Geo Pocket games – anything else either has to be stretched or run with borders, which makes the image even harder to see.

We've also got some reservations on the pricing; at around $70, the Anbernic RG Nano isn't much cheaper than bigger, more capable handhelds – something which makes it feel even more like a novelty item rather than a serious emulation handheld. Still, we love the fact that it's so small and portable, and the build quality is wonderful. There's a space in the market for a handheld like this, but it's perhaps more of a 'last resort' option when you're out-and-about, rather than your emulation daily driver.

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Thanks to LITNXT for supplying the Anbernic RG Nano used in this review.