Anbernic RG405M Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

While emulation hardware maker Anbernic is prone to a few leftfield experiments, the company always tends to have at least one product which serves as a flagship in its range; a device which, irrespective of what other handhelds it has on its slate, represents a step forward in terms of both design and performance.

The RG351 arguably ranks as the company's most famous release, and it has iterated on that basic template in the years since. The RG405 is Anbernic's latest 'flagship' and is sure to be a solid seller in the coming months.

However, is it really worth a look if you already own an emulation-based handheld – especially when you consider the rather lofty $170+ price tag? That's what we're here to find out...

Anbernic RG405M Review: Design & Display

Anbernic RG405M Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The current trend for emulation-based handhelds has been straight sides with curved corners, but Anbernic has deviated from the template slightly with the RG405M. The 'ends' of the device are rounded rather than straight, which means it feels a little more ergonomic than its predecessors, and more akin to the RG503. It's also nice and compact, making it the ideal travelling companion.

The other big difference when compared to the likes of the RG552 and RG353 is the position of the D-pad; in older Anbernic handhelds, the digital pad was given prime position above the left-hand analogue stick, making it comfortable to use. For the RG405M, the location of these two directional inputs has been switched.

The D-pad is still utterly fantastic and relatively easy to use, but it's not as comfortable as before. This might not be an issue if you intend to mainly use the analogue stick, but given that the RG405 plays a lot of systems which released before analogue control was the norm, it seems like an odd choice – even more so when you consider that Anbernic has traditionally placed the D-pad above the stick.

Outside of those changes, it's very much business as usual. The 'M' in the system's name stands for 'Metal', and the RG405M boasts a lovely, premium-feel casing. This gives the unit a lot of heft, which again makes it feel like a high-quality device. The analogue sticks use Hall Effect sensors, which should mean you'll avoid the 'drift' woes that impact a lot of other controllers.

The usual cluster of action buttons is in place, and there are four in-line shoulder triggers up top – accompanied by the power button, volume rocker, USB-C port and air vent. On the bottom, you'll find the 3.5mm headphone socket and the MicroSD card slot (there's no cover for the slot, so the card sticks out ever-so-slightly).

On the back, Anbernic has once again included those lovely rubber bumpers, which provide a bit of tactile grip and mean that the metal case doesn't scratch against tables when you place it down. On the downside, the unit we were sent to review rattles quite badly when shaken, as if something inside has worked loose (most likely the battery). We contacted our friends over at Retro Dodo, and they said their unit didn't exhibit this behaviour – so it's likely that we were just unlucky. Upon attempting to open up the device to check the source of the noise, we threaded one of the (rather cheap) metal screws, so we're sadly going to have to live with it.

For the screen, Anbernic has used a 4-inch, 4:3 panel, which is the perfect ratio for playing '80s, '90s and early 2000s retro games. This size means that you don't have to endure unsightly borders around the image, and the panel itself is pretty punchy and bright, too. Viewing angles are a bit underwhelming and it's not quite as striking as the OLED screen on the RG503, but it's certainly good enough.

Anbernic RG405M Review: Performance & Software

The RG405M is powered by the Unisoc T618 chipset, which gives it a boost in performance when compared to some of the company's past handhelds. 8 and 16-bit titles run absolutely flawlessly, while PlayStation, N64 and even PS2 and GameCube games are supported. Towards the top end you'll notice less consistent performance, so don't go expecting this device to tun your favourite PS2 games without issue, but the leap forward in power is pretty apparent, especially if you've owned an Anbernic handheld in the past.

Anbernic RG405M Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The RG405M runs Android, and effectively acts like an Android tablet in its default form. That means you can access all of the usual settings and whatnot, as well as download games and applications from the Google Play Store – just don't expect every game to work as you think, as we noticed a few which, despite having controller support, refused to acknowledge the RG405M's physical inputs. While the device has a touchscreen and interacting with the Android UI using your finger is possible, Anbernic has thoughtfully included a 'Game Mode' option which drastically simplifies the menu system, focusing solely on emulation.

In this mode, all of your systems are laid out in a menu, and selecting one brings up a list of all the games you have available on your MicroSD card. From this menu, you can also tinker with the settings of each emulator to get the ideal performance level. Game Mode also allows you to alter the visual theme of the menu, too.

Anbernic RG405M Review: Where To Buy

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Anbernic RG405M Review: Conclusion

Anbernic has taken slow and steady steps over the past few years – perhaps too slow and steady for some fans – but the RG405M represents one of its most solid products yet. The Unisoc T618 chipset delivers decent power, even going as far as to emulate consoles like the PS2 and GameCube at an acceptable level, and the larger 4:3-ratio screen is perfect for retro gaming. We also love the premium, pocket-sized design.

On the downside, we'd have preferred the D-pad to be positioned above the analogue stick, seeing as we'll be using it as the primary mode of input. It's also disappointing to note that our review unit rattles when shaken, although, as we've mentioned, this might be an issue which isn't widespread.

The other big sticking point for some people is likely to be the price; at $170+, the RG405M is more expensive than a lot of emulation handhelds on the market. While the power jump and metal casing justify that additional cost to a certain degree, casual players might be just as happy with a cheaper alternative, especially if they're only looking to emulate up to the 16-bit era.

Thanks to LITNXT for supplying the RG405M used in this feature.