Anbernic has adopted a somewhat strange upgrade path for its devices of late. After the success of the RG351 (which spawned the excellent RG351V), the RG300X and more recent RG552 have perhaps been a little disappointing, and fans are still waiting for a 'true' next-gen handheld from the company.
The $140 Anbernic RG503 isn't that device, and we dare say that it will displease many people as a result. However, in many ways it represents a significant step up for the company and handheld emulation devices in general; it's the first product of this type to boast an OLED panel (made by Samsung, in this case) and also packs in 5GHz Wi-Fi as well; it's also the first Anbernic handheld to be powered by the new Rockchip RK3566 processor.
Much of the criticism aimed towards the RG503 ever since it was first revealed is focused on its design. Unlike previous Anbernic devices, it sports a very 'rounded' look, almost appearing like a relic from the consumer electronics wasteland that was the 1990s. The casing is made from plastic (Anbernic has opted for metal bodywork on some of its other handhelds, but not here) and feels a little cheap, but it's still solid enough. Nothing moves or creaks when you squeeze it, which is a bonus.
The control setup will be instantly familiar to anyone who has used one of the firm's products in the past; you get an excellent D-pad, two analogue sticks and four main face buttons, with four additional shoulder buttons thrown in for good measure. The power and volume controls are located on the left and right edges respectively, while a 'Reset' button is located rather awkwardly on the bottom edge; it's far too easy to accidentally press this during use, especially as it's situated next to a 'Function' key which is used to drop into the system menu during gameplay. Two MicroSD card slots are present; one contains the OS while the other has your ROMs (which you will, of course, have sourced legally).
Because it's such a new device, custom firmware isn't available yet, so you're stuck with the default emuELEC OS. This actually does a pretty solid job of offering a clean, console-style interface; supported systems have their own section in the UI, and you can even scrape online databases to pull in cover art, screens and even video trailers. The RG503 supports consoles such as the NES, Game Boy, SNES, N64, PlayStation, Mega Drive and Nintendo DS, and performance is generally very good; the RK3566 is not only efficient, it's not as power-hungry as other SoC options. That means the 3500 mAh Li-Po battery can give over six hours of battery life, which is pretty decent.
The star of the show is almost certainly the screen, which, according to Anbernic, is the same 4.95-inch, 960×544 pixel OLED panel that was found in the original model of the PS Vita. It's bright and packs a serious punch, offering the incredible contrast OLED screens are famous for (Switch OLED Model owners will need no introduction to this, of course). The display is recessed slightly into the casing which means that dust tends to collect around the edges – we'd rather have had a display that sat flush with the case, but it's not a deal-breaker by any means. On the audio side of things, the stereo speakers are surprisingly good, with excellent volume levels and good bass.
It remains to be seen what custom firmware will do for the RG503 – it made a real difference with previous Anbernic handhelds – but out of the box, this device delivers a pleasing retro gaming experience. Sure, it's not worlds apart from what we've already seen (outside of the amazing display, of course) and doesn't quite deliver the 'next-gen' experience many fans have been hoping for (Sega Saturn emulation is possible, but it runs very poorly indeed), but it nonetheless offers a solid enough platform on which to experience classic games.
The key problem for existing Anbernic fans is that the RG503 doesn't really offer a massive step up from previous models, outside of that amazing display.
Thanks to Keep Retro for supplying the Anbernic RG503 used in this review.
This article was originally published by nintendolife.com on Wed 4th May, 2022.
The thumbsticks above would be more comfortable.
As someone who’s only other device in this category is the Powkiddy V90, it looks like a good upgrade.
"Design might be too 'retro' for some" lol what? Where is my princess bride meme when I need it.
Is it also a touch panel? That would make DS emulation pretty cool.
@RetroBox That was my first thought. Getting RSI just thinking about it
Ugly design, but I like that they are staring to use Oled panels.
@NotSoCryptic Most of these emulation devices don't have retro-themed case designs. This looks like something Tiger would have put out in the late '90s; cheap, colourful and aimed at kids.
I've been considering an Anbernic handheld for a while but I've yet to pull the trigger. Would you say this is the model to go for over the others, or am I perhaps better hanging off for a revised model? They seem to get updated quite often.
The Analogue Stick placement looks awkward to use
Good screen but same lousy d-pad as always. Hated how they still don't had a menu button so you always had to rely on shortcut input to return to the UI menu. As weak as Pocket Go's emulation handhelds are compare to Anbernic, at least they had a good d-pad and a proper menu button making it easy to return to the UI.
@Damo Putting this in the same category as a Game com is a little absurd. I can't agree with your point.
I have a 351V and it's nifty enough but they're just not supported very well imo.
I'd say a good controller/android phone setup would be more ideal. At least with the 351V it takes a lot of work if you can even get some stuff running at all with all the oddball things you have to do.
Waiting for my AYN Odin pro...
Gpd xd ‘s saturn emu lation improved
After new firmware so there is hope.
(Still no reason to upgrade i think. My gpd works fine.)
Just grab a used PS Vita and you get the same emulators plus native games. And much better ergonomics.
I have a 350M that I'm pretty happy with. Until there's a new metal cased Anbernic device with a significant performance upgrade, I'll stick with what I already have.
I got a 351M for Christmas and gotten a lot of use out of it. It's not perfect but it does a lot of what I want it to do very well.
❗️For Retro Gaming, I stick to my BittBoy: Pocket-Go or my R4 Card.
That is a splash screen for NES while featuring the cover art for Contra III for the SNES, right?
I was wondering why the screen is not HD but then remembered it's mainly used for retro pixel games and it makes more sense I guess..
I am agreeing, love the 351V.
The Screen Size is just a perfect Match for old Games and i was surprised how good my beloved Super Nintendo Games look on that LCD Screen.
I also really like to play Playstation Games on it on the Couch,
But yes, it is to weak for N64 Games.
But i am glad it has more support with 351 Elec, Diablo through Devilution is great and Turtles Palooza Thing Game (forgot the Name ).
@Seladir I had a Vita but the emulation was too unreliable. I lost several saved games and eventually gave up. I’m not saying any of these handhelds are better though. Now I mostly play whatever’s available on Switch, which is a lot.
What is the scaling like for the screen? 240 doesn't divide 544, so does it not use the whole screen, or is it stretched to fit? If it is, how does it look? Playing DS games on the 3DS always bothered me because of the screen resolution not matching.
Tbh, metal casings can make my handsnumb, and corners can dig into hands. I think plastic and roundness was a smart move. Also I could be wrong but last I chked sega Saturn is not Easy to emulate no matter the system it's on.
@Jazzoflute I got my Odin Pro Super Pack at the end of January. It’s easily the best out of all these handhelds. I’ve got a Retroid Pocket 2+, GPD XD+, RG350M, RG351P and a Trimui Model S. The Odin destroys them all. It’s obviously a little bit more money, but well worth it.
@Waka_the_Prophet Regarding the Retroid Pocket 2+, it’s exaggerated. I’m the same as you. It “runs” GameCube, but most of the time, I wouldn’t call it playable.
@icomma Odin Pro plays them easily. Infact, I’m sure any of the Odin models will.
@Doctor-Moo I use RetroArch on Vita, it works reliably for me and gives one user interface for all emulators.
@NotSoCryptic It's funny you should say that because the recessed screen on this thing reminds me 100% of the Game.com
@SoulChimera I've had my Steam Deck since March 5th and it is by far the best device for games up to PS2 and some light PS3. I do have a bit of a love hate relationship with Emulation Station but hoping it will get better and support more systems.
Ideally the Aya Neo with 2tb storage and running Big Box as a front end would be ideal, but with the going price it's probably best to wait for the RDNA 2 version due out at the end of this year.
@Bloodmetal No doubt, but you can get an Odin for as cheap as £160 (rising to £230 for the Pro). The cheapest Steam Deck is £350 (rising to £570 for their "Pro" version).
The Odin does PS2 emulation really well too.
If you are looking for PC gaming, the Steam Deck, AYA Neo Pro or OneXPlayer are definitely the only ones to aim for.
But for retro gaming, it's not worth the jump in price when under £200 will easily cover it.
@Bl4ckb100d Yuki-chan, I'm sure with your infinite brilliance that you could upgrade it yourself to Q-LED
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