Game Kiddy Pixel
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

While the majority of handheld emulation systems have been pocket-friendly without being too tiny, there's been a growing trend in recent years to make these devices as small as possible.

The FunKey S, for example, is small enough to be attached to your keys, as is the Anbernic RG Nano, a diminutive console with a premium-style metal casing. Now, it's the turn of Game Kiddy (also known as GKD), which has just launched its $90 Pixel handheld.

Thanks to our friends at KeepRetro, we got our hands on one of these units early, and we've been putting it through its paces over the past week. Is this teeny, tiny games console going to be your new mobile friend, or, like the RG Nano, is it more of a curiosity than a practical daily driver? We're going to find out.

Game Kiddy Pixel Review: Design & Display

Game Kiddy Pixel
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The most appealing aspect of the Game Kiddy Pixel is undoubtedly its design. It's an object that looks cool, even when it's switched off; we love the chamfered corners, the stylised back panel, and the grille on the speaker. There's even a multi-stage LED power indicator on the right-hand side, which makes the device look like something from the distant future. It's clear that Game Kiddy's designers had a field day with this unit, and we approve wholeheartedly.

The good news doesn't end there, though – thanks to the fact that it's slightly larger than the Anbernic RG Nano, the Game Kiddy Pixel is a lot more comfortable to use. The D-pad and buttons are also larger, and it's possible to play on the unit for prolonged periods without getting serious hand cramps. The only aspect we're not totally convinced by is the positioning of the four shoulder buttons at the top of the device. While we realise there was no place else for them to be located, reaching them requires an awkward 'claw grip' that isn't really practical or comfortable.

The Game Kiddy Pixel's 2.4-inch, 320 x 240 IPS display is bright and colourful, and is, in most cases, the ideal aspect ratio for retro gaming. Some of the bundled emulators stretch the image or add a smudgy filter, but if you tinker with the settings, then you can usually get a pretty agreeable image – even if you sometimes have to put up with black borders on the sides of the screen. The panel has a slightly inconsistent tone, though, and the viewing angles aren't totally rock solid.

The unit's speaker is also something of a disappointment. While we weren't expecting much from such a small device, the audio quality is very weak and lacking in bass. Thankfully, you can just hook up a pair of headphones via the 3.5mm socket to get around this issue.

Game Kiddy Pixel Review: Emulation & Battery Life

At just 80 x 56 x 18mm, this is one seriously small handheld. Given its minuscule size, it would be wise to expect modest power inside the Game Kiddy Pixel even before booting it up – and that proves to be the case. At the heart of the device is an Ingenic X1830 CPU aided by 128MB of RAM, which is adequate to emulate everything up to the PS1 – although there are some caveats when it comes to overall performance.

The pre-installed emulators are split between a standard 'emulators' folder and a 'RetroArch' folder, and we found that the performance differed quite significantly between the two. For example, playing the Mega Drive / Genesis game ESWAT via Genesis-SX v0.98 (originally optimised for the Game Kiddy Mini) results in patchy performance, audio skipping and screen tearing. However, load the same game up in Genesis Plus GX v1.7.6 (which is included as part of the RetroArch suite of emulators), and it runs perfectly.

You might assume this would mean you avoid the pre-loaded emulators and simply stick with the ones in the RetroArch folder, but maddeningly, there are some instances where the roles are reversed. SNES9X 2005 v1.36-Pixel, for example, has audio skipping issues when playing some SNES titles. PocketSNES, which is in the 'emulators' folder, runs without any problems.

You'll often need to switch between the 'emulators' folder and the 'RetroArch' folder to find the right emulator for the job, which isn't exactly user-friendly. The good news is that this is a software problem rather than a hardware one; the Game Kiddy Pixel has the power to run these emulators, but we might have to wait a while for a third-party OS update to clean things up (as often happens with a lot of these emulation handhelds). It's worth noting, however, that Game Kiddy's devices aren't as open as their rivals, so there's no guarantee that a community-made OS replacement will appear – but early signs are promising.

On the upside, the Game Kiddy Pixel handles PS1 emulation very well indeed, with games like Ridge Racer Type 4 and Tekken 3 running wonderfully well. You've also got 32X, MAME, PC Engine, Game Boy, Neo Geo Pocket Color and a host of other systems being emulated on this device, as well as support for stand-alone titles such as Streets of Rage Remake, Cave Story and Open Doom – all of which come pre-loaded, along with a bunch of other games.

The Game Kiddy Pixel's 1,300 mAh battery is charged using the USB-C port on the bottom of the device and gives you around four hours of use – a figure totally dependent on how hard you're pushing the chipset.

Game Kiddy Pixel Review: Conclusion

Game Kiddy Pixel
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

When you're creating an emulation device which aims for portability over anything else, then it's natural to expect compromises – and the Game Kiddy Pixel is no different.

The emulation experience for some systems requires a bit of trial and error, while the audio side of things is a little underwhelming. Thankfully, though, it manages to get more right than it gets wrong. The design is great and is comfortable to use, unlike some of its dinky rivals. When you find the right emulator for the task, performance is good – although it tops out at the PS1, so don't go expecting anything more advanced here.

Even so, it's wise to consider what you want from this kind of system. Is pocket-sized portability your prime concern, or would you rather have Dreamcast emulation and a stronger UI – with the ability to potentially upgrade the firmware with a community-made alternative? At $90, the Game Kiddy Pixel is in the same price bracket as some of the other leading handhelds in this sector of the market, so you'll want to mull over your options before making a purchase.

That said, this is a gorgeous little device with excellent build quality, and there's definitely room for more handhelds that are this easy to carry around with you.

Thanks to KeepRetro for supplying the unit used in this review.