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Anbernic RG Cube review: Great retro gaming

Anbernic RG Cube review: Great retro gaming

Anbernic RG Cube
Solidly built and comfortable in hands
Powerful enough to emulate up to PS2 games
Joysticks need to be improved
Not pocket-friendly due to grips

The Anbernic RG Cube is an Android-based handheld console with a less common 1:1 square display. It's comfortable for longer gaming sessions, and powerful enough to emulate games up to the Nintendo GameCube console. Going for S$250, it's pricier than many retro consoles in the market, but gets the job done if you want a device that can play a wide range of older games.

Design-wise, the Anbernic RG Cube is chunky, and that's good. It comes with grips with a textured finish, which makes it feel really great in the hands during gaming sessions. It comes in four colours — white, purple, grey, and black. I've opted for the grey version with red buttons. The Anbernic RG Cube measures 153 x 86 x 18mm, and weighs 260g. While it isn't particularly heavy or large, it also isn't really pocket-friendly due to the grips and the joysticks. The two joysticks are each surrounded by a light ring, which can be configured to show different colours, or turned off completely.

Quick specs

  • 3.95-inch LCD display (720 x 720 pixels)
  • Unisoc T820 processor with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage
  • 5,200mAh battery (10W charging); 7 hour rated playtime
  • microSD slot; USB-C port for charging and TV out
Anbernic RG Cube grips
Credit: John Chan/Can Buy or Not

Like modern controllers, the joysticks on the Anbernic RG Cube have a staggered layout, which means the left one is placed higher, in a natural position for your left thumb. Anbernic has set these joysticks to favour the cardinal directions, which means they snap to Up, Down, Left, Right, making it suboptimal for games that depend on more nuanced directional input. This is a software problem, and someone has already created a fix and uploaded the instructions to GitHub. However, the fix requires a bootloader unlock and flashing a file to the device — this will probably be too risky for most users.

The Anbernic RG Cube's D-pad has an old Sega Saturn look, and worked well for fighting games, Tetris, and platformers. The face buttons, including the D-pad, require your thumbs to exert more force than a Switch Pro Controller or 8BitDo SN30 Pro. However, this required force is not excessive, and should be comfortable for most users. Shoulder buttons are good, too. The L1 and R1, the loudest buttons in the entire setup, are perfectly positioned for the index fingers, and the L2/R2 behind them are large, with a textured finish. Overall, the controls are great, and would be even better if Anbernic issues an OTA fix for the joysticks.

Anbernic RG Cube ports
Credit: John Chan/Can Buy or Not

Ports on the Anbernic RG Cube include a USB-C for charging and video-out, 3.5mm audio, and a microSD card slot. Being an Android device, you also get the usual power, volume control, and back buttons for navigating the OS. In addition, there's also a shortcut button on the bottom left that brings you to the Anbernic frontend for games. This interface categorises game ROMs based on the console they were made for.

My unit, which didn't come with an SD card, arrived without any ROMs. Adding games to the Anbernic RG Cube is simply a matter of copying your ROMs to the device or a microSD card, and pointing the correct emulator to where the ROMs are stored. Anbernic's frontend works for the most part, but note that there are others like ES-DE and Daijisho, which allow greater customisation.

Anbernic RG Cube vertical shooter shmup
Credit: John Chan/Can Buy or Not

One of the best things about the Anbernic RG Cube is being able to take advantage of the 1:1 screen for SNES and vertical shooter (shmups) emulation. WIth SNES, it's very close to the 8:7 original aspect ratio, so you get minimal black bars at the top and bottom. With vertical shooters, the Anbernic's 4-inch display is taller than the more common 3.5-inch 640 x 480-pixel screens on other mini handhelds. This makes shmups a lot more playable.

For everything else that's more horizontally oriented, you get black bars at the top and bottom. In fact, for its own frontend, Anbernic has added overlays if the game doesn't take up the entire screen. For example, GBA games are 3:2, and when you run a GBA game using the Anbernic frontend, a purple GBA overlay will fill up the rest of the screen. 

See Also
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The Anbernic RG Cube uses a Unisoc T820 processor. It's a far cry from the power you get from a flagship Android smartphone, but it's absolutely sufficient for retro game emulation. Testing out games beyond the usual PS1 and older consoles, I was able to get many Nintendo 64, Nintendo GameCube, and even PS2 games to run. Do take note that many of these games were designed for TV, so playing them on a small 4-inch screen is not optimal.

However, there's a certain satisfaction in being able to play games like Ikaruga, Super Mario 64, Metal Gear Solid 2 while riding the subway, even if it means squinting a little to read the tiny on-screen text. Battery life is good, with about 6 hours of playtime on a full charge. Note that there's no quick charge — you have to plug it in for 3 hours to get it fully juiced up.

Anbernic RG Cube in hand Metal Gear Solid
Credit: John Chan/Can Buy or Not

Unlike sub-S$100 devices we've reviewed like the Anbernic RG35XX and GKD Pixel, the Anbernic RG Cube costs quite a bit more, starting at S$250. What you get is a larger device with good ergonomics, and enough power to play up to PS2 games on-the-go. Being an Android device, you also have access to the Play Store and the thousands of games there, too. It's available now directly from Anbernic, or from Shopee.

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Versatile Android gaming handheld

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