New PocketGo review: Handheld emulation continues to grow

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New PocketGo
Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

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At a Glance

The New PocketGo (or PocketGo 2) from BittBoy isn’t a replacement for the original PocketGo, it’s an older sibling who’s twice as big and more powerful in many ways. With it, BittBoy continues to iterate on the portable retro gaming emulator, evolving the hardware and allowing for smoother emulation past the 16-bit era.

While the price ($66 from Retromimi) is double that of the original PocketGo, it’s still a terrific value. The New PocketGo is now my go-to recommendation for handheld gaming emulation.

New PocketGo Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 looks and plays great on the New PocketGo.

Old PocketGo vs New PocketGo

Like I mentioned before, the New PocketGo doesn’t really replace the original/old PocketGo, it just beefs up almost every aspect of the experience—including the price. At around $40 on Amazon, the OG PocketGo was a no-brainer for retro game enthusiasts like myself who wanted to take their ROMs on the go. But the hardware was only able to play games up to the 16-bit era (including GameBoy Advance) reliably. 

New PocketGo Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

PocketGo (top) versus New PocketGo (bottom)

The New PocketGo plays games from the PlayStation era with ease, and it improves 16-bit emulation thanks to souped-up internals. The jump from a 533MHz processor to 1GHz helps, as does the huge step up from 32MB DDR RAM to 512MB DDR2 RAM.

The battery capacity also has increased from 1000 mAh to 2000 mAh, and the battery is easily removable from a back panel. The battery life on the original PocketGo was phenomenal. Even with heftier internals, the New PocketGo can go just as long on double the capacity.

New PocketGo Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Removable batteries are always appreciated.

The display has increased in size from 2.5 inches on the OG PocketGo to 3.5 inches on the New PocketGo, but it retains the familiar 320x240, 3:2 aspect ratio. The IPS screen on the original was already phenomenal, and the new one is just as good, so no complaints there. I noticed a bit of light bleed around the edges of the screen in low-light situations, which can be distracting, but it’s faint enough that I couldn’t even get a good photo of it.

The New PocketGo also now includes a second MicroSD card slot for loading ROMs and media files. It comes with a 32GB MicroSD card already loaded with the Linux-based OS and a handful of ROMs, and placed into the first slot. While inserting a FAT32-formatted MicroSD card slot with your ROMs into the second slot is the recommended way to play your own, I was easily able to place ROMs onto the original MicroSD card via a new FTP function included in the software.

New PocketGo Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Dual MicroSD card slots are a nice upgrade

The final major difference between the two handhelds is the addition of a single thumbstick on the left side of the New PocketGo for use in PlayStation games. Unfortunately, it’s horrible. It’s not a true analog stick, instead a sliding pad more akin to what was found on the PSP and PS Vita. I guess it works in a pinch, but I will probably never use it. What I will use is the second pair of shoulder buttons added to the top, bringing the total number to four, and keeping up with the original PlayStation controller.

New PocketGo Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The thumbstick on the New PocketGo is bad.

The Micro-USB port for charging has been swapped out for a USB-C connector, which is a welcome upgrade. You just need to make sure to use the included charging cable for the most effective connection. 

The New PocketGo is noticeably larger and heavier than the original PocketGo, but it’s a better experience in almost every way. The added size helps with hand fatigue, and the added weight makes it feel more substantial in the hand (even though it’s still a plastic shell). While the hardware isn’t perfect by any stretch and isn’t going to win any design awards, functionally everything is there and works rather well.

Gaming on the New PocketGo

Like past devices from BittBoy, you have to be aware going in that these handheld devices aren’t for gamers who are trying to find the most accurate emulation experience. Screen tearing, slowdown, and audio issues have popped up here and there, but most of the time the games run well enough for me to enjoy them even without tweaking anything in emulator settings.

New PocketGo Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

“A Strong Man Doesn’t Need To Read The Future. He Makes His Own.”

Unfortunately the way brightness and volume is adjusted on the New PocketGo has somehow gotten worse. Gone is the volume dial, replaced with buttons on the top to increase and decrease the volume. This wouldn’t be so bad, but the lowest volume setting is very loud, and I can’t find a way to offer more granular control—so either it’s muted, or too loud to play discreetly in quieter environments.

On top of that you have to adjust the brightness by holding the Select button and hitting the ‘Volume -’ button to increase the brightness, and the ‘Volume +’ button to decrease the brightness. It seems to adjust the brightness by 1 step out of 100, meaning you have to hold down the button for a while to see any effect.

On top of the backward placement and minuscule steps, it also adjusts the volume at the same time. Yes, as I’m sitting there playing Tony Hawk in a dark, quiet room and trying to turn down the brightness, I start to blare the menu music at the same time. If it sounds confusing and annoying, that’s because it is.

New PocketGo Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Side-by-side shoulder buttons, the power button, headphone jack, and volume buttons line the top of the device.

The Linux-based OS running on the New PocketGo also retains its fair share of quirks like past iterations, but once you get used to the way you need to navigate and get into playing your games it’s not a huge drawback. The only thing that needs to be improved ASAP is having a better view of battery life. The small indicator just doesn’t give me enough information and is generally inaccurate, which is a real bummer.

Once in game, all of that concern fades away and I can play games from my past in ways I didn’t think possible. Having the ability to grind through a long RPG on PS1 like Xenogears, or do a quick run on Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 just puts a smile on my face and lets me relive some of my favorite gaming memories—and share them easier than ever.

Traditionally PlayStation emulation isn’t as easy as Super Nintendo emulation. Each game that I’ve tried has had unique issues with the default emulator settings. The controls still felt responsive enough, and the screen on the New PocketGo provides plenty of rich colors and detail. Despite the emulation hiccups it still felt great just to have the option of playing these classic games in the palm of my hand. My nostalgia is probably clouding my ability to get frustrated with the actual tech running the games, but for me that’s enough to recommend the PocketGo. 

Should you buy the New PocketGo 2?

If you want a tiny handheld retro gaming emulator and want to play classics from the 8- and 16-bit eras, then it’s hard to pass up on the original PocketGo because it’s so simple and affordable. But if you want a larger device, bigger screen, faster hardware, and the ability to play PlayStation-era games as well, then the New PocketGo is where you want to look—as long as you can tolerate the annoying volume and brightness adjustments.

New PocketGo Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Both versions of the PocketGo offer a reason to own it.

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At a Glance
  • The New PocketGo doesn't replace the original PocketGo, it offers more power, a larger package, and the ability to play Playstation games -- but at double the price.

    Pros

    • Superb power and performance in the palm of your hand
    • Game emulation is solid and can be tweaked for better results
    • Large and vibrant IPS screen
    • Fantastic battery life

    Cons

    • Operating system UI is still confusing and unpolished
    • Slight light bleed around the border of the screen
    • Adjusting the brightness and volume is annoying
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