- The market for emulators has grown exponentially over the last fast years, which has allowed retro gaming fans to replay their favorite childhood games on handheld devices.
- Regularly discussed as the best overall handheld emulator, the Retroid Pocket 3 Plus features a powerful processor, bright display, and a large online community for support.
- A runner-up to the favorite Retroid Pocket, the Anbernic 405M is a popular alternative with a premium metal casing, strong battery life, and a pocket-friendly build.
As the handheld market has exploded over the last few years, so too has the market for emulators. Carving out a niche in the larger gaming world, retro gaming has helped millions of gamers enjoy their favorite consoles of years and decades past.
As much fun as the latest home consoles can provide, high prices for new games, long load times, and ever-frustrating in-game purchases have reminded millions of gamers why generations past were superior.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 6 best handheld emulators you can buy in 2023.
- #1 Best Overall: Retroid Pocket 3 Plus
- Best Runner-Up: Anbernic 405M
- Best Budget-Friendly: Anbernic RG35XX
- Best Value: Powkiddy X55
- Best Vertical Design: Anbernic RG405V
- Best Performance: AYN Odin Pro
#1 Best Overall: Retroid Pocket 3 Plus
Arguably the most prominent handheld emulator on the market today, the Retroid Pocket 3 Plus is the best option for most people.
While Retroid does not ship the device with games, it does ship the Pocket 3 Plus with the Google Play Store where you can download all of the emulators you ever need.
The biggest highlight of the Pocket 3 Plus is the Unisoc T618 processor, which is one of the most advanced chips found in the most popular handheld emulators. Paired with 4GB of RAM and Android 11, the Pocket 3 Plus can deliver big performance and can emulate all the way up to the Nintendo Wii.
The 4.7-inch display isn’t the largest in the space, but its 450 nits of brightness is another stand-out feature, as is micro HDMI out to a television or monitor. Paired with a 4,500mAh battery, you can fully expect to get hours of gaming fun on the Pocket 3 Plus.
Last but not least, there is a huge community on Reddit that supports the device and posts tweaks to get the best performance out of games.
Pick up the Retroid Pocket 3 Plus on Amazon today.
|Excellent build quality||Only some PS2 and Nintendo Wii games run at full speed|
|Huge community to tweak performance|
Best Runner-Up: Anbernic 405M
A staple name in the handheld emulator community, the Anbernic 405M is a serious competitor for the top spot with excellent performance and premium build quality.
From the moment you unbox the Anbernic 405M, it’s easy to see why it’s such a handheld emulator favorite. The “M” in the name stands for metal, which is the casing you receive and it feels very premium. Inside this casing is a 4,500mAh battery, which is good for 8 hours on a single charge with USB-C fast charging.
Aside from the casing, the rest of the internals offer similar performance to the Retroid Pocket 3 Plus, with the same Unisoc T618 processor. However, where the 405M differs is that it only offers a 4-inch touchscreen, which is slightly smaller than the Pocket 3 Plus.
However, the Anbernic 405M shines with its excellent pocket-friendly build, which is great as you’ll be able to take the 3,172 games it comes with on the go whenever you want to go somewhere. Similar to the Retroid device, the 405M also has a large online community that works to tweak the device to get the most out of its Android 12 interface.
Get the Anbernic 405M directly from Amazon today.
|Excellent metal casing||Small(er) touchscreen than biggest competitor|
|Strong battery life||Default games could include multiple duplicates|
Best Budget-Friendly: Anbernic RG35XX
- 3.5" IPS display
- 35xx with a 64G card pre-loaded
- 6,900 games
- Supports HDMI and TV output
- 2,600 mAh battery
- With bag
Another Anbernic stand-out, the Anbernic RG35XX is one of the most popular vertical handhelds on the market today.
Available in a multitude of colors, Anbernic preloads the RG35XX with over 6,900 games from a myriad of game systems, including NES, SNES, Game Boy Advance, and many more systems.
Featuring a 3.5-inch display with a resolution of 640 x 480p, it’s nearly pixel-perfect to play many older retro systems. While it’s limited to PlayStation 1, there is still a huge library of titles available to play on this budget-friendly handheld.
One of the biggest highlights of the RG35XX is that it runs on Linux, which is a favorite among the handheld emulator community as third-party software options are plentiful. Download and install Garlic OS on the RG35XX and everything runs a whole lot smoother on the system. Best of all, it’s completely free and takes only minutes to install.
No matter what game or emulator you use, the 2,600mAh battery will help you get around 6 hours of total playtime.
Grab the budget-friendly Anbernic RG35XX from Amazon right away.
|Very budget-friendly price point||Limited to PlayStation 1 and below|
|Terrific form factor||Might be cramped for those with larger hands|
Best Value: Powkiddy X55
A dark horse entry on every best handheld emulator list in 2023, the Powkiddy X55 has been a total surprise with an ergonomic form factor and great performance.
One of the biggest surprises of the year, the Powkiddy X55 offers one of the most comfortable designs, with an ergonomic body that feels great in the hand. Everything about this handheld emulator centers around the 5.5-inch with a 1280 x 720p resolution.
With a really strong display that punches well above its price, the Powkiddy X55 has all the right moves to play everything from PSP, N64, Neo Geo, PlayStation 1, Game Boy Advance, NES, and SNES. In fact, there are more than 30 total emulators included out of the box.
As you play all of these games, you have a 4,000mAh battery at your disposal, which offers right around 4 hours of performance on a single charge.
Available with a 256GB memory card out of the box, there are more than 30,000 games available from Powkiddy immediately upon powering up the X55.
Pick up your very own Powkiddy X55 from Amazon today.
|Biggest surprise of 2023||Limited power above PlayStation 1|
|Comes with a huge amount of games||Short battery life|
Best Vertical Design: Anbernic RG405V
While horizontal handheld emulators have led the way for years, the Anbernic RG405V is here to remind everyone that vertical designs are well worth your consideration.
Giving off heavy Game Boy vibes, the Anbernic RG405V is a beefy reminder that uses the original build design that helped kick off the vertical handheld market. Running Android 12, the Anbernic 405V is packed with support for more than 20 different emulators and comes with 3,172 games already included.
All of the games you receive will be playable on a 4-inch display that features 640 x 480p resolution while enabling support for HDMI out to a big screen.
Early reviews of the RG405V have praised its body style, which includes additional support on the back for a more comfortable grip as well as a fan to keep the processor and screen cool during long gaming sessions.
Last but not least, the RG405V is available in 3 different colors including a Game Boy-like gray, transparent purple, and popular wood grain that is unlike anything else in the handheld emulator market.
Make sure to pick up the Anbernic RG 405V from Amazon.
|Awesome wood design||Bulky design|
|Terrific vertical form factor||The fan can be loud at times|
Best Performance: AYN Odin Pro
If you are looking for the most powerful handheld emulator you can find today, the AYN Odin Pro is the definite best choice.
Available in either black or white, the AYN Odin Pro is immediately attractive to anyone looking for outstanding performance. The inclusion of a Snapdragon SD845 processor gives the Odin Pro more than enough power to handle dozens of emulators including Nintendo Wii, GameCube, and plenty of PlayStation 2 titles.
With 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, the AYN Odin Pro can more than handle just about any game you can throw at it. No matter which game you choose, you’ll not only be happy with the performance but also with how each game looks.
The 6-inch 1080p display is easily best-in-class among dedicated handheld emulators. The larger body of the Odin Pro not only embraces the larger display, but also adds room for active cooling fans, stacked shoulder buttons, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.2, Android 10, and HDMI out.
Unfortunately, the Odin Pro doesn’t come with any games pre-installed, but as you are playing, you’ll have a 6,600mAh battery available for hours and hours of gameplay.
The AYN Odin Pro is waiting for you to pick it up on Amazon right now.
|Pros||Fans are loud at times|
|Outstanding performance with Snapdragon 845||Larger body style isn’t as portable|
|Great 1080p display||Fans be loud at times|
What to Know Before Buying a Handheld Emulator in 2023
Right off the bat, it’s important to know that all of these devices perform differently with some offering much stronger emulation results than others. For example, the AYN Odin Pro is going to greatly outperform every other handheld emulator on this list, but it will be doing so at 2-3x the cost.
Ultimately, you need to decide which systems are most important to you and then you can decide which emulation device is the right option. More importantly, you also need to decide if you want to go with a vertical or horizontal layout. Vertical fans love the throwback to the days of the Game Boy while those who prefer a horizontal layout liken their devices to the Game Gear, PlayStation Portable, and the Nintendo Switch.
The other big factor to know, and likely the biggest consideration, is that not every device comes with games pre-installed. The Retroid Pocket 3 Plus, 2023’s best handheld emulator so far, doesn’t come with any games, so you have to install your own ROMs. While emulation is perfectly legal, pirating ROMs is not, so you have to do so at your own risk.
The last and other big consideration with all of these devices is how large the support community is in case you have questions or concerns. For Anbernic devices, there is a very large online community across Reddit, Discord, and other sources that can help you with any issues that arise.
Using a Handheld Emulator: What It’s Like
Rest assured that no matter which handheld emulator you choose, you are going to have a good time. The opportunity to go back in time, often decades, and play so many retro gaming favorites is just fantastic. There is something magical about being able to play titles like Donkey Kong Country on an SNES emulator again and again. Better yet, try and finally beat Aladdin on a handheld emulator and see if you can finally find a way to beat all of the bosses and enemies.
There is just so much to love about these devices, especially because aside from the device itself and maybe a new microSD card, there are no additional costs. This is dramatically different from today’s handheld systems where you have to buy games separately. Instead, a handheld emulator is a one-time purchase, which is hard to ignore as a benefit.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©ivan_kislitsin/Shutterstock.com.