Anbernic’s RG35XXSP is more than just a simple GBA SP clone: Here’s why

Joel Loynds
anbernic rgxx35sp with an original pink gameboy advance sp

Much like Ayaneo, Anbernic is a company that rapidly releases new hardware. Covering all bases, we’ve had an assortment of vaguely Gameboy-esque devices, but nothing ever hit this close to something Nintendo’s released before.

The Anbernic RG35XXSP is shockingly close to its inspiration, the GBA SP. It’s also still a pint-sized powerhouse that could be the next emulation handheld you’ve been after if you’re interested in getting one of the best handheld retro emulators.

anbernic rgxx35sp

Key Specs

  • CPU: H700 quad-core ARM Cortex-A53, 1.5GHz frequency
  • GPU: Dual-core Mali-G31 MP2
  • Connectivity: 2.4/5G WIFI 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2
  • Storage: Dual card slots, support TF card expansion, maximum 512GB 
  • Battery: 3300mAH
  • OS: Custom Linux


The RG35XXSP is almost identical to the Gameboy Advance SP. It’s got a classic clamshell design, is pocketable, and manages to remain comfortable over long periods. 

Once I managed to dig my original SP out of a cupboard and compared it to the 35XXSP, its differences became more pronounced.  Anbernic’s handheld is a thicker, taller device – but not by much. It’s housing a little different, but, it’s not immediately noticeable.

anbernic sp stacked on top of a regular gameboy advance sp

This is no bother when you realize that the Anbernic SP has a killer feature for those of us with pets who like to step all over the place: a built-in screen protector. 

Shutting the device works as you’d expect by putting the device to sleep and keeps the screen protected. This came in handy when I spilled a load of juice all over it, and once it went through a clean, it was absolutely fine.

Anbernic has fitted small magnets at the edge of the screen to ensure it closes and stays shut in bags or pockets. There’s barely any wiggle from the screen when closed, but while shaking the 35XXSP, you can tell there’s a rattle of some loose components. 

Anbernic has covered all the usual ground for a modern emulation handheld. Four face buttons, and two lots of shoulder buttons, just to cover all bases for potential games you might play. Just be aware that there are no analog sticks here.

There’s some nice clicky feedback from the buttons, and the additional pair of shoulder buttons never feel awkward to hit mid-game.

anbernic rgxx35sp controls

While clamshell designs aren’t new to the scene, a good one is new. Miyoo is supposedly working on their own competitor, but Anbernic got out the gate first with impeccable build quality.

Another point is just how sturdy it all feels. My RG35XXSP has been dropped, held by children, and jumped on by a greyhound.

I opted for the transparent option to see what it looks like underneath, and it’s eyebrow-raising to see Anbernic use the same method of threading the ribbon cable to the screen as Nintendo did. It does seem like a potential failure point if it did get worn down or torn by the hinge over time.

Due to its built-in screen protection, comfortable form factor, and how easy it is to hide it away quickly, it has rapidly become my go-to for my emulation needs. Move over, Odin 2 Pro.


I remained on the stock operating system for the Anbernic SP, as it’s what most users will probably stick with. It’s serviceable, but having come from Garlic OS on the Miyoo Mini, you can tell this isn’t the best way to experience it. 

There are two options for how to play, with one option using the OS and emulators, or letting Retroarch do all the heavy lifting.

I opted for Retroarch through most of this, as Anbernic’s “Game Room” just isn’t as fully fleshed out. For instance, there’s no option to turn all filters off from a game, leaving one of those poor scanline filters to be the default, or dare to oversmooth everything with its “HD” function.

anbernic rgxx35sp half closed

There’s also the option to plug it into a TV, but this isn’t done over USB-C. Instead, a mini-HDMI cable is required. Not that I needed another device that could hook up to a TV, but mini-HDMI remains a puzzling choice.

You’d think that the intersection between those of us who love single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi and retro handheld emulators would influence the port choice.

I tried plugging in controllers, and the device recognized them, but I couldn’t get it to work. I believe it could be down to the OTG standard being used, but I didn’t care enough about attaching a controller to the RGXXSP to purchase an adapter.

It’s good that these features are included, but they’re not necessary. Where the Anbernic SP outclasses the original hardware is the inclusion of a headphone jack.


With 8-bit to 32-bit games, the battery is a champ. I managed to squeeze in a good couple of days of casual play before I even contemplated grabbing a charger. The battery is also easily removable with a basic Phillips screwdriver if you’re that way inclined. It also charges on meatier, bigger chargers, unlike some other handhelds.

Gaming performance

anbernic rgxx35sp from a top down view

I love playing on the Anbernic SP. Not only does it evoke sheer nostalgia in your hands, but the RG35XX series of handhelds is surprisingly capable. You won’t run anything further than the Dreamcast here, but it does offer some compatibility with PSP games. 

However, as the screen isn’t widescreen, PSP games will almost always have black bars on the top and bottom. 


I tested some games from the PSP to just see what the boundaries are. Bigger, more console-like experiences like God of War didn’t run particularly well on the stock operating system. This is to be expected, and if you’re after some PSP stuff on the go, it’s best to check elsewhere. It’s also hard to gain any control of the game with just a standard D-Pad too. 

What did work from the PSP library was those on the lower end. Pac-Man Championship Edition, Persona 2, and Metal Slug XX all worked just fine, but again, it’s not the best experience. With the games crushing themselves into a non-widescreen format, it makes text hard to read.

However, once you leave Sony’s handheld world for everything else the RGXXSP has to offer, it quickly becomes evident that the classic 4:3 aspect ratio is still king when it comes to retro gaming.

Nintendo 64

I found Nintendo 64 games to be quite a hassle to play using the RG35XXSP.  Emulation for the N64 has always been spotty, but games like Super Mario 64, Waverace, and Glover felt bad to play with just a D-Pad. Performance was also a little iffy, with Waverace just narrowly scraping by at 50FPS. Other titles like Castlevania routinely suffered from weird graphical glitches too.

That’s all the bad stuff. Some consoles, like the DS, do run pretty well. It’s just hard to place what’s causing certain issues with some games. Like with the N64 titles, some DS games I tried like Metal Slug 7 had some graphical glitches in menus, but dissipated once I entered the game. 


If you own some games that only rely on the top screen for play, the Anbernic SP is top-notch. Games do look a little weathered without any upscaling or filters in place, but playing them feels great, and it does try to incorporate some kind of touch control system. 

This is appreciated, but ultimately, quite bad. You won’t be playing Yoshi Touch & Go or Feel the Magic on the device anytime soon.


anbernic rgxx35sp screen

As with the Miyoo Mini Plus, and some of these smaller screen devices, it does run into issues with a particular genre of arcade titles. Anything that’s on a vertical screen, like some shoot-em-ups like 1943 from Capcom, feels way too squished. By default, it’s surrounded by game art, and stretching it to 4:3 makes it look horrendous. 

The tight space of the screen doesn’t lend itself especially well to these games, as it feels squished. It’s supposed to be a big tall screen in front of you, and best left for screens that you can’t take with you.

This doesn’t mean that arcade games are out of the question. Anything but. Exploring the massive library at its disposal is like a fun whack-a-mole of what I’d be playing for the next hour. 

There’s no finesse in playing the Spider-Man arcade game from 1991 with an infinite amount of credits, but it certainly helped with a nearly hour-long tram ride home.

I did find SEGA’s Naomi hardware had some hiccups, but that didn’t stop me from gobbling up Dolphin Blue. The Naomi was essentially a slightly upgraded Dreamcast, but most of the issues I had was the framerate dropping in busy areas, which is nothing I couldn’t brute force my way through. 

Hardcore nostalgia

anbernic rgxx35sp playing dolphin blue

The Anbernic RG35XXSP flourishes when there’s a Game Boy game being played. It’s so good to re-sink into Wario Land 4 and it’s almost a little too natural when hopping through Yoshi’s Island. It’s like whiplash because as I lay in bed at nearly 30 playing it, I swear I could see the pale blue walls of my childhood bedroom.

At the top of this, I mentioned Dreamcast games. These are available for you to play and try, but you really should consider playing into the limitations of the device. No one needs to play Ikaruga at 34FPS. 

Much like the Miyoo Mini and others at this level of emulation, its limitations are the best feature. It means you won’t be swamped with choices, allowing you to sift through games far easier. Finding that perfect title, sinking as much time as the battery will allow, and shutting it up for dinner. It’s quite a dream device.

Verdict: 4/5

anbernic rgxx35sp closed

The Anbernic RG35XXSP is an absolute joy to play games on. It’s a fascinating device, one that utilizes nostalgia smartly. The Gameboy Advance SP is one of the best handhelds of all time from an ergonomic design. With a straight-up aped design that adds in a few extra bits to support more games is a welcome change of pace.

It’s a solid handheld, one that thrives on the limitations of its hardware and brings out some of the best in what it can play reliably.