There is a thriving market for emulator-based handhelds these days, with factories in China installing new systems on a monthly basis. However, while most of these machines follow the same basic design language, the designers of the PocketGo S30 modeled it on the iconic SNES controller – take a sheet of the 8BitDo book.
We were fortunate enough to get a sample of this device and can say right now that it is one of the best builds we have seen. The build quality is excellent (so good, in fact, that some have speculated this GWOWO, the company that designs some of 8BitDo’s products, is responsible) and it’s really comfortable to use. The knobs are also excellent, while the D-Pad is precise and responsive. Considering how many of these low-cost Chinese handhelds in terms of manufacturing, the PocketGo S30 at $ 69.99 is a pleasant surprise. The 2,600mAh battery provides around 4-5 hours of endurance, and there’s a USB-C port for charging – oh, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
However, when it comes to launching games, normal service resumes. While it does pack in the high-performance AllWinner A33 chipset (the same that powers the NES Classic, nothing less), the PocketGo S30 isn’t as perfectly optimized and runs a selection of homebrew emulators under an operating system of unified base.
Performance is still slightly spotty, with audio issues occurring in several of the games we tested. A little more annoying is the fact that, by default, many emulators stretch the image to fill the 3.5 ″ 480 × 320 IPS screen, which results in ugly and distorted visuals. While some of the emulators allow you to do away with this dreadful full screen scaling, the distortion remains anyway, suggesting that the system operating system is not optimizing the emulators properly for displaying the console (the main UI looks okay, it’s worth noting).
The speaker is also a bit obnoxious, which only makes the sound of the audio emulation difficult. Plus, since each emulator is coded by a different team, each has totally different settings menus, accessible by pressing the power button. Confusingly, some emulators – like the Neo Geo Pocket Color and WonderSwan – born have settings menus, so pressing power takes you back to the main menu.
It’s a shame, because the PocketGo S30 supports a wide range of formats, including pretty much all Nintendo consoles prior to the N64 (which is apparently also to come, once the developers have sufficiently manipulated the emulator), and the unit even runs Dreamcast, PlayStation, and PSP games (with hugely varying degrees of success, it should be noted). While the drag-and-drop nature of the PocketGo S30’s file structure is nice – adding ROM is just a matter of inserting the console’s MicroSD card into your PC or Mac and copying the files to the correct folders – that means ultimately little unless you’re playing comfortable games with horribly distorted visuals.
It is possible that the operating system could be updated to allow better control over image scaling, but until then the PocketGo S30 simply ranks as well-designed hardware which is unfortunately disappointed with a fairly straightforward flaw (oh, and the fact that it sits in the same shady middle ground as all emulation devices).
If you are still interested, watch this excellent video brought to you by MadLittlePixel: