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Anbernic RG503 Review [Stock OS]

Anbernic RG503 Review [Stock OS]

*Note: These are Initial Out of the Box Findings! I plan to do a more thorough review when the custom OS/Firmware Options for this device are more ready. 

In short,  what you are paying for with the RG503 is a big screen and a nice D-pad! 
Anbernic RG503 Review

Anbernic RG503 Specs


  • Device: Anbernic RG503 
  • Released: April 2022
  • Average Price: $135-$150 USD
  • Stock OS: Custom Batocera Linux 
  • Form Factor: Landscape
  • SoC: RK3566
  • CPU: Cortex A55 4X
  • CPU Cores/Threads: 4/4
  • CPU Clock Speed: 1.8GHz
  • Architecture: ARM
  • GPU: Mali-G52 2EE
  • GPU Clock Speed: 850 MHz
  • RAM: 1GB LPDDR4
  • Screen: PlayStation Vita 1000/1001 Screen/16:9/ 4.95" OLED/ 960x544 (222.91 PPI) w/ Plastic Screen Lens 
  • Battery 3500 mAH
  • Cooling: None
  • D-Pad: Upper Cross
  • Analogs: Lower Dual Thumb-stick w/ R3/L3 Function
  • Face Buttons: 4
  • Shoulder Buttons: Horizontol non-Stacked L1/L2/R1/R2
  • Other Buttons: Power/Reset/Volume Up & Down/Function 
  • Charge Port: USB-C x2 (Top)
  • Storage: Dual External microSD 
  • Connectivity: WiFi (5GHz)/Bluetooth 4.2/USB-C OTG 
  • Video Out: Mini HDMI
  • Audio Output: 3.5mm Out
  • Speakers: Dual Stereo Bottom Facing 
  • Rumble: Yes 
  • Sensors: None 
  • Low Battery Indicator: LED
  • Size: 190mm x 84mm x 21mm
  • Weight 236 Grams
  • Shell Material: Plastic 
  • Colors: Black/Teal/Bronze Grey

At the price point of $135, this definitely falls into the "budget" retro handheld spectrum. I wasn't originally interested in testing the RG503 (for various reasons) but recently changed my mind. I purchased this handheld with my own money and this review is my non influenced opinion. I have no official business ties with Anbernic. Most observations in this review are based on the Stock out-of-box setup using deep settings changes. 

Overall Score 7.5/10 "Above Average"

Anbernic RG503

For people who don't mind tinkering and don't already have a bunch of handhelds, I do recommend this device. It would not surprise me if this becomes a real good buy by Fall. This was a strange handheld to review as there are more negatives than positives with it in ways,  but the few positives raise it up to an above average buy in the budget retro handheld world. I do like it more than I thought I would! It should be mentioned that this device is great for watching video files! This strange handheld from Anbernic is a step forwards and a step backwards.  

The Good

  • PlayStation Vita (1000/1001) Screen
  • Low Price Big Screen Option
  • D-pad Is Excellent 
  • Face Buttons Are Good 
  • Battery Life Is Average (3.5-4 Hours on a Charge)
  • Dual microSD Slots (Which I Think Should Be Industry Standard)
  • Build Quality Is Good (Not Great)
  • 720P TV Output Works Great
  • Color Saturation, Brightness, Sharpness and Overall Screen Quality Is Great While Color Balance Is Too Cool 
  • Connectivity Options Are Excellent
  • Gone Are The Standard Anbernic Weird Rubber Grip Pads Replaced With Texture On The Plastic!
  • Great Device For Watching Video Files 
  • No Fan Needed & No Overheating Issues

  • Good Option for: ARCADE/Lynx/Atari 2600/PCEngine/NES/SNES/GBA/VirtualBoy/SMS/GG/32X/Mega Drive/PS1/Watching Videos

The Bad 

  • Recessed Screen Just Doesn't Look As Good As A Flush Screen (Collects Dust). The only benefit I see is that it might be a little more drop proof with this design. 
  • 1GB RAM Limits Potential
  • Cortex Processor Is Dated
  • Stock OS/Firmware Is Far From Ideal
  • Handheld Fatigue: Anbernic Is Releasing Too Many Handhelds Without Optimizing Them 
  • Side by Side Shoulder Buttons Was A Bad Design Choice For A Handheld This Large
  • The Handheld Has A Very Bland Look
  • Image Scaling Is Mediocre
  • Headphone Jack On Top
  • Function Button Is Placed In An Awkward Position
  • Slow System Boot At Times
  • I have noticed some early use Image Retention issues and typical OLED issues.. Hopefully doesn't progress to burn-in but will see in time...I would highly suggest NOT using art bezels with this. Static Images and older OLED screens are not friends. 
  • Performance Is A Mixed Bag
  • Currently a BAD Choice For DS/N64/PSP/Saturn

The ???

  • There are reports of sticking buttons and buttons scraping on the shell. However, I did not see any issues.  
  • Ergonomics & Control/Button Placement Is Less Than Ideal But Ergonomics Aren't Bad
  • Sound From Speakers & Using Headphones (Wired & Bluetooth) Is Acceptable
  • "OK" Choice For NGPC/GB/GBC/Pokémon Mini (Pokemini)/SEGA Dreamcast/Ports

Who Should & Should Not Buy The Anbernic RG503?

Veterans of retro handhelds and emulation and people who like to "tinker" with devices,  take deep dives into settings and don't mind going through the process of testing out various CFWs as they get better and better will likely find some enjoyment from the RG503. If you want a handheld that's awesome out of the box and one that requires minimal effort,  this is one you'll want to avoid right now. As the CFWs get ironed out,  it could very well become great for both types of retro handheld enthusiasts in the future. 

From a performance standpoint, this isn't a big enough step up from the RG351V or RG351MP to warrant upgrading for most people at the moment. The big selling point here is the big near 5" Screen and you aren't going to find a device with a 5" screen for less right now. This is NOT a handheld that will "wow" you, but it mostly gets the jobs done.

If you are someone with an old Vita lying around,  you might not have much use for this handheld. You could simply buy a SD2Vita Pro adapter and your Vita can do almost everything this handheld can do but better with a little work!

SD2Vita microSD Adapter

RG503 Overview


The Anbernic RG503 is the first budget retro handheld to use the PlayStation Vita 1000/1001 screen which is the highlight of the device. With all its flaws, I still think it's a good buy if a big screen is important to you and you don't mind a lot of tinkering with settings. 

Stock OS/Firmware 

The stock firmware honestly feels like a half-baked attempt to just get this handheld out there and leaves a LOT to be desired. Anbernic did not choose the best RetroArch cores to use for this screen and it definitely shows. If you plan to buy an RG503, you'll need to be willing to put in a lot of time setting things up and customizing settings to get the most out of it. Community Firmware/OS options will be necessary for most people. 

Leading Custom Firmware/OS Options 

  • JELOS
  • Amberelec (Formerly 351Elec)
  • ArkOS 
  • RetroArena 
*I plan to eventually test out all custom options on this device in the future. I expect any of the leading Custom options to improve the RG503 to a 8/10 level or more. 

TV Output

TV Output is a bright area when it comes to this handheld. Simply power it off, connect it to your TV and power it back on. The screen stays off and you now have a console running 720P.  Bluetooth controllers connect to it with no issues that I noticed (Using PS4 Controllers)...

Connectivity

Connectivity is well above average with this handheld which opens up the door for multiplayer gaming on some platforms. 

RG503 Emulation Performance & Impression Grades W/ Minimal Notes 

(Only Tested Systems Listed) [Based on What You Can Squeeze Out Of The Stock OS With Deep Settings Changes]

*Note: Performance Should Be Slightly Better With The Community Options From What I've Looked At...

ARCADE:

  • MAME:  A
  • FINAL BURN ALPHA: A
  • FBN: B
  • CPS1/CPS2: A
  • CPS3: B
  • Neo Geo: A
  • MSX: B+

Arcade games from the above platforms were all fine with some minor settings tweaks. Stretched out a bit they still look fine upscaled at a max of 2X. 

Atari Lynx: B- 

Atari 2600: A

PC Engine (TG16): A

NGPC: C

NES: A

SNES: B 

SNES is mostly fine with some settings tweaks but it's not optimal due to the cores Anbernic selected. SNES very well could be an A using custom OS/Firmware! 

GB: C

GBC: C

Game Boy and GBC play fine but don't upscale very well on this screen at all. 

GBA: B+

Nintendo DS: D-

The system can definitely handheld DS emulation on paper but the stock setup is very poor on this device. This is very reminiscent of the awful original DS setup on the 351V. I expect DS to drastically improve with time using custom OS/Firmware Options. 

NES: B

SNES: B 

Virtual Boy: A

Pokémon Mini: C+

N64: F 

N64 Performance on the Stock setup is shockingly bad. This could be a result of low RAM and the Dated processor not being able to keep up. I expect N64 performance to modestly improve with custom options. 

SEGA Master System: B

SEGA Genesis (Megadrive):  A 

Of all the 16-bit consoles. MD/Genesis looks, sounds and plays the best plus upscales well. 

SEGA 32X: B

SEGA CD: C-

A lot like Dreamcast, the processor struggles syncing audio in some games. All in all, most Sega CD emulation is "ok"...

SEGA Game Gear: B-

SEGA Dreamcast: C- 

The Dated Processor on the RG503 struggles primarily with syncing audio in Dreamcast games. Performance for DC is a real mixed bag that's mostly playable if you don't mind less than ideal Audio. It's unlikely custom setups will improve a ton. On paper, the RG503 should probably be around a B grade with good software. 

SEGA Saturn: F

Sony PlayStation: B+

The vast majority of PS1 Games appear to upscale decently and play well. There are some games that will stutter a little bit particularly with audio. 

Sony PlayStation Portable: D

PSP performance being so poor out of the box is sad considering they used a Vita screen which is great for PSP. Running stock,  PSP I think might actually run a little better on the 351V and 351MP. I do expect custom firmware/custom OS options to bump this up to about a C+ or even B- in the future. There are a few PSP games that do run great already.  On paper, PSP performance could be a high as a B grade with good software but I wouldn't expect that to happen soon. 


Device Fatigue

Anbernic is cranking out handhelds at a rate almost as fast as PowKiddy but to be fair,  Anbernic's general quality is leagues ahead of PK. By my count between January 2021 and today,  we've seen a total of 6 handhelds plus the soon to release RG353P and Win600. I wouldn't be surprised at all if we see an RG353V or RG353M along with something else before 2022 is over. 

Releases include the RG351M, RG351V, RG300X, RG351MP, RG552 & RG503 in a 14 month period. That's 5 budget retro handhelds and one premium priced handheld in a very short period of time. We could very well end up with 10 Anbernic retro handhelds in a two year period. 

While it is great that we have so many handhelds coming out today compared to the desert of a few short years ago,  there is a risk of oversaturating the market and limiting the potential of these devices. The more devices that come out make it tougher for community developers to continually put out new firmwares and custom OS options. 

As anyone in this hobby knows,  the custom options that come out of the community make or break these devices. I'd really like to see Anbernic release less devices and spend more time Optimizing them. I know I'd pay more for devices that are better designed and more optimized at launch. Of course the core market for these devices is not overseas, so consumers in the West still have limited input on how things go.  

What Others Are Saying 

  1. Obscure Handhelds - "Needs Love To Reach Its Potential"
  2. Retro Game Corps Review & Initial Setup Guide
  3. Nintendo Life - 7/10

Marketing Photo Samples From Anbernic 


**The information above is for research and historical documentation purposes. I do not endorse the downloading of copyrighted ROMs of games you don't own or BIOS files. Emulation on its own is perfectly legal but the downloading of files can enter legal grey areas. As far the included SD card for files, I always recommend using your own fresh microSD card and to source your own ROMs. There are also plenty of newly made retro games including legal ROMs from independent developers at places like itch.io and similar sites. This is not legal advice. Laws vary from place to place in this realm. Emulation done ethically is an important part of documenting and preserving video game history. 



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