Anbernic RG353M Review [Retro Game Handheld]

 Anbernic RG353M Review/Impressions (Initial Review)

Conclusion: The Best All-Around 3.5" 4:3 Device To Date! I Love It!!! ❤️ 

Anbernic RG353M 

Anbernic has a history of making some decent metal game handhelds and the RG353M is without a doubt the best one yet! The RG350M, RG280M, RG351M and the RG351MP all get blown away by Anbernic's latest metal offering. I have been a little cold on Anbernic devices for a while now but this device put me right back on the Anbernic train! This is by far my favorite Anbernic handheld since the RG351V. Approximate "hands on time" with this device at time of initial review was approximately 46+ hours. The 353M has earned a spot in my regular rotation,  so I plan to regularly post future findings as well. I plan to post a more definitive follow-up review in a couple months. 

RG353M



Disclosure: I purchased the Anbernic RG353M with my own money for $147.99 including Shipping at the early bird price. This post does include a few affiliate links where I may benefit from any purchases made. This review is my own uninfluenced opinion.

Where To Buy The 353M 

There are three primary places to purchase the RG353M. It will cost a little more to order one from Amazon, but you will get it faster and with more consumer protections. Ordering directly from Anbernic.com or AliExpress, you are looking at about 2 weeks to receive an order. The following 3 links may benefit me if purchases are made. Support highly appreciated! The following links are from legitimate sellers. If ordering from anywhere else, it's a good idea to always look at seller reviews particularly on AliExpress. Prices below are the prices listed when this review was initially published and could change. 

Anbernic.com $145.99+Shipping [LINK]

AliExpress - Official Anbernic Store $145.99+Shipping [LINK]

Amazon $174.99 [LINK]

Anbernic RG353M Specs

  • Manufacturer: Anbernic
  • Model: RG353M
  • Form: Landscape 
  • OS: Android 11/Linux 
  • Google Play Store Support: No
  • SoC: RK3566 
  • CPU: Cortex-A55
  • Cores: 4x
  • CPU Threads: 4
  • CPU Clock: 1.8GHz 
  • Architecture: ARM
  • GPU: Mali-G52 2EE 
  • GPU Clock: 850 MHz
  • Cooling: Passive 
  • RAM: 2GB LPDDR4 
  • Screen: 4:3 3.5" Tempered Glass OCA 640x480 IPS Touch-Screen
  • Battery: 3500 mAh
  • D-pad: Upper Cross
  • Thumb-sticks: Dual Lower With L3/R3 (Hall Effect)
  • Face Buttons: 4
  • Charge Port: USB-C x2
  • Connectivity: 2.4/5 WiFi + Bluetooth 4.2
  • Storage: Dual External microSD, 32GB Internal
  • Video Out: mini HDMI
  • Audio Out: 3.5mm Top
  • Speakers: Dual Stereo Bottom 
  • Size: 145 mm x 73 mm x 18 mm
  • Shell: Metal (Deep Purple Or Blue)

The Good 

  • Upgraded Speakers (Sound)
  • Hall Sensor Analog Thumb-sticks Are Great 
  • Improved Shoulders
  • Face Buttons Are Responsive
  • Anbernic Logo Not On Device Face 
  • By Far The Best All-Around 4:3 3.5" Screen Device Available 
  • Price
  • Stock Anbernic Software Is Improved 
  • Light And Thin Enough For TATE Mode Arcade Shooters (CFW Recommended)
  • WiFi and Bluetooth Work Great. Anbernic Did A Great Job Matching The Plastic On The Sides To The Metal Paint Job. Photos Don't Do Justice To How Great The "Deep Purple" Looks! 
  • Dual Boot Option of Android and Linux Is Great! 
  • PS2, GameCube, Wii, Saturn, Etc. Stream Well From PC (Moonlight)
  • RetroAchievements Ready Out of the Box
  • Netplay Works Great
  • Works Great As A Console Connected To TV
  • Device Is Thinner (More Pocketable) Than The 351MP/350M But More Ergonomic With The Re-Designed Shoulders
  • Quality CFW Options Available Now
  • 353M Is "Roughly" 20% More Powerful/Capable Than The 351MP (Subjective Casual Observation Estimate)
  • Screen Protector Included

The Bad 

  • 5th Time This SoC Has Been Used By Anbernic (Counting 353V/VS As Two Separate Devices)
  • Android Build Is Not Great
The Meh

  • Headphone Jack On Top Is A Bad Design Choice
  • Bottom-facing Speakers
  • No Free Shipping But The Price Makes Up For It
  • Android Side Unlikely To Get Software Updates From Anbernic However It Sounds Like There Will Be Community Developed Options Down The Road. 
  • Back Of The 353M Does Get A Bit Warm (I'd Suggest Adding Some Grip Tape To The Back) But Internal Temperatures Are Fine (Appears The Back of Shell Absorbs A Lot of Heat)
  • Source Code Not Opened Up To Developers 
  • The D-pad May Be a Little Too Responsive (sensitive) And Lead to Rare Unintended Input. I Eliminated That Adding a Little Tape On The Bottom
  • PortMaster Doesn't Work Properly on Stock Linux Firmware (Works Fine In JELOS)
  • Stock Linux Firmware Occasionally Crashes When Videos Are Used (Works Fine In JELOS)

In The End 

In the end,  the 353M feels like a return to classic Anbernic quality and with a decent price. This device is geared towards the on the go retro gamer who enjoys a classic 4:3 experience. Of the many Anbernic devices I have owned up to this point, this one is now my favorite (knocking the 351V off the top). While this handheld is not powerful enough to run PS2, GameCube, Saturn and Wii well,  it does stream all of those well from your computer. 

Who Shouldn't Buy The RG353M? 

People who want to play a lot of FPS games should skip the 353M due to clicky in-line shoulders. While this is an Android device, people wanting to play a lot of native Android games might be disappointed as most Android games are not geared towards 4:3 screens. 

Included ROMS: None With The 1 Card Option

I ordered the option from Anbernic that only comes with 1 microSD card (the 100% legal option). The two card option does reportedly come with loaded ROMs which I would suggest avoiding. The cards they sell are prone to failure and its always best to source your own ROMs. Information about ROMs here is for research and informational purposes. I do not support "loaded" cards and will not link to download sites. Emulation on its own is perfectly legal. Downloading copyrighted files or buying loaded cards is not legal in some areas. Before jumping into the hobby,  I highly suggest researching your local laws. I also highly recommend learning how to flash your own microSD cards with CFWs and source your own files. There are many tutorials available online for the more popular devices. 

Article about the legality of emulation:

https://retrododo.com/are-emulators-legal/ 

Build Quality & Design 

Build quality with the RG353M is top notch in the budget under $200 realm.  This feels like a device that was made by a large company. 

This device is a lot trimmer and thinner than the 351MP and more pocketable. The thumb-sticks don't stick out far enough to be a Pocket issue. Despite being smaller, the device is ergonomic and great for long gaming sessions. 

A Look Inside: 

RG353M


Passive Cooling 

When scraping files or running an intensive game, the back of the RG353M can get a bit warm (which can be a big concern with some devices) but the internal CPU temperature remains in an acceptable range,  so heat dissipation seems to be working properly in Linux. The device does seem to run considerably hotter on the Android side. A 3D intensive game in DraStic using heavy settings for example was running up to 61° for me,  14° hotter than the high on the Linux side. JELOS CFW I noticed runs a few degrees cooler than the stock Anbernic Linux. 

47°C During Heavy Scraping on Linux Side

I went ahead and added a very tiny heat sink DIY on top of the CPU which did seem to reduce temperatures quite a bit. 

Stock OS/Firmware 

Android 11 vs. Linux:

The stock custom Batocera Linux Build by Anbernic honestly isn't bad but I did prefer installing the JELOS (RG353P Build) as a better alternative. It should be noted that Anbernic's stock firmware will probably be fine for users who don't want to dig deep into settings and setup. The three Linux CFW options for this device will be ArkOS, The Retro Arena (Upcoming) and JELOS which will all be improvements over the stock setup. Touch-screen features only work in Android out of the box. It should be noted that the stock RetroArch Build is stripped down, doesn't have the best cores for every situation and CFW is required to get the most out of RA. 

The Android 11 build is all right but not Google certified, so the Google Play Store is not on this device. That's not a huge deal breaker considering most extra apps you'd want to use can be sideloaded anyway. I found myself using the Linux side of the device 90% of the time. There are confirmed ways to add the Google Play Store if someone really wanted it. I verified the solution from DroiX does work. 

Android: Nintendo DS, N64 & PSP are three platforms that you'll probably want to play using Android. Everything else,  Linux is the way to go!  

Screen 

A 3.5" 4:3 Aspect Screen at 640x480 resolution is really an all-around great size for most retro gaming needs. I honestly still slightly prefer the color saturation, temperature and sharpness of the RG351V and RG351MP  screens, but the touch-screen functionality of the RG353M still makes this an upgrade. If I was giving the 353M screen a subjective academic grade, I'd give it a B+ which is still better than the vast majority of devices in the budget price range. Achieving good sharpness with minimal settings tweaks is possible. 

D-Pad 

The d-pad is a little on the stiff side but it's responsive (maybe a little too responsive), has good resistance and mostly passes the test in fighting games and Pac-Man plus feels pretty good. Overall,  this is a d-pad that's very similar to other Anbernic devices and feels closest to the RG351V d-pad in my opinion. I did notice occasionally that the d-pad is almost too responsive and lead to some false inputs. I eliminated that issue on mine putting a little tape under the d-pad. For the most part, it wouldn't be am issue for most but if you are pressing left on the d-pad and your finger is towards the bottom,  it can occasionally register as an unintended down input, etc.  I don't think it's a big issue though and the d-pad is still better than what you get on most handhelds. It's not Anbernic's best d-pad to date but it's good. 

Face Buttons

RG353M Face Buttons

The face Buttons are very responsive but also slightly stiff feeling.  For the most part they are better than what you get on most devices in this price range. I plan to replace the buttons with something interesting from SakuraRetroModding when his custom buttons for this device become available! I don't think the stock buttons do aesthetic justice to this premium shell. 

Thumb-sticks 

It was confirmed by The Phawx that the RG353M thumb-sticks work installed on the Retroid Pocket 3 too which is exciting news. These Hall sensor thumb-sticks are the star of the show when it comes to this device and a huge leap forward for Anbernic devices. Controls are considerably more accurate an and responsive than any previous devices from the company. They are less stiff than the typical Switch style thumb-sticks and very accurate. 

Shoulders 

The in-line shoulders are an improvement over previous in-line shoulders from Ambernic. They are a little more ergonomic,  easier to feel the difference between which one you are pressing and very responsive. These are very clicky dome switch shoulders so FPS gaming is nearly out of the question with these.  

Connectivity 

WiFi and Bluetooth Work fine with this device although CFW is recommended for better use of both. HDMI out to TV is excellent with no noticeable input delays. It unfortunately maxes out at 720P but this handheld is an excellent option to use as a console. I tested it out with an Xbox Series controller with no issues. It should be noted that you will need to but a Mini-HDMI to HDMI came (it is not included). Netplay and RetroAchievements also work great on this handheld. 

Platforms Tested With Notes

My subjective findings below are semi-weighted on what I expect from a $150-ish device in 2022. "Great" are systems I would very highly recommend this device for. It should be noted that these are my findings with just some deep diving into things. With time, I'll likely improve performance on anything that I haven't listed as "Bad". The following is based on performance and also how platforms look on this 4:3 screen. My findings are based on a light sampling of platforms below where I will very likely find more definitive analysis of in the future. These are my best estimates that could slightly change in time. 

Great: Neo•Geo, 2600, 5200, 7800, PC Engine (TG16), NES/FC, FDS, Genesis/MD, 32X, SEGA CD, SNES, PSX (PS1), Some Ports, WSC, Colecovision, PCECD, SG-1000

Most home platforms up to PS1 play great at full frames at 2X Resolution and using filters. 

Good: CPS1, CPS2, MAME (Mixed Bag), FBN, FBA, OpenBor, GB, GBC, GBA, Virtual Boy, Atari Lynx, NGPC, SMS*, Nintendo DS, N64, SEGA Dreamcast, Pico-8, & Streaming 4:3 Appropriate Games (Moonlight) Like DC/PS2/GC/Wii, etc, Pokémon Mini, Game Gear

The majority of Arcade games do play great on the 353M but there are some 3D intensive fighting and racing games that can be problematic with very low Frames. In essence,  arcade is a very mixed bag which is the case with all handhelds. 

Game Boy and Game Boy Color both run flawless on the 353M. What drops it down to the "Good" category simply is because 4:3 is not the ideal aspect ratio for GB/GBC. If you don't mind unused space on each side of the screen, it's still an OK choice for those platforms. Game Boy Advance also runs great but 4:3 is not the ideal screen size.  It should be noted that that GBA with settings tweaks and filters does scale nicely on this screen. 

*SEGA Master System runs mostly great but I did run into some games that have stutters. This is sometimes the case with SMS games on almost any handheld and might require some deeper dives into the settings to fix. 

Nintendo 64 is one platform that does not play consistently well on the Linux side of the device,  so you'll definitely have to boot into Android if N64 is something you plan to play at full speed. 

SEGA Dreamcast was a little frustrating on the the RG503 and reportedly was an an issue on the RG353P as well (I did not test that device) but runs pretty well here. 

OK: Virtual Boy, PSP, Some Android Games (Games That Look "OK" In 4:3, Amstrad CPC (Mixed Results), Vectrex (Mixed), CPS3, Channel F, Intellivision, MSX, Game & Watch, Atomiswave

*PSP is a true mixed bag on this device. With some deep dives into settings, you can get some excellent perform performance out of some games. 

Bad: PS2*, 3DO (Mixed Results), GameCube & Beyond, Modern Wide-Screen Android Games, Streaming Non 4:3 games, SEGA Saturn, Xbox Game Pass Streaming

*A very few  PS2 games will actually run ok on the 353M but the vast majority of games need to be streamed. 

Haven't Tested But Plan To:

C64, N64DD, DOSBox, EasyRPG, Neo•Geo CD, ... 

QA Concerns 

So far, I haven't seen a lot of reports on QA concerns early on. I did see one report of a DOA screen but in general, reports of issues seems lower than what you get with most handheld launches.  

What Others Are Saying About The Anbernic RG353M:

Retro Game Corps RG353M Review - "...a 4:3 retro handheld that does everything just right without glaring issues..."

DroiX Review 

GBA Temp Review


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