Anbernic RG351M Review: finding a reason to buy: ERROR

Even when the retro handheld market is premature, the Anbernic RG351M is still a doubted subject to get. People who are looking for a cheap device argue that there is no reason to get the RG351M for a different housing. Even when you want an unit with a more premium feeling, it’s really difficult to choose a product with no “additional” features. I have a very quick first impression in the form of the Anbernic RG351M review, which I hope it would help people who are considering the retro handheld.

Anbernic RG351M ranks D in my retro handheld emulator ranking list

Anbernic RG351M

The metal-case RG351P

Do you prefer metal housing? Yes, let’s check out the RG351M, which is the aluminum-shell version of the RG351P. Includes Wi-Fi feature for multiplayer, retro achievements and OTA updates.

Anbernic has flooded the Chinese retro handheld market with lots of products, hoping to dominate. The plan is quite a success, because we can now emulate up to PlayStation 2 and Wii U with only Anbernic devices. In so many Anbernic products, the Anbernic RG351M is just an old product that is aimed to be a N64 handheld player, according to the manufacturer. Is it good for the job? We will find out soon.

Anbernic RG351M Review: Price

Key features

  • Commonly found at: $149
  • Costs 2.22 times the RG35XX

Now you’re buying the product that costs double the price of the Anbernic RG35XX, perhaps you should expect to emulate more systems, right? The RG35XX is a very handful baseline system, that can emulate quite smoothly up to GBA, SNES and even PSX systems. Its community is so great in squeezing the last drop of performance out of this little handheld device, by unlocking RG35XX GPU and overclocking RG35XX CPU. As a result, the RG35XX can play Nintendo DS and Nintendo 64 games, though it isn’t really a decent experience.

Yes, that’s too much for a device you can buy as cheap as $50, making it’s hard to accept something that’s more expensive, for example, the Anbernic RG351M. The RG351M serves as a N64 player, according to the manufacturer, however I don’t think it is a decent experience either in this handheld emulator.

It costs 50% more than the RG351P that I don’t really like overall, at only one major change from plastic shell to aluminum shell. Does it really matter for the increase in price, I will explain later. But that’s the only change to take you 50% more money, so are you willing to spend more? Especially when the RockChip RK3326 is completely outdated, an increasing in cost only tell us to avoid this handheld.

At the moment, the RG351M is out of stock. If you want to get it officially from Anbernic, which doesn’t warrant a good support, you can get from AliExpress. I still recommend to buy one from Amazon, as it normally has a 30-day refund for the product, which is better.

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Anbernic RG351M Review: Design and Build Quality

Anbernic RG351MFeatures
Dimensions151.5 mm x 70 mm x 18 mm
Weight271 grams
Screen3.5 inch IPS, 480 x 320, 164.83 PPI, 3:2 aspect ratio
ColorsAluminum shell: Space Gray, Matte Black
Speaker placementBottom facing
StorageExternal microSD
Audio output3.5mm headphone jack
Video output
Charge portUSB-C
Key features

  • Still pocketable, horizontal form is better for long gaming sessions
  • Screen is mostly suitable for GBA games, and not as good as the RG35XX
  • Speaker placement is not good
  • Can accidentally press the RESET button

The RG351M serves in the same position as the RG350M in the past, being the more premium metal-housing version of the most powerful system Anbernic gave at the moment – the RG351P. Both of them are outdated, yes, but is the RG351M’s design good enough for gaming session?

It seems the Anbernic RG351M is a little wider than the RG350M in the past (I don’t have chance to own the RG350M, but I had experience with the RG350, and they both share the same dimensions). Yes, it is similar to the RG351P, except the housing, which is quite pocketable to bring anywhere.

So it is very small to sit in your hands, to the point that it is not always comfortable to hold and play. It feels like playing a modding Game Boy Macro (bottom half of the Nintendo DS), but the RG351M weighs a lot more. At 271 grams, the RG351M is even heavier than some PlayStation Vita models, and being smaller actually hurts your hands a lot.

Again, the problem only happens when you use the RG351M for long action-adventure or fighting gaming sessions. If Anbernic could manage to make the RG351M in the form of the RG405M, I would love it a lot more. It is one reason why I choose the RG405M as the best retro handheld emulator.

I want to help you differentiate models among the RG351 series. The Anbernic RG351M is certainly the biggest and heaviest model with its aluminum shell. The RG351MP shares the same weight, but it is a little bit more pocketable than its brother. However, if you truly want to put the device in your jeans’ pocket, you should get the RG351P (shares the same design as the RG351M, but a lot lighter weight) and the vertical handheld RG351V. At its weight, the RG351M kind of drag my stretch shorts down…

Now we should discuss about the housing, because that’s the only reason (yeah, I forgot the Wi-Fi feature of RG351M) to buy the RG351M over the RG351P. Sadly, for a low-end product like this, I don’t expect the metal housing adding anything better. The overall design of the RG351P isn’t to my liking, and so is the RG351M. Ergonomics being considered, aluminum shell doesn’t help my grip, and it is more prone to scratches than plastic counterpart. Well, my Nintendo Switch is made of plastic, it is still cool.

However, I still understand the reason behind metal is more premium than plastic, so I guess metal version of Anbernic devices still get their own customers. I only want to remind you that the added weight for small size can really wear your hands out.

Other than that, if you finished reading my RG351P review, you will be familiar with the RG351M’s screen. 3:2 screen is not a problem because we don’t really have a “main” Game Boy Advance handheld emulator, however at the price point of the RG351M, it is expected to emulate the home console systems. As a result, it should have a 4:3 screen, something that’s fixed for the later RG353M or RG405M.

I bet you won’t care of the screen if you don’t happen to compare it side-by-side with another product, but knowing this much, would you still choose the RG351M? The RG351MP at the same price, have a much more popular 4:3 screen with higher PPI, and better IPS screen than the RG351M.

For many people, a 3:2 screen is a door shut tight for the RG351P. For me, the fact that I don’t really use dual analog sticks that much making it a waste feature is that I don’t like the RG351P. Playing N64 or PSP only requires the left analog stick, and even when we don’t want to mention the RG351M’s emulation capability at the moment, I don’t think adding right analog stick have any use. In that case, the RK2020 makes much more sense with only one stick, though I don’t recommend this device either.

Again, I don’t really like the speaker placement in the RG351M, which is bottom facing. However, I once accidentally press the RESET button, one thing that I never did with the RG351P, so it’s worth mentioning.

I found comments regarding the bad diagonal movement with RG351M’s D-Pad. Actually this is a problem for all low-end retro handheld player, which D-Pad buttons’ responsiveness is nowhere near the quality of a real handheld device from Nintendo or Sony.

Lazy handheld man’s choice
D for Design & Feel.

Anbernic RG351M Review: Gaming Experience

Anbernic RG351MFeatures
CPURockChip RK3326 (Cortex-A35), 4 cores 4 threads @ 1.5 GHz
GPUMali-G31 MP2 @ 650 MHz
Memory1 GB DDR3
Battery3500 mAh
Cooling systemHeatsink, metal case passive
Key features

  • Targeted system emulator: GBA
  • SNES and PS1 work flawlessly, albeit different aspect ratio
  • Targeted game genres: all game genres

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Tested games

A means all games are playable, B means most games are playable with a few exceptions, C means most games are only playable with frameskip, D means only the easiest games are playable, F means all games are unplayable

As you can expect from the specs sheet of the RG351M, it would do the same job as the RG351P. At its price point, perhaps it would be very bad for the device to do as much as a half-priced RG35XX, plus a very terrible experience for Nintendo 64 and a few easy-to-emulate PSP games.

But dated back to 2 years ago, the RockChip RK3326 was the newest chip that has the capability to emulate N64 and PSP. There was the RockChip RK3399 that has been used in the Anbernic RG552, making it cost the same as the Anbernic RG405M while having less performance. It took 2 years for Anbernic to apply the newer RockChip RK3566 for better cost/performance. What I want to say is that we don’t have better choice at the time of the RG351M, so it makes sense to buy something like it 2 years ago.

Now talking about raw performance of the RG351M. It is the same as the RG351P, featuring a Cortex-A35 RockChip RK3326 processor. The Cortex-A35 is the most efficient processor that can support 64-bit code, according to Arm Developer, so it is a lot better than the very old Cortex-A9 chip from the RG35XX. It also has more clock in GPU, as well as more RAM (1 GB vs 256 MB), because the manufacturer wants it to touch the 64-bit era (NDS, N64 and PSP).

The community has made a very thoughtful RG351’s PSP compatibility list, as well as a 351elec RG351’s N64 compatibility list, and I recommend you to check them both before diving into these systems.

To summarize, the RG351M can handle many easy-to-emulate PSP games and surprisingly tackle some Dreamcast titles quite smoothly. It would be a hit-or-miss when talking about the N64 emulation, but overall if these are your targeted emulation systems, I advise you to at least choose the RG353M for a much better experience.

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Gaming session

While playing Game Boy Advance games on the RG351M is a pixel-perfect experience with great scaling, it doesn’t remind me the feeling of actually playing a handheld Game Boy. As a result, if I truly need a retro handheld emulator for GBA games (which is my most played system), I’d rather choose the RG35XX with a 4:3 screen. Moreover, I don’t feel like I waste the dual analog sticks.

Playing Nintendo DS on a device with 3.5-inch screen is a hard pass for me, because the screen of the RG351M is only a little bigger than the DS Lite (3.25 inches). Trying to emulate the dual screens on such small scale is not a great experience, that’s why I always recommend to get a native Nintendo DS or Nintendo 3DS for running NDS or 3DS games. Also, the RG351M doesn’t have touchscreen, so games that require touchscreen a lot is a miss.

Perhaps the most use case for the RG351M is as a cheap PSP emulator. Using 351elec, the RG351M can actually run more PSP titles than you thought, and many big titles are running well on the device. However, with the release of the RG353P and RG353M, it is pointless to get the RG351M running hard-to-emulate systems, unless you’ve already owned one.

I said the RG351M is only different from its brothers with metal housing, but that’s not true. The RG351M has Wi-Fi capability, one feature that is removed from the RG351P and RG351MP due to shortage in supply. Now, many people will argue that they don’t need to get retro achievements (on the other hand, I love Steam Achievement and PlayStation Trophy, so normally I want some Achievements). They also don’t need the multiplayer feature because they only use the handheld solo, and as a result there is no need to have Wi-Fi capability. However, even when you don’t have friends to interact with, or you don’t care about achievements, the Wi-Fi capability can actually help you update the custom firmware easier, and that is the main reason to get the RG351M over cheaper options in RG351 series.

Battery life

There is the same 3500-mAh battery in the RG351M, so I don’t expect it to magically last longer than its brother – the RG351P. Actually, with Wi-Fi features being a main selling point for the RG351M, it could last a lot less than its plastic counterpart. It could last for 3-4 hours for mixed systems running, but I recorded a gaming session with the RG351M that lasts nearly 2 hours. Depending on your use case, this would be enough or not.

You can use the normal USB-C cable for the Anbernic RG351M, and it needs 3 hours to be fully charged. Fast charging can speed up the charging process, but it will degrade your battery.

Lazy handheld man’s choice
C for Gaming Experience.

My verdict

You may read a lot of reviews praising the RG351M, but they all dated back 2 years ago. With more options to choose, the review should reflect the real situation of the RG351M at the present. And I hardly recommend you to get one, unless you can get the device at a very low cost (which isn’t easy). When the cheaper RG351P has much value for money at the moment, spending more on the RG351M would be a waste of money, even though you think you need the Wi-Fi capability feature. It doesn’t add much more durability with the metal shell, while the heavy weight in compact form really drag your hands down.

The RG351MP is actually a better way to enjoy SNES and PS1 using the same metal housing as the RG351M, but it lacks the Wi-Fi feature that you ask for. And if you want a decent N64 and PSP emulations, I think the RG353P or RG353M would be a better option than the RG351M.

On the bright side, it is still a retro handheld emulator that is capable of playing many PSP games, as well as easy-to-emulate N64 and Dreamcast at meh performance. The metal housing is usually better in dissipate heating, so we can expect to overclock device for higher performance.

Get it if

  • It is cheaper than asked price
  • You really ask for a 3:2 screen for GBA
  • You need metal housing, but for a reason you can’t get the RG353M
Don’t get it if

  • You want a smaller ‘mini’ handheld for GBA: Get the RG35XX or Miyoo Mini Plus
  • You want a cheaper model that basically do the same thing: Get the RG351P
  • You want a same thing with 4:3 screen: Get the RG351MP, but I believe the RG353M is still the best option
  • You want an overall better device: Get the Anbernic RG353M