Anbernic RG353M Review: actually the pocketable RG353 that we need, sadly at higher price

The Anbernic RG353M is actually the pocketable retro handheld emulator that we asked for, but with the (unnecessary) aluminum shell, we need to pay more for the same performance. However, unlike the Anbernic RG351M before it, the Anbernic RG353M gives a much better reason on why you should up the game. Let’s find out in my Anbernic RG353M review today.

Anbernic RG353M ranks B in my retro handheld emulator ranking list

Anbernic RG353M

A reused RG351MP with upgraded PCB

The Anbernic RG353M is certainly the RG351MP with an upgraded processor and more RAMs, as well as the capability to run dual boot of Android 11 and Linux systems. It is certainly the RG405M with lower specs.

Anbernic reuses the last year’s RG351MP shell for the new Anbernic RG353M, which is a good tactic to clear stock for the expensive device. Don’t fret if you think that’s all for the unit, because the Anbernic RG353M still has something up its sleeves.

Anbernic RG353M Review: Price

Key features

  • Commonly found at: $104
  • Costs 1.55 times the RG35XX

As usual, the Anbernic RG353M is a retro handheld emulator for people who don’t mind paying for the privilege. It is the tradition for making both plastic and metal shells for one handheld by Anbernic, starting with the RG350 series. I have used both the Anbernic RG351P and Anbernic RG351M in the past, which are still my most recommendations for Game Boy Advance enthusiasts.

Anyway, the Anbernic RG353M is still the Anbernic RG353P in the Anbernic RG351MP shell. That’s not the full story, obviously, but it sums up about 90% of the Anbernic RG353M. If you find the RG353P’s design too bulky for your taste, or if you prefer the premium aluminum shell, the Anbernic RG353M is your best buddy.

The Anbernic RG353M took 6 months to be announced alongside the RG353P, with the selling point being dual boot of Android and Linux. While Android system seems to be the most optimized OS for multiple emulators, Linux is still the most favorable for everyone who want quick game loading.

It’s the priciest Anbernic handheld at that time, as the starting price is $149 for a long time. Even now, the price of the Anbernic RG353M can easily afford an Anbernic RG405V that is basically a vertical RG405M. You can buy it from either AliExpress or Ebay in official Anbernic store, and I recommend getting on Ebay for a (possibly) quicker shipping time.

For the price, the Anbernic RG353M is not as good as the Retroid Pocket 2S, in my opinion, as the latter could be the best handheld for its value per price at the moment.

Related post: Best handheld gaming console.

Anbernic RG353M Review: Design and Build Quality

Anbernic RG353MFeatures
Dimensions145 mm x 70.5 mm x 15.9 mm
Weight232 grams
FormHorizontal
Screen3.5 inch IPS, 640 x 320, 228.57 PPI, 4:3 aspect ratio
ColorsPurple, Ocean Blue
Speaker placementBottom facing
StorageInternal 32 GB eMMC 5.1, Dual External MicroSD
Audio output3.5mm headphone jack
Video outputMini HDMI
Charge portUSB-C
Key features

  • The same size as the RG351MP
  • 4:3 screen is quite staple for retro gaming
  • Build quality is the same as modern smartphones
  • The most comfortable and pocketable handheld in RG353 series

With the RG353P resembles the SNES controller, I have high hope that the Anbernic RG353M is just another aluminum shell of the previous model. It seems Anbernic doesn’t want to create new things, the company only reuses what it had in stock. As a result, the Anbernic RG353M is so similar to the RG351MP, albeit a few minor differences.

It isn’t really a bad thing to recycle the old concept, especially when for me personally, I like the RG351MP. The Anbernic RG353M design is simple at its best, but that is the retro handheld emulator for everyone. It is pocketable, portable and durable. Perhaps all of these traits aren’t normally together, but the Anbernic RG353M does it quite well.

It is just a bit heavier than the original RG351P, and for many people, the extra weight is the selling point. I… don’t think I can understand why, but for me, if I must select the best handheld emulator in the RG353 series, I definitely choose the Anbernic RG353M. Its size is what I want from a handheld, and it’s the same weight as my everyday phone, so not a problem for me, either.

The top of the handheld is where you find a mini HDMI video output, which is clearly a big difference from the RG351MP. It is a very thoughtful design because of the RG35XX‘s popularity, as many people will buy a retro handheld specifically for the capability to export video on TV. It quickly becomes the staple feature for every Anbernic device till date.

On the base of the Anbernic RG353M, you’ll find a USB-C port and a headphone jack. As for the common display, it’s a popular 3.5-inch, IPS screen, and it is the golden aspect ratio of 4:3. The screen is somehow better with no “Anbernic” line on the black bar, which I really appreciate. It makes the screen somehow bigger than with the line, at the cost of less branding awareness. 10 points for Anbernic.

As for color choices, Anbernic limits the metallic version to either Deep Purple or Ocean Blue, with my review device, being the Blue version. The blue version is not as bold as the RG351MP if my memory serves me well, although both models are named the same as “Ocean Blue”.

Remember that the L2/R2 buttons are placed in horizontal, the same style as the New Nintendo 3DS. Because the whole 3DS family is my favorite, I am quite familiar with using shoulder buttons this way. However, most people who are using modern controllers will not enjoy such placement, and if you’re one, perhaps you should look for the Retroid Pocket 2S instead.

There is hall sensor effect in the analog sticks, which is a nice feature for people who’re afraid of drifting sticks. Once you set up a device with hall-sensor sticks, you’re good to go for a longer time.

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

Anbernic RG353M Review: Gaming Experience

Anbernic RG353MFeatures
CPURockChip RK3566 (Cortex-A55), 4 cores 4 threads @ 1.8 GHz
GPUMali-G52 2EE @ 850 MHz
Memory2 GB LPDDR4X
Battery3500 mAh
ConnectivityWi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
Cooling system
Key features

  • Targeted system emulator: SNES, PS1, N64, Dreamcast
  • PSP works great, albeit different aspect ratio
  • Targeted game genres: all game genres

Related post: Best retro handheld emulator.

Performance

Tested games

🔵
A
🔵
A
🔵
A
🔵
A
🔵
A
🔵
A
🔵
A
🟢
B
🟢
B
🟢
B
🟡
C
🟠
D
🔴
F
🔴
F
🔴
F
🔴
F
🔴
F
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

The Anbernic RG353M is designed to be the different housing of the RG353P, so I’m not surprise to see the same power here. It’s the RockChip RK3566 chipset keeps things ticking over, paired with 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. It is more than enough to hold the OS system as well as a few applications, but I recommend to quickly grab a microSD card for your games. Follow my in-depth handheld SD card guide for more information.

In terms of performance, the Anbernic RG353M is one tier below the Anbernic RG405M and every T618 device, while one tier above things like the RG351M or RG35XX Plus. It can play full library of Nintendo 64, Dreamcast and PlayStation Portable, with only a few exceptions that have frameskips. Running games on Android can help with this issue, and in my gaming sessions, I never think the device can’t handle any single N64 or PSP title.

But with a bit less power than even the older Retroid Pocket 2 Plus, the Anbernic RG353M can’t stretch to the world of GameCube and Wii. For the same price as the Anbernic RG405V that can play a lot of GameCube and Wii titles pretty well, and even push as far as PlayStation 2, the Anbernic RG353M seems to be a bad option. Pretty much every metal handheld.

Related post: Best handheld gaming PC.

Gaming session

The Anbernic RG353M and its successors run Android 11 by default, which is claimed to have better overall performance than Android 9 in early products. Perhaps the reasons lie in the drivers of Android 11, as you will find the Anbernic RG353M booting time a bit faster than the Retroid Pocket 2 Plus.

For starters, it would be quite difficult to arrange applications and emulators, which can easily be fixed with Daijisho. Android system is simple to syncing and scraping box arts for new ROMs, while takes you more time to find out a method in Linux. Android seems to have better sleep function than Linux, too, and for me this feature is really important.

Running dual boot is a gimmick made by Anbernic, because you mostly stick to only one system. But retro handheld users are mainly people who want to experience everything, rather than have specific games to play. If you prefer Linux over Android, good news is you can install either ArkOS or JELOS custom firmware on the RG353M. Do you like the UI of the EmulationStation, then go with JELOS, or pure RetroArch in ArkOS? You have too many options to select.

Like I said earlier, the Anbernic RG353M works best as a Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast emulator, and for that purpose only, perhaps the Anbernic RG353M is one of the best ways to enjoy. It has good ergonomic design to hold and grip than the RG353P for my small hands, and the screen is equal to Retroid devices. I also prefer the D-Pad buttons lower placement of the RG353M, which is similar to the Retroid Pocket 2S that I really like.

Again, Anbernic uses stiff buttons for the Anbernic RG353M, but this time the buttons are far more satisfying than the previous RG351 series.

The Anbernic RG353M supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a mini HDMI video output for exporting videos to TV. You can try Moonlight on Android, in case you want a streaming handheld for your PC. That’s good selling point for people who want a cheap streaming handheld, but I think the Retroid Pocket 3 Plus does its job better with its 16:9 screen.

Battery life

The Anbernic RG353M comes with the same 3500-mAh battery capacity from the plastic brother in the RG353 series. It is great on its own, similar to the flagship smartphones two years ago. You can expect to draw up to 6 hours for emulating not demanding systems like GB, GBC, GBA, NES or SNES. If you’re looking to try it for PlayStation Portable, however, the gameplay time will decrease to about 3-4 hours.

You can use the normal USB-C cable for the Anbernic RG353M, and it needs 3 hours to be fully charged. Don’t try fast charging for any RockChip handhelds, and the Anbernic RG353P isn’t out of this rule.

Lazy handheld man’s choice
B for Gaming Experience.

My verdict

The Anbernic RG353M is the common metal version release by Anbernic, usually 4-6 months after the release of the plastic version, which is the RG353P. While the company learns from the past to make a truly more premium product at higher price, the RG353M lacks the nostalgic design of SNES controller, and perhaps once you can reach the RG353M, you will skip to the RG405M already.

Get it if

  • You want a RG353 that is pocketable, or premium, or both
  • You find it at far cheaper price than the RG405M
  • You target anything up to N64, Dreamcast and PSP
Don’t get it if

  • You want a smaller ‘mini’ handheld: Get the Miyoo Mini or Miyoo Mini Plus
  • You want a vertical handheld: Get the RG353V
  • You want dual boot but want to spend way less: Get the RG353P
  • You want a better handheld for less price: Get the Retroid Pocket 2S
  • You want to emulate harder systems better: Look for the Anbernic RG405M