R35S Review: a shameless clone of the PowKiddy RGB20S

AliExpress is a place of many untitled retro handheld emulators that appear to be OEM products of brands like Anbernic or PowKiddy. The R35S is such an obscure handheld like that, which you can easily tell it as a shameless clone of the PowKiddy RGB20S. Being the cheapest handheld that offers the RockChip RK3326 processor, I think we need a proper R35S review to decide whether it should be your first retro handheld or not.

R35S ranks C in my retro handheld emulator ranking list


The cheapest RK3326 retro handheld

With the PowKiddy RGB20S set up a good example for low-end vertical retro handhelds, we can expect to see even cheaper products out there. One of them is the R35S.

Is R35S capable of enough to eat a larger chunk of the pie and can it carve a space of its own? We find out.

R35S Review: Price

Key features

  • Commonly found at: $55
  • Costs 0.82 times the RG35XX

At that cost and specifications, I’m really looking forward the R35S to be the next baseline for retro handheld emulators, instead of the Anbernic RG35XX. It offers a little more power for those who want to tinker with more difficult systems, at a cheaper price. Too good to be true, right?

R35S has got its fair share of hits and misses but at the end of the day, its competitive pricing makes it a big challenge to the other handhelds in this segment. We are looking at the realm of low-end portrait handheld emulators, often with no analog stick as it only supports everything up to PlayStation 1 (which doesn’t require dual sticks). The RockChip RK3326 process and 1 GB of RAM is enough to put the R35S to the top of its own segment.

In a short span of only 2 months, the unknown manufacturer has released the R36S to be a better design (at least in my opinion) of the today R35S. I call the R35S a shameless clone of the PowKiddy RGB20S, but the newer R36S does fix a major design problem of both the R35S and PowKiddy RGB20S, so you should check it out.

Sadly, you can only get the R35S from AliExpress, so don’t hope for it to show up at your door the next day. With a lacking of support in retro handheld world, I don’t mind buying an unknown product. The lack of support from community can make things harder for the R35S, but hey, it’s not stella in the case of Anbernic and PowKiddy.

It would be marvelous if the current specifications of the R35S is universal in this price range.

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R35S Review: Design and Build Quality

Dimensions80 mm x 120 mm x 35 mm
Weight180 grams
Screen3.5 inch IPS, 640 x 480, 228.57 PPI, 4:3 aspect ratio
ColorsBlue, Orange, White, Transparent Black
Speaker placementFront facing
StorageExternal microSD
Audio output3.5mm headphone jack
Video outputβœ—
Charge portUSB-C
Key features

  • Very similar to the PowKiddy RGB20S
  • Build quality is considered to be the same
  • Center speaker placement resembles the GBA SP
  • Very bad button placement, as well as loud and cheap-feeling shoulder buttons

As handheld manufacturers realized that they could double down on the design of the front panel of a retro handheld to stand out from the crowd, they began unleashing their creativity and we all have been subjected to numerous different looking handhelds in this segment. The R35S isn’t the only option for copying the PowKiddy RGB20S, I have found the Ampown XU10 that is more or less another reshelled model. Perhaps there will be more in the near future, all using the same RockChip RK3326 chipset.

It is very similar to the PowKiddy RGB20S, and you can blame PowKiddy for not adding its brand name on the RGB20S. As a result, unless you have two units side-by-side, at quick glance you will mistake one from another. It only swaps the speaker location with the function buttons. For many people, including myself, it is too small to notice.

I used the Transparent Black variant of the R35S, which is not really a good example of transparent unit, as I don’t see much behind the skin. It is cheap enough that I don’t feel it any different from a solid version.

As a shameless copy of the PowKiddy RGB20S, the R35S retains most of the button layouts, with only minor differences like the speaker location or its lacking of a Wi-Fi switcher. As the Wi-Fi switcher is not working on the PowKiddy handheld, I don’t really think it would be a miss on a cheaper handheld like the R35S.

Other aspects of design are really similar to the PowKiddy device that I don’t feel like repeating myself again. What I really complain about is that the R35S’ button placement is so weird that it forces me to use the analog stick instead. As a result, I need to remap the buttons because everything up to SNES and PSX don’t use analog sticks. Also, I prefer D-Pad for these retro games, and holding the R35S and using D-Pad buttons are terrible.

But at that price point, if you can adapt to the button placement, you can enjoy the R35S as much as other handhelds at this price point. Featuring a 3.5-inch IPS screen with 4:3 aspect ratio, the R35S is as good as the RG35XX, Miyoo Mini Plus or even the Anbernic RG351MP at cheaper price.

The bezels, especially the head and sides are a thinner than what’s being offered by the PowKiddy RGB20S, making a near-infinity screen that I like, just like the Miyoo Mini Plus. In regular use, the display is good enough to play retro games. It produces rich colors, has decent viewing angles being a cheap IPS screen. It plays everything in 480p resolution, which is the golden standard of retro video games.

The speaker location of the R35S reminds me of the Game Boy Advance SP, which I still love and use exclusively for everything GBA. For its asking price, the mono speaker is enough to enjoy.

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

R35S Review: Gaming Experience

CPURockChip RK3326 (Cortex-A35), 4 cores 4 threads @ 1.5 GHz
GPUMali-G31 MP2 @ 650 MHz
Memory1 GB DDR3
Battery3500 mAh
Cooling systemVentilation
Key features

  • Targeted system emulator: GBA, SNES, PS1
  • Can play some PSP games well
  • Not recommend for NDS
  • Targeted game genres: anything but action games

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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

Powering the R35S is the RockChip RK3326 chipset, which is being the staple choice for low-end retro handheld market. It is a quad-core CPU consisting of four powerful clusters of Cortex-A35 clocked at 1.3 GHz. For graphics, RockChip RK3326 has the Mali-G31 MP2 GPU rendered, though I don’t think we need GPU for anything N64 and below. The PlayStation Portable emulator does require GPU, and the R35S is decent at playing some PSP titles.

We discussed a lot about a RK3326 handheld in the past, and you shouldn’t expect the miracle that the R35S will be different. It can play many N64, Dreamcast and PSP games at so-so performance, and you really should read the RG351’s N64 compatibility list and RG351’s PSP compatibility list for what you need to try with the R35S (it is quite similar to the RG351 hardware-wise).

Many people will consider the handheld to be a cheap PSP emulator, which is okay for the huge PSP library. It is the system that I feel more confident emulating with the R35S, while the N64 and Dreamcast struggle a lot. But honestly, playing retro games at 30 FPS isn’t that bad.

Emulate NDS system on the R35S is easy but you need to find the proper DraStic core for the system, as it isn’t included in RetroArch. You can try install AmberELEC on R35S, with some minutes of reading tutorials, or you can just install ArkOS and start playing.

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Gaming session

If you should worry about one thing, then it’s the OS system of the R35S. Because of the handheld being obscure, it’s really difficult to find a working-as-intended custom firmware like Onion of the Miyoo Mini, something that brings the simple device to the top of my recommendation for the best retro handheld emulator. Even when the R35S packs a little more power, it can’t unleash such potential without a dedicated operating system.

You can try to make AmberELEC working on the R35S, which is a great custom firmware for any handhelds using RockChip RK3326 chipset. But whatever you’re going to choose, don’t expect further updates for the R35S (unless my review is popular and more gamers will buy this product). For a lazy handheld man, the R35S is having more trouble than even the PowKiddy RGB20S.

Design of the R35S is quite similar to the PowKiddy RGB20S, which is not of my likings. It is loud when clicking shoulder buttons, but I lower the bar a lot when using a cheap retro handheld emulator. Buttons are mushy and sticky, but hey, even the buttons of the Retroid Pocket 3 Plus doesn’t satisfy me, so I can forgive the sub-$60 R35S.

Like I said earlier, the RockChip RK3326 isn’t necessary an improvement over the baseline retro handhelds like the RG35XX and Miyoo Mini Plus, because it is hit-or-miss when emulating more dedicated systems. You can tackle some games fine, struggle in a lot of games and miss many big titles, but playing Nintendo 64, Dreamcast and PlayStation Portable is almost impossible on the Miyoo or RG35XX, so why not?

Playing PSP on a 4:3 screen is not really optimal, but a cheap way to enjoy many big titles from this handheld is okay-ish for me. Actually, I prefer playing PSP on a real PlayStation Portable or PlayStation Vita, but an all-in-one handheld is still a great idea.

For NDS system, I don’t really recommend any of retro handheld emulators, due to their lacks of dual screens. However, I find many comments that told a different story, that they can’t live without save states or fast forwarding feature; and the low-resolution screens of the Nintendo DS is not up to their tastes. As a handheld collector who only use native hardware for dedicated systems, I have a different point of view.

There is no Wi-Fi switcher for the R35S, and theoretically you need a Wi-Fi dongle for it to work. However, I can’t find a solution for my TP-Link dongle to work with the R35S. I will update this review in the near future, provided that I don’t sell the R35S before that.

Battery life

The R35S seems to have a 3500 mAh battery, which shamelessly copies the PowKiddy RGB20S. It is supposed to draw out up to 8 hours of playing games. If you’re a multi-system hog like me, you’ll likely finish after 4-6 hours, which is still pretty good for a modern handheld.

You can use the normal USB-C cable for the R35S, 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
B for Gaming Experience.

My verdict

As a cheap handheld, the R35S is a collection of problems. However, its value at this price point can’t be denied, and anyone who wants to experience the large world of N64, Dreamcast and PSP at low cost should consider the R35S. The upgraded R36S is suitable for my likings, so if you agree with my opinion of the R35S’ design, you should check the latest handheld instead.

Get it if

  • You prefer this design to the R36S
  • You want a vertical handheld with analog sticks
  • You want to play some N64 and PSP at the cheapest cost possible
  • You don’t care about Wi-Fi
Don’t get it if

  • You want a ‘mini’ handheld for GBA: Get the Miyoo Mini Plus
  • You want horizontal form: Get the RG351MP, or PowKiddy RGB10 Max 2 for 16:9 screen
  • You want Wi-Fi in the same portrait form factor: Get the RG351V.
  • You want an overall better device for demanding systems: Get the RG353PS, Retroid Pocket 2+ or RG353M