Bittboy or PocketSprite? Which is the best portable retro gaming system? Which pocket-sized retro console emulator should you buy?
I travel back and forth from Calgary to Texas for my job, and while it isn’t the longest trip, it can be quite dull without something to keep you occupied, so before the pandemic hit, I decided to get a portable retro gaming system. Or four.
Retropie is the king of single-board DIY retro gaming emulation, but what if you want an already assembled, cheap, portable device, ready to load up with ROMs and take with you when on the move?
The two pre-made retro emulation systems I narrowed down the choice to are the Bittboy and PocketSprite. I actually purchased the PocketSprite first, then realized I needed something with more capacity.
You can get the PocketSprite from their website for $69.95.
It plays 8-bit retro games – Gameboy, Gameboy Color, NES, Master System, game gear, etc – and runs GNUBoy and SMS Plus.
In theory it is capable of more, as it is based on the ESP32, and occasionally folks claim to have other things running (the firmware is open source), but best to think of it as being an emulator for Gameboy and Gameboy Color. The latest firmware supports NES, playability of those games, though depends on your eyesight versus the tiny screen!
While it essentially comes empty, games are easily added via wifi.
Did I mention it is small?! Yeah, it is literally keychain sized.
Bittboy is actually less expensive than the PocketSprite, at only $39.95 USD.
It can be purchased from Bittboy.com but tends to be cheaper (and more likely in stock) on Aliexpress. Just be careful as based off the popularity, some items are being sold as Bittboy that might not be.
From what I understand, the machine itself is a Linux device with an Allwinner processor onboard. Storage is via SD card, which is super convenient if you have a large library of games.
This more powerful setup means it plays more games – the 8-bit stuff like Gameboy, GBC, GBA – NES, but also 16-bit such as SNES, Megadrive/Genesis, and even DOS/PC, Arcade/MAME games.
There is USB for charging, with 700mAh lithium battery, and it has a headphone jack with analog tv-out (cable included).
The screen is a much more comfortable size, with excellent color and definition, plus there are 4 game buttons rather than the PocketSprite’s two.
Everything feels quality to me, which is crazy given the low price point. Seriously, I bought a Gameboy-style case for the Pi Zero (review forthcoming) that makes something similar and the combination costs more than this entire finished device retails for.
Previous versions came with a bunch more games pre-loaded, but I like this new version better. It looks and feels great.
Unlike a few of the reviewers out there, I don’t have a connection with the developers so I had to buy my own, and I have been hovering watching improvements. I am glad I waited, but I am sure there will be even more improvements coming.
Having the ability to swap out games yourself and saved game states is excellent, and those were the features that made me get my credit card out.
So … Which portable retro gaming emulator to buy?
Unless you are particularly drawn to the cuteness and form-factor of the PocketSprite, go with the Bittboy.
It’s cheaper, more capable, has a better screen, great battery life, and it is still highly portable.
Is it better than a Raspberry Pi based device? Make sure you check back for my next review where I will show off my RetroPie portables!