Dec 31 2017
RaspiBoy vs Android + Bluetooth controller
A while back I posted an article on how to build your own handheld retro emulation setup, using a budget Android phone and an 8BitDo controller. You have also seen my look at the RaspiBoy. I would now like to compare and contrast the two so that you can look at strengths and weaknesses of each to determine which setup would best suit your needs.

Raspiboy offers an all-in-one setup powered by a Pi Zero. It runs off the robust Emulation Station/Retro Pie software, which is tried and tested for reliability. The front end is aesthetically pleasing, more so than most front ends available on Android. That being said, RetroPie is really your only option for a decent looking front end. You are also limited to games from the 16 bit era and below due to the Pi Zero being powered by a single core 600 MHz chip. Also, I have personally found reliability issues in the hardware of the Raspiboy, having to replace both the custom 8BCraft board due to an error in the first run board not allowing the unit to charge and play at the same time, and having to replace the LCD as well due to a screw going all the way through the plastic and shorting out a transistor. However, the benefits of having an all-in-one unit that you can repair on your own cannot be ignored.

If you were to choose the Android phone/Bluetooth controller route, you have a choice of numerous front ends (RetroX, Gamesome, ARC Browser, and Nostalgia being the leading four). However, none of these front ends are as robust as Emulation Station. Both units use RetroArch as the primary emulation source, but the higher power from the phones means that you are able to emulate newer systems. PS1 is almost guarenteed to work, along with PSP, some N64, DS, and even some Dreamcast games. Also, my initial build had the Blu R1 HD paired with an NES30 Pro (with XTander clamp), which is still a great, functional setup. I have since upgraded to the Blu Life X2 Mini for a faster CPU, more RAM, and more storage, and switched controllers to the SN30 Pro (with Xtander). This setup is slightly more expensive at 150 dollars for everything, but offers an even more comfortable controller and much more storage. 64 gigs internal plus another 128 gigs in Micro SD gives you plenty of room for all the ROM based games you want, plus a decent selection of disc based titles. However, the setup is still a little clunky, with two pieces being held together by a clamping system, and the front end not being as aesthetically pleasing.

If you are looking at primarily 16 bit and below gaming, I would recommend RaspiBoy for being an all in one unit that you can configure however you wish. Those who wish to play some PS1 and newer games, or those that want the benefit of having access to some Android games plus emulators, are better off looking at the phone plus bluetooth controller solution. I would push that using the phone gives you access to some great ports of older PC games that are out there as well. Either way, both solutions make for a nice way of being able to game on the go.

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