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Anbernic RG556 Review

Anbernic’s latest device is the RG556, a 5.48-inch Android-based emulation handheld with an AMOLED display powered by the Unisoc T820 processor. Is it the Anbernic upgrade we’ve been waiting for?
 
 

General Information

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Anbernic is back with another retro handheld: the RG556. This device is their most powerful Android-based device to date and it is currently on pre-sale. Let's take a closer look at what it has to offer!

Anbernic RG556 contents and specs

On the official Anbernic store, the RG556 retails for $174.99 USD, which includes a special $10 pre-sale discount lasting till March 5th. The latter date is when the device will start shipping, after which, the handheld will retail for $184.99 USD. The package comes with the following items:

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There's also the option to purchase a hard carry case for the console which sells for $14.99 USD. While I'm not particularly fond of the colour scheme and wish there were more colour options to choose from, it is a recommended add-on to protect the RG556 if you plan on carrying it around during your travel and commute.

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As for specs of the RG556, these can be found below:

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Image courtesy of Anbernic

Anbernic's most ergonomic retro handheld yet

As far as Anbernic devices go, the RG556 stands out with its radical design (considering Anbernic standards). The company has traditionally focused on compact and pocket-friendly devices with in-line shoulder buttons and symmetrical joystick layout. With the RG556, Anbernic seems to have revised this ethos. This handheld is wider and thicker with integrated hand grips, features stacked shoulder buttons with analogue triggers and an asymmetric joystick layout.

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This design approach might not be as attractive to those looking for more pocketable handhelds but the end result is that of a very ergonomic and comfortable device. At 331g, this handheld is also relatively lightweight, making it easy to carry around and use for extended periods. It sits neatly in the hands, with the fingers curling naturally around the hand grips while every face and shoulder buttons are easily accessible. The only keys that require some reach are the power and volume buttons but that does not affect the user experience per se. In fact, this might very well be Anbernic's most ergonomic landscape-oriented device so far.

Supplementing the comfortable form factor is the hardware. As usual with Anbernic devices, there's little to fault on this front. The RG556 has a proper D-pad for retro game controls with each face button delivering a satisfying feedback thanks to the membrane underneath, and the Hall effect-based analogue triggers offer a nice resistance. The joysticks being also Hall effect-based means that there is no need to worry about the notorious "stick drift".

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While the hardware is solid for the most part, there are some downsides to note. I wouldn't say that the plastic shell is the best that this company has produced. It's not exactly cheap but does feel plastic-y, especially around the hollow hand grips. The matte finish of the shell is also prone to smudges as well as dust collection, which is not aesthetically pleasing. You can simply wipe the device for a cleaner look but this is a recurring issue every time the device is used (especially for extended periods).

Another aspect of the hardware that I'm not particularly fond of is the placement of the speakers. These are located at the bottom of the hand grips, giving a somewhat unusual look. I would personally prefer front-facing speakers which would enhance the gaming experience while delivering a fuller sound.

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Gaming performance of the Anbernic RG556


Powering the Anbernic RG556 is the Unisoc T820 processor which, combined with the device's 8GB RAM and 128GB built-in storage, position the device as a mid-ranger; as the Geekbench 6 scores attest.

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This enables the Android 13-based RG556 to handle Android games well and luckily Anbernic has the Play Store preinstalled on the device to enable you to download your favourite games easily. Titles such as the Android ports of Half Life 2, Portal and Alien: Isolation work well without any issues. The OS also includes a handy mapping feature that allows you to map touch controls to physical keys. This is particularly handy for games that don't natively support controller input such as Genshin Impact and Ni no Kuni: Cross Worlds.

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It also turns out that the Unisoc T820 processor makes the RG556 a very capable emulation device. Less demanding systems perform without any issues. Dreamcast games like Crazy Taxi 2 and Dead or Alive 2 run at a steady 60 fps while Gamecube titles such as Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess play at 30fps at 2x resolution. It's worth noting that for the latter system, I've had to switch to OpenGL video backend due to some graphical glitches.

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The RG556 also handles PS2 games quite well, with some games playing well at 2x resolution such as Ratchet & Clank (50-60 fps). However, other titles struggle at 2x resolution such as Shadow of the Colossus which would stutter and run between 15-25 fps. By reverting to 1x resolution, the game would play more fluidly but would still stutter occasionally. This can be fixed by toggling mild underclocking in the performance setting. As such, most PS2 titles are playable on the RG552, but the optimal performance is subject to some settings tweak.

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More demanding systems like the Switch are more title dependent. On Yuzu at 1x resolution, Cuphead runs at around 50-60 fps, Untitled Goose Game runs at 25-30 fps and Cult of the Lamb runs at 20-30fps. There are a few stutters in each instance which could be addressed by future updates on the emulator side or by adjusting some settings. That said, it's still positively surprising to see this sub-$200 device run certain Switch games.

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On top of the quality hardware keys, the RG556's AMOLED display further enhances the experience, whether you are playing native Android games or emulating retro systems. The visuals are crisp and enhance the overall experience. The built-in 5,500mAh battery also provides generous use; and while individual mileages will vary you can expect around 5 hours of use.

Anbernic's best yet; but it's still an Anbernic device

The RG556 is without a doubt Anbernic's best overall device. It has an ergonomic design with quality physical buttons, a crisp AMOLED display and an attractive price:performance ratio.

However, as is customary with Anbernic, there are some downsides. Usually, their devices wouldn't deliver the best performance for what they target or the price would be on the higher end. These are surprisingly not the case with the RG556 as the Unisoc T820 processor is surprisingly potent and you get more than decent emulation performance for the asking price.

Where it falls short is with the shell material (especially compared to what Anbernic has delivered in the past) and I've also seen some complaints about some tint with the display, although I haven't noticed it as much.

My main criticism is with the software side. This has traditionally been the case with Anbernic devices, especially Linux-based ones, where the UI would not be totally user-friendly and would usually be addressed with community support. Moving to Android solves this issue given the options to customise the UI more easily. Anbernic has gone one step further by including a nice-looking front end which can be accessed by a dedicated button but the execution isn't optimal. It is not totally intuitive to use and requires fiddling around to properly set it up. I found it better to stick to the default Android launcher, although having dedicated buttons for the front end is nice, and I hope that Anbernic polishes this aspect of the device.

Then there's still the fact that the console does not deliver the best out-of-the-box performance for each system. For more demanding systems, you'll have to fiddle with some settings and it would have been more welcome if these were tuned from the get go.

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All things considered though, the Anbernic RG556 is a value for money device and is worth considering if you're looking to upgrade your retro handheld; especially if it's an Anbernic one. It is comfortable to use, packs a great display and performs well, with the ability to even emulate some Switch games. I hope that Anbernic does iron out some of the software aspects and if they do work on a hardware revision, I'd particularly like to see one with the company's iconic metallic shell.

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