The RetroStone is a single board computer (think Raspberry Pi), inside a shell that basically makes it look like a Game Boy. There’s no use denying it, the design is clearly styled after the original Nintendo handheld, and it’s literally one of the reasons I backed it on Kickstarter.
By itself, the RetroStone is a glorified micro-SD card holder with a screen, since you need to install software onto it for it to do literally anything else. However, it’s a well made piece of kit with firm buttons and a great design. There are four plastic buttons on the front, plus a directional pad and two rubber buttons. The rear has four more plastic buttons - and after just over a month’s use, they are looking scuffed. The top has four USB ports and an ethernet port, as well as the power switch. The left side has the charger port and micro-SD card slot, and the right side has a HDMI port, display controls and an extra button for any additional functionality you choose. Finally, the bottom has the volume wheel and audio jack.
Inside, it has an H3 1.2ghz processor, 1GB of RAM, a 3000 MAH battery and a 3.5” screen. The RetroStone dimensions are 130x90x32mm, so not the same dimensions as the Game Boy. Inside the box, you get a manual, SD-card adaptor and some additional buttons in case you don’t like the SNES-style colour scheme it comes with. Well, mine came with grey buttons because I went for the Kickstarter Edition clear blue case.
Once you’ve taken it out of the box and found a suitable charger for it, you can think about putting some software on the memory card. Of course, since it’s an H3 processor, any compatible operating system will work - but developer 8BCraft has worked with RetrOrangePi to create a specially designed version for the RetroStone. At time of writing it’s on version 4.2, and the instructions given by 8BCraft are very easy to follow. Of course, once you have RetrOrangePi on your RetroStone, you then need some games. No, I won’t tell you where to get them.
Once you’ve put your game files onto the RetroStone, the operating system is simple to navigate. You can either use the buttons on the console itself, or plug a controller into one of the USB ports. Most controllers should work, but I tried an off-brand wired 360-style controller. Personally, I prefer to play SNES, Mega Drive or Game Boy Advance titles, which don’t really warrant an extra controller. However, you can have a full four-person Micro Machines race with ease.
Of course, you won’t want to be gathered around the 3.5” screen. That’s where the HDMI port comes in. Or, rather, where it will come in when they’ve hopefully simplified the process. At the moment it’s a lot of messing around, and you need a keyboard attached to even get the RetroStone to use the HDMI port. It’s just not worth the hassle.
As for actual games, once you get the screen adjusted (I had to alter the colour and contrast) they look great. A few games had weird graphical issues that are more emulation errors than the device itself. I played my way through loads of Game Boy Advance titles - because that has the best back catalogue - and tried out a couple of games on almost all of the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles. RetroStone handles them all perfectly, and looking nice on the screen.
Obviously, if you’re going to go for N64 games, you’ll need an aforementioned USB controller - and I believe there are problems with the emulator, as the couple of games I tried weren’t great. However, PlayStation games seem to work great - and they only require the d-pad, since the console was a couple of years old before the DualShock arrived on the scene.
My one gripe with the RetroStone is that the speaker can be quite tinny when turned up loud. The build quality, battery and screen are all great (just remember to adjust it!), and it’s incredibly versatile. You don’t even have to use it to play games, as it’s a handheld Linux computer.
To that, I’d just like to add that I have one of those handheld keyboard/mouse doohickies, and it works perfectly when plugged into the RetroStone. I’ve also tried a full-sized keyboard and mouse, and both worked too. It really is versatile!
If you’re in the market for a handheld computer, then I can recommend the RetroStone. It plays games, it does Linux stuff, and I’ve just had a blast playing around with it. They’re only available from 8BCraft’s online store for €135.
RetroStone Retrogaming Handheld Review
The install-it-yourself software won't be everyone's cup of tea, but if you want an all-in-one portable emulator to play games that came out 25+ years ago, then it's a great device to do just that. Just be aware of any local laws concerning the practice.