Evaluate the current hottest handheld computer, the GKD Mini.

After playing with so many knockoff devices last year, I had planned to take a break and enjoy playing retro games. However, the GKD Mini came out, and it seemed like an interesting device that I couldn’t resist trying. I patiently waited for it since the beginning of the year.

During that time, I also bought the vertical version 351v from Zhou Ge, but due to its size and other factors, coupled with having played too much on the 3326, I felt it lacked novelty and quickly sold it. I completely lost interest in knockoff devices. However, a few days ago, I finally had the opportunity to play with the GKD Mini, so I would like to share my thoughts on it.

As an experienced user of knockoff devices, commonly known as “leeks” (a term referring to being repeatedly scammed), I have gained some insights into knockoff devices. Therefore, this post is based on a certain level of understanding of knockoff devices. For those who are completely new to this and have never touched knockoff devices before, I recommend referring to Panda and some videos on Bilibili.

From an average player’s perspective, I think the GKD Mini has several attractive features:

  1. Eye-catching design with a good sense of aesthetics. The overall rounded shape, combined with the fully bonded 2.5D glass on the external screen, gives it a distinct feel compared to previous knockoff devices. It is also compact and portable. The build quality is relatively good, an improvement over previous devices from this manufacturer.
  2. The x1830 processor offers sufficient performance, capable of running most pre-PS era home consoles and arcade games.
  3. The system and software are simple and easy to use, requiring minimal research.

Let’s talk about the background… can be skipped.

Many people are familiar with the performance of the x1830 processor used in the GKD Mini; it is the same one used in the 350H. When it was first released in 2019, it had some advantages over devices using the 4770 processor, such as the RG350, and received positive reviews. However, it no longer holds that advantage in the current landscape, considering the many more powerful devices with the 3326 processor and Android handhelds that have been released.

Whether it’s the 3326 or Android handhelds, including the PS Vita and Nintendo Switch, the mainstream emulator platforms use RetroArch. I won’t go into details about RetroArch here, but currently, it’s a matter of love it or hate it. Some people find it incredibly useful, while others despise it, going as far as saying it’s a nightmare. Indeed, RetroArch has a learning curve because it does a very complex job. Despite the efforts of frontends like EmuELEC and Batocera to simplify the usage of RetroArch, the entry barrier remains relatively high. Many people who use the Android frontend “Tianma” with RetroArch on Android still struggle to figure out how to remove the virtual buttons.

The arrival of a multitude of 3326-based devices last year marked a turning point, distinguishing between handheld emulator players and knockoff device players. For those familiar with RetroArch, or those who have experience with Raspberry Pi or TV boxes, 3326 devices are a breeze to use, and there’s no perceived difficulty. Many players got into knockoff devices during this time. However, for those who had only dabbled in knockoff devices without any exposure to RetroArch, or who had never even heard of it, the appearance of the 3326 was disastrous because it raised the entry barrier significantly, leading many people to be discouraged. In various groups,

you often see comments like “EE garbage” or “RA garbage,” suggesting that they are not as user-friendly as previous devices.

The opinions on various 3326-based devices are quite polarized. Some say it’s the biggest improvement in knockoff devices in recent years, as it brings ARM-based Linux systems, frontends, RetroArch, and standalone emulators together, aligning with the latest trends in the retro gaming and emulation community. This means that all emulator cores can keep up with the latest advancements, without having to wait for updates from “gurus” for outdated MIPS-based emulators. On the other hand, some argue that introducing this performance-demanding framework into knockoff devices is a major failure. They believe that it becomes too complex for players who just want to enjoy games, and the overall user experience is not as smooth. Many UI designs are optimized for high-resolution screens and don’t translate well to handheld devices.

As a result, the knockoff device community has split into two categories: the MIPS chip series and the ARM chip series. Some people started exploring devices with ARM processors like the 3326, using systems like EmuELEC and Batocera, which are essentially built on top of RetroArch. Meanwhile, a significant number of users still prefer the 4770 and x1830 devices, using the OD (OpenDingux) system and standalone emulators. There have been debates within the community about whether going for an Android-based system qualifies as a “true” open-source handheld, adding to the ongoing discussions. The knockoff device community has been more active than ever in the past year, with people exiting the community while new members join, thanks to various recommended videos from content creators.

At this point, the release of the GKD Mini was quite appealing to those who still have a fondness for MIPS and the OD system. Its design also attracted players outside of the knockoff device community, gaining significant attention. Unfortunately, due to limited production capabilities, it took a long time to ship, resulting in limited availability. Even now, it hasn’t been released with readily available stock, and customers need to make reservations and join a waiting list. For a product, this can be quite fatal since the initial excitement wears off over time, and it is not a necessity. Waiting too long may lead to a decreased interest, and people might decide not to buy it anymore.

In various groups, many people who were eagerly waiting for the GKD Mini couldn’t hold on any longer. When they learned about the release of the 351v, which had a substantial stock and a reasonable price, combined with the fact that people have been tinkering with the 3326 for a year and have gained a lot of experience, they went ahead and made the purchase. They are likely to be less inclined to buy the GKD Mini now.

Finally, a few days ago, the GKD Mini went on sale, and people finally saw some hope. Queuing to purchase is more reliable than rushing to buy, and with more units available, it becomes easier to find second-hand options.

After discussing many digressions, let’s focus on the GKD Mini itself.

First, let’s summarize the pros and cons of tinkering with these devices. It’s hard to discuss just one device, so I’ll take two other devices as reference:

  1. RG350M: Produced by Zhou Ge, it features the powerful 4770 processor, a metal body, and a 3.5-inch fully laminated screen with a resolution of 640×480, which was the biggest selling point at that time. It has excellent craftsmanship and is still the most expensive model among Zhou Ge’s current lineup, even more expensive than the later-released 351M. For a long time, it represented the highest level of domestic knockoff devices. Currently, the price for a brand new one is around 500 to nearly 600 yuan, while second-hand units go for around 400 yuan.
  2. RGB10: Produced by Xiaolong Wang and licensed by the PocketGo brand, it is a clone of the original OGA (Open Gaming Android) device, which was based on the 3326 chip. The system is fully compatible with the OGA, and the RGB10 stands out as the smallest, lightest, and most cost-effective device among the 3326-based devices. It also has a good screen effect (this is a personal opinion) and decent button feel. Currently, the price is just over 300 yuan, with second-hand units available for around 200 yuan.

Summary of the advantages and disadvantages of gkdmini:

▶ Excellent design and packaging, good quality materials and workmanship, sturdy plastic shell
▶ 2.5D glass fully laminated screen, dust-free, provides excellent display for specific game models
▶ Complete L2 and R2 shoulder buttons, addressing some of the shortcomings of the 350H model
▶ Additional vertical mode buttons, convenient for playing vertical shoot ’em up games
▶ Vibration motor support, adds interesting feedback to some games
▶ Good performance, capable of running supported games smoothly
▶ User-friendly and easy-to-use system, with dedicated menu, brightness, and volume keys for simple operation
▶ Well-designed system themes, reflecting attention to detail and enhancing the overall aesthetic
▶ Well-curated collection of games included on the SD card, thanks to dedicated players
▶ Fast boot-up, game loading, and game exit speed, possibly one of the fastest among similar devices
▶ Good Chinese language support for cheat codes
▶ Low power consumption and excellent battery life when paired with a large battery

▶ Due to the form factor, the mini size sacrifices grip comfort, making it less ergonomic and causing finger fatigue. It is recommended to use the provided chin accessory for better support.
▶ The positioning of the LR shoulder buttons feels slightly lower when holding the device comfortably, making them less accessible. This may be more challenging for users with larger hands.
▶ The D-pad’s suitable hardness level, but average rebound force, affects the execution of fighting game moves. This issue may vary between batches, and it is speculated that there might be a reversed connection between the D-pad and ABXY buttons, although it cannot be adjusted without appropriate screwdrivers.
▶ The 320×240 low-resolution screen, while providing good display for specific game systems, lacks adaptability as a multi-system emulation platform. Point-to-point scaling sacrifices display area, while stretching the image to fill the screen results in blurriness or distortion. Additionally, the large pixel size may not be preferred by all users, especially those accustomed to high-resolution smartphone screens.
▶ The OD system, although easy to use, is outdated and lacks some practical features. For instance, there is no global favorites list or recently played games section, making it cumbersome to locate previously played games in a list of hundreds of titles (only the last game played is remembered). The 3326 system handles this aspect better, with favorites displayed at the top of the list and the ability to remember the 50 most recent games.
▶ Some emulators do not have unified button mappings, requiring the use of select+start combinations instead of a menu button. While not significantly impacting the overall experience, unified mappings would be preferable.
▶ Some emulators may have minor issues due to lack of updates, such as certain PCE games not being able to go fullscreen or the absence of Chinese localization in some emulator menus. These issues may be improved through software updates.
▶ The audio quality is average, even though the plastic version has been improved. When compared to devices like the 350M or RGB10, there is a noticeable difference in sound quality. It is unclear if the plastic version requires modifications as well.
▶ Brightness adjustment is done with a single button, cycling from darkest to brightest. Since the difference in brightness levels is not always apparent in the last few steps, accidentally going too dark may require additional button presses. Holding the button and using the volume buttons to adjust brightness would be a more convenient solution.
▶ The device cannot be put into standby mode, so if there’s a need to temporarily pause, it has to be shut down and powered back on (or left paused for

a short time without turning off completely, taking advantage of the good battery life). Although the boot-up and game loading times are fast, the lack of standby mode can be slightly inconvenient, considering that previous handheld devices like the “xiaolongwang” and the upgraded 350M system support standby mode (albeit as a pseudo-standby by turning off the screen and locking the buttons). 3326-based handhelds can directly enter standby mode by pressing the power button.

▶ Despite being called “mini,” the gkdmini is not particularly small in terms of size and weight. It is not as compact as the vertical “xiaolingwang” or the ultra-compact 280V handhelds. However, it is still lightweight, with the plastic version weighing only 162g. It feels comfortable to hold and doesn’t exert much pressure or slip like the metal versions.

▶ Regarding the absence of an analog joystick, personally, I don’t consider it a drawback because the gkdmini is clearly designed with a minimalist approach. None of the emulated game systems supported by the mini require an analog joystick. Therefore, removing the joystick to achieve a better aesthetic design is reasonable. However, from what I know, many people actually prefer a joystick over the D-pad, especially for arcade games, as they find it more enjoyable. It is said that the gkdmini allows users to replace the D-pad with conductive rubber or potentiometer sheets. If a new front panel and an adapter are released to directly install a switch joystick in place of the D-pad, it would further enhance the playability.

▶ Since the buttons on the gkdmini are positioned relatively low, they are not as comfortable to press. I tried remapping the buttons and used Y and X in place of B and A when playing GBA and arcade games. This improved the grip comfort significantly, as the Y and X buttons are higher and reduce fatigue. I recommend giving it a try.

▶ Several emulators on the gkdmini have added support for interpolation scaling, which provides an additional display option without introducing visible artifacts. This is an improvement over the 350H model, as it prevents missing strokes in many cases.

The gkdmini’s 320×240 screen provides excellent display quality for game systems with a similar resolution, such as MD, certain PS games, NEOGEO, and various arcade games, thanks to the point-to-point scaling. However, for game systems with significantly different resolutions that require stretching, the results may be average. If you cannot tolerate the stretched effect, the only option is to accept a reduced screen area and play with black borders in point-to-point mode.

Running Metal Slug 3 on the gkdmini, the point-to-point display provides a pixelated experience.
Running Metal Slug 3 on the rg350m with 2x integer scaling results in a mosaic effect.
Running Metal Slug 3 on the rgb10 with non-integer interpolation stretching significantly reduces the quality.
Comparing King of Fighters 2 on the rg350m and the gkdmini.
Comparing King of Fighters 2 on the rgb10 and the gkdmini.
The Super Famicom (SNES) emulator does not support interpolation scaling, causing jagged edges and uneven health bar display when stretched.
It is recommended to use point-to-point with black borders for a clear and sharp appearance, even though the aspect ratio is not 4:3.
The NES emulator has more stretching options and can display in fullscreen perfectly.

For handheld consoles, the gkdmini has a slightly higher resolution (320×240) compared to traditional handhelds, but not double. This makes it challenging to maintain a proper screen size with black borders, forcing users to choose stretching, which significantly reduces sharpness.

In terms of handheld console emulation, the 3326-based models with a 480×320 screen are considered the best. They can display GBA, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Neo Geo Pocket, and WonderSwan games perfectly with 2x scaling and a small amount of black borders. The overall effect is similar to a high-quality version of these handheld consoles.

The rg350m, with its high resolution, offers impressive display quality, especially when combined with filters. Using LCD filters while playing Game Boy games, the effect is even better than the 3326-based models.

GB Games
The rg350m offers the option to simulate the GB LCD grid with filters, which is not available in the gkdmini emulator.

Additionally, here’s an example of the ngpc (Neo Geo Pocket Color) display on the rgb10… I believe if you mainly play handheld console games like GB, GBC, GBA, WS, and NGP, devices with a 480×320 screen have a unique advantage. This also includes the 480×272 PSP, although it can only handle 2D games and some less demanding 3D games. It would be quite challenging for the 3326-based models to handle high-performance requirements.

For arcade games, the gkdmini is best suited, especially for games on boards like CPS3, PGM1, as well as games like “Ninja Baseball Batman” and “Zero Team.” The 4770 processor is generally insufficient for these games. The x1830 performs well, and with the performance mode enabled, it can run at full frame rate. Of course, the more powerful 3326-based models also handle these games without issues.

For models like the Neo Geo with resolutions close to 320×240, the gkdmini offers excellent display quality with higher contrast and better transparency.

Some arcade games have resolutions higher than 320×240, such as the CPS series with a resolution of 384×224. In these cases, if you don’t stretch the display, many scenes will show horizontal line artifacts, which looks strange. In these situations, it’s best to enable stretching, even though it reduces sharpness. The rg350m’s 640×480 screen size is larger than the actual image, so the display quality is not a problem.

Now let’s take a look at the highest model, the PS…

PS games have varied resolutions, ranging from 256×240 to 640×480. In some games, different resolutions can be found within the same game, such as “Tsukumonogatari,” where the title screen, menu, and in-game resolutions differ.

Let’s start with a more standard resolution, 320×240, using “Mega Man X4” as an example.

Both the gkdmini in point-to-point mode and the rg350m with 2x integer scaling provide good results.

Now let’s look at “Tsukumonogatari.”

In FF7, the menu width is 368 pixels, exceeding the 320-pixel width. Without stretching, the text becomes unclear. Enabling stretching resolves the font display issue, but compared to 640×480, it still appears less sharp.

In summary:

If you haven’t dabbled in these Chinese handheld consoles before and are considering getting into it, I think the gkdmini is quite suitable. It’s similar to the Xiaolongwang, but the overall experience is much better.

If you’re already familiar with Chinese handheld consoles, you can refer to this post to see if it suits your needs and preferences, and whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. It can also be a good choice for exiting the scene.

If you’re someone who values perfection in every aspect, I’m afraid it’s difficult to find a Chinese handheld console that meets all your requirements. It might be worth waiting for upcoming releases to see if there are products that truly