Can an Android phone be the perfect emulation handheld?

fon1.jpg

In my time writing for the site, I’ve seen a huge number of handheld devices with a stark focus on emulation. You have companies like Anbernic and Retroid standing at the forefront with devices tailor made for retro gaming, with others like RetroFlag giving you stylish shells to breathe new life into a Raspberry Pi you might have lying around. I love having a device that just has its single purpose and does it well, and I rated Anbernic’s RG351MP well for it when I got the chance to cover it last year, but these devices have their limits. Typically capping out at SNES or N64, they’re largely designed for your oldies, leaving those wanting more a bit stuck. Do you throw £200 towards AYN’s Odin? Do you go beyond that and spend £350 on a Steam Deck? Or do you just look in your pocket and use what’s there?

To give you a little background, I’m actually reviewing a phone right now, this being Xiaomi’s new 12T Pro. I was having a fairly good time using it, but after around a week of use, a question popped into my head: what am I going to do with this when I’ve finished my review? The obvious answer would be to use it; it’s new and it’s pretty powerful after all. Having just bought an iPhone earlier this year though, this is something I’d consider incredibly wasteful, so what’s left? Having dabbled in Android emulation but never really going all in and committing a device to it, I figured I’d take the plunge and see just how close I could get to a full gaming handheld experience using what I had.

Getting started is really quite easy. Android is familiar and most of the best emulators are available straight from the Play Store. As a starting point, I downloaded My OldBoy (GBC), MyBoy (GBA), DraStic (NDS), PPSSPP (PSP), M64Plus FZ (N64), and AetherSX2 (PS2). I also went out of my way to download Citra MMJ (3DS) and Dolphin MMJR (GameCube/Wii) from their respective GitHub repos, having positive experiences with those in the past over the versions available on the Play Store. It’s worth noting here that RetroArch is available on Android and a pretty good option if you prefer to have everything in one place. It’s generally not what I look for, but an option all the same. The majority of emulators work fine out of the box, with just AetherSX2 requiring a PS2 bios be dropped in.



Switch emulation is also fairly feasible on Android using EggNS, though the shady DRM and software leaves a lot to be desired. I did manage to install the latest build of Skyline, an open source Switch emulator for Android. While it's not there yet, I'm excited to see what it'll develop into.



Having a SnapDragon 8+ Gen 1 under the hood, the performance from emulation was absolutely stellar. It should go without saying that your oldies run great, but what I really wasn’t expecting was to see 3DS games running at 4x native resolution and at 2x speed. The 2x speed part might seem an odd thing to mention, but having started playing Ocarina of Time 3D randomisers at 2x speed a few months ago, I’ve found it really hard to adjust to how slow the game feels without it. Having that option on a handheld with some really impressive graphics blew me away. But it didn’t stop there, with not only Wii games coming out similarly great, but also PS2. Handheld Shadow of the Colossus, and at 2x internal resolution. I find myself continually baffled by just how far portable technology has come and what it’s now capable of. It’s not all great, and I do want to make that clear. While games do play well in terms of performance, you can generally expect to see significant black bars on either side of the screen when playing anything remotely retro.

GARAXY.jpg fon2.jpg

This naturally comes down to how phones have been evolving in recent years, with long being the new thin. Coming in at a stellar 20:9 aspect ratio, 4:3 (or 12:9 for an easier comparison) games take up just more than half of the screen. Game Boy and Game Boy Color games are even worse than this thanks to their odd 10:9 aspect ratio that leaves just as much of the screen idle as it does active. This is one area where your experience will vary quite significantly from phone to phone, with me previously having a lot of fun with the Surface Duo’s two 4:3 screens. With 16:9 games the black bars aren’t too much of a problem though, and the additional screen real estate does come in handy for dual-screened systems, so it isn’t all bad.

The games themselves play great, and that’s great, but to stop at just setting up emulators and calling it a day would be to overlook a lot of the frustrations that come with using a phone. What has previously held me back from doing something like this has been the Android UI, and its general lack of support for landscape layouts. To get an experience comparable to a gaming handheld, I’d need something better, and something optimised for controller inputs, since that’s what I’d likely end up using. The answer to this dream just so happened to be an app I’d never heard of: Console Launcher.

Now there are a lot of options when it comes to picking a launcher, with a good chunk of them offering a highly customisable experience to get things working exactly as you’d like. When dabbling in this dark art of Android gaming in the past, I’d given Pegasus a go, but ultimately found it a bit too daunting for my youthful expression. Console Launcher did everything I needed it to. It’s ultimately a Nintendo Switch-like experience, with a home screen containing your favourite apps arranged in a horizontal row, and the rest of your apps available elsewhere. Unlike the Switch though, you get customisation options in terms of app icons and background, as well as a pleasant albeit generic-sounding background audio loop. This did everything I needed it to and frankly just looked great.



Screenshot_2022-11-12-01-41-11-545_com.k2.consolelauncher.jpg

There are plenty of launchers out there for fans of RetroArch, but for people like me who just prefer to use Android apps, Console Launcher is something I really do recommend.


There was one final hurdle for me to overcome, and it’s one I think I walked around more than actually getting over. The Android lock screen. While I was able to set a default launcher to appear when the device was unlocked, the lock screen itself was completely stuck being portrait with all the usual phoney bits. Sure you only have to swipe it away, or in the case of this phone, look at it the right way, but it takes away from the seamlessness I was striving for. As a bare minimum, I wanted a lock screen that was landscape like the rest of the experience. I still don’t know if this is possible, but what I did find was a way to disable the lock screen entirely. It’s worth mentioning that if you want to be emulating on your daily driver phone, this is hugely not recommended, since you’re waving pretty much all the security available to you, and letting anybody just pick it up and do what they want. For me this isn’t an issue, but it is worth keeping in mind and being mindful of the things you sign into on the device should you get rid of the lock screen like I did.

With the lock screen now gone and my home screen beautified, I was feeling pretty great. What I have here is an incredibly powerful gaming handheld that isn’t necessarily restricted to emulation. Being subscribed to both services, I figured it’d be a great device to load with GamePass and GeForce Now. I also grabbed the controller-friendly Android games I’d accumulated (Disgaea 1 Complete+, Stardew Valley, Dead Cells and Minecraft to name a few), and on a device like this performed just as well as you’d expect them to.

What really surprised me as the standout feature of using a modern phone as a gaming handheld was just how quickly it could be charged up and ready to go. 17 minutes. From 0 to 100, it takes 17 minutes. Your mileage will vary from phone to phone of course, and the 17 minute figure is from what I would probably call an excessive 120W charging capability. For comparison, it’s only an extra ten or so minutes of charge time for a phone that charges at 65W, but a 30 minute charge is still just as mind-blowing to me having grown up with the GBA SP and living by plug sockets.



badgrippy.jpg sadgrippy.jpg
GameSir's X2 controller just wasn't a great fit here — check your camera bump!


Getting the most out of an Android device isn’t entirely free. Looking past the few premium apps I listed earlier in the post, the biggest investment outside of the device itself will undoubtedly be the controller you decide to use with it. This is something you have a huge number of options for, with the cheapest likely being a clip to mount your phone to an Xbox controller you might already own, and the most expensive being some of the more feature-packed mobile-oriented controllers. Having reviewed PowerA’s MOGA XP7-X Plus earlier this year, I had on hand what I would consider to be one of the best controllers for the job. I have used a few others in the past, with the Razer Kishi 2 falling a bit short of expectation in terms of it being bulky and not all that comfortable to hold, and GameSir’s X2 being fantastic but not fitting the 12T Pro because of its camera bump. The XP7-X Plus ended up being a good pick here. It’s quite bulky, but its bulk serves a purpose in making it just feel like an actual Xbox controller, with the phone fitting in the middle. I won’t go into too much detail here since I did review it, but one thing worth noting is its battery. One of its major selling points comes in its wireless charging capabilities and the the internal 2000mAh battery to support it. Due to the 12T Pro not supporting wireless charging, I was just left with a Bluetooth controller that never seemed to run out of charge. It’s magical, and when paired with the 12T Pro’s sub-20 minute charging time, there’s next to no down time in longer gaming sessions outside of a (perhaps healthy) break when the phone battery is low.



Note that on further testing, I entirely lied in the video regarding rumble. It was indeed coming from the phone, but my confusion should demonstrate how reasonably alright it was.

I really do love using the 12T Pro as an emulation titan, but I’m not about to tell you to go out and spend £700 to do the same, plus however much you’d want to pay for a mobile controller (around £80 for the MOGA XP7-X Plus I used). It’s just not realistic. What I have here is probably one of the strongest and most portable emulation setups out there, but going as far as I did really isn’t necessary if you’re just wanting to get the most out of your daily driver. My time with the 12T Pro thus far has really opened my eyes to how great a companion a mobile controller can be, and if you’re an Android user I really do recommend picking one up. If you happen to have last generation’s phone lying around in a drawer, I’d encourage you to scoop it up and see what it’s capable of.

Do you use your phone for emulation, or are you devout to another device? Let me know what you think.
 

mituzora

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Aug 23, 2016
Messages
319
Trophies
0
Age
32
XP
1,072
Country
United States
Have you looked at Windows 10 and 11?

Because it has been ages since Microsoft has taken control from Windows users.
If by this statement you mean that Microsoft controls users on Windows 10/11, you are sorely mistaken. At least you don't have to worry about your operating system preventing you from using certain applications simply because you have Administrative privileges. You also don't have to worry about circumventing their security in order to gain administrative privileges. At least Microsoft doesn't dictate every little thing I do on my computer. They also don't force you to circumvent their security in order to modify your system, and they don't have a bootloader that refuses to boot if you do so. I think it's frustrating that they try to force you to use a Microsoft account with 10 and 11, but there's ways to circumvent that, and yes I know you can choose not to sign into a google account on devices, but at least when you're using a local accout on Windows, at least it doesn't neuter the experience to 10% of the device

If you mean that Windows 10/11 still gives users access to their hardware, then I agree with that sentiment.

Don't get me wrong. Android is a good platform for emulation, but x86 based OSes and hardware still give me better control than Android ever will. And yes, I'm aware of putting a custom ROM on your phone, but for some devices, that's impossible, and when it comes to modifying your system, if you rely on anything that requires safetynet attestation, then you're somewhat SOL. I have NEVER had a windows or linux machine refuse to open up a program simply because I have admin priveleges, or outright fail to boot.

If android works for you then great, but it's not for me, and if I have a mobile x86 platform that can play emulation to a reasonable amount, I will prefer that over an Android device.
 

Osakasan

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Sep 19, 2015
Messages
1,236
Trophies
1
Age
39
XP
3,142
Country
To those talking about the Steam Deck or PC, you guys are missing the point, wich is portability.

Sure, you can take a laptop or a Steam Deck with you, you need a whole backpack with you for that. In my case, taking my 3DS or my Razer Kishi with you has only taken an extra pocket on my jacket, or in heat season, a small bag where i also carry a water bottle and a pocket book.

While power is a factor to take in account, battery and portability are way more relevant factors. There's a reason why the Game Boy and DS lines trounced the competition so consistently.
Have you looked at Windows 10 and 11?

Because it has been ages since Microsoft has taken control from Windows users.
I get the feeling that you have been reading too many catastrophist posts from Linux users
 
Last edited by Osakasan,

urbanman2004

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Jan 10, 2013
Messages
912
Trophies
1
XP
1,614
Country
United States
The only way I'll ever use a (Android) phone as a dedicated emulation device is it has to have the following:

No less than a Snapdragon 845 CPU
No less than a 6-in screen
Rootable (w/ unlockable bootloader)
Post automatically merged:

You can run Dreamcast, Gamecube and Wii games on Android at decent speeds and with quite good emulation but for Gamecube and Wii you need at least 8 GB of ram on the phone.

A hacked Vita can barely run Dreamcast games.

A hacked Switch can run Dreamcast games quite well but due to only having 4 GB of Ram Gamecube is barely pasable.
Nah, I can attest that at least 6GB of RAM will allow for satisfactory GameCube/Wii/Dreamcast emulation.
 

mituzora

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Aug 23, 2016
Messages
319
Trophies
0
Age
32
XP
1,072
Country
United States
To those talking about the Steam Deck or PC, you guys are missing the point, wich is portability.

Sure, you can take a laptop or a Steam Deck with you, you need a whole backpack with you for that. In my case, taking my 3DS or my Razer Kishi with you has only taken an extra pocket on my jacket, or in heat season, a small bag where i also carry a water bottle and a pocket book.

While power is a factor to take in account, battery and portability are way more relevant factors. There's a reason why the Game Boy and DS lines trounced the competition so consistently.

I get the feeling that you have been reading too many catastrophist posts from Linux users
I totally understand the portability point.

I'm not saying that there's not a good argument there, but there are x86 options that have decent battery life and are portable. More than anything though, I don't really care the CPU; I can gladly use an ARM-based device so long as I have control over the hardware.
In this thread, I'm not talking about a big beefy gaming computer by any means. I'm not even arguing about the power portion of it, I'm largely arguing that Android devices largely don't give the end-user enough control over their device for me. If I can get a portable device that runs ARM and has a largely open platform like GNU/Linux or even Windows on ARM, I would be happy for that. and I can't stress this enough, Android as an emulation platform is not for me. If people like using Android for that purpose, that's perfectly fine, and I'm not saying anybody is bad for doing that. it's just not for me.
 

JaapDaniels

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Apr 22, 2012
Messages
1,192
Trophies
1
Age
40
Website
github.com
XP
2,430
Country
Netherlands
  • Can it perfecly run emulated (old) consoles? probably.
  • Can it look cool? yes.
  • Can it replace all my good memories? no fucking way for a hendheld does not feel like a console.
  • Can it be easy? yes
  • is there even a definition of perfect emulation? no, perfect emulation depends on your point of view:
    • Perfect in pixel perfect (no scaling)
    • Perfect in lag (excactly the same responsiveness in control)
    • Perfect in sound
    • Perfect in screen
    • Perfect in ram limits
    • Perfect in CPU cycles per second
    • Perfect in CPU structure
    • Perfect in looks
    • Perfect in feeling when touched.
So in the end: no fucking way there ever was, is and gonna be a perfect emulation console/handheld in general...
There can be perfect single system emulation though.
 

Shape

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Feb 17, 2020
Messages
109
Trophies
0
Location
Midwest, USA
Website
codenametiger.com
XP
1,073
Country
United States
  • is there even a definition of perfect emulation? no, perfect emulation depends on your point of view:
    • ...
So in the end: no fucking way there ever was, is and gonna be a perfect emulation console/handheld in general...
There can be perfect single system emulation though.
This is not true. See my earlier post-- potatoes!
 

gumbyx84

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Apr 23, 2010
Messages
580
Trophies
1
XP
780
Country
United States
To those talking about the Steam Deck or PC, you guys are missing the point, wich is portability.

Sure, you can take a laptop or a Steam Deck with you, you need a whole backpack with you for that. In my case, taking my 3DS or my Razer Kishi with you has only taken an extra pocket on my jacket, or in heat season, a small bag where i also carry a water bottle and a pocket book.

While power is a factor to take in account, battery and portability are way more relevant factors. There's a reason why the Game Boy and DS lines trounced the competition so consistently.
This. 100% this. I want a portable device with good to great battery life.
 

CaliousKai

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Oct 19, 2022
Messages
127
Trophies
0
XP
248
Country
United States
My response to this is an outright hell no!
A phone is a communications device not a console thats what the vita and 3ds are for.
 

JaapDaniels

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Apr 22, 2012
Messages
1,192
Trophies
1
Age
40
Website
github.com
XP
2,430
Country
Netherlands
If it can run doom, then it's the perfect emulation machine. Case in point:

View attachment 337078

Can't beat perfection.
Everyf*kin' thing can emulate/run doom.
My printer runs doom, my coffee machine can run doom, my clock can run doom...
If it can run pac-man it can run doom, for It's basically the same game.
 

mituzora

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Aug 23, 2016
Messages
319
Trophies
0
Age
32
XP
1,072
Country
United States
Why? They are basically computers with a touchscreen interface. Did Android hurt you in some way?

Also good luck playing Dreamcast or Gamecube on a Vita.
Some people just want to keep their phones just that: A phone. I personally don't use my phone to play games all that often. Also, not everyone cares about emulating Dreamcast or Gamecube, so if a Vita works fine for them, than more power to them.
 

godreborn

Welcome to the Machine
Member
Joined
Oct 10, 2009
Messages
38,471
Trophies
3
XP
29,138
Country
United States
the problem imo about using an android device is that it sometimes only works with a specific android version or certain chipsets of the phone, or just certain phones. android source code have something called gradle build, which contains the minimum android version that the app will run on. sometimes you have to use a local properties file to force it, which I did with sm64. I didn't have to do that with sonic mania, but you do need to use symlinks for that one, which isn't too bad really. I had already used symlinks before with python.
 

gumbyx84

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Apr 23, 2010
Messages
580
Trophies
1
XP
780
Country
United States
Some people just want to keep their phones just that: A phone. I personally don't use my phone to play games all that often. Also, not everyone cares about emulating Dreamcast or Gamecube, so if a Vita works fine for them, than more power to them.
That fine. But why lash out at those who do?
 

mituzora

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Aug 23, 2016
Messages
319
Trophies
0
Age
32
XP
1,072
Country
United States
That fine. But why lash out at those who do?
That comment you were replying to didn't seem to be lashing out at anyone, they were simply saying "hell no" to their use case, though I could be wrong.
I'm not lashing out personally either, I posted earlier in this thread that essentially, I don't like Android for emulation, but more power to those who want to use it.

edit: It sounds like your reply is lashing out to them saying they don't want to use their phone as an emulation device (hence the "did android hurt you somehow" comment.
 

raxadian

Well-Known Member
Member
Joined
Nov 10, 2018
Messages
4,353
Trophies
1
Age
41
XP
4,537
Country
Argentina
Why? They are basically computers with a touchscreen interface. Did Android hurt you in some way?

Also good luck playing Dreamcast or Gamecube on a Vita.

You actually can play a few Dreamcast games on a Vita using a custom version of Flycast.
 

godreborn

Welcome to the Machine
Member
Joined
Oct 10, 2009
Messages
38,471
Trophies
3
XP
29,138
Country
United States
you can use a bluetooth controller for many games including sonic mania and sm64. dualsense should work, but there are some problems with either android 12 or samsung phones (at least with sm64). I encountered no issue with the ds4 on my phone.
 

Site & Scene News

Popular threads in this forum

General chit-chat
Help Users
    K3Nv2 @ K3Nv2: I call the one with big tiddies