It took exactly 1 week for my Revo K101 to travel the 6000 miles to my parents house in England. That’s an average speed of 36 miles per hour, in case you wondered. I’m used to waiting 4+ weeks at this time of year, so it was with a childish grin on my face that I hurriedly set off to their house to collect my new toy.
The box art looks impressive, congrats Ghe Nation!
After playing with it for a few days I’ve decided that, unlike with an emulation machine, the focus of this review need not lean too heavily on the software side. After all, this is a hardware clone and 99% of GBA games should play perfectly on it. Those that don’t work should really only be those that contain special hardware inside the cartridges, of which I believe there to be about five. I have not played anywhere near every single GBA game available on my Revo, but those that I have played have been perfect with the exception of one (which I will cover later). If there is a particular game you’d like me to test, just ask, and if I need to play from a certain point in the game then please also supply a save file.
So let’s have a look at hardware. I’ve always felt that Nintendo never quite got the GBA right. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the software library, some might say it has some of the best games ever released for any console, but with each hardware revision there always seemed to be something that detracted from the enjoyment. The original Game Boy Advance lacked any kind of a light on the screen, a decision that seems absurd today. The GBA SP rectified that but sacrificed the nice ergonomics of the original, and whilst the Micro looked cute as a button both were pretty uncomfortable for adult-ish sized hands. The DS was better in both areas but was ultimately designed with a different era of games in mind, leaving an unnecessary 2nd screen and a choice of poor image scaling or an image that didn’t occupy the whole screen.
ROMs are run direct from the K-Card. It’s a standard GBA cartridge shape with a cut out for a Micro SD card. Getting started is as easy as dumping your ROMs onto the card and switching the device on. Nice.
The Menu System
Although it looks decidedly homemade, it functions very well. It’s divided by 3 tabs across the top for your games list, options and help. You can cycle through these with XY or the shoulder buttons. Nothing more to say here really. It’s fast and responsive, but looks kinda homebrew-ish.
D-Pad And Buttons
The d-pad is unusual in that when it’s pushed in each extreme direction, the lowest edge sits almost flush to the casing, as it has a very shallow pivot. At first it was a little odd but I got used to it quickly and now find it comfortable and accurate, if a little mushy. Most people would prefer a deeper pivot I think, but it’s in a completely different league to the 4 separate buttons found on most Yinlips and JXD handhelds. The start and select buttons are kept in the same place as the GBA v1 but are hard plastic instead of rubber. Over on the left where you’d expect to find the B and A buttons, you instead find the B, A, X and Y buttons. The XY buttons do nothing in game, and in the menu they do the same as the shoulder buttons (skip tabs across the top). It would have been better to blank off XY and make AB slightly bigger, and maybe even change the angle from 45° to 70° too if aesthetic accuracy was the aim.
Having said that, the buttons feel fine and the presence of XY is soon forgotten once you’re playing. The shoulder buttons feel wobbly, but they have a precise and soft click to them and register every time with little effort.
The resolution that’s being touted is 960×480, but I don’t think that can be correct as it would make a very wide screen. It’s certainly high resolution but I’d hazard a guess at 800×600 or thereabouts. In game the image is smoother than on the usual 320×240 LCDs found in the K1 and other emulator clones – but 240×160 would have been better. Unfortunately the price of those low res screens these days is too high due to little demand, so a compromise had to be made – and I think they went the right way with the higher resolution. The colours are rich and bright, and it’s a pleasure to stare at. I have one white pixel on my screen which is visible in the static menus, but I’ve never noticed it in a moving game – the pixel really is tiny.
Unfortunately, like on the Gemei A330, the LCD doesn’t look like it’s protected. There is a thin layer of plastic covering the front, but it wouldn’t be sufficient to prevent a bit of a knock potentially doing some serious damage to it.
Quality Of Plastics And Build
The entire handheld is finished in a very finely textured matte plastic much like that of the GBA v1, and it feels wonderful for it. There is something about matte plastics that just feel so much higher quality than the shiny stuff and it instantly looks like a more premium device. The unit feels very solid and doesn’t creak or flex when gripped. You can tell that Max Zhou put a lot of thought into the way this thing should look and feel.
Compatibility and Extras
Firstly, yes, the Revo can link up with all official Nintendo GBA variants and also to other Revo and K1 units, using a genuine or 3rd party link cable. It functions just as a real GBA would do. The Revo seems to support pretty much all GBA homebrew that I’ve tried to run on it, which is testament to the good reverse engineering job the K-Team first did on this hardware. It does however only contain the GBA hardware, so you cannot play GB and GBC games natively.
There are some emulators built in but the results are mixed, if you want to emulate those systems you’re better off with a dedicated and more powerful emulator handheld instead.
The unit comes bundled with a Composite video output cable so that you can play on the big screen. The result is blurry as you would expect from such a low resolution image, but it does the job fairly well. You charge the device from the Mini USB port and can stick your headphones into the 3.5mm socket at the bottom. The brightness button is on the top, which can perform various actions in game when used in conjunction with the face buttons. For example, you can squish the image from a 4:3 ratio to 3:2, which fixes the vertically stretched image you usually get on clones. You can also quit back to menu, write your save file to SD and various other things as the below image shows.
Unlike the K1 the unit does have an RTC, meaning all of your Pokemon games will play properly and you’ll be able to capture all those little buggers that only come out at night!
The mono speaker is located on the right hand side underneath ABXY, in a similar configuration to the GBA v1. It sounds no worse than the Nintendo speaker, but it’s nothing special. The Revo is powered by an 850mAh Li-Ion battery. It’s actually a clone of the Nokia BL-5B which is handy because replacements are easy to get hold of if you want to carry a spare, but you’ll need a screwdriver to get it out. The included battery provides about 4 to 5 hours of play time, which is not bad at all.
At the start of the review I mentioned one problematic game that I’d encountered, and that is Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2. It took me a while to realise that the game is actually running at around 95% speed. I’ve filmed a little demo below comparing the real cartridge on the real GBA to the Revo. You’ll notice that over time they fall out of sync. Perhaps this is testament to the incredible difficulty of fully reverse engineering closed hardware to 100% accuracy, or maybe it’s something that can be fixed with a firmware update in future. We’ll have to wait and see.
It’s unfortunate that I have to pick fault with what is a very impressive engineering feat, but it has to be said that the Revo is not perfect. It excels in many areas that the original does not, but it lacks in others too. It combines the best of the GBA v1 and the GBA SP by taking a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing shape and pairing it with a bright and colourful display. If only the slight compatibility quirks and other niggles were ironed out it would be, by far, the best variation of the hardware yet. As it is though, there are a few glaring errors that detract from perfection. All in all it’s an improvement in most areas, and if you’re a GBA enthusiast then for $60 (~£40) it’s a hard bargain to refuse. Despite its flaws, nine times out of ten I will reach for this over a GBA v1 or SP when I want to get my game on.
+ It’s the closest you’ll ever get to a GBA without buying a real one
+ It’s screen is bright, sharp and colourful
+ It’s comfortable to use for extended periods of time unlike the Nintendo offerings (my opinion)
+ It offers more features than the original, such as TV Output
+ Link play is faithfully supported
+ Unlike the K1 and emulators, it has real RTC
+ Far better accuracy than an emulator can achieve
+ Easy to find a spare battery
+ Built in mp3 support
= Some people might pick fault with the d-pad
= 240×160 resolution would have been better, though not really feasible in today’s world
– XY buttons are uneccessary
– No GB or GBC hardware
– It looks like the reverse engineering isn’t 100% accurate, but it could be a software bug
– The LCD should have been properly protected
If you’re interested in grabbing one of these then just head over to www.k1gbasp.com.