The Digi RetroBoy GBA is either a clone of the K101 hardware (a clone of a clone?) or it is the same hardware. Either way, the important thing to note is that this is not a GBA emulator. It runs GBA games natively through reverse engineered hardware. It is the work of the K-Team in 2011 that attained this feat of engineering, and is what brought us the original Revo K101 and K101+ too.
The Digi RetroBoy been on my radar since last year but strangely it has never appeared on any of the usual sites. I believe that the manufacturer was very selective about who they’ve allowed to sell this thing, in order to keep the price up high. It’s been available on Amazon and eBay, and I’ve seen it on some Japanese retailer websites too. I was kindly sent one of these a couple of weeks ago, though I wasn’t asked to review it and I have no retailer or other beneficiary to promote in this post – just so you know!
The problem with the Digi RetroBoy GBA clone though is the price. At just shy of £100 it’s never going to be one of those impulse purchases. It simply costs too much, especially considering it’s offering similar if not identical hardware to the Revo K101.
So through its limited availability and high price The Digi RetroBoy manages to conjure an air of mystery and intrigue. But for me the draw isn’t quite strong enough to warrant the hefty cost. But maybe, if this thing ends up being a perfect GBA handheld, is the £95 price tag worth it?
Let’s have a look at it then.
The console comes in a small, classy looking grey box whose footprint isn’t much bigger than the device itself. Inside you’ll find the usual set of stuff: an instruction booklet, charging cable and video cable.
At first glance the console looks quite beautiful. It’s a shell I’ve not seen used anywhere else and it is rather smart. It’s not until you examine it closely and test the controls that the illusion is broken.
The first thing to notice is that the shell has a design error. The top and bottom halves of the shell sit nicely flush, but the sides do not. On each side there is a 1-2mm overhang where the shell doesn’t line up properly. This doesn’t look like irregular molding because the edges are clean and straight, it looks like a mistake made in the design phase of the shell. It’s not a huge deal, but you can kind of feel it when playing.
You can also see that they skimped on some other areas of the shell. There are 3 LEDs along the bottom right side for power, charging and turbo. They should have had light pipes for each LED. Instead the case is moulded with thinner plastic over the LEDs to allow the light to shine through and it looks cheap. The shell would also have benefited from some detail around the speaker grill, and the screen printing is quite low quality too.
I do like the design of the slightly raised LCD, and the protective plastic lens covering it is good to see (especially since the Revo K101 did not have one). Overall the design is reminiscent of a Game & Watch, with the shoulder buttons of a GBA Micro.
The controls let the The Digi RetroBoy GBA clone down. The d-pad barely protrudes 1mm from the shell and requires almost no force to push down. It’s really not very good and it’s disappointing that they mass produced it like this. It works OK, but it feels horrible. The face buttons are setup similarly but at least give out a soft, silent click when pushed. The shoulder buttons feel good and they are positioned well. They do require pressure to be applied away from the corners to function reliably, but that’s OK.
The LCD is passable. Not as good as a genuine 240×160 LCD, and not as good as a 4:1 960×640 LCD would be either. But it uses a non-standard pixel arrangement similar to the RS-97, which also seems to be quite high resolution. The combination of these 2 aspects helps to soften the scaling issues that GBA usually has on non-native resolution screens. The viewing angles are OK from left and right, but from above the screen goes dark and from the bottom it washes out.
A Micro SD card is not provided so you will need your own. Just drop your GBA ROMs on to it and insert it into the cartridge. The system also plays retail GBA cartridges.
Everything points to this being the exact same hardware as the Revo K101, albeit rejigged into a different shaped board. The software looks identical, albeit with a blue and orange colour scheme. The button shortcuts for screen ratio, save states etc are all exactly the same. The additional software such as the music player appear to be the same too.
Others have said that this runs a firmware akin to the first Revo K101 version, even with the save game bugs – and I can confirm that the save game bugs for some games are also present here. There is a link to download the firmware on the DigiRetro website, however the link does not work.
The console contains a functioning link port, and it links successfully to the Revo K101 with a link cable (not supplied). Compatibility is better than any emulator for GBA, with most games playing perfectly. I did notice the same infrequent lag in Legend of Zelda that the K101 also suffered from, but it in no way spoils the game. The save issues in some games are also a big pain.
Overall the DigiRetro Boy GBA clone is a solid attempt at a reshelling of the K101. However, it’s a shame that they cheaped out in some areas. With better molding, light pipes, d-pad and a fixed native save function this would be much better. For £95 it’s hard to recommend, for £40 it would be an easier sell. Never the less, it is still available at Amazon UK and AliExpress.