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 Digi RetroBoy’s been on my radar since last year but strangely it has never appeared on any of the usual sites. I can only assume that the manufacturer was very selective about who they allowed to sell this thing, in order to keep the price up high. It’s been available on Amazon and eBay under the seller GZW-Shop and also JZW-Shop, and I’ve even seen it on some more obscure Japanese retailer websites too.
The Digi RetroBoy is either a clone of the K101 hardware (a clone of a clone?) or it is the exact 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 was the work of the K-Team back in 2011-2012 that attained this feat of engineering, and is what brought us the original Revo K101 and K101+ too.
The problem with the Digi RetroBoy 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 a similar if not identical hardware setup to that of the Revo K101, which cost considerably less when it was available.
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, just maybe, if this thing ends up being the most perfect console to play GBA on, maybe in that case the £95 price tag is 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 begin to examine it closely and test the controls that the illusion is broken.
The first thing to notice is that there is a pretty bad design error made with the shell. The top and bottom halves of the shell sit nicely flush on the far edge behind the screen, but on every other side there is a 1-2mm overhang where they just don’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 that indicate power, charging and turbo and they should really have had proper light pipes for each. Instead the case was just molded with slightly thinner plastic over these 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 not as sharp as it should be either.
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 reminds me of something between a Game & Watch and a GBA Macro, and with the shoulder buttons of a GBA Micro.
The d-pad barely protrudes 2mm from the shell and requires almost no force to push down. The face buttons are setup similarly but at least give out a soft, silent click when pushed. The shoulder buttons feel fine and are positioned well, though they require pressure to be applied away from the corners to function reliably – which is 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 really helps to soften the scaling issues that GBA usually has on non-native resolution screens – but the scaling issues are still very obvious. The viewing angles are OK from left and right, but from above the screen quickly goes dark, and from the bottom it soon washes out.
To get started you will need to provide your own MicroSD card, and all it takes is to 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 to accommodate this shell. 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 and 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. I haven’t had any issues saving games on this thing, so I’m not sure about that. The DigiRetro website does have a link to download a firmware, but the link is broken.
The console contains a functioning link port, and it links successfully to the Revo K101 with an official or unofficial link cable (not supplied). Compatibility is better than any emulator for GBA, with 99% of 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.
Overall the DigiRetro Boy is a solid attempt at a reshelling of the K101, but it’s a bit of a shame that they cheaped out in some areas. With some better molding, light pipes, better d-pad and a better LCD this could have been perfect. 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 for anyone interested.
Update 16th April: Surprisingly, a couple of days after posting this review the price on Amazon dropped to £74 with free delivery.