Update 31/05/2021 – see end of post.
This year should see two devices released with a chip we’ve never seen in gaming handhelds before. The Unisoc Tiger T618 looks to be notably more powerful than the RockChip RK3326 found in the OGA and clones. Let’s take a look at two handhelds due to debut this year powered by the Unisoc T618.
The X18S is an upgraded version of the PowKiddy X18 released early last year. Aesthetically it looks like it’ll be very similar if not the same, but potentially with a white/grey shell this time. The PowKiddy X18 received mixed reviews and whilst the clamshell, controls and LCD were mostly OK, the build of Android that it came with was a mess. Not only that but some 32GB models had bricking issues due to the choice of eMMC onboard.
Of course, the X18S will be completely different hardware internally so it’s not necessarily going to suffer the same problems. It’s quite possible that it’s a different factory manufacturing the device too I suppose. But knowing PowKiddy’s temperamental track record it might be wise to wait for some early adopter reports before diving in.
The PowKiddy X18S is due to be released around March. It will apparently run on Android 10 and will cost around $150. The PowKiddy store on AliExpress is already promoting this handheld ahead of release.
The R1 is a project by one man in China. Niluanxy is the guy running the show and you might’ve read an article about his handheld on this site already. The R1 was initially due to run on the AmLogic S922X but he has had to redesign the internals due to difficulty in sourcing those chips.
The S922X has been swapped out for the T618, which seems to be roughly the same in performance. The KT R1 is due to be launched on IndieGoGo or similar pretty soon. The price will be $160-$180 depending on early bird pricing and the last we heard it will start shipping around April.
The R1 was due to run Android 9 out of the box with the possibility of flipping a hardware switch that allows it to boot from a secondary OS on a microSD card. Whether this is still the case with the internal redesign we don’t yet know.
THE UNISOC TIGER T618 SOC
To be perfectly honest Unisoc is not a manufacturer I’d ever heard of before. Minimal research (Wikipedia) reveals they’re a Chinese state owned company that until 2018 were known as Spreadtrum Communications. A series of acquisitions and mergers resulted in the creation of the Unisoc company that exists today. They’re primarily involved in manufacturing SOCs for smartphones and modems, and some of their recent flagship offerings look quite competitive.
The Tiger T618 isn’t a flagship product, having been released in 2019 as a mid-level SoC for tablets and the like. But that’s not to say it’s not a capable chip, in fact the specs are pretty impressive compared to what we’re used to.
It’s built on the big.LITTLE architecture with two 2.0Ghz A75 cores and six 1.8Ghz low power A55 cores, coupled with a Mali G52 MP2 GPU. I believe the SoC can accommodate anything from 4-8GB RAM.
There are some videos on YouTube courtesy of Sonic Love showing off the emulation capabilities of this SoC in the Teclast M40 tablet.
This is progress in a market that’s too happy to keep churning out the same machines over and over again. It’s a step in the right direction and will hopefully force other manufacturers to follow suit. Whilst Android is not everybody’s cup of tea, there’s no denying that emulator performance in Android is very good and the system as a whole is very user friendly.
Whilst I doubt I’ll be an early adopter of either of these systems, they’re definitely on my list of handhelds to keep an eye on this year.
Well, it seems that the T618 has proven too difficult to source for both PowKiddy and Niluanxy. The PowKiddy X18S is now going to be powered by the less powerful UniSoc T610, and the KT R1 has been switched to an as yet undisclosed SnapDragon processor. More info to come.