Starving for some retro gaming action? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. If you’re looking for a gaming machine that can run your favorite titles from yesteryears, AliExpress has more than a handful of them and at very affordable prices too.
If this is your first-time shopping on AliExpress for retro handheld consoles, this guide is for you. In it, I outline the best Chinese handheld consoles on AliExpress to make finding the perfect retro handheld console nothing short of a breeze.
How we made this pick – what makes a great Retro handheld console?
The processor in any handheld gaming console determines the type and class of retro games it’ll run. Obviously, better processors allow for a bigger game library – on top-spec retro handhelds with high-end processors, you can run everything from NES to PS1 and even Nintendo 64 Titles.
Some mid-spec retro handheld can run the full spectrum of games as well, but they’ll typically struggle with Nintendo 64 titles.
Plan on playing all the games from your childhood? It makes sense to gun for a retro handheld with a capable processor. If you’re just craving a specific set of retro games, then spending the extra money might be overkill.
Emulator / operating system
Most retro game consoles (more so the handheld consoles on AliExpress) use an emulator to run games. This emulator ’emulates’ the original gaming environment in which your favorite games were made to function.
Emulators can be installed on either Android or Linux operating systems. Handheld game consoles come with either of both.
If you’re looking for something that’s easy to run out of the box, you’d better stick with an Android-based system. Linux-based systems allow for more customizability, ‘tweaking’ and support for a wider range of emulators, but they can get technical and fast.
Back in the day, you used CRT tube TVs, but today you now have LCDs, LED, and OLED screens with insane resolutions, color saturation, and refresh rates. The best class of screens on the market for portable game consoles are OLED screens, but they can cost a pretty penny.
LCDs and LED screens are not bad on their part, and as you’ll see, some of the AliExpress gaming handhelds we recommend spot LCD and LED screens. As long as screen resolution and refresh rate are top-spec, they too will provide an awesome game viewing experience.
Battery life is an important consideration to make when shopping for Chinese retro game consoles. You want a retro device that can last that airline or bus trip.
The good news is most Chinese handheld game consoles from reputable manufacturers have solid batteries that last more than you’d expect.
The mistake many buyers make when shopping for the best Chinese emulator handhelds is they opt for cheap knockoffs. And nothing comes together in the retro gaming console market like cheap knockoffs and abysmal battery life.
If you’re going to love the gaming experience, a retro gaming handheld must feel nice to hold and easy to control. Again, most manufacturers of retro handheld have got ergonomics all worked out, and that’s especially true for the popular names.
Alright, enough chit-chat. Let’s get into the meat of the matter – the best Chinese portable game console on AliExpress.
Best Chinese retro game console
Best overall – Anbernic RG503
At a glance
Excellent and class-leading display
Top-draw performance specifications
Value for money pick
WiFi and HDMI support for screencasting to external displays
Linux system – support for virtually all emulator systems
If we’re to talk about a handheld console that manages to be affordable, capable and downright enjoyable, it’s hard to not hand over that crown of handheld gaming perfection to RG503. For a very pocket-friendly price point, the RG503 has all it takes to take you back memory lane.
You’ll love the awesome 4.95-inch OLED display and the insanely rich colors it produces. I’ve spent time with this handheld, and it’s for sure one of the very few Chinese handheld consoles that manages to spit out quality images – none of that washed-out, dull and overly pixelated stuff you probably don’t like.
It’s powered by a beefy RK3566 processor. That’s obviously more than enough to handle the entire list of your favourite retro game title, including everything from the old NES game, to PSP, PS1 titles and even N64 games.
But this handheld is not just running them; it’s running them flawlessly, so no lags or stutters when you’re playing even the most demanding titles of yesterday.
Ergonomics is absolutely top-notch. The RG503 feels comfy in hand and is light enough to not wear you down even when you game for extended periods. It has two analog sticks (so support for games requiring two sticks is guaranteed), and its buttons are very well laid out.
The build is durable enough, and as far as you’re not careless when using this handheld console, it should last you for a pretty long time.
1st runner up – Powkiddy RGB10 Max 2
At a glance
Excellent build quality and ergonomics
Above board performance – capable of running practically all retro gaming titles
WiFi, Bluetooth and HDMI support
Linux system with support for major emulators
Overall quality handheld console at a cheap price point
The RGB10 Max 2 is an off-brand retro handheld console available on AliExpress, and while this is not from a big game manufacturer like Anbernic, it’s still a well-built piece of hardware that measures up well against much pricier devices from popular handheld manufacturers.
Right now, you can pick one up from AliExpress for about $120. $120 gets you a properly sized 5-inch handheld powered by a more than capable Processor and ergonomics that’d make a Nintendo Switch jealous. For the price, this is an absolute steal of a handheld console.
Now performance is certainly not on par with Anbernic’s RG503, but it’s not far off either. The RGB10 Max 2 has all it takes to run even the most performance-intensive retro titles smoothly. It’ll churn through PSP, PS1 and even N64 games without breaking a sweat.
The screen is also not the OLED panel you’d find on the RG503, but its IPS display is good game to produce top-quality images. One place where the RGB10 does match the RG503 squarely is in the build quality department.
In hand, this thing looks and feels premium, and I reckon with careful handling, it’s certainly going to last more than you’d care to use it.
As the cream topping the cake of affordable perfection that this handheld is, it ships with support for WiFi, Bluetooth and an HDMI output port – everything you need to connect and play with other players on a large screen.
2nd runner up – Gamemax A380
At a glance
Best budget option
Decent enough build quality
Ships with Bluetooth connectivity for multiplayer gaming via connected gamepads
Good enough specs to run a large library of retro games
Excellent display for the price
The Gamemax A380 is a down-to-the-basics retro handheld. It’s not going to win a performance contest, neither is the build anything close to that on the top retro handhelds on AliExpress. What it is though, is a ridiculously cheap handheld that’ll run your favorite NES, SEGA, maybe PSP game titles smoothly.
Thanks to a beefy chip onboard and 512MB of RAM to back it all up; this is a sub $60 handheld with enough under the hood to take you way back retro gaming days.
Even better, you get an excellent for the price HD plus (800 x $80) IPS screen. Again, not the best out there, certainly not comparable to the OLED HD screen on the RG501, but considering you’re only paying about $60 for this, it’s a great display.
Images pop, resolution is excellent, and the only noticeable downside is that you might struggle with using it in outdoor environments.
I love the build of Gamemax A380. While it does feel very plasticky, again normal characteristic for a handheld this price, ergonomics is premium Anbernic levels. This thing feels very comfortable and lightweight in hand, and with dual sticks and deftly placed control buttons; you’ll be comfortable playing your favorite titles.
Is this the handheld console to buy if you want the best gaming experience on a Chinese retro handheld device? Certainly not. What the Gamemax A380 is, is a well-built and fairly capable handheld at an irresistible price. If you’re on a budget and want the best money can buy for cheap, it’s hard to go wrong with the A380.
3rd runner up – Anbernic RG351M
At a glance
Quality battery life
Anbernic manages to steal another spot on this list of the best Chinese retro handhelds on AliExpress with the RG351M. Unlike its older cousin, the RG503, this is a moderately specced retro handheld console made to match up to some of the cheaper handhelds we’ve covered in this guide.
To do that, it shaves off a few performance strongpoints you’d get with the RG503.
This handheld console ships with a less powerful processor. There’s a downgrade with the display as well – you get an IPS panel compared to the OLED on the RG503, and the build quality is not exactly ‘premium-like’ as you’d find on the RG503. For the dip in overall quality however, you get an almost 40% drop in price.
Is that a good deal? Well yeah, if you’re looking to buy a handheld console with a good enough build and enough power to run retro games up to PS1 levels, then the RG551M is just what the doctor ordered. Think of it as a better-made Gamemax A380.
It’ll definitely last longer because it has a better build. You’ll enjoy the gaming experience better because it has a better processor, display and battery. But it doesn’t come close to the range-topping performance characteristics of the RG503 or the Powkiddy Max 2. It’s a budget handheld gaming device intended to sit in that sweet spot between premium and ridiculously cheap.
4th runner up – Unbranded 4,3 inch retro console
At a glance
Best option for just NES games
Good build quality
Good enough display for NES games
Excellent battery life
Now, if you want a handheld gaming console strictly for NES games, there’s no need to splurge cash on an RG503 or even the Gamemax A380. For just under $40, you can get this unbranded Chinese handheld retro gaming module.
It’s not the sleekest handheld console out there, neither is it the most powerful – actually, it’s nowhere near any of the packed retro gaming handhelds you can buy on AliExpress. It’s a basic handheld console that can only handle NES games. So no PSP, PS1, Sega or N64 games.
For the NES games it can however play, this thing puts out surprisingly good pictures through its again surprisingly large 4.3-inch screen. Ergonomics is really more than you can ask for from a sub $40 retro console.
It’s nice to hold, and gaming for a few hours on this should pose no challenge. Yes, you get only one analogue stick and no HDMI output, but for the games you’ll be playing (NES only), you probably don’t need any of that.
Build quality is decent enough and doesn’t tell on the price. In fact, you can compare the build here to what you’d find on the RG551M, and this fact is not a stain on the RG551 M’s build quality; rather, it just goes to show you how much quality you’re getting at what I’d say is a drop dead pocket-friendly pricing.
All that said, if I had (and I’m advising you too) the extra $20 I’d simply hop on and get the Gamemax A380 we talked about earlier.
It’s a better device by all margins, and the $20 step up is worth it for the mere fact that you’ll be able to play PSP, PS1 and N64 titles – you might argue that you don’t need those but wait until you try the original God of War.
If you’re cash strapped, or maybe you just need a nice gift for your seven-year-old son, then this works great as well.
AliExpress is a haven for pocket-friendly handheld consoles. There are many on the platform, and if you have the money, you could even go for the price, top-of-the-line handhelds from gaming heavyweights like Nintendo.
I prefer the budget-friendly options because they cost a fraction of the money and don’t stray too far off from the pricy options in terms of performance and build quality. Hopefully, this guide contains a fairly priced handheld that fits your needs perfectly.
Frequently asked questions
Shipping times for handheld devices depend on two things: your location and the shipping method used by the seller.
Some sellers have warehouses in major European countries and the US, so if you’re located there, you might get your handheld in a few days to a week tops.
On AliExpress, sellers can ship out items using either of three shipping options:
Fast – which uses either DHL/FedEx/USPS
This is the most expensive shipping option, and usually, it takes a maximum of a week to get your handheld delivered to you.
Moderately fast – using AliExpress Standard Shipping (AESS)
This is a very cost-effective method of shipping that gets your item to your doorstep in under a month, usually, or a month and a few days in edge cases. You’ll find that this is the shipping method most sellers use, and for handheld consoles, most don’t charge for it – it’s free.
Slow – using Cainiao or other sea freight services
This is the slowest shipping method available on AliExpress, and it’s a dirt cheap or free option. It’ll take anywhere between 2 – 3 months for your handheld to arrive.
Regardless of your shipping method, you can rest easy knowing you’d eventually get your handheld. It’s either that or you get a full refund.
Right now, AliExpress is one of the safest platforms to shop online, right behind Amazon and eBay. Your payments are processed securely, and more importantly, there’s a robust buyer protection program in place to protect buyers’ interests.
If you purchase an item and it doesn’t get delivered or gets delivered faulty, you can easily file a dispute on AliExpress for a full refund of your money. I’ve filled well over 45 disputes on AliExpress since shopping there for over five years. I’ve gotten my money back every other time.