My Experience

I’ve been using the GPD G5A for about 6 weeks. I purchased it from an eBay store in China for $89 USD with free shipping. I’m a mobile app and game developer, and I primarily purchased the device for benchmark testing android handheld consoles. I have been skeptical of the quality of these Chinese knock-offish gaming handhelds. I chose this device because of its comparatively decent reviews and its unique design, but I wasn’t expecting much.

The AC power cord that came with mine had the european-style socket. I had an adapter handy, and it can also charge through Micro-USB. Mine was running Android 4.4.4 with a custom loader setup to load classic game roms. I was expecting to want to flash custom firmware, but I’ve stuck with this loader. Other G5A’s may come with different firmware.

Background

The GPD G5A was released in early 2014. It’s a 5 inch android gaming handheld built for classic game console emulation. Around the same time GamePad Digital released a similar portable device with a larger 7 inch screen, the GPD G7. There are several android portable game consoles that have come out of China over the last couple years. Most of them look like clones of the PS Vita or Nintendo Wii U GamePad. The G5A and G7 have comparable hardware specs to the others but have a unique design with larger hand grips and joystick.

The Bad

The technical specifics are low-ish, comparable to a $150 range android phone from couple years ago. It’s got a Rockchip RK3188 System of Chip with Quad-core Cortex A9 processors, and Mali 400 GPU. It only has 1 GB of RAM, and 8 GB internal drive. Most of the 8 GB is taken by the system, leaving only a few gigs for games. That’s plenty for NES, SNES, GBA, and N64 roms, but you’re gonna need a Micro-SD to play more than 1 or 2 PSP or larger console games. The battery doesn’t last more than a few hours of gameplay.

The 5 inch screen is only 800 x 480 pixels. That’s a standard resolution for 4 inch phones from like 2010. That’s a really low pixel density for 5 inches, and modern Android games are designed for higher. However, that’s larger than any of the classic games the device is designed for. For example, PSP games render to 480 x 272 and N64 maxed at 640 x 480. It has a Micro-HDMI to plug into a tv but doesn’t upscale well to HD.

The G5A has full L2 R2 trigger buttons but they are not analog. Modern game controllers detect analog pressure on the trigger buttons. This is primarily used for modern racing games (and first-person shooters to a lesser degree). The G5A trigger buttons are just on or off. This is not a big loss because none of the classic consoles emulated had analog triggers. It actually feels like the N64 trigger. This is only a loss if you want to play one of the few android racing games designed for the analog trigger.

The DPAD is horrible. The standard directional buttons, the DPAD, is poorly designed and sticks. I found myself using the Joystick (which is great) to control dexterious platform games like Castlevania. This isn’t a problem for N64 because that’s the one classic console system that didn’t really use the DPAD. To me this is the one shortcoming that really hurts classic emulation on the G5A.

The Good

The technical specifications are high enough for classic games. The emulators for more recent consoles, like N64 and PSP, run as well as I’ve experience on more powerful Android devices. Most N64 games run great, for example GoldenEye is excellent but Perfect Dark (an Expansion Pak game) has some rendering problems. PSP games are hit and miss. All earlier consoles run great.

gpdg5a_joystick

The high point for me is the great grip design and excellent joysticks. These are the best joysticks I’ve ever used on a portable gaming device. The joysticks are nearly as good as PS3 or the ACER Nexus bluetooth controller, but not as good as the PS4 controller.

With its joystick, trigger, and grip design the G5A feels great emulating N64 in particular.

It’s only $89.

Conclusion

Most of the G5A’s shortcomings aren’t really a problem for its focus: classic game console emulation. Other than a weak battery, it’s the poor DPAD that prevents this from being what I’d consider the perfect portable emulation device. I was very happy with my purchase. To me, it’s the best N64 feel I’ve ever found with emulation. For only $89 USD, you’re getting more than you paid for.