My Eyes Hate Me for Loving This Impossibly Tiny Game Boy Clone

My Eyes Hate Me for Loving This Impossibly Tiny Game Boy Clone
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

If someone dared Nintendo to make the smallest handheld console imaginable, the results would be the FunKey S, a keychain-sized retro gaming machine that can emulate more than 10 different classic consoles. Only this console wasn’t made by Nintendo — instead, this pint-sized device was created by a group of retro enthusiasts whose love for gaming has resulted in an incredibly polished handheld that may fast-track your need for glasses.

First thing’s first: If you’re thinking about diving back into the games of your youth using one of the many handheld emulators released over the past couple of years, the FunKey S is probably not the console for you. You can find better options to start your journey on in our retro gaming buyer’s guide, or if you want something relatively compact, grab a device like the Anbernic Retro Game 280V. The FunKey S takes handheld console miniaturization to its utmost extreme. It’s a remarkable little device, but it’s also kind of a novelty, and not something you’re going to want to dedicate hours of playtime to.

FunKey S Handheld Console

WHAT IS IT?

The most portable handheld emulator imaginable that’s still completely playable.

PRICE

$90

LIKE

Easily one of the most polished handheld emulators we’ve tested to date, with excellent performance across most of its included emulators. The hardware is also open source if you decide you want to tinker with it.

DISLIKE

Battery life isn’t amazing; microUSB is used for charging instead of USB-C; that tiny screen feels even smaller when you adjust a game’s screen-scaling options.

Giving credit where credit is due, it’s hard to put into words just how tiny the FunKey S really is. Opening the box was one of those rare moments where I shouted, “NO!” out loud, because in person it’s even smaller than every size comparison photo makes it seem.

The FunKey S is smaller than a Game Boy Micro, and only just larger than a Game Boy Advance cartridge. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

The Game Boy Micro is quite possibly my favourite Nintendo console of all time, but the FunKey S beats it in pocketability by miles. It’s only slightly larger than a Game Boy Advance cartridge with the screen open, and as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the greatest engineering feats of all time. All you scientists working on nanobots and microscopic machines should probably just throw in the towel, because the *Nobel Prize for Miniaturization has already been claimed. (*That’s a thing, right?)

It's small, but the FunKey S still manages to include all the buttons you'll need for a host of different consoles. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

Despite its size, the FunKey S still manages to squeeze in a set of four action buttons, a directional pad (made up of four individual buttons), a dedicated menu button for accessing OS options at any time, and a couple of function buttons.

If you're cursed with larger hands, the FunKey S shoulder buttons can be a little hard to reach and might tire your index fingers out quickly. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

There’s even a pair of low-travel clicky shoulder buttons on the back. The FunKey S form factor more or less matches the folding GBA SP, right down to the lack of a headphone jack. Audio is only available through a very tiny set of speakers on the front, and they sound about as tinny as you’d expect, but do pump a decent amount of volume when turned all the way up.

Despite how small it is, the FunKey S is still very playable. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

The buttons are all very small — there’s no denying that — but the FunKey S is still very playable in short bursts. As I said before, it’s not really a console you’re going to want to play for hours at a time. You’ll probably find your hands getting a little cramped after a while, and with just a 410mAh battery inside, it will probably need a charge well before the 2-hour mark anyways.

Not to be taken internally, but you probably could if you really tried. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

The FunKey S doesn’t come close to out-spec’ing the competition, but inside you’ll also find a 1.2 GHz ARM Cortex-A7 processor, 64MB of RAM, and a 32GB microSD card for holding game ROMs that can be easily upgraded to a 2TB microSD card by just copying some files over. (Although it’s important to note its creators have only tested the console with memory cards topping out at 128GB.)

Yes, we're all upset to see devices still including microUSB ports for charging, but it helps keep the FunKey S as small as it is. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

Although it’s billed as a keychain-sized gaming tool and even includes a small lanyard for hanging off your keys that I immediately snipped off, the FunKey S hardware is actually satisfyingly solid. None of the buttons have much travel, but the console feels very well made, including a stiff hinge that can hold the screen at any angle and that closes with a nice snap. The lack of USB-C charging (which would have potentially also facilitated headphone connectivity with an adaptor) is disappointing, but otherwise it’s very apparent that the creators behind the FunKey S spent a lot of time perfecting its design to ensure they were delivering a very solid handheld experience.

Nowhere is that more apparent than when you actually start using it. Opening the screen automatically powers up the FunKey S, or resumes a game exactly where you left off if you didn’t power it off prior, and it takes about five seconds before you’re dropped into the RetroFE front-end running on the custom Linux-based FunKey OS. (You can also switch to the Gmenu2X launcher if you hate your eyes.)

That 1.52-inch screen pushes just 240x240 pixels at 50Hz, and it means you'll be mostly using the FunKey S for quick pick up and play sessions. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo)

There is absolutely no way to get around the fact that the 1.52-inch 240×240 pixel screen is tiny, and it makes some games, including text-heavy titles, very hard to play. But that doesn’t change the fact that the FunKey S is also the most polished and easy-to-use handheld emulator I’ve ever tested. It can play games from classic systems, including all the Game Boys and GBAs, the NES, the SNES, the Sega Genesis, the Game Gear, right on up to the original PlayStation by loading ROMS like copying files to a flash drive with the console attached to a computer. It even comes with a small sampling of free homebrew games to get you started, which brings us to the part of the review where I remind you that playing commercial games using ROM files, not the original cartridges or discs, is a legal grey area, so proceed cautiously.

For the most part, gameplay is rock solid, although the occasional title might experience some slowdowns when the action on screen gets really hectic, particularly with 3D PlayStation titles. But 16-bit and older games play wonderfully (and consistently). At any point during a game you can hit the FunKey S menu button, which provides quick access to volume and brightness settings, as well as basic emulator tweaks for changing how games are scaled to fit the tiny screen, and access to save states. The options are very much streamlined and simplified compared to what larger handheld emulators offer, but it works to the FunKey’s advantage.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the final product when the FunKey S hit Kickstarter about a year ago; crowdfunded devices like these come and go all the time. But I’m glad the team behind it was able to see it through and successfully deliver a product to backers. It’s a novelty, but by no means a cheap attempt to make a tiny Game Boy. The FunKey S delivers a fantastic retro gaming experience that I’m still surprised at given its size. Will it completely replace my larger handhelds? No. Will I ever leave the house without the FunKey S stashed away in a pocket? Absolutely not. For those times when you need an emergency distraction, it delivers exactly that and then some.