We have all been waiting patiently for the next generation in retro handhelds, and here is our first, just in time for the new year. Gogamegeek sent me the new Powkiddy X18S, which is the upgrade to their previous handheld, the Powkiddy X18. Priced at $244.79 on their website, it’s priced quite competitively considering the upgraded specs this handheld has.
What really makes the X18S stand out is the newer, more powerful processor and Android 11, allowing you to play N64, PSP and Saturn games flawlessly, most of the time. And yes, you can play God of War on this thing!!
Powkiddy, have previously created a mixed bag of handhelds in the past, however with the introduction of the RGB10 Max & RGB10 Max 2 things had started to take a positive turn for Powkiddy. The X18S is hoping to make that leap even further for Powkiddy, but does it hit the mark?
Packaging is the same as usual, very basic, which is of the norm with many of the Chinese handhelds. Whilst this is no big deal and doesn’t really represent what you get with the actual handheld, it would be nice for once to get packaging that is colourful and shows the design of the product you are buying.
The X18S weighs around 300g, which is a lot heavier than most other handhelds released this year, though it’s still okay to hold in the hand.
The one I received from Gogamegeek had an off matte grey finish, with the X18S logo and an angular modern feel/look to it.
Looking at the front of the X18S, you get two angular speaker grills, as well as your headphone jack, which prevents it from getting in the way when you’re holding it.
At the top of the X18S, you get the four shoulder buttons. This is where I am a little torn and disappointed with the X18S. The handheld is quite large, but they have used small shoulder buttons. For me it wasn’t really an issue due to the size of my hands, but I can imagine for some, this is going to make for some uncomfortable play sessions. They also should have put those buttons below each other, like they did with the RG10 Max 2; this would have made them more practical.
Some people have reported the R2/L2 buttons getting stuck into place, which did not happen with mine, and they worked perfectly fine. I just wish they had been designed better and that placement had been thought through a bit more.
In between the buttons on the back, you have the main ports, which include the USB-C charging, mini-HDMI out port, which I was glad to see return, alongside an SD Card slot.
The Powkiddy X18S looks modern and different from most other handhelds, which I liked. It appears well built, and the clamshell design should make it ideal for chucking it in your bag without you having to worry about it getting damaged.
What I was a little surprised to see when opening the clamshell was how much space was wasted in the button layout. All of the buttons are smaller than you would expect from a handheld of this size, and the space taken up by them, compared to what is on offer, had me scratching my head a little. The analogue sticks don’t have R3/L3 functionality and are fairly flush inside, allowing it to be closed.
The D-pad, as well as the ABXY buttons, feel too small, and when they’re pressed, they don’t have that nice bounce that you usually find with handhelds. The buttons also press completely flush with the casing, which many may not like.
The rest of the buttons are fine, which include the Android, Start and Select buttons, and they sit at the top out of the way. There is just so much wasted space on the X18S, it’s like the designer was in a hurry and accidentally placed the wrong measurements into the design.
The screen is a 5.5” HD (720P) display that works and looks really good. As with most Android handhelds, it has a touchscreen, and it worked extremely well with nice, sharp, bright images. Some of the games I tried looked great, especially God of War at 2x PSP resolution.
When I received mine from Gogamegeek, I was hoping that it would already come with the latest firmware as I had heard reports of the experience on older firmwares being terrible. Unfortunately for me, this was also the case. I tried for almost three hours to get the firmware updated as it did not have Play Store installed. After downloading the official firmware update from the Powkiddy site and attempting to put it onto my SD card (which by the way, the X18S does not come with any additional SD cards or games, emulators installed out of the box), it kept hanging and refused to copy to the card.
I eventually tried re-formatting my SD card, and after many frustrating attempts, I finally managed to get the firmware updated. Anyone who follows me will know that I always review products out of the box with no tinkering or changing the OS. However, on this occasion, I had no other choice but to so, and had I not done so, I would have point blank not recommended buying the X18S.
However, after doing the update, the X18S worked a lot better and had the Play Store app installed for me to log into my account; this allowed me to download the emulators and games that I had already purchased in the past. But, due to only having a 64GB card available, I was restricted by how many games I could put into it to try out for this review, so unfortunately, I was unable to try every single platform.
Even with the updated firmware, the OS that the Powkiddy has used is very basic. And as I mentioned earlier, the X18S arrives with very little in it. You do get the obligatory Happy Chick app, which allows you to download free games; however, the emulators used are rarely up to date ones, so not all games will work as they would on a standalone emulator.
Until you start downloading all of the main emulators and any Android games that you already own, you will have your work cut out for you before you can start to enjoy what the X18S can offer. Also, don’t forget that when using a new SD card, you will have the option of using it as external storage or integrated storage. Both options have their pros and cons, so it will be down to you to decide which to go for.
Powkiddy really need to start to think about the consumer and making it as easy as possible for everyone to be able to pick up and play. At the moment, they aren’t doing that, and it’s quite lazy of them to rely on the community to build a better OS for their handhelds. They stand to alienate their customers if this continues, and they’ll miss sales, especially from those people who do not have the technical skills to update the OS, etc.
Where Powkiddy is making improvements, however, is in its specifications and what powers the X18S:
- 2GHZ Unisoc T618 8-Core Processor
- Mali G52 MPG PU
- 4GB RAM
- 5.5″ 720P Touch Screen IPS Display
- 5000MAH Battery
- Android 11
As you can see, the specs on the X18S are great. Quite simply, you will be able to play games that you have not been able to play on a handheld of this price range in the past. And yes, that also includes some GameCube games!! Dreamcast games ran flawlessly, as did PSP games. God of War finally played great, and being scaled to 720p made the experience even better.
Older emulators, like Game Boy, SNES, Mega Drive, and N64, performed perfectly. The only issue I had with having my SD card set as external storage was with RetroArch as I couldn’t get it to find my individual game folders, so when I scanned, it clumped everything together. I’m sure there is a way around it, but again, it shouldn’t be that difficult to do straight out of the box, so this is the only downfall that I found with the X18S.
You may have noticed when I mentioned that ‘some GameCube’ games played well. That’s because whilst the easier to emulate games did work, some larger games still struggled. We just aren’t quite there yet when it comes to playing the full catalogue of GameCube games. However, as the community come up with better OS for the X18S, I’ve no doubt things will improve. But it was good to be able to play Luigi’s Mansion on this handheld.
Also, as this is an Android device and the fact that it runs Android 11, you can play the majority of Android games without any issues, including Call of Duty, etc.
The X18S can also remote play with Xbox, Steam and Stadia with Bluetooth controllers. I did try Xbox and played Halo Infinite, and it worked flawlessly with great image quality. However, this will vary from one person to the next, depending on how fast your internet speed is. Plug in the HDMI out function into a portable monitor and you have yourself a portable console device.
I got an average of around three hours of battery life when doing my tests, which is around average, but it would be nice to see the next generation of retro gaming up this to around five hours, which I think would be a good sweet spot for portable gaming.
Overall, I liked the X18S, even though design-wise it could have been better, with bigger buttons and placement being the main issues for me. Gameplay-wise, I enjoyed playing games that couldn’t previously be play on other retro handhelds, especially GameCube and God of War.
There is definitely still some room for improvements from Powkiddy, which as 2022 fast approaches, we will hopefully see in the new year. My advice to Powkiddy would be to take a look at how well the design of the RGB10 Max 2 was and build from there for future handhelds with these or better specs, and they will have an almost perfect product for the consumer….and please, sort out a new OS!!!!