Analogue — purveyor of pricey-yet-premium retro gaming hardware platforms — has announced its next product aimed at discerning enthusiasts: the Analogue Pocket. Available sometime next year for $199.99, the Pocket natively supports original Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games, with support for Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket Color, and Atari Lynx games through cartridge adapters, which will be sold separately at an as of yet undisclosed price.
Just like Analogue’s other consoles, the Pocket foregoes software emulation in favor of a complex hardware solution called a “field-programmable gate array,” or FPGA. In layman’s terms, an FPGA is a chip that can be programmed to behave exactly like another chip, given enough time and expertise. This means that when a Game Boy cartridge is plugged into the Pocket, the system’s FPGA chip configures itself to send electrons to transistors in exactly the same manner as the Sharp LR35902 chip used in the Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, and Game Boy Color. A Game Boy Advance cartridge will prompt the FPGA to configure itself as that systems’s ARM7TDMI processor, and so on.
So as far as the logic on the cartridge is concerned, the Analogue Pocket is the original hardware. This approach differs from DIY Raspberry Pi consoles, or other commercial products like the RetroDuo Portable or Hyperkin SmartBoy, which use software emulation to perform the same task. Analogue maintains that its hardware emulation is more accurate, and compatible with more games than software emulation, and most experts in the field seem to agree.
The Analogue Pocket also has an authenticity edge when it comes to the unit’s display. The original Game Boy’s panel was 160 pixels by 144 pixels, which maths out to a very unusual 10:9 aspect ratio. Modern panels at this aspect ratio haven’t existed until very recently, which means that most every retro handheld you’ll find has some kind of widescreen, 16:9 display on it. This might be fine for modern games, but such a display can never render Game Boy/Color games with total accuracy because of this aspect ratio discrepancy. The Analogue Pocket is the first modern consumer handheld (to my knowledge, anyway) that features a proper 10:9 aspect ratio screen — this means that Game Boy games scale to the Pocket’s display resolution of 1600×1440 pixels without any squashing, stretching, or uneven pixel duplication.
As for the sorts of features that actual people (and not just preservationist nerds like me) might appreciate, the Pocket also features four user-assignable face buttons, L and R shoulder buttons, a lithium ion battery rechargeable over USB-C, stereo speakers, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and even a Link Cable port for swapping Pokemans. (Sorry Game Boy Color users, no IR blaster here.)
It also comes pre-loaded with Nanoloop, the chiptune software more or less responsible for the genre’s entire existence. Anything that you could do with a normal Game Boy running Nanoloop, from programming notes in the sequencer, to playing the Game Boy like a synthesizer with an external controller, is also possible with the Pocket.
Analogue plans to launch a dock alongside the Pocket, which’ll add HDMI output and USB/Bluetooth controller support for play on modern displays. It also hopes to have at least one of those non-Game Boy cartridge adapters ready to go at launch, but hasn’t said which one its prioritizing. Adapter and dock prices are still unknown, as is the Analogue Pocket’s precise release date.