Review: Cheap portable media player with built-in NES emulator

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NES

Behold! A portable convergence device from faraway lands! It plays music, it plays videos, it takes photos, it’s an e-book reader, a dictionary, a notepad, it slices, it dices, it does it all! But none of that matters. None of it. Why? Because this little $30 gem plays NES games.

And so we dance…

Officially called the “1 GB Portable Media Player” and available from computer parts vendor Geeks.com for $30, this device features a 2.5-inch LCD screen with 320×240 resolution, a 4-way directional pad, and four action buttons. You’ve also got an OK button, an ESC button, and a top-mounted power button. There are two tiny, tinny speakers on either side of the screen, a 1.3-megapixel camera on the back, and a miniSD card slot and a reset button underneath.

This review will focus solely on the NES emulator feature. Please watch the video below if you don’t feel like reading.

For starters you’ve got 1GB of built-in storage to work with, which ought to be more than enough for all your favorite NES ROMs. Actually, if memory serves, all the NES ROMs in the world don’t take up an entire gigabyte. The device shows up as an external hard drive in Windows Explorer and ROMs are dropped into a pre-made folder called GAMES.

I had trouble getting a few titles to work correctly. Some just wouldn’t load at all, some would play the first few seconds of audio and then crash out, and some contained jacked-up graphics. While a fair amount of these non-working ROMs could just be bad ROMs to begin with, my favorite game of all time — Bad News Baseball — doesn’t work even though it runs fine on my computer. Most of the games I threw at this thing worked just fine, though.

Actual processing power is surprisingly impressive. Games run smoothly and with full audio, closely resembling gameplay on an actual NES console. The screen is bright and detailed, and I was able to play games for hours on end without any eye strain or headaches.

Battery life is a bit iffy. I’m able to squeeze in about an hour and a half of play time before I need to recharge. On the flip side, the device is super light. The first time I picked it up, I thought the battery was still in the box.

The D-pad is on the mushy side, but it gets the job done. I found games that require a lot of precision — some sports games and shooters, for example — to be frustrating from time to time but, hey, the thing costs $30. Racing games, side-scrollers, and fighting games all played pretty well, though. The A and B buttons are correctly placed (B before A) and work just fine, although they’re pretty small and spaced closely together. I did get used to them pretty quickly, despite my Shrek-sized thumbs.

One glaring omission is that the volume can’t be controlled while you’re playing games — it can only be turned all the way off in the device’s settings menu. So you’re stuck with sorta-loud audio or no sound at all unless you use headphones. Even with headphones, though, the audio level can’t be changed. Inexpensive device or not, the ability to control volume levels should ALWAYS be included. You can control the volume while using the music and video playing features, though, so it’s just been left out of the emulator.

Another thing I personally would have liked are save states. In most computer-based NES emulators, you can save your in-game progress to one or more save state slots, to be continued later. Not here, unfortunately. You’ll have to go super old school and write down game codes just like you used to when you were a kid. It was fun and nostalgic once or twice, but it got old faster than a first-timer on prom night. I’d even trade the volume control feature for save states. Unfortunately, I have neither.

All in all, though, if you love old NES games, you should probably treat yourself to this little doodad. It’s literally provided me with hours and hours and hours of enjoyment and it makes a great travel companion. At $30, too, even cheapskates like me can’t complain about the price.

1GB USB 2.0 MP4/MP3/ FM/Voice/ Camera w/2.5″ LCD [Geeks.com]

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