With its Kickstarter campaign funded inside three hours of going live, the FunKey S console got off to a quite fantastic start. Selling itself as "the world's smallest, foldable handheld console" - no arguments, there - this palm-sized powerhouse of a portable can play games from the 8-bit era, through famous on-the-go gadgets like Nintendo's Game Boy and SEGA's Game Gear, home heavyweights like the Mega Drive and SNES, right up to PlayStation (PS1) titles. And it can play them all really well, too. So, what's the catch?
The size, obviously. It's the size, the system's key selling point, that actually plays against the FunKey S's longer-term appeal. There's huge novelty value in this tiny thing - it's amazing to pop it in the tiniest pocket for some playtime on a train, or whip it out at the pub to impress mates who can't get their head around how something so small can make games look so good. But, is it something you want to spend a lot of time playing on? Unless you've exceptionally small hands, no, not at all.
Check out our video showcasing the features* of the FunKey S, below...
The FunKey S has plenty of wow factor, but it's best suited to only a small selection of the games it can run. Anything especially action-orientated, like a sports or fighting game, can be incredibly hard-going on the digits as your thumbs try to find precision on a miniscule layout. Better are puzzle games, turn-based role-players that allow you to take your time, and anything specifically designed with a smaller screen in mind - which is to say you'll be able to see what's going on a lot easier with Game Boy, Game Gear and Atari Lynx titles than, say, a Super Nintendo side-scroller built around a bigger television display.
With emulators installed out of the box, the FunKey S is incredibly easy to populate with whatever ROMs you may or may not have legitimate access to, by just dragging and dropping them from a computer. As always with these things, it's worth reminding you that the selling and distribution of copyrighted ROMs is illegal, so too the downloading of them; but when you already own a game, it's generally considered fair use to install that game on any other device you please. You've paid for the game, so, while the law is fuzzy here, the prevailing thinking is that you can rip the game and put it on something else - exclusively for your own use, only. Emulation devices like the FunKey S are completely legal, then, but to get the games you want to play onto them? That's something else.
With that out of the way, here's what the FunKey S can play, without adding anything to it. Nintendo is represented by the NES and SNES, as well as Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance. In terms of SEGA support, there's emulation for the Master System, Game Gear, and Mega Drive/Genesis. Other handhelds supported include the Atari Lynx, Bandai WonderSwan, and the Neo Geo Pocket. Finally, there's the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16, and the PS1. And as this SWPL Gaming clip shows, the FunKey S runs PlayStation games with minimal fuss - though you're going to have to get pretty up close and personal with that screen.
In my time testing the FunKey S, I've found it to be a superb micro Game Boy (SP style, rather than a Game Boy Micro, you understand), with any game from Nintendo's breakthrough handheld and its colour upgrade looking incredible and playing smoothly on the 240x240-pixel LCD screen. There's no notable screen-tearing to speak of across any emulator I tested, and its ARM Cortex-A7 @ 1.2 GHz processor handled everything I threw at it. And while there's only a single, mono speaker installed in this thing, it makes enough noise to keep you up to speed with what's happening, although I did notice some music hiccups in Streets of Rage 2 - might be the mono channel, might be the emulation. No headphone socket is a bummer, though - the only port on the FunKey S is a micro-USB for charging and swapping games.
Game Boy and Game Boy Color options all being fine aside, with the right game selected, the FunKey S is fantastic for short-session play on 16-bit titles. Anything too vigorous will bring about cramps in no short time, though, so this definitely isn't a device to play an hour of Sensible Soccer or NBA Jam on. Game Boy Advance games look great, but on my review unit (provided by the manufacturers), the teeny L and R shoulder buttons are super stiff, making any game that extends its controls beyond the face buttons a little awkward to get along with. They might loosen up with time, though. Not too much, hopefully.
Regarding the face buttons, everything has a satisfying click to it, and the d-pad isn't so small as to be a nuisance - you can mostly get your lil avatar ambling in the intended direction. With no independent controls for brightness and volume, these are turned up and down by using the function key (placed where 'select' would normally be) in cooperation with another button; or can be adjusted via a central menu, which also provides access to swappable themes, power-down (though the FunKey S will also switch off on being closed), and save states while in a game. Upon restarting any game, the console will ask if you want to resume from where you left off, too, which is a nice touch.
As well as the console itself, in the box you get a smart little manual, a very short charge lead, and additional buttons should you want to mix up the colours on your device. There are also a few homebrew games pre-installed, so anyone wanting to dive straight into playing can do so without fiddling with ROMs, and the legalities of them.
Snake on the Game Boy is, you guessed it, Snake; and so too is GG Nibbles on Game Gear. The SEGA handheld has a fun little vertically scrolling shooter called Wing Warriors, and Lander 2 for the Master System is a challenging game of taking off in a rocket and returning to terra firma in a new spot, without exploding. Lynx Quest - yep, on the Lynx - offers some top-down, vaguely Zelda-like fantasy action; and Columns on the Neo Geo Pocket is, indeed, a homemade take on the SEGA game of the same name.
But it's not like anybody is getting this thing for the built-in games, is it. They're there, they're wholly above board in their inclusion, and unlike many handhelds and retro-leaning home consoles right now, there aren't thousands of Very Naughty ROMs on the FunKey S, as standard. Some might see this as a disappointment, but others will simply see it as an opportunity to build up a library exclusively tailored to their tastes. And with 32GB of storage to play with (upgradable to 128GB, if you unscrew the back), if you do see this as more of a Game Boy device than a PlayStation super portable, that library is going to get pretty huge.
The FunKey S's 400 mAh Li-ion battery provides 60 to 90 minutes of play from a full charge, in my tests, but based on the form and size of the device, it's highly unlikely you're going to drain it in a single session. Of course, you could keep it plugged in, just like we all did with the Game Gear, but that rather defeats the point of the product. This is something that can really go anywhere with you. It doesn't need a separate case due to its GBA SP-style form, it doesn't take up much room at all, and the plastic feels solid enough to take a few bangs and bumps. I don't know about actually attaching it to your keys, but if you don't mind a scratch or two on the outer shell, go for it.
The FunKey S is one of those gaming products that you know you want, or not, from the moment you see it. It's an instinctive, impulse-directed kind of thing: you know you're unlikely to get all that much game time out of it, but goodness, doesn't it look awesome? And yes, it does look awesome - and that it matches its looks with terrific performance is quite the icing on the retro-gaming cake. If you've space in your life for a handheld that makes the Game Boy Micro look like a giant, and that rivals the Game Gear Micro for fiddliness, and you're comfortable with using ROMs, it's available to order from its makers, via their official website, for 65 Euros. You get a choice of three colours, too: Retrogaming Gray (my choice), Atomic Purple (transparent, also nice), and a GBA-echoing Original Purple (ach, the nostalgia). Options! Are always nice to have.
But there's more. We have a FunKey S to give away - with its factory settings of course, no additional ROMs added. To be in with a chance of getting hands-on with an Atomic Purple model, simply head to our Twitter account to enter the giveaway. UK residents only, I'm afraid, due to postage. Good luck!
(*Please note that this video dates from the project's Kickstarter, but the feature information remains correct!)
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