Analogue Pocket Preview

 

I’d like to think that many classic video game fans, like myself, are pumped for the Analogue Pocket. I check the website a tad  too much. I get a bit too worried about missing the pre-order date and practically pounce whenever I see Analogue tweet another Game Boy Advance GIF.

The Pocket is an incredibly exciting product with a future that is sort of foggy. The announcement happened in October 2019, but Analogue has almost been entirely mum on the console since. Not terribly surprising: Analogue typically only speaks publicly when they want to share something. They control the conversation. 

In my fervor and anticipation, I decided to dig into what Analogue has said about the Pocket. I wanted to bring it all together in one place and really explore the potential that the Pocket has building up behind it. There really is no device quite like it. The Pocket speaks for itself and it speaks loudly.

Specs

Up first, I want to just list out and look at the specs of the Pocket. There are two Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chips inside the Pocket. The Cyclone 10 FPGA is the heart behind the Pocket and Analogue’s proprietary software/scalers, while the Cyclone V is inside for third party developers to create their own cores. I’ll talk about those in a bit.

There is a micro SD card for firmware updates and (presumably) loading cores onto that secondary FPGA. The Pocket has a rechargeable battery and charges via USB-C. There is also a pair of stereo speakers at the top of the device.

The screen is 2.6’’ x 2.3’’ with a 3.5’’ diagonal. It has a resolution of 1600 x 1440 creating a pixels per inch count (ppi) of 615. The resolution is exactly 10x of the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color. I think this sounds perfect when considering that the Pocket is compatible with the entire Game Boy lineup of games out of the box.

I wanted to compare these screen specs to other handheld gaming consoles. I decided to whip up a table comparing all the Pocket’s compatible consoles alongside other major handheld consoles with a couple odd balls thrown in too. I also made a chart visually comparing the screen resolution of those consoles. 

 

Resolution
(W x H)

Size
(in)
Pixels per Inch
(ppi)
Analogue Pocket1600 x 14403.5”615
Game Boy160 x 1442.5”86.1
Game Boy Color160 x 1442.34”91.95
Game Boy Advance / SP240 x 1602.9”99.61
Game Boy Micro240 x 1602”144.22
Nintendo DS / Lite256 x 1923.12”102.56
Atari Lynx160 x 1023.5”54.21
Game Gear160 x 1443.2”67.27
Neo Geo Pocket / Color160 x 1522.7”81.74
Nintendo Switch1280 x 7206.2”237
Nintendo Switch Lite1280 x 7205.5”267
PlayStation Portable480 x 2724.3”128.3
PlayStation Vita960 x 5445”220
iPhone 111792 x 8286.1”326
Kindle Paperwhite1074 x 14446”600

Hardware and Design

Analogue really only had two main routes to go down when choosing the shape of the Pocket: Vertical or horizontal? It’s not hard to spot the similarities in design between the Pocket and the Game Boy. Analogue is clearly drawing from the deep well of handheld hardware design. Instead of serving customers the same drink from 30 years ago, it appears to be filtered and purified. The Pocket will launch in all black or all white with a flourish of green on the power button. There are four unmarked face buttons and a D-pad for play. Two of the face buttons are concave while the other two are convex. Having the face buttons be unmarked actually reminds me of the Joy-con for the Switch so that either controller has clear indicators in the game menus. Gone is A, B, X, and Y: Hello, up, down, left, and right. Out of all the handheld consoles the Pocket will support out of the box, only the Atari Lynx has four face buttons. These come in handy for the secondary FPGA and any cores that developers make. There are two shoulder buttons on the back as well. All buttons are remappable as well, giving players any sort of flexibility they require or desire.

On the bottom of the console, there is an original style link cable port for the Game Boy line of systems. I’m not sure if this port can or will be compatible with Game Gear or other link cables, but the Game Boy is certainly the way to go considering the fact the Pocket is compatible with Game Boy games out-of-the-box. Knowing that there will be link cable compatibility, it makes me wonder how it’ll work with a GameCube for GBA add-ons like the Tingle Tuner in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Since no game cart is required, I am curious how the GameCube will respond to a Pocket.

 

If you look at the back of the Pocket you may notice that the cartridge slot is far shallower than the typical Game Boy. This showcases the labels of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. I’m curious how much of the label on a Game Boy Advance game will be covered.

One other design question I’m thinking of before even knowing when people can pre-order one of these is if Phil Fish will be designing the boot sequence again. Of FEZ and SuperHyperCube fame, Phil did the boot sequence for both the Super NT and the Mega SG. I also wonder how long it’ll be until there is a console variant with exclusive music loaded onto the system or an exclusive cartridge. I think every system Analogue has made ends up with some sort of variant; I know the Nt Mini, Super NT, and Mega SG all have one.

Software

I debated talking about the FPGAs in hardware or software. So, I put it at the top of software as a bridge between the two. There are two FPGA chips inside the Pocket. The main chip that Analogue proprietary cores will use is an Intel Cyclone 10, which is the same chip line that Analogue uses inside the DAC (side note: my DAC is supposed to ship in April, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that slipped due to possible manufacturing issues due to COVID-19). The second FPGA for other developers is the Cyclone V, which is inside the Super NT and Mega SG. Right off the bat, I assume the power of the Cyclone V is enough for Genesis and below. The Pocket has the potential to play countless games and systems.

There isn’t too much I can talk about on the software front without actually seeing or using it. It’s a safe bet it will be in line with the Super NT and the Mega SG, both having robust video settings for users to tinker with. In some of the promotional imagery, you can see the software menu which appears to offer video, audio, system, and about menus. There is also a Save/Restore option, which I hope means that I can dump, store, and back up my portable game saves without needing to wait for “jailbroken” software or some other adapter. Pokémon fans rejoice!

Speaking of jailbreaking the Pocket, there is a legacy for “unofficial” jailbreak software for the Analogue consoles. It’s a safe bet that trend will continue with the Pocket. Given the fact there are two FPGAs inside as well, we may even see “unofficial” ports of the Analogue cores for SNES and Genesis. Giving third party developers access could even lead to having cores from the MiSTer ported over to the Pocket. There is loads of potential with this.

Outside of game software, every Pocket comes with the Game Boy music software Nanoloop built-in. Nanoloop is a cartridge that goes for $53-75, depending on the version you purchase. Nanoloop is a full-blown music sequencer/synthesizer. You can check out a sample track from Nanoloop’s site here or a playlist of sample tracks from Analogue here. It may not have value to every owner of the Pocket, but having it built-in makes the Pocket a tremendous tool for musicians.

Dock and DAC

The Pocket is not the only new product Analogue has in the pipeline. Announced alongside the Pocket, the Dock was announced. Fairly straightforward in name, the Dock allows Pocket owners to dock the system and play their games on a television via HDMI. This looks to me just like the Switch dock, charging the console and transmitting the A/V signal through the USB-C port on the bottom. I do wonder if users could plug in a dongle via USB-C and connect an HDMI cable that way? No way to tell until the Pocket is in people’s hands. 

The Dock does also allow for folks to pair wireless 8BitDo controllers to play their games or plug directly in through USB ports. The Dock unlocks plenty of potential with that second FPGA and the ability to use different controllers. So far, there is no word on the Dock’s pricing or release window, but it doesn’t seem like it will launch day-in-day with the Pocket.

One other possibility the Dock presents is how the image is scaled. Due to the Pocket’s 3.5’’ screen with its dense 615ppi, the system will be performing a non-integer scale of the games. This allows for finer control over all of the compatible consoles to display sharp pixels, since they all have different resolutions. Analogue hasn’t come out and said whether or not the Pocket will allow users to toggle interpolation, but it’s likely to be a feature. Interpolation removes “shimmer” due to uneven pixels that are a result of non-integer scaling. Analogue’s other systems have this option, so I don’t see why the Pocket would not. Being able to use an external screen through the Dock could open up the option to perform integer scaling, which would be a delight for square pixel purists. 

Price and Availability

The biggest question looming over the Pocket is just when the system will go up for pre-order. Since the Pocket was announced in October 2019, all fans have known is that it will be released sometime in 2020 and will cost a cool $200. Since then, Analogue has released and/or put up a couple other devices for order. A second round of DAC pre-orders went up as well as a revision of the Nt Mini. The adapter carts for the Mega SG were also released. Analogues ducks appear to be in a row as we wait for the Pocket. They did reply to one tweet inquiring about the Pocket and confirmed that they will announce the pre-order date in advance. 

As for the Dock, there isn’t any real news. No price or date. Maybe it will be announced alongside the Pocket pre-orders. 

It is probably a safe bet that the shipping cost will be $20 in the US. Trying to predict when Analogue will drop the Pocket feels sort of like a fruitless effort. Like I mentioned with the second round of DAC pre-orders above, it is probably a safe bet that COVID-19 has impacted any form of hardware production for the Pocket. It is just a wait and see kind of game.

When looking at the $200 price, it’s fair to look at alternatives as well. If you are looking for strictly portable play, your real options stop at buying the old systems from a game shop or online. There are some variations in hardware (especially for the Game Boy), but the buck mostly stops there. Those prices can range anywhere between $30-75 before getting the games you want.

As for the big screen, you could go the emulation route. Free, but requires you to enter Crime Committing Corner. Proceed at your own risk in there. A popular FPGA-based DIY route is the MiSTer project. From what I could gather, building your own MiSTer could cost around ~$185, but gives you that DIY vibe while being apart of a growing and seemingly active community.

For the Game Boy specifically, there are a couple of options to get the games on the big screen; some official and some not so much. On the unofficial end of the scale, there is the GBA Consolizer. It is a mod for a GBA that allows folks to solder a new board to a GBA that allows for digital video output. Buying the board to mod the console yourself will set you back around $170 when it is in stock. Pre-built consolizers go for around $350.

There is also the option of using a GameCube with a Game Boy Player with official or unofficial software. If you need both items, it’ll likely set you back $140 and that is before finding a video output solution to get the GameCube on your HDTV. Those can go up to $150.

Nothing really compares on a portable and TV output option while being able to use real cartridges with so many systems. If you are solely looking for Game Boy play, your options become a bit more flexible with official options from Nintendo. The Pocket really is an all-in-one console with the flexibility for nearly every use case. It is an extremely exciting product and I cannot wait to get my hands on one. Hopefully this preview/round-up of information will help tide you over while we all wait for the official date from Analogue.