The Powkiddy X18S is the upgraded version of Powkiddy’s previous clamshell handheld the Powkiddy X18. Coming in at $179 it’s pricing itself competitively with the likes of the RG351MP and other upcoming handhelds.
But what puts this ahead of the competition is the newer, more powerful processor that allows you play larger android games, and even the best Dreamcast games, N64 and PSP emulators flawlessly.
But has Powkiddy managed to package it up with decent build quality and the perfect controls? Unfortunately not.
This is a handheld I’ve been on the fence with for a couple of weeks now, so let’s live right into the review.
For those that are new to Powkiddy, they’ve created some below average handhelds in the past, but its not until recently with the launch of the RGB10 Max that they’ve started to up their game, and the X18S here is pushing the market in the right direction even if they’ve cut a lot of corners.
So let’s start with the packaging and the design. Like any handheld out of China, the packaging is nothing to shout about, it does the job, but you’re certainly not going to be displaying it in this thing.
When I took it out of the box my immediate though was “dang this is heavy”, coming in at around 300g, which is a lot heavier than i am use to.
Powkiddy X18S Design
Once it’s in your hand I noticed the nice matte grey finish, with the X18 logo and an aggressive modern tech look which I really dig.
The outside greets you with these sharp speaker grills which look like they’ve been taken from a Lamborghini, next to that you’ll also find your headphone jack which is nicely placed at the front so you won’t get tangled.
Now, moving onto the back. This is where I have some problems. I’ll start with the shoulder buttons, they’re awful. The handheld is so large, yet they stuck tiny skittle-like shoulder buttons to the back which I struggle to press at times.
The R2/L2 buttons are also incredibly sensitive and I have found at times that they like to get stuck into place, meaning I have to force push them out to get it working again. This ruins games that require the use of a lot of shoulder buttons like N64.
Secondly, this is definitely a personal opinion, and probably due to my chubby fingers, but I constantly get my fingers caught in the back of the hinges. When I open it up, I naturally grab it like this, to flip the screen up, and these tiny hinges seem to grab my fingers and ram it under the hinge causing it to pinch me. But again, that might just be me.
And finally on the back you have your main ports, it’s good to the see USB-C charging, and a mini HDMI out port which works well, alongside the SD Card slot.
When it’s closed I really like the way the Powkiddy X18S looks. It’s sleek, modern, and aggressive, but once you open it up, that completely changes and it looks like a blind ape designed the layout.
Buttons seem to be just scattered across the inside, all spaced out enough to make the center of the handheld look very awkward, as if it’s missing something. The analogue sticks sit inside the shell to allow it to close and unfortunately doesn’t have R3/L3 functionality.
The DPAD is smaller than I am used to, to a point that I actually really dislike it. The size is much smaller than other handhelds I have reviewed and it’s also incredibly sensitive with very little feedback, making it unpleasant to play retro games on.
The ABXY buttons again, feel a little small and when pressed drop down into the shell which takes away that bouncy feedback that you’d like from a handheld of this nature.
The Android and start select buttons are okay, the sit at the top and have symbols that make it obvious for gamers to understand.
There’s also a LED at the chin too alongside the Powkiddy logo. When you look at it from afar, it just looks cluttered, and awkward and I really think Powkiddy should have taken some more time to design the layout to look a bit more pleasant.
The same goes with the display, it’s a 5.5” HD display that works well, but it has a plastic cover over it which can easily show scratches. It’s stuff like this that you don’t expect to see in a $180 handheld, plus the grey border just makes it look old, black would have been much better.
But putting that aside, it does compact down into a very portable formfactor, that’s the great thing about clamshells, it’s just a shame the inside doesn’t match the externals aggressive, sleek layout.
OS & Performance
The X18S came with a lot of problems at first, and after a couple of firmware updates, most of the issues were resolved. For those of you that end up buying this, you won’t have these issues, Powkiddy has told us they’ll ship new orders with the latest firmware.
When you turn it on, you’ll be greeted with a what I can only call a digusting OS. It looks like something from the 90’s and make the handheld feel very outdated. I’ll admit, this can be easily changed by downloading new apps, but it just goes to show you that Powkiddy really to forget about certain important aspects of designing a handheld.
They don’t take the average consumer into consideration instead, they pump out these handhelds and hope the community will solve the firmware and OS issues themselves, to a point where you could say they almost rely on it.
Putting that all aside, this is where things start to get interesting because the Powkiddy X18S is most definitely taking the next step when it comes to handheld emulators.
Powkiddy X18S Specifications
- 2GHZ Unisoc T618 8-Core Processor
- Mali G52 MPG PU
- 4GB RAM
- 5.5″ 720P Touch Screen IPS Display
- 5000MAH Battery
- Android 11
This combination is fantastic, and it allows you to play a lot more games than you think. For example, when I pushed it to the limit Dreamcast games ran flawlessly, to a point where it genuinely made me smile when I first tested it. And all of this, scaled to the 720p makes it look even better.
The same goes for the best PSP games, it ran incredibly well, and larger games like God Of War performed nearly perfectly with no hiccups. Older consoles like Gameboy, SNES and so on performed perfectly through Retro Arch, and those of you that have asked, yes it even runs Sega Saturn too!
N64 played well, but due to the awkward controls, tiny dpad and low quality shoulder buttons it wasn’t very enjoyable, especially playing games that required the trigger buttons.
But where does it stop? Well, that would be Gamecube emulation. Yes, some Gamecube games work, but not all of them. Larger games like Super Smash and Simpsons Hit & Run played very poorly on the X18S, which is disappointing but hey, we can’t have everything.
Smaller Gamecube games do run, but not flawlessly, we did have the odd crash, some frame rate issues and audio cracks on a wide number of Gamecube games, but it wasn’t enough for me to stop playing them.
I would not go out buying this if you’re looking for a Gamecube handheld, it’s just not there yet, and as much as i’d love to state “this plays the best Gamecube games”, it really doesn’t. We’ll have to wait a while for that.
And because it’s technically an Android handheld you can also load up all of your Android games too. I’ve been playing Call of Duty and Pokemon Unite on this thing and it runs well, like it should.
The Powkiddy X18S can also remote play with Xbox, Steam and Stadia with bluetooth controllers, but unfortunately I don’t have either of those so I can’t show you that. This could turn your X18S into a little desktop gaming console when combined with the HDMI out function which is pretty cool.
The battery life when testing was pretty average too, i managed to get a few hours out of it before it needed some more juice, and while testing I did notice when you put the X18S into sleep mode, it still likes to drain a lot of battery, so I recommend turning it off when not in use.
Overall, I am still on the fence with the Powiddy X18S. The device itself didn’t really wow me, but the sheer power did. If you’re impatient and want a new retro handheld that can emulate up to Dreamcast flawlessly with a modern clamshell design then this is perfect for you.
But for me, the build quality, and the awkward placement of buttons just made this handheld feel a little clunky. They got corners in a lot of places, and when the internals live up to such a high standard when the design doesn’t it really feels out of place.
Powkiddy are going in the right direction and i praise them for being the first to put this into market, but you can tell they’ve rushed it, and because of that I strongly suggest waiting out a few months for competitors to catch up because I’m certain they will be a far more polished games console.
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A 31 year old British fella that’s had a Gameboy ever since he was a child. Brandon is the founder of RetroDodo and has created a YouTube channel with 260,000 subscribers dedicated to retro gaming products. He now wants to create the No.1 site to showcase the latest retro products from around the globe.