The ZPG Pro has landed on our desks. For those of you that haven’t heard the name, it’s a retro handheld that we’ve been wanting for some time as it has received very high reviews in China over the last couple of months.
China had a bunch of units made just for the Chinese to get their hands on, and due to popular demand, the company behind it decided to sell about 1,000 units to us Western folk.
We finally have one of those units, and well… we’re incredibly disappointed.
And because of this, we feel it’s time to speak up about one of the main issues surrounding the retro handheld market in China.
We don’t just have the plastic version either; we decided to upgrade and buy the metal variants.
Why? It comes down to personal preference and the fact that we fell in love with the RG350M 6 months ago.
And we figured a premium product would at least work…
While writing this, we’re not sure how this article is going to feel, because we need to talk about the ZPG Pro and the problems that this market is facing, so apologies if it feels a little scattered and off-topic at times.
But it’s an important topic to us, so we thank you for taking the time to read our thoughts and appreciate any feedback that you have for us.
Let’s get the worst bit out of the way first, and then we’ll talk about the ZPG Pro.
Why We Are Starting To Hate The Chinese Retro Handheld Market
We’ve been reviewing handhelds from China for years now. Hundreds of units have come through our office in that time; most of them have been bad, though a handful have been incredible.
90% of the handhelds that we have held in our hands have been purchased out of our own pocket, because that way, we get an idea of how these companies support us if we have a problem.
We’ve been invested in reviewing these handhelds properly, going through the motions of the customer experience so that we can pass on relevant and useful information to you, our readers, and other members of the retro gaming community.
If they knew that we were purchasing for Retro Dodo and that their products might appear on our YouTube channel, then they would support us as much as they could, and we would not then be able to experience the types of problems or successes that the community would go through if they had purchased one through our recommendations.
This is very important to us and for the brand we are striving to build here.
The biggest problem that we see when purchasing these handhelds is quite simple – the lack of customer service.
When buying a majority of these handhelds, whenever we need some kind of support, troubleshooting help, or questions answered, it takes days, if not weeks for anyone to get back to us.
Many times, we won’t even get a response, and by that time we have found a solution because a community member or fellow content creator has helped us out.
This is the biggest problem; these companies are relying on the community to solve their customer service issues.
And that’s not a good business model.
Why bother with customer support when they can just expect us to go to someone else who has also had problems with their handheld to support us by fixing our handheld?
It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t seem fair!
The worst part, however, is that this method is working.
The community using these retro handhelds are incredible, especially our Retro Gamers group on Facebook. But this means that these companies can get away with giving poor service time and time again.
And by the time they get back to you, you have already solved the problem.
The issue with this is that newcomers to the retro handheld scene get misled into thinking that they’ll get support, when in reality, they’ll need to visit forums, Facebook groups, and Discord servers to solve this problem.
That can often lead to a wasted purchase and a handheld sitting unplayed in a drawer for the rest of eternity.
Our ZPG Pro came partially broken, and you’ll see why further down in the review. When we contacted the store we purchased it from their response was as follows:
“We’re not sure, you may have to go download a new firmware update or do some research on how to fix it.”
We’re all for research; heck, we’ve solved issues with many handhelds that we have reviewed, but it’s getting old, and it’s becoming the new normal.
Customers don’t want to have to fix their handhelds straight out of the box!
Ok, so it might need new firmware, but don’t send it out as a finished product if half of the buttons don’t work.
It’s common sense!
This leads us on to a second big problem with the Chinse retro handheld market; misleading information.
It has become the norm within the industry to lie about what games these handhelds can emulate. The majority of the handhelds we purchase boast that they can play all sorts of consoles, when in fact they struggle to emulate bigger and newer devices.
The new normal USP for these handhelds is ‘PSP and Dreamcast emulation’. But even the newer handhelds with powerful chips struggle to emulate those consoles at perfect frame rates.
It’s as if the companies behind these handhelds load one game, and if it gets to about 10 FPS they say “Yep, that can emulate it. Put this in the advertising and sit back while the cash rolls in.”
So many handhelds that we review that say they can emulate the best N64 games or PSP titles fail to do so at a decent quality, falling totally short of the mark.
Many companies are letting it slide and saying that their devices can, but they provide a very poor gaming experience and sometimes require hours of research to change settings in order to squeeze an extra 5 frames out of the mix.
We feel as if this market is becoming very misleading, shady, and at times, filled with misinformation.
The ZPG Pro is what tipped us over the edge, and we’ve had enough of these companies getting away with it.
Admittedly, Chinese laws do let these companies get away with it, but we feel somewhat responsible for what this market has become due to the Retro Dodo team covering so much of these handhelds and recommending many to our readers.
The last thing we want is you buying a dud or losing your hard-earned cash to something that is sub-standard and a chore to play on.
We are harsh with our reviews for a reason; if it’s not a pleasant experience straight out of the box, we knock points off the final score.
Likewise, if we have to do hours of research to find out how the Dreamcast emulator can run Sonic at 25 FPS, we will knock points off.
The stricter we become with these handhelds, the more the respective companies will learn to produce decent products that work out of the box and have an actual customer service team behind them at launch.
We want this market to thrive and welcome newcomers with open arms. But at the moment, it’s confusing and deceptive, and many still think of newly branded or independent handhelds as “cheap trash”.
Sadly, that’s due to a mass-market of products that have poor customer service and consoles that are not fully functioning out of the box.
We want this market to be trusted, and if these companies start listening to their customers and providing them with support, then it will start to thrive, and even greater handhelds will come from it.
There are many more problems out there that we don’t want to discuss in this article or it will soon become 10,000 words long, but a smaller problem we do want to touch on is ‘drop-shippers’ and new content creators that are owned by the stores selling these handhelds.
It’s a dubious market that needs a hundred-hand-slap in the face!
The only thing that you can do is to seek out the content creators and websites that you trust who cover these handhelds and hope that they are giving you solid advice and not trying to get a quick buck through affiliate programmes.
Now let’s talk about the ZPG Pro, and why we’re not happy with it.
ZPG Pro Specifications
- 3.5″ Full Viewing Angle Display (320 x 480)
- 1.5 GHZ Quad Core Corex-A35 Processor
- 1GB RAM
- Up to 512GB SD Card
- 2830MAH Batter (up to 5 hours battery life)
- Bluetooth 4.2
ZPG Pro Build Quality
As mentioned previously, we picked up the metal ZPG Pro. This cost us £114, which is equivalent to $146.
That is not a small price, but we took the risk as we didn’t like the look of the plastic version.
The 3.5″ screen is perfect, and we love the curved glass edge that meets the metal shell. This adds a premium look to the display that other handhelds should follow.
The logo at the bottom, however, is not so nice.
Each word is a different font and colour, so it really makes it stand out in an ugly way, but this is just our personal preference.
Thee D-PAD is nice and sticks out enough to be easily pressed. Below that is an analogue stick, a good quality one at that, and it even has L3 functionality.
But, there’s just one. There’s no dual analogue stick on this unit, which makes many games near unplayable, especially for newer consoles.
Why they did this is beyond us, but it probably has something to do with higher profit margins and the fact that it’s an ODROID Go Advance clone, making it even cheaper for them to make.
The analogue stick wasn’t mapped correctly, so when we wanted to play games straight out of the box, we just couldn’t. The analogue stick would only move 50% each way, meaning our characters would walk instead of run.
What’s the point in playing a Sonic game where he can’t run!
After contacting the support team, they said to research it ourselves and possibly change the firmware.
This is the biggest issue, the fact that sellers don’t care about their customers, which then gives us a bad experience of the handheld.
It should be mapped correctly before shipping it out, and they should know how to fix the problem!
This annoyed us, but we’ll push that aside and keep playing.
Surely nothing else can go wrong… can it?
ABXY is fine, even though some say the Y button sits too close to the screen. The speaker has been poorly placed as it sits directly under our thumbs, stopping the sound from properly escaping the handheld.
On the right-hand side you have your power button, and on the left side, your volume buttons. These are actually some of the best volume buttons we’ve felt on a $100’ish handheld.
And on the back of the handheld you’ll find screw access points and a logo; nothing too crazy.
On the top, you have four very nice shoulder buttons that wrap around the side of the ZPG Pro. You’re also greeted by a TF Card slot, a headphone jack (this should be located at the bottom), and a Mini HDMI Out that doesn’t work.
How the team behind this didn’t test the HDMI out is beyond us. It’s a key feature to any modern handheld, yet it doesn’t work, at all.
After contacting support, they said “it should work in a future update”.
What… the… fudge…
They literally knew about the problem and shipped it out anyway, disregarding any customer feedback.
That’s like buying a car and saying “oh the handbrake doesn’t work. It might work in a couple of months time, so stick with it”.
This is stupid and frustrating.
As i’ve already mentioned, the fact that companies are getting away with shipping out half working products and letting customers wait for features to work is just plain wrong.
It’s absurd, and it’s why we had to write this article so that we can try to bring about some kind of change.
They shipped us a half-working product for $140 and told us to wait for features and do some research in order to fix the analogue stick/battery problem.
Oh, we haven’t mentioned the battery problem, have we?
The ZPG Pro only charges to 50% capacity.
This could just be our unit as we’ve seen this happen before, but for us, this was the cherry on top of the badly made, mouldy, half-working cake.
It’s really sad to see this market turning into a misleading and uninspiring place to purchase products, but companies are getting away with it. More and more customers are seeing it as the “norm” and aren’t complaining about it because “it’s what you get from China”.
No, this shouldn’t be the norm; start complaining and stop buying the bad products!
How Does The ZPG Pro perform?
The ZPG Pro has decent specs, but it’s nothing new. Handhelds that came out a year ago, for far cheaper, have the same specs as this.
This is simply another handheld by a new maker that wants a piece of the pie.
It came pre-installed with EMULEC which was nice; this is a simple way to manage your games, and it puts them all in an easy-to-organise library.
It also came pre-loaded with thousands of ROMs, which they aren’t really allowed to do, but laws in China sometimes let them get away with it.
(These were all Japanese games, by the way).
The ZPG Pro emulated everything perfectly up to PS1, which it should. The majority of the N64 games we tested worked well too, with only a few frame rate drops on big 3D games and the odd crash.
With the PSP, however, it did start to struggle.
You will be able to play some of the smaller 2D PSP games ok with very little problems. But once you start moving onto the larger 3D games, then you’ll start noticing some hiccups.
Surprisingly, the Dreamcast games played impressively well. Big 3D games like Sonic Adventure 2 performed nicely, though admittedly at times you’ll feel it slow down slightly and notice cracking in audio, but this didn’t last long.
Dreamcast is as far as the ZPG Pro can go. Playing the GameCube is impossible on this thing, so we wouldnt even recommend trying it.
For those wanting a handheld primarily for playing PSP titles, we recommend waiting for a newer handheld to come out with a bit more power.
This generation of Chinese retro handhelds isn’t quite ready for it yet.
Don’t get us wrong, the ZPG Pro metal edition is a great looking handheld. It feels nice in the hand, the screen is stunning, and it’s incredibly portable.
But it came barely working, and that’s just not acceptable.
How these sellers can get away with shipping out half-working handhelds is beyond us. One flaw we can live with, but multiple flaws, not a chance.
The ZPG Pro shined a light on what the market is missing and what’s wrong with the products coming out of China.
We need to stop buying the “okay” handhelds with no customer service and support the companies who are making great products with an actual support team.
For example, the Retroid Pocket 2 is a great product with a support team that cares about their customers. The same goes for the PiBoy DMG and the upcoming RG351P. These companies who sell poorly made products and have a non-existent support team are the ones hurting the companies who are making decent consoles that could go on to greater heights.
Let’s stop accepting the partial working handhelds, and let’s stop accepting that some emulation is working “okay”.
It either plays Dreamcast games very well, or it doesn’t at all.
There is no middle ground.
The more we accept things as being “okay”, the more companies will pump out “okay” handhelds.
The ZPG Pro is an “okay” product, so we can’t recommend it.
Don’t stand for second best!