Pimax Portal QLED review - the niftiest Android handheld around

A Pimax Portal playing Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door via GameCube emulator Dolphin

Known mostly for virtual reality technology, Pimax has made one of the most unique Android gaming handhelds on the market with the Pimax Portal. More than inspired by the Nintendo Switch, Pimax’s gaming tablet with removable controllers is a powerhouse for mobile games, emulation and streaming, while also being its own VR device.

The Pimax Portal comes in multiple configurations. For starters, there’s an LCD screen model with 128GB ($369) and 256GB ($399) storage capacities. Then there’s the Pimax Portal QLED ($549), a 256GB storage model with a much nicer screen (see here). This is the version that we tested.

Powering the devide’s incredibly crisp 4K,120Hz screen is a speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 with an 855MHz Adreno 650 GPU. Paired with 8GB of on-board RAM, which some may deem a tad light, the Pimax Portal is a surprisingly hench portable for its tiny, Switch Lite-sized frame.

Of course, the Pimax Portal is unmistakably taking many design decisions from the Nintendo Switch. The device has the exact same style of analogue sticks, very similar tactile buttons and even removable side controllers that can be used as individual pads for multiplayer games. However, unlike the Switch, Pimax’s controllers are held together by powerful magnets which also allow them to connect together for one controller in an always-entertaining Voltron-esque move.

Pimax Portal controller stuck together on a planetary background
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The Pimax Portal’s controllers can stick together via strong magnets to make one controller.

Build quality is also fantastic. While the device only weighs about 300 grams, it feels substantial and tough, but there are some oddities. For example, in our testing, the dedicated screenshot button didn’t ever work, and the device bizarrely lacks a rear kickstand, a weird omission considering the clear Nintendo Switch inspiration. However, there is a MicroSD card to add as much storage as you’d ever want.

For the most part, the Pimax’s controllers are great, although there are some sticking points. The teardrop design of the D-Pad may deter some who prefer the more traditional design, and the controller’s analogue triggers have too much resistance, even if they do end in a very satisfying click.

Other than those sticking points, the controls on Pimax’s new handheld are surprisingly nice, especially compared to most Android handhelds. Every button is tactile with a satisfying click that’s perfect for platformers, beat-em-ups and action games. Unfortunately, most shooters feel weird due to the tightness of the analogue triggers, but racing games do benefit immensely from their addition.

Unfortunately, Pimax’s software experience is less than idea. Running on Android 10, although an Android 11 update is reportedly in the works, Pimax’s unique frontend skin is simple to use, but also feels really unfinished. While perfectly functional, the UI lacks options for simple functions, such as turning off or dimming the LEDs surrounding the controllers’ joysticks or quick settings for Bluetooth connections. Of course, the usual poor English translations also rear their heads, but nothing is garbled to the point of nonsense. Hopefully, Pimax can fix some of these issues in a software update, but no huge updates arrived during our testing period.

By far the most interesting part of the Pimax Portal handheld is just how powerful the device is. Despite its small frame, the Pimax handheld is an emulation beast. GameCube, Wii, PlayStation 2, PSP and Dreamcast emulation all work a charm, allowing you to push resolutions above native and even apply anti-aliasing without affecting performance. In a more ethically grey area, the Pimax Portal has even been pushed as an effective Nintendo Switch emulator running Skyline and Yuzu. While these emulators are still not great performance-wise, the Pimax Portal is capable of running titles such as Cuphead, Star Ocean First Departure and even Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu at full speed with only minor issues.

A Pimax portal playing Pokemon Lets Go Pikachu
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The Pimax Portal is capable of playing a select number of Switch games as well as a normal Switch

While emulation is by far the biggest draw of an Android device like this, the Pimax Portal is also a powerhouse for the best native Android games. Titles like Call of Duty Mobile can run at max settings at high frame rates which feels amazing once you properly map your physical controls to the game’s touch buttons. Even Genshin Impact and Honkai Star Rail - two games that absolutely batter mobile hardware - look comparable to their console versions.

The Pimax’s ace WiFi chip also results in brilliant cloud gaming on services like Xbox Game Pass or GeForce Now. While we did have multiple issues connecting PlayStation 5’s Remote Play app to the device, every other streaming service worked a charm with the Pimax, allowing for long sessions of Alan Wake II, Mass Effect, Halo Infinite and other games that the hardware could never run natively.

In a very weird addition, the Pimax Portal also has VR functionality, offering a VR experience that we sadly weren’t able to test. When you slide the tablet inside a compatible VR Pimax View Headset you can enter a virtual reality room where you can play any app on a huge screen, hence the detachable controllers. There are even VR games available on the device if you want to play them. It’s no Meta Quest 3, but it’s an option.

At the end of the day, the Pimax Portal is a really powerful Android handheld that I want to really recommend. Whenever I’m playing a GameCube game in high resolution or even an Android source port like Open Morrowind, this will be my go-to device, but the device’s unfinished software does make it hard to recommend to those who don’t have experience with this area of technology. It’s brilliant hardware that’s surpassingly affordable, and it’s wonky software barely hinders the actual gameplay experience.

The Pimax Portal is an Android gaming handheld that doesn’t feel held back. While its on-board VR tech is a weird addition, its heavy Switch inspirations and powerful hardware make for a fantastic portable capable of playing any retro game you throw at it, and more.

Pimax Portal
The Pimax Portal is extremely powerful and comfortable to play, but its minor software quibbles need to be fixed.
9 out of 10

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