Panic Playdate vs Analogue Pocket: Indie Gaming Handheld Comparison
Gaming handhelds are suddenly a. Thank him Valves and two lovely but unfortunately hard-to-obtain gaming handhelds called the and the .
The Pocket, which first went on sale last fall, is a completely revamped version of the classic Game Boy and actually plays retro Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance cartridges. (It’s not manufactured or officially endorsed by Nintendo.) With adapters, it also plays Sega Game Gear and other retro handheld titles.
The Panic Playdate, which has just started shipping to those who pre-ordered it, is a hand-cranked handheld computer with a black-and-white screen that plays its own unique games, 24 of which will be transmitted to the system over a period of 12 weeks in a single subscription model.
I have reviewed both and love them both. They’re certainly niche gaming handhelds compared to a Switch (or your smartphone or an iPad), but the spirit is hopefully a direction more gaming devices will explore in the future.
They’re priced differently ($220 for the Analogue Pocket, $179 for the Panic Playdate), and they’re also designed for very different purposes. But does it make sense to pre-order on a Switch or a Steam Deck? Let’s break down the differences and similarities.
The Pocket assumes you have retro cartridges; the Playdate comes with games
The Pocket’s biggest appeal is that it reads classic carts via a crisp color screen and with a rechargeable battery and USB-C port. You need BYOGames, though: it doesn’t play emulations, though you can download indie games, which means plugging it into a computer and installing new software.
The Playdate, on the other hand, includes 24 games to start with. But you don’t get them right away: instead, they’re delivered twice a week in a single “season” format. Others can also be loaded sideways.
The Pocket is largely offline; the Playdate has Wi-Fi
To install operating system updates and additional indie games, the Pocket must load data onto a microSD card from a computer and then load it into the Pocket later: it has no Wi- Fi. However, the Playdate has Wi-Fi and can download games and OS updates directly from the device.
The pocket is backlit; the Playdate is not
The Analog Pocket’s crisp color display is brilliantly bright and very crisp. The Panic Playdate’s black-and-white screen also looks vivid, but has no backlighting: you’ll need to keep a light on nearby, like an old-school Game Boy.
The Playdate is a ground smaller
The analog pocket, at 3.46 by 5.86 by 0.86 inches (88 by 149 by 22 millimeters), is smaller than an original Game Boy but too big for most trouser pockets. The Playdate, on the other hand, is tiny and very compact at around 3 x 3 x 0.4 inches (76 x 74 x 9 mm).
Both make the Switch (4 x 9.4 x 1.1 inches; 102 x 239 x 28.7 mm) seem huge by comparing.
Both have USB-C charging
Both the Pocket and the Playdate charge via USB-C and can last for hours at a time. FYI: They both have headphone jacks too.
Pocket and Playdate allow mirroring to larger screens
The Analogue Pocket has a separate dock that connects to TVs and can play games through controllers. The Playdate has a mirroring tool to play games on a large PC screen. Either way, there are ways to play off-screen.
Both can cheek indie games
There’s a huge and fascinating community of indie games you can download from places like itch.io, where developers are already making unofficial games for both handhelds. Panic Playdate games can be downloaded from the Panic account site, where they are transmitted to Playdate. Handheld games must be loaded onto a microSD card and sideloaded into the device. It is worth exploring what exists on both systems. So far I’ve found a bunch of fun games for everyone.
Also both: you can Craft your own indie games
Panic has a browser-based game development kit called Pulp, which was designed to easily create Playdate games. Analogue works with a program called GB Studio which also encourages indie game development.
You probably won’t be able to buy either until 2023
And now the really unfortunate part. The Pocket and the Playdate are out of stock until 2023 at the moment. Anyone who pre-ordered early can get one sooner, but both seem to be in short supply for a long time. Hopefully supplies will improve, but that’s sad news for two great handhelds, and it means the Nintendo Switch is probably your best handheld gaming bet in 2022.
The Panic Playdate is tiny, yellow, has a non-backlit black-and-white screen, and plays its own unique indie games, 24 of which are included in the purchase price. The games are controlled with buttons, a D-pad and a goofy crank which is used in several games to good effect. The Playdate is adorable and weird, very experimental, and we have no idea what future games are coming. But it’s meant to be a collector’s item for handheld and indie gaming enthusiasts.
Read our Panic Playdate review.
For anyone with a stack of old Game Boy games, the Analogue Pocket is a Game Boy revival dream come true. The Pocket plays Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance cartridges, and other retro handheld games like Sega Game Gear with adapters sold separately. A crisp color screen and battery with USB-C charging mean games play and look fantastic. A docking station sold separately can also play games on a TV screen.
Read our Analogue Pocket review.