FunKey S: Tiny but Mighty Clamshell Handheld
Quick: What’s small, foldable, and full of buttons? No, it’s not a Hawaiian shirt for a kid. It is in fact a retro handheld! Yes indeed, today we are talking about a device that changed the landscape of the retro-handheld sphere when it was released thanks to its size, its shape, and its capability. Some years have passed since it jumped on the scene and to some it may be a distant memory. However today I am bringing it back to the forefront of our collective mind by reintroducing it to those who may have gotten amnesia since 2021. It’s fun, it’s key, and it’s S…that’s right, it’s the FunKey S! The foldable wonder that remains to this day the smallest member of the clamshell family; one that redefined the pocketability factor of handhelds by not only folding up, but also being smaller than a clementine. Size is not the only thing that grabs attention either; performance for such a small device is off the charts, giving it a leg up on some other members of the clamshell family, such as the beloved V90.
The upside is apparent at first glance, as is the downside; its biggest strengths may also be its biggest weaknesses. The size is both cute and uncomfortable, the screen is both crisp and tough to see, the buttons are responsive and hard to hit. So, in this day and age, is this offering from FunKey a proper fit into your collection? Does it have a niche? How many people will still say “Aww! How cute!” when they see you holding it? Well without further ado, let’s get into it.
I am going to start where I usually start: the parts of the device you can actually see and feel; this particular handheld just happens to have a lot less real estate than most others. While closed, the dimensions of the S are 1.67 x 1.75 x 0.54 inches. Yes, THAT small. This easily makes it one of the tiniest little handhelds on the market, even smaller than another device I have reviewed recently, the Q36 Mini from PowKiddy. Built from the combination of two of the company’s prototypes, the Keymu and the FunKey Zero, the FunKey S landed with a clamshell design that became its trademark look. Thanks to this, the 1.54” 240x240 screen is protected while the S is in your pocket or on your keychain, because yes indeed, it has a post for a lanyard! The shell comes in a variety of colors: gray, indigo, transparent purple/blue/or pink. The layout consists of a very GBA SP placement of buttons: d-pad to the left, Start/Select toward the bottom canter of the face, and four face buttons rather than two, to the right of the others. A miniscule function button also resides just below the hinge between the other buttons. Aside from that the only other buttons are the two trigger buttons that reside toward the rear of the bottom half. It should go without saying that these buttons are all very small; but I did say it…just to be clear. Other than that, the only other features are the logo on the top panel, some words on the back, and a micro-USB charging port. Not a USB-C. It is unfortunate, but not a deal breaker for me.
If you put a quarter over the screen on the FunKey S, you would pretty much cover up the entire picture. That said it couldn’t possibly be much bigger thanks to the dimensions of the device itself. Despite the size the screen actually looks quite sharp and bright. The colors are very saturated. The aspect ratio can be changed as well allowing for some options when it comes to viewing systems that did not use a square aspect ratio, such as GBA. While that is a welcome feature, it should be noted that basically any games that are text-heavy will be a bit of a struggle to enjoy on this handheld. Unless you have the thing four inches from your face it’s quite possible you will not be able to read certain text very well. Luckily there is no screen tearing that I could see. One thing it certainly does have going for it is the fact that you will not need a screen protector thanks to the clamshell design. That will keep the screen looking nice with minimal effort and worry. Believe it or not I actually enjoy the little screen overall thanks to the sharpness and the recently uncommon square shape. Just know that smaller is not always better and that certainly applies to screens.
The buttons are small, like tiny, very much NOT large, etc… You get it. They are also tightly packed together which can easily cause issues when it comes to pressing correct buttons at correct times during gameplay. But what about the other aspects of the things we push over and over again, bringing us much joy indeed? Well as for the feeling of the presses, we are talking clicky here. They audibly “pop” when pressed in fact. Personally, I do not love this. Still, they are serviceable buttons as they are very responsive and do not require a ton of force to depress them. The d-pad is not a solid unit and rather is very Switch-esque with each button being its own entity. Once again, not my style. The segregated buttons make for tough platforming and create a constant noise while playing. Menu, Start, and Select are all the size of a Nerds candy, but because of their general uses the size really isn’t an issue for them, and they press and sound exactly like the other buttons on the handheld’s face. Our two lonely buttons are those little triggers that sit at the rear known as L and R. Poking out from the shell a bit aids them in being somewhat simple to reach and they match the feel of their brethren; if you are in fact able to press them, that is. They take too much pressure to use effectively, which really is a shame because I find the design solid! My assessment of the buttons is that they are very usable for things like RPGs and puzzle games. But there is an asterisk, which is of course that they are just far too small to be used effectively in the majority of other game types.
This is truly where the magic lies with this device. Sure the clamshell is neat, and yes the build quality is surprisingly good, but the main selling point is the performance that is found in such a tiny package. Yes I said tiny package, ok? Anyway, the ARM Cortex A-7 that runs this thing provides a very substantial bit of power for the Funkey S although the 64mb of RAM it’s paired with is nothing to brag to your friends about. Storage will depend on what size SD card you would like to put in it because yes indeed, it has a slot for a micro! Sure you have to open up the device to get to it, but it’s just two screws fortunately. The added storage will be nice when it comes to housing your CD based games. You heard right, this thing can play CD based games which in this case means PS1! Sure that is not necessarily uncommon in devices these days, but for something this size to be able to play those games, and play them well, is absolutely remarkable. Speaking of playing games, you may be wondering how long all of this performance can last without being plugged in to charge. A 400mAh battery sits cozily behind the motherboard and provides around three hours of game play from what I have noticed. The remaining room inside the bottom half of the shell is taken up by a .5w mono-speaker that provides decent sound, albeit a little lacking in the bass department. It gets loud enough to hear but can easily be drowned out by other noise without much volume. It will be your only choice, however, because the FunKey S is devoid of a headphone jack. Not surprising, but something to think about. I say the guts of this handheld are stellar and should absolutely be praised because they are truly impressive in their design and implementation.
If it ain’t hardware, it’s software, am I right? The hardware is certainly what attracts people to this device initially, but I would argue that the software is why they stick around. The FunKey S is one of the few devices that ships with an absolutely stellar OS. Named after the device itself, this OS provides a nice frontend that is customizable and simple. The interface is nice to look at, easy to navigate, and just straight up solid. Adding to the great functionality is the Menu button, which brings up the same menu (with varying options) in any situation, making it a snap to learn and use. States can be saved/loaded, volume can be adjusted, aspect ratio and brightness too, all at the push of one itty-bitty button. Your systems and games will be organized well and relatively hassle-free to locate, especially considering you can add box art if you would like (using a PC). To be perfectly honest, I don’t even have a ton to say about the OS because it just works. If you are familiar with the software experience on these devices this one will be no issue; conversely if you have never used a device like this before, the OS will provide an easy transition into the world of Linux-based operating systems as they pertain to gaming.
The cramps in my hands can prove I have been testing all sorts of games on the Funkey S for about two weeks. Right out of the gate I will say, trying to play the 3rdDKC game was rough and did not last long. I could not keep my thumbs from hitting multiple face buttons at once during intense parts, though I will say the game itself ran perfectly well. In fact every SNES game I tested was great, GB and GBC too of course. GBA definitely runs fine, but of course the screen aspect ratio needs to be changed in order to have the picture look correct, which leaves it smaller than it already is. Playing Crazy Racers was a mixed bag because the performance was great, but the use of the triggers and the d-pad marred an otherwise enjoyable time. Of course, one thing everyone wants to know: how well do PS1 games run? Well in a word: very. Seriously they could not run better given the circumstances. Silent Hill ran smooth and looked acceptable, even retaining its eerie nature. No stutters or tearing, no noticeable dips in FPS. 007: The World is Not Enough was in the same boat. Having never really played a Castlevania game I decided to throw on Symphony of the Night to test it out, and it ran perfectly. As far as my testing goes, I was basically unable to find a game that ran subpar on the FunKey S, which is a remarkable feat. Really the size-to-performance ratio is right there with the Miyoo Mini in terms of how unshakable the gaming seems to be. Handhelds out there like the Q20 and the V90 that are three or four times the size of the Funkey S struggle with PS1 games in a way the micro clamshell simply does not.
What It Can Play
Atari 2600, Atari 5600, Atari 7800
Nintendo Entertainment System
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Nintendo Game Boy
Nintendo Game Boy Color
Nintendo Game Boy Advance
Nintendo Virtual Boy
Sega Master System
Sega Genesis / Mega Drive
Neo Geo Pocket
Neo Geo Pocket Color
Not a Chance
GameCube, PS2, Other Next-Gen Consoles
Where to Buy
FunKey S Official
· Supreme pocketability aided by the clamshell design
· Size vs. performance ratio is sweet
· Screen is small but clear and colorful
· Comes in a variety of awesome colors, including 3 transparent variants
· Just freaking adorable
· The buttons are all hard to hit correctly or tough to push
· No volume wheel or buttons
· Micro USB charging rather than USB-C
· Not the best sound and the speaker is the only option
· Expensive for something usable only in small bursts
I personally enjoy small handhelds. I like the portability, the small footprint, the impressive power that can be packed into a little box. I am generally not a massive fan of the clamshell design…I mean I don’t dislike it or anything, I can take it or leave it really. So the FunKey S sits in a curious position for me; it is something more than a novelty, but less than a daily driver. It has maximum pocketability but minimal playability. So what do I think of it, in a nutshell (that it could damn near fit inside of)? I think it is impressive, fun, and unique. I am glad to have it in my collection even though it does get less use than some other devices. Overall, the Funkey S is what I am always looking for when it comes to retro-handhelds: it is enjoyable to have around. Whether that means playing it, showing it off, or just looking at the thing, it brings me joy. And what more could we ask out of it than that?
Review kindly provided by RocketMan824