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The Arduboy Mini is a hackable gaming platform roughly the size of two quarters

The Arduboy Mini is a hackable gaming platform roughly the size of two quarters

The Arduboy Mini attached to a USB-C cable is held in the hand.

The Arduboy Mini attached to a USB-C cable is held in the hand.

The original Arduboy made headlines as a credit card-sized handheld device you could stash away in your wallet for gaming emergencies, but it was also a great way to get started coding through the Arduino platform. The Arduboy Mini offers the same experience – 8-bit gaming and portability – in an even smaller device. It’s also fully loaded, so it encourages hardware hacking as well. The creator is bringing it to consumers next year through a Kickstarter campaign, but we got some hands on it in time with an early sample of the hardware.

If you’re not familiar with the Arduboy, it’s a Game Boy-like handheld console born from one Tetris-Playing business cards made by Kevin Bates to show off his hardware hacking skills. That didn’t get Bates a job, but the online reaction to his creation encouraged him to take the idea further, eventually turning it into the Arduino-based Arduboy, which currently has hundreds of 8-bit games available for it, all free, thanks to an ever-growing developer community. If you’re looking for a starting point to get into game development that doesn’t involve going back to school, the Arduboy is a great option.

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The Arduboy Mini compared in size to an American quarter.

The Arduboy Mini compared in size to an American quarter.

Arduboy Mini (right) compared to the size of a US quarter (left).

I’m not sure what I expected when the Arduboy Mini was first announced, but the hardware is a lot smaller than I expected it to be. Put a couple of quarters side by side on a table and it’s more or less Mini’s footprint.

Arduboy Mini sits next to the original Arduboy.

Arduboy Mini sits next to the original Arduboy.

Arduboy Mini (right) compared in size to the original Arduboy (left).

The original Arduboy was already a satisfyingly small and thin handheld for gamers who prioritized portability, but the Mini shrinks it down to as small as a device like this can be, while still being playable… for the most part… we’ll until later. But even though the Arduboy Mini is easily half the size of the original version, the screen didn’t shrink that much, so you don’t need a microscope to use it.

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A close-up of the Arduboy Mini's OLED screen showing a 1942-style game being played.

A close-up of the Arduboy Mini’s OLED screen showing a 1942-style game being played.

The Arduboy Mini uses a monochromatic OLED screen that can only display black and white images – no grayscale.

For those now used to high-resolution screens on portable devices like the Nintendo Switch or the Valve Steam Deck, the Arduboy Mini’s 128×64-pixel OLED display may seem like a step back, but it’s actually a big part of the handheld’s charm. Unlike even the original Game Boy, which could display four shades of grey, the Arduboy Mini is monochromatic – just black and white – but it helps streamline and simplify game development, while encouraging creativity to actually push that screen can show.

Arduboy Mini next to Arduboy Development Kit.

Arduboy Mini next to Arduboy Development Kit.

Arduboy Mini (right) compared to Arduboy Development Kit (left) both of which have a boxless design with exposed electronics.

I’ve compared the Arduboy Mini to its predecessors (the original Arduboy was succeeded by the Arduboy FX, which introduced more memory and an updated front-end allowing the handheld to be loaded with over 200 games), but a more appropriate comparison might be to the original Arduboy Development Kit, as it also lacked a plastic cover and finished buttons. Like the ADK, the Arduboy Mini is built on an exposed circuit board that encourages users to not only tinker with the code, but also the hardware.

A close-up of the back of the Arduboy Mini showing the solder contacts for attaching a speaker and rechargeable battery.

A close-up of the back of the Arduboy Mini showing the solder contacts for attaching a speaker and rechargeable battery.

The back of the Arduboy Mini has visible connectors for attaching a rechargeable battery and a speaker.

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Bates is positioning the new Arduboy Mini as a version of the device aimed at schools as a STEM learning tool. To encourage hardware hacking (and to keep shipping costs down), the Mini comes without a speaker or battery. Turn the handheld over and you’ll find the solder contacts you need to add both of these components yourself, exposed and labeled, with the circuitry needed to facilitate a battery that can be recharged through the device’s USB-C port already baked right in. .

The Arduboy Mini sits on top of a much larger battery pack to which it is connected by a USB-C cable.

The Arduboy Mini sits on top of a much larger battery pack to which it is connected by a USB-C cable.

Out of the box, you need to connect the Arduboy Mini to a power source with a USB-C cable.

As such, as amazingly small as the Arduboy Mini may be, it may not be the best choice for those who just want to dive into the platform’s collection of hundreds of 8-bit games. I’ve tested the Mini and enjoyed the included library of over 300 games while tethered to an Anker battery pack that absolutely dwarfs the device, almost comically. If you’ve never picked up a soldering iron, and never want to, the Arduboy FX is definitely a better option.

A close-up of the buttons on the front of the Arduboy Mini.

A close-up of the buttons on the front of the Arduboy Mini.

The Arduboy has size buttons on the front, including four grouped together and used as directional controls.

The Arduboy Mini may also not be the platform of choice for high-scoring fighters. On the front, it uses four buttons laid out as a directional pad, plus two others that act as action buttons. (As well as a seventh smaller button on the back to quickly reset the device.)

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They’re serviceable, but the buttons have a lot of travel and require more force than I expected to register a press, and that can make action games a little challenging, especially on such a small device. I definitely prefer the buttons on the larger Arduboy, which are softer and have less travel, but I also understand that when you build such a small handheld, sometimes compromises have to be made with the components you can use.

At the time of writing, there are still 13 days left in the Arduboy Mini’s Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign (it’s already surpassed its $10,000 funding goal), in case you were hoping to get in on the first production run expected to ship to backers next June. If you’re already a big fan of the original Arduboy, you’ve probably already backed this one. But if you’re new to the platform and are mostly interested in it for some nostalgic retro gaming, you might actually be better off with the older Arduboy FX. It’s easier to play, and comes with sound and a battery already included.

The Arduboy Mini’s real appeal lies not in its size, but its potential. I’ve long been interested in trying my hand at electronics and expanding my coding capabilities, but sitting down with an Arduino board in one hand, a soldering iron in the other and a ‘hardware hacking 101’ tutorial on my laptop mine has never appealed to me. I need a more defined end goal – like making a video game – and I imagine I’m not the only one. The Arduboy Mini is a clever Trojan horse for getting kids interested in coding and electronics, and at $24 (when bought in a 10-pack), I hope it will be embraced as a fun educational tool.

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