The Arduboy Mini Gaming handheld is roughly the size of two quarters
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 Arduino Mini offers the same experience – 8-bit gaming and portability – in an even smaller device. It is also full gut out, saw it encourages hardware hacking, also. The creator will bring it to consumers next year through a Kickstarter campaignbut we arrived 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-gaming business cards created by Kevin Bates to show off their hardware hacking skills. It didn’t get Bates a job, but the web reaction to his creation encouraged him to take the idea further, eventually make it the Arduino based one Arduboy, which currently has hundreds of 8-bit games available for it, all for free, courtesy of a 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.
I’m not sure what I expected then Arduboy Mini was first announced, but the hardware is much 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.
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.
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 capable of displaying 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 push what the screen can actually display.
I have compared Arduboy Mini to its predecessors (the original Arduboy was followed 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 apt comparison might be to the original Arduboy Development Kit, since that too missing one plastic case and finished buttons. Like the ADK, the Arduboy Mini is built on an exposed circuit board that encourages users to not only tamper with the code but also the hardware.
Bates is positioning the new Arduboy Mini as a version of the device aimed at schools as a STEM learning tool. To help encourage hardware hacking (and keep shipping costs down), The Mini comes without a speaker or a 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. .
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 during my stay bound to one Anchor battery pack which absolutely dwarfs the unit, almost comically. If you’ve never picked up a soldering iron, and never want to, you can Arduino FX is definitely a better option.
The Arduboy Mini may also not be the platform of choice for high-scoring fighters. On the front page, 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.)
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 bigger Arduboy, which is softer and have less travel, but I also understand that when you build such a small handheld, there are sometimes compromises that have to be made with the components you can use.
At the time of writing there are still 13 days left in Arduboy Mini’s Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign (it already has surpassed the funding goal of $10,000), just in case you were hoping to get in on the first production 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 are new to the platform and are mostly interested in it for some nostalgic retro gaming, you might actually be better served by it 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 I’ve only ever sat down with an Arduino board in one hand, a soldering iron in the other, and a ‘hardware hacking 101’ tutorial on it my laptop. 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 to get kids interested in coding and electronics, and for $24 (when bought in a 10-pack), I hope it will be embraced as a fun educational tool.