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Sega Coleco Sonic Portable
The Coleco Sonic is a handheld game system distributed by Coleco in 2006, under license by Sega. The portable was designed as an inexpensive gaming device, around $40 at launch, and was distributed in department stores like Target and Walmart. The handheld has no cartridge slot or expandable memory and contains a short list of built-in Sega Game Gear and Sega Master System games.
The Coleco Sonic was released in Canada as the PlayPal in Canada and the UK, and as the Pocket Gear in Europe. The unit contains the following games: Alex Kidd in High-Tech World, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Altered Beast, Assault City, Astro Warrior, Aztec Adventure, Bomber Raid, Columns, Ecco II: The Tides of Time, Fantasy Zone, Fantasy Zone: The Maze, Global Defense, Kung Fu Kid, The Ninja, Penguin Land, Quartet, Snail Maze, Sonic Drift 2, Sonic Triple Trouble, and Super Columns.
The Coleco Sonic is a small portable gaming console, just slightly larger than the size of a Gameboy Micro. The console weighs slightly less than a standard size Sega Genesis cartridge and feels sturdy in the hands. Built quality on the Coleco Sonic is quite good, and all buttons have a crisp feel. On the front of the console is a 2.4" TFT LCD display which is actually quite crisp and bright. The display itself is larger than the screen on a Gameboy Micro by approximately 0.4" on the diagonal, and is every bit as crisp and vibrant.
The Coleco Sonic features a directional pad similar to the design found on Nintendo handhelds. Above the d-pad are two volume buttons, obviously used to increase or decrease the volume of the unit. The speaker on the unit sounds quite good, and although it's not quite as loud as the speaker on a Sega Game Gear, produces better sound quality in my experience.
On the right front side of the unit are two action buttons labeled A and B. I found this quite odd since the action buttons on a Game Gear and on the Sega Master System were labeled 1 and 2. Above the action buttons are a smaller Start button, which functions similarly to the Start button on the Game Gear or the Pause button on a Master System console depending on which game you're playing, and a Reset button, which takes you back to the game select menu.
On the top side of the console are three items. The first is a 5V DC input so the device can be operated from AC wall power. The second is an On/off switch, which is nothing special but feels fairly solid. The third is an AV output port, which interestingly enough provides composite output from the device to a TV via a standard 1/4" phono-jack style TRS plug.
The rest of the console is virtually baron of ports. Since all of the games are built-in and there's no room for external expansion, there is no cartridge or memory card slot. On the bottom of the unit is a headphone jack. Volume for this output is adjustable via the volume + and - buttons above the D-pad. So far as I can tell, audio output from this jack is mono only.
The battery compartment is on the back of the unit, and must be accessed by removing a small phillips screw. This is the only part of the console I can honestly say I dislike. Oh one hand, it means you'll never lose the battery cover. On the other it means that if you're playing the Coleco Sonic on the road and your batteries die, you're going to have to find a small screwdriver to replace them. The good news? Battery life is reported to be around 6 hours, though I haven't tested this myself.
Rarity and Collectability
Honestly, up until a few days ago I had no idea this unit ever existed. I imagine at one point a few people picked them up in Target stores around the US, gave them to their kids, and they got destroyed. Mine was the only one on eBay at the time I purchased it, and currently there are only two for sale on Amazon.com. One unit is new and the seller is asking $149, and the second is used (without the original packaging, as mine came) and is for sale for $90. Luckily, I didn't pay anywhere near either of those prices for mine.
The unit originally came in a cheap blister pack. You know, the kind you have to either open with scissors or destroy trying to open without them. Either way, I imagine packaging for most of these handhelds ended up in the trash, so you're not likely to find one with good packaging unless you buy a brand new one. For that you'll obviously pay a premium.
The unit was produced under different names in Europe and Canada as well, but I can't seem to find either of those units for sale anywhere. I'm slightly disappointed this is the case, as the European unit looks different than the one released here in the US, and I would like to get my hands on one.
The Coleco Sonic is a nice handheld. Unlike almost all other handhelds out there, with the exception of the Gameboy Micro, this is a handheld that you could actually throw in your pocket and quickly pull out to partake in some retro gaming fun. Unlike the Gameboy Micro though, you don't have to drag a bunch of cartridges around with you - and if you can manage to find a small screwdriver, you can even replace the batteries on the fly (unlike the Micro's rechargable non-removable battery).
The Coleco Sonic is an interesting portable console though, and I think retro Sega collectors would enjoy it - both to have and to play. I don't think I'd pay $149 for one, but - like anything - if you're interested and you hold out long enough you'll be able to pick one up for a decent price.
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