Thanks to decades of iterations and updates, home video game consoles are more powerful than ever before. However, there are times when you want to play games and don’t want to use your smartphone. There’s only so much enjoyment you can get from mobile games full of loot boxes and other free-to-play mechanics. That’s where portable game consoles come in. Whether it’s something as fully-featured as a Nintendo Switch or something smaller, here’s our list of the best handheld consoles.
The best handheld consoles:
Editor’s note: We will update our list of the best portable game consoles as new devices launch.
1. Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch is unlike any game console we’ve ever seen and is the best portable option you can get. If you’re lounging around at home, you can dock the Switch and play it on the big screen. However, you can also take the Switch with you when you’re out and about. It’s this hybrid design that helped capture the hearts of millions of people.
Then again, what good is a console without good games? Thankfully, the Switch has you covered. From the open world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to the whimsy of Super Mario Odyssey, there’s something for everyone.
Even better, other developers have taken notice of the Switch’s potential and have ported older and current titles to the system. Bethesda released Doom and the last two Wolfenstein games for the Switch. CD Projekt Red will soon release The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, while Obsidian will eventually release The Outer Worlds.
If you plan to get the Nintendo Switch, we recommend the version with model number HAC-001(-01), since it features improved battery life relative to the original Switch.
2. Nintendo Switch Lite
If you want the Nintendo Switch experience without the price tag, the Nintendo Switch Lite is the only available alternative. The good news is the system lives up to its name in two key areas: build and price.
Starting with the build, the Switch Lite features a 5.5-inch display. By comparison, the normal Switch features a larger 6.2-inch display. Also, the Switch Lite weighs 9.7 ounces compared to the normal Switch’s 10.5-ounce weight. The weight difference doesn’t seem significant, but you need to hold a Switch Lite to appreciate how much lighter it is.
Even the price sees a reduction of around $100. With the money you save over the normal Switch, you can buy a game and some accessories.
However, the smaller build and lower price tag come with some sacrifices. For starters, you can’t dock the Switch Lite. The console retains the USB-C port, but there’s no hardware for video-out. Also, the Switch Lite doesn’t feature rumble support or auto-brightness.
Finally, the Joy-Cons are permanently attached to the Switch Lite. This wouldn’t be as big of a problem if it wasn’t for the stick drift issues some Switch owners experienced. There’s a class-action lawsuit against Nintendo over the issue, though we don’t know exactly how many people it’s affected.
So long as you understand the sacrifices you make, the Switch Lite is an excellent choice and a great alternative to the normal Switch.
3. New Nintendo 3DS XL
Seeing how Nintendo is giving most of its attention to the Switch and Switch Lite, it makes sense for the New Nintendo 3DS XL to take a backseat. However, that doesn’t mean you should follow Nintendo’s footsteps and ignore the company’s dual-screen portable system.
Released in 2015, the Nintendo 3DS XL features colored face buttons similar to the PAL SNES’ color scheme. There’s also Super Stable 3D, which detects the angle of your head and adjusts the 3D effect to compensate for a change in the viewing angle.
The New Nintendo 3DS XL also features a C-Stick above the face buttons, additional processor cores, a bump to 256MB of RAM, and NFC for Amiibo support. Finally, the New Nintendo 3DS XL moved away from the normal Nintendo 3DS XL’s SD cards in favor of microSD cards.
Thanks to the 3DS being around for over eight years and backwards compatibility with DS titles, the New Nintendo 3DS XL features an expansive library of games. Some stand-outs include Super Mario 3D Land, Pokemon Sun and Moon, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, and Fire Emblem Awakening, just to name a few.
It’s much harder to find a New Nintendo 3DS XL in new condition. That said, you can pick one up from third-party sellers.
4. New Nintendo 2DS XL
A cheaper version of the Nintendo 3DS XL, the New Nintendo 2DS XL is the newest member of the 3DS family.
For the most part, the system is very similar to the Nintendo 3DS XL in that they share most of the latter’s hardware enhancements. That means NFC for Amiibos, an updated processor, and the C-Stick.
However, the New Nintendo 2DS XL forgoes auto-stereoscopic 3D. It also features a thinner design relative to the Nintendo 3DS XL and moves the microphone and camera to the hinge. Finally, the microSD card is accessible through a flap.
Unfortunately for the New Nintendo 2DS XL, it launched mere months after the Nintendo Switch. Couple that with the aging processing, and the New Nintendo 2DS XL didn’t exactly light the world on fire when in launched in 2017.
5. GPD XD Plus
A quick glance at the GPD XD Plus and you might mistake it for a Nintendo 3DS XL — the former features a similar clamshell design with face buttons, along with a charging port and four additional buttons along the top.
Then again, keep looking for a few seconds longer and you see how different the GPD XD Plus really is from Nintendo’s handheld console.
For starters, the GPD XD Plus features two analog sticks instead of just one. Also, the console features many more buttons than the Nintendo 3DS XL. There are buttons but L3 and R3, volume up and down, start, select, home, back, and more.
The GPD XD Plus has so many buttons because it runs Android 7.0 Nougat. That means the console can be your portable emulation machine. Don’t expect miracles from the processor, however. The MediaTek MT8176 is fine for SNES, GBA, and even PSP titles, but it doesn’t perform as well with PS2 and GameCube games.
6. Sony PlayStation Vita
The Sony PlayStation Vita had so much potential. Here was a handheld game console more powerful than the PlayStation 2 that connected to the PlayStation 4 through Remote Play. What could go wrong? Plenty, apparently.
The PS Vita started off fine enough until hardware and game sales stalled hard. The console eventually became a haven for JRPGs and indie titles, but large developers like Ubisoft and Activision quickly pulled support following disappointing sales.
Even with disappointing sales, the PS Vita’s game library is a surprisingly strong one. Stand-out titles include Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Persona 4 Golden, Gravity Rush, and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. However, games like Hotline Miami, Spelunky, Fez, and OlliOlli have the Vita to thank for their successes.
Even better, folks turned the PS Vita into an emulation machine. It’s not the best option for emulation, especially since Sony no longer manufactures the system, and prices for the system have gone up over time. Still, if you want a criminally-underappreciated portable game console, the PS Vita is it.
These are our picks for the best handheld consoles. Let us know in the comments if you picked any of these up or if you have a particular favorite!