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The best handheld consoles you can buy today

Smartphones are great, but nothing beats a dedicated handheld console!
By
July 16, 2021
PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch 12

Thanks to decades of iterations and updates, home video game consoles are more powerful than ever. However, there are times when you want to play games on the go 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.


Nintendo Switch and Switch OLED

PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch 11

The Nintendo Switch is unlike any device we’ve ever seen and is among the best handheld consoles 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. This hybrid design 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 whim of Super Mario Odyssey, there’s something for everyone.

Also read: Get some of the coolest Nintendo Switch accessories here

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 also has The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Obsidian released The Outer Worlds.

We also need to remind you that the new Nintendo Switch OLED is now available. You might want to learn more about it and see if it’s worth the wait or upgrade.


Nintendo Switch Lite

Nintendo Switch Lite on a sofa

If you want the Nintendo Switch experience without the higher 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 standard 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. With the money you save over the standard Switch, you can buy a game and some accessories.

More: Hot Nintendo Switch deals

However, the smaller build and lower price tag come with some sacrifices. For starters, you can’t dock the Switch Lite. The handheld 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 weren’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.


New Nintendo 3DS XL

New Nintendo 3DS XL outside

Seeing how Nintendo is giving most of its attention to the Switch series, 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.

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 regular Nintendo 3DS XL’s SD cards in favor of microSD cards.

Next: Awesome Nintendo 3DS XL accessories!

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, 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.


New Nintendo 2DS XL

New Nintendo 2DS XL in white and orange - one of the best handheld consoles

A cheaper version of the Nintendo 3DS XL, the New Nintendo 2DS XL is a good alternative. 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 it launched in 2017.


GPD XD Plus

GPD XD Plus render - one of the best handheld consoles

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.

Also read: 15 best emulators for Android | Five best Nintendo DS emulators for Android

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 higher-end or more modern games.


Sony PlayStation Vita

ps vita
Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

The Sony PlayStation Vita had so much potential. Here was a handheld game console more powerful than the PlayStation 2 connected to the PlayStation 4 through Remote Play. What could go wrong? Plenty.

The PS Vita started 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 have gone up over time. Still, if you want a criminally-underappreciated portable game console, the PS Vita is it.


Hyperkin SupaBoy

Hyperkin SupaBoy - The best handheld consoles

Many of us old-timers are fans of retro games. You may even have some old Super Nintendo cartridges in the attic ready to be replayed, and the Hyperkin SupaBoy is here to help you relive those old childhood gaming days. This is one of the best handheld consoles because it supports genuine Super Nintendo and Super Famicon cartridges.

Related: The five best SNES emulators for Android

The device comes with the same controller configuration as the SNES, and even comes with a couple of front ports that are compatible with the original Super Nintendo controllers. Not to mention there’s AV out support for hooking the device up to a TV. There’s also a 10-hour battery life that should keep you gaming through most trips.

The only downside is game availability, as you need a physical cartridge to use the Hyperskin SupaBoy.


Atari Flashback Portable

Atari Flashback Portable - The best handheld consoles

The Atari Flashback Portable is definitely among the best handheld consoles if you want to go old school. For starters, it’s super affordable. It also comes with 70 games, including some of the most popular all-time classics in history. Some of them are Pac-Man, Frogger, and Dig Dug.

If you want, you can download more games and load them into an SD card, which the device supports. It has a built-in rechargeable battery and a tiny 2.8-inch screen.


Apple iPad Mini

iPad Mini iPadOS 15 homescreen - The best handheld consoles
Nick Fernandez / Android Authority

All these dedicated best handheld consoles are great, but we can’t deny the future of casual gaming is in mobile devices. We know you might not like killing your smartphone’s battery, so you can also get a dedicated mobile device for games.

Apple’s iPad mini is an excellent alternative for mobile gaming. The screen is larger at 8.3 inches, but the tablet isn’t big enough to become a nuisance when carrying it around. The size seems just right for enjoyable mobile gaming. And performance is nothing to scoff at, as the Apple A15 Bionic can handle any game in the Apple App Store.

Not only is this a great gaming machine, but it can also be used for functionality purposes. From checking your emails to editing photos and staying active on social media, the iPad Mini can take care of it all.


Google Stadia

Google Stadia playing on phone 1 - The best handheld consoles

If you really must use a smartphone for gaming, we might as well throw this option in the bunch. Google Stadia offers high-end, console-quality games over the cloud. Of course, this requires a pretty stable connection, but if you have it, you could be playing some of the best titles the industry has to offer.

Learn more: Google Stadia review

To make matters even better, Google offers a dedicated controller you can plug directly into your smartphone or tablet to use on the go. And if you happen to be gaming within Wi-Fi range, you won’t even need to plug it in. You can also get the Power Support Claw, which can keep your phone attached to your controller for a configuration more similar to that of the best handheld consoles.


Are you not convinced? Maybe you’ve gone through the list and decided it’s better to stick with smartphone gaming, after all. We’d like to mention smartphones can make excellent handheld gaming devices, especially if you pick a phone made with gamers in mind. Check them out below.

Next: The best gaming phones you can buy

Now, if you think both handheld consoles and gaming smartphones are too little for your mobile gaming needs, you might want to consider a gaming laptop.

Also: The best gaming laptops around