With the handheld game consoles you can play your favorite titles, no power outlet required. This includes any time you leave the confines of your gaming rig, whether it's a subway commute to work or school or a long-distance plane ride. Of course, portable gaming is great because you can also take in a quick session on the couch, in bed, and yeah, even in the bathroom (no judgments). No matter how you enjoy portable gaming, here’s a thorough compilation of the best handheld game consoles on the market.
How We Picked the Best Handheld Game Consoles
We’ve come a long way from the small primitive LCD Mattel and Atari made in the late ‘70s, which led to the Nintendo Game and Watch, and finally, perhaps ultimately, the Game Boy. Handheld game consoles are once again ubiquitous, considering the device you have in your pocket right now qualifies as one. Of course, we’re doing a much deeper dive into the whole concept, and here are a few things we considered when picking out the best handheld game consoles.
Portability: Gaming handhelds should first and foremost be portable. Of course, the word “portable” is pretty relative. Even the original Gameboy had trouble fitting into pockets. The Nintendo Switch may not be pocket portable, but even in a thin case, lugging it around everywhere won’t call too much attention to you or be a physical strain.
Game Library: Google Play and the App Store pack countless titles, but quantity isn’t the same as quality. A platform, no matter how powerful, can only be judged on the quality of games you can play on them. Of course, it only takes true really, really good exclusives to make a platform pop.
Battery Life: How long can you game before having to recharge a device? Gaming on a sunny day will require more brightness, which drains the battery quicker, and so will more demanding titles. If a device is only useable for a couple of hours before the battery dies, does it even truly qualify as portable?
Usability: In many cases, playing on handheld game consoles is done on impulse. What’s more satisfying than a few rounds of “Tetris” with your morning espresso? It beats Sudoku and crossword puzzles by a mile. That said, the best devices let you get in the game, and get in it fast, without cumbersome login screens or laggy load times. Learn more about how we test gaming equipment.
Best Handheld Game Consoles: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Nintendo Switch OLED
Why It Made The Cut: Nintendo Switch OLED is a home console, but playing in portable hits just as hard with its bright and shiny screen.
— Dimensions: 4 inches L x 9.5 inches W x 0.55 inches H
— Weight: 14.88 ounces
— Unmatched game library
— Great for kids and adults alike
— Extremely portable
— Lags behind the competition, specs-wise
The Nintendo Switch doesn’t have to pick if it's a portable or home console system, because at the end of the day, it’s both. While the original and Lite models are fine and dandy, the Nintendo Switch OLED is practically perfect for portable gaming.
Yes, the tech specs in this gorgeous handheld gaming console lag behind the competition. But fancy graphics aren’t everything when you have a massive library of addictive games featuring a first-party lineup that simply cannot be beaten. PS5 has 4K, but does it have Mario? Xbox Series X provides realism out the wazoo, but you can’t play “Kirby and the Forgotten Land” on it. While many dismiss it as a “kiddie” system, there are plenty of triple-A titles for mom and dad too, including “Skyrim” and “Doom,” which can be played anywhere considering the console’s portability. Great first part entries like “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “Nintendo Switch Sports” aside, it’s genuinely surprising the number of games available on the Nintendo Switch, including popular third-party and indie offerings. The OLED screen provides an immersive glow to everything you play, wherever you play it. Read our full review of the Nintendo Switch OLED.
Best For Kids: iPad Air 2022 10.9-inch
Why It Made The Cut: For kids who are “Minecraft” obsessed, iPad Air also packs plenty of educational possibilities.
— Dimensions: 9.74 inches L x 7.02 inches W x 0.24 inches H
— Weight: 1 pound
— Runs popular kid-friendly titles
— Could be educational
— Full-fledged smart device
— Requires at least a little adult supervision
Kids may not be single-minded, but in many ways, they know what they want to play. Even as new games see release, many simply can’t be pulled away from the likes of “Fortnite,” “Minecraft,” and the free-to-play juggernaut, “Roblox.” The iPad Air is a great way to play all these titles, and more.
The latest iteration of the iPad Air 2022 packs some seriously impressive graphics and battery power in a low-profile space. It’s great enough for gaming with its massive screen, that’s large enough to provide at least a little immersion. Plus, there are plenty of parental controls so you can monitor and limit the amount of time kids spend hunting for diamonds on “Minecraft” and flossing on the haters on “Fortnite.” Considering iPads pack serious computing power, there are plenty of possibilities for kids to feed their heads and learn about coding, and math, and maybe even use the device to read a novel or two. Or use it to stream YouTube and Disney+. The point is, that despite its massive price tag, it doesn’t just play games, it’s a full-service smart device. Just be sure to grab a good case so it can withstand the occasional spill.
Best Android: REDMAGIC 7 Pro
Why It Made The Cut: Android is a fantastic platform for gamers, and the REDMAGIC 7 Pro is built to tap into modern hits.
— Dimensions: 6.54 inches L x 3.03 inches W x 0.39 inches H
— Weight: 8.28 ounces
— Qualcomm 8 Gen 1 high-performance processor
— AMOLED screen
— Optimal cooling system
— No microSD card slot
There’s a good chance that the smartphone you use to stay perpetually online is powerful enough to play games, using both legal and dubious avenues. The REDMAGIC 7 Pro is actually built with gaming in mind.
For one, REDMAGIC 7 Pro packs the latest Qualcomm processor, so it can play newly released and the most demanding titles without breaking a sweat. The optimal cooling system keeps everything running smoothly. There’s a dedicated Game Space that can be accessed with a dedicated switch, so you waste no time getting into the game. Simple touchscreen customization lets you clock out your system for gorgeous graphics and lightning-fast response rates. REDMAGIC 7 Pro also packs an AMOLED screen, for bright whites, deep blacks, and the most vibrant colors imaginable that pop whether you’re playing “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night,” “Call of Duty: Mobile,” or just surfing new content on YouTube. Of course, half the fun of Android devices is that they are great for homebrew, but without a dedicated microSD card, you may encounter a few limitations on that end. For a dedicated gaming handheld that’s also a great smartphone, REDMAGIC 7 Pro is easy to recommend. Read our full review of the REDMAGIC Pro 7.
Best Pre-Loaded: Game and Watch: “The Legend of Zelda”
Why It Made The Cut: Android is a fantastic platform for gamers, and the ASUS ROG Phone 5 is built to tap into modern hits.
— Dimensions: 3.54 inches L x 6.3 inches W x 0.86 inches H
— Weight: 4.6 ounces
— Simply gorgeous
— Four great titles in one
— Doubles as a digital timer
— No way to add more games
— A tad pricey
Nearly a decade before the first Game Boy rolled off the production line, the Game and Watch series of LCD games served as Nintendo’s portable lifeblood. The Game and Watch: “The Legend of Zelda” handheld blends retro form with modern-day functionality.
On the surface, it looks exactly like a classic Game and Watch device, albeit with bright Link Green accents. Inside this little device are four great games, including three classic titles comprising “The Legend of Zelda”, “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link,” and “The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening.” There’s also a revamp of the classic Game and Watch Game “Vermin,” which features Link in the title role. When you’re not busy saving Hyrule, you can display the device on any desk or mantle, as the packaging this device comes in doubles as a stand. The timer and clock functions are also interactive, featuring active gameplay from the first two Zelda titles. That said, great as the games on the console are, there’s no way to add any more. Plus, all three Zelda games are available to play on the Nintendo Switch in one way or another. Still, as a collector’s item, Nintendo didn’t cheap out on build quality, and it’s a fitting tribute to one of its most beloved franchises. If Zelda isn’t your thing, there’s a Super Mario Game and Watch available too with similar features.
Best for Adults: Analogue Pocket
Why It Made The Cut: A retro gaming handheld that easily qualifies as a luxury item.
— Dimensions: 5.86 inches L x 3.4 inches W x 0.86 inches H
— Weight: 9.73 ounces
— Unmatched build quality
— Gorgeous LCD screen
— Fitting tribute to retro portables
— Requires the purchase of rare, and occasionally expensive, cartridges
— Difficult to secure one
Can a handheld be sexy? The Analogue Pocket certainly qualifies, while being both a technical marvel as well as a labor of love.
The Analogue Pocket is a multi-video game system handheld that is fully compatible with over 2,780 different Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance cartridges. You can even score adapters to use cartridges from other less-celebrated handhelds like the Atari Lynx and the Sega Game Gear. With a 1600 x 1400 resolution, games will look better than they ever did in your childhood, with incredible color accuracy and brightness. While it’s meant for playing retro games, the backlit screen runs for 6 to 10 hours on a single charge. It’s glorious, and photos hardly do it justice. This may be why actually getting your hands on one will require not only a big investment on your part but a fair amount of patience too. Even if you order one now, there’s a good chance you won’t be playing on it until 2023. Still, because it doesn’t play ROMs, you’ll have to find a place to score some classic cartridges. That’s a feature or a bug, depending on if you like hunting for treasure at your local flea market or game store.
Things You Should Consider Before Buying a Handheld Game Console
Anything Can Be a Game Console
In the past, handheld game consoles like the Nintendo Game Boy and the Sega Game Gear played games and did little else. And worse, this was a time in history when everything ran on batteries. Now, not only do most devices charge via USB, but they have secondary uses. Even a dedicated console like the Nintendo Switch OLED can stream video via YouTube and Twitch. There’s a chance that you’re reading this very article on a device that is both portable and at least somewhat of a handheld. Does a laptop qualify as a handheld game console? We suppose it depends on your definition of handheld, and how big your hands are. Before buying a new console, consider the investment on nabbing one that can also be used for work as well as play, like the iPad Air 2022 10.9-inch. Of course, when it comes to the caliber of games preferred by hardcore gamers, you’ll either need a dedicated handheld like the Nintendo Switch OLED or a gaming laptop.
Tips for Gaming On the Go
If you plan on gaming away from home on a regular basis, you should consider investing in a few accessories depending on your handheld game console of choice. Here are some we recommend you nab to make keep getting the most out of your devices. For Nintendo Switch OLED, it’s good to have a carrying case to keep your device clean and secure. There are tons out there, but the PowerA cases are high-quality and available in some seriously striking designs. We’re partial to the “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” case, but there are plenty of fandoms to choose from. The LTROP Case for iPad Air is made for kids and built to withstand accidental shocks while looking great.
No matter what device you get you will eventually run out of batteries. Luckily, every device featured charges via USB-C, the nearly ubiquitous way of powering up devices nowadays. Anker 325 Power Bank is slim enough to fit into any backpack and has four inputs to handle multiple devices at once. Keep one handy and you’ll never run out of juice.
Q: What is the most portable gaming console?
The most portable gaming console is easily a smartphone like the ASUS ROG Phone 5, which fits in your pocket.
Q: Which handheld console has the best games?
Best is relative when it comes to games, but Nintendo Switch has a massive library of great indie titles and big hits including exclusives from the Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon franchises.
How much do handheld game consoles cost?
Handheld game consoles run on the low end of about $50 to over $1,000 if you factor in premium devices like tablets and smartphones.
Final Thoughts on Handheld Game Consoles
Gaming in front of a glitzy rig is great, but sometimes, the best experiences can be had in the wild. For the absolute best handheld gaming console (of all time?), we highly recommend the Nintendo Switch OLED, with its massive library of big hitters and its big bright screen. For kids just looking to get their “Roblox” fix, iPad Air 2022 10.9-inch is lightweight and doubles as an educational tool as well. Retro handheld game console fans will be at home with both the Game and Watch: “The Legend of Zelda” and Analogue Pocket, which each straddle the ends of low and high-end classic gaming.
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