Best handheld game console in 2023
Best handheld game console in 2023
The past few years have seen a revival of handheld game consoles, thanks to the convenience of on-the-go gaming and streaming technology, and no doubt in part due to the success of the Nintendo Switch in 2017. There are tons of options now: the Switch and steam bridgeindependent consoles like the Panic Playdate and Analogue Pocket, and mobile streaming devices like the Razer Edge And Logitech GCloud. Here are the best dedicated handheld game console options and why they’re worth considering.
Phones and tablets already do a great job playing tons of awesome games or streaming games from consoles or the cloud. Dedicated devices can provide unique features, exclusive games, or extra power to do things your phone can’t. It almost feels like a throwback to the mid-2010s era Nintendo 3DS And playstation vita.
THE Nintendo Switch has been the best and most affordable portable gaming system for years, and continues to be GameSpot’s top pick. At $300 (or $350 for our favorite model), it can play a wide variety of Nintendo and indie games, it can hook up to a TV, and it can even play fitness games. But that of Valve steam bridge offers a unique proposition for those with deeper pockets: it’s big and can serve as a full-featured gaming PC. One year laterit’s still awesome (and arguably even better than before).
For those who miss retro game consoles like the game boyyou might consider putting yourself on the waiting list to order the Analog pocket Or Panic Playdatetoo, but both of these systems are more niche – and more indie/retro focused – than the Switch and Steam Deck.
We will explain below.
The Nintendo Switch is now over five years old, but Nintendo has indicated that no real successor is coming at this time. A Pro model has been rumored for some time, but in the meantime the existing Switch remains extremely capable, full of great games (including plenty of indie offerings) and fairly affordable considering its portable/connected dual function. television. The Switch has also become a fantastic source of retro games (Game Boy, NES, SNES, Genesis, N64 and more) through the subscription-based Switch Online service.
The OLED-screened Switch, released in October 2021, is the best Switch and our recommended choice. The snappier, larger screen is fantastic, its rear kickstand works better for tabletop gaming, and both of these upgrades are worth the extra $50. The original Switch (or the V2 version), at $300, works the same and still works well, and sometimes comes in special editions and holiday game packs. The smaller, portable-only Switch Lite is a great $200 choice for anyone who just wants a basic portable gaming system, but it can’t connect to a TV and its controllers won’t come off. This makes it less versatile for families and means you can’t replace controllers if they break.
Read our Nintendo Switch review.
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Valve’s large and powerful Steam Deck is a marvel. It can play a wide variety of PC games surprisingly well, and is the dream laptop for any hardcore Steam fan, or anyone with a large library of PC games. The Steam Deck can get expensive for the larger storage tiers, but for what it’s capable of, it’s not a bad deal. The ability to play PC games or stream cloud-based games, and connect to a monitor, keyboard, or other accessories, puts the Steam Deck in a class of its own. A year later, it’s still fantastic and worth buying now (we don’t know when a second-gen Steam Deck will be announced, though).
Read our Steam Deck review.
The Pocket looks like a totally redone Game Boy, and it is, in a way. Analogue’s beautiful handheld can perfectly read original Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance cartridges, and can even play Sega Game Gear games using an adapter (the Atari Lynx, Neo Geo adapters Pocket and Turbografx-16 should arrive soon). It has a high-resolution color display and USB-C charging, and there’s a dock sold separately for TV playback. One of the Pocket’s most interesting updates is its support for FPGA cores that can replicate classic gaming hardware and read ROMs. There is no game store to buy games: Pocket is a system for playing classic cartridges or other games in incredible quality, if you want to tinker with FPGA. There’s also a growing library of Pocket-compatible software in indie game channels like itch.io that can also be downloaded to a microSD card.
Read our Analogue Pocket review.
The tiny, yellow-screened, black-and-white Panic Playdate looks like a weird Game Boy with a mechanical crank squirting out of its side. But this system, made by the indie game company that developed Untitled Goose Game, plays its own little season of 24 indie-developed games, which are included with purchase and appear over time as weekly freebies. The Playdate has Wi-Fi and can download games or download other independently developed titles from sites like itch.io, but you’ll have to learn to love the experiences you discover. We’ve loved playing on it so far, but alas the Playdate doesn’t have a backlight – you’ll have to find a lamp instead. A recent update added a new app catalog to the device where games can be purchased separately, but Playdate’s price also jumps to $199: for the same price, you can also get a Switch Lite.
Read our Panic Playdate review.
Should I just use my phone or iPad instead?
Tablets and phones are extremely valuable game consoles: the iPad has tons of games on the App Store, and hundreds more on Apple’s subscription-based Apple Arcade. The iPad can also be paired with Bluetooth game controllers. iPhones and Android phones also have tons of games, obviously, and a number of excellent game controller cases are available, including the Backbone and the Razer Kishi.
Phones and tablets also offer other benefits, including the ability to stream games to a growing number of services, including Microsoft Game Pass Ultimate and PlayStation Plus.
The handhelds listed above have other benefits: unique game libraries, the ability to connect to a TV and play with others, and the ability to play high-end PC games or classic game cartridges.
Should I wait for anything else?
The Nintendo Switch Pro, a long-talked about upgrade to the Switch, could eventually offer 4K gaming and possibly upgraded controllers, though the existence of such a device is entirely speculative. Chances are that Nintendo will continue to slightly improve the Switch via new models every two years, the same way it has continued to upgrade its Nintendo DS and 3DS lineup over time.
The Steam Deck has been on the market for just over a year, but it’s unclear when and if Valve will ever choose to upgrade it with better processors or new features. And for now, Microsoft and Sony have stayed out of the portable gaming picture.
Razer’s Android-based gaming tablet, the Razer Edge, shows where a wave of new gaming tablets could emerge to become the Steam Decks of the mobile world. The Edge is more of an Android device with a controller attached, however, and isn’t much better right now than a controller you could just buy for your phone.
Logitech’s streaming-only G Cloud handheld is a similar proposition, but with its controls attached to the device. These handhelds might indicate how more console/PC accessories might appear as home handhelds for streaming games away from a TV, but for now you’re probably better off using your phone or your tablet and a game controller to do much the same thing. thing.
My children alternate between games on the iPad and the Nintendo Switch. The Switch is arguably the best console for kids, with the most family-friendly game library and the best parental control settings. Still, prepare to be annoyed with buying multiple copies of games and the process of creating multiple Switch family accounts.