The best handheld game consoles can entertain you anywhere. Although gaming computers, PS4 and Xbox One’s are excellent companions at home, they are inconvenient to take on a trip and impossible to actually play while in transit. This is where handheld consoles come in: Moderate powerful, lightweight machines that are easy to store in a backpack or even a pocket.
While the best handheld game consoles previously made you choose between limited specifications (like a Nintendo Game Boy) and excessive power consumption (like a Sega Game Gear), modern handheld consoles do not suffer from such limitations. The gadgets on this list support deep games with wonderful graphics. You can also play for hours at a time thanks to strong battery life.
Whether you need to spend time on your commute or stay busy when you reach your destination, here are the best handheld game consoles you can buy.
What are the best handheld game consoles?
A few years ago, the handheld gaming market was shared between Nintendo and Sony, as devices such as the Nintendo 3DS and Sony PlayStation Vita competed for superiority. Now Nintendo has pretty much the traditional handheld market in the corner with Switch.
There are two variants of Switch available: Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite. The former is an inventive game console that you can connect to a TV or play as a handheld; the latter is only hand-held. The game choices on the two systems are identical, which is good news for fans of Nintendo franchisees like The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing. Just keep in mind that the transfer of save data between the two systems is not as smooth as it may be, so you will probably pick one and stick to it.
Apple iPad Air has always been a pretty decent gaming device, in addition to a full-featured multimedia tablet and productivity purposes. There are many great games à la carte in the Apple App Store. But with the introduction of Apple Arcade last year, iOS devices have received a selection of high-profile awards from both indie developers and major studios. If you haven̵
We also recommend Google Pixel 3a, which has some pretty decent games available through the Google Play Store. But it is also a platform for Google Stadia games, which means you can play traditional big budget titles on a small screen. Just be sure to bring a controller as well.
The best handheld game consoles you can buy today
1. Nintendo Switch
Size: 9.4 x 4.0 x 0.6 inches | Weight: 14.1 ounces | Battery life: 9 hours | Game Shop: Nintendo eShop
Large range of games
Potentially short battery life
The Nintendo Switch is easily the best Nintendo system in years, offering seamless games whether at home or on the go. The hybrid console offers two ways to play. At home, you can connect the switch to a dock and then play on your TV with a standard control. When you have somewhere to go, simply unplug the switch from its dock, connect the Joy-Con controllers on one side of the unit and take it with you anywhere. The gaming experience is almost identical either way; you don’t even have to stop your current play session.
The Game Library is full of amazing Nintendo titles, such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2 and Animal Crossing New Horizons. Just keep in mind that more demanding games will drain your battery faster, and backing up your savings will require a paid subscription to the hefty Nintendo Switch Online service.
Read our full Nintendo Switch Review.
2. Nintendo Switch Lite
Size: 8.2 x 3.6 x 0.6 inches | Weight: 9.8 ounces | Battery life: 7 hours | Game Shop: Nintendo eShop
Wonderful, lightweight design
Excellent gaming library
Easy to transport
No TV connection
Nintendo Switch Lite is about two-thirds the size of the regular switch and delivers two-thirds of what we love with the full-size model. Like its larger cousin, Switch Lite has access to Nintendo’s incredible library of first- and third-party games, as well as a convenient control scheme and a large, colorful screen. Whether you want to play your fill of Zelda, Mario and Animal Crossing, or Doom, Bayonetta and Assassin’s Creed, Switch Lite can deliver the same excellent play in a profile that is easy to put in a backpack or purse.
However, there are some drawbacks. Because of its smaller size, Switch Lite has a smaller battery, which means less playing time overall. Switch Lite also does not have removable Joy-Cons, which makes improvised multiplayer sessions much easier to facilitate. Also, you can’t transfer data easily between a Switch Lite and a regular switch, so think carefully about which one you want.
Read our full Nintendo Switch Lite review.
3. Apple iPad Air
Size: 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.2 inches | Weight: 16.0 ounces | Battery life: 10 hours | Game Shop: Apple App Store
Apple Arcade is a great value
Also a good tablet overall
Good battery life
Requires careful transport
Apple iPad Air is one of the best tablets on the market, so it believes it is also one of the best handheld gaming consoles. The Apple App Store has some of the best smartphone games on the market, and it usually gets the best titles months before Android does. In addition to perennial favorites such as Fortnite, Hearthstone and Minecraft, you can also play indie sweethearts like Monument Valley, Florence and Threes.
What really sets the iPad apart from Android tablets, though, is Apple Arcade. This subscription service gives you access to more than 100 games for $ 5 per month. Some of the games are exclusive to the Apple Arcade service; others you can get on a switch or PC, but not an Android device. Sayonara Wild Hearts was an early contender for the best Apple Arcade game, but What the Golf, Dear Reader and Lifelike are also brilliant experiences that you generally won’t find anywhere else.
4. Google Pixel 3a
Size: 6.0 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches | Weight: 5.2 grams | Battery life: 12 hours | Game Shop: Google Play Store, Google Stages
Generally excellent phone
Lots of great Android games
Imperfect Stadia installation
No exclusive games
The best handheld game console is arguably the one you already have, and if you like mid-range Android phones, there’s a good chance you already have a Google Pixel 3a. This excellent, moderately priced smartphone is powerful enough to run all games on Android, which means you can enjoy both casual handheld titles as well as longer sit-down and play experiences. (For the latter, it helps to have a controller.) Whether you taste better at Crossy Road or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Pixel 3a has what you want to play.
It is also one of the few smartphones that are compatible with Google Stages, which means you can play big budget console hits like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. All you need is a controller. Warn just because Stadia can be a little painful on small screens, and you need a fantastic Wi-Fi connection to play.
Read our full Google Pixel 3a review.
5. New Nintendo 2DS XL
Size: 6.3 x 3.4 x 0.9 inches | Weight: 9.2 ounces | Battery life: 7 hours | Game Shop: Nintendo eShop
Excellent gaming library
Robust muslin design
The second screen is useful
Hard to find
No new games
New Nintendo 2DS XL is a fantastic system, with two large, colorful screens, a design that makes the system easy to put in a bag or pocket and a large library of wonderful games. Legend of Zelda, Mario and Animal Crossing got some of their very best portable payouts on the 2DS system family. The console is also well-stocked third-party albums with favorites from Square Enix, Atlus and Capcom.
If we’re honest, 2DS XL may no longer exist. Nintendo seems to have put all their eggs in the Switch basket, and 2DS XL has become harder to find as a result. There are no new games for it and it may be canceled before the end of the year. But that’s all the more reason to get one now, if you haven’t already.
Read our full New Nintendo 2DS XL review.
How to choose the best handheld game console for you
The best handheld game console for your needs depends on where you want to use it. If you need something that you can stick in your pocket and play absolutely anywhere, Pixel 3a is the smallest, most versatile device on the list. If you want to split your playing time equally between home and travel, the Nintendo Switch is probably the best option, as you can connect it to a TV.
Price is also a consideration. The iPad Air and Pixel 3a are much more expensive than the dedicated game hand holders on this list, but they are also more versatile devices. It is probably not a good idea to buy them exclusively for games, but if you already own one, you may want to see what kind of games you can get before completing it with a dedicated Nintendo device. Similarly, Switch Lite is cheaper than full-fledged Switch, but it also has fewer features.
How to test handheld game consoles
Since the best handheld game consoles contain both dedicated gaming hardware and versatile mobile devices, we do not have a standardized procedure for testing them. Instead, we draw from our experience with these units once we have given them complete reviews. A Nintendo Switch and an Apple iPad Air, for example, play very different roles in the tech world, so it’s almost impossible to design apples-to-apples tests for them.
Instead, we evaluate each system’s game library as well as how well it plays games in relation to the hardware. A Pixel 3a is a much more powerful device than a 2DS XL, but the 2DS XL can play much deeper, more involved games, thanks to its innovative second screen and dedicated controls.
To fit this list, a system simply needs to play excellent games and be small enough to carry easily. For everything beyond that, we rely on our qualitative assessment.