Handheld gaming consoles are a huge passion of mine. While I may be a PC gamer first and foremost, I can’t deny the unique experience that many handhelds and their games bring to the table. When you play games as much as I do, playing on a portable device can really make playing games feel fresh and different.
If you feel the same way that I do, then I’m sure you’d love to hear what I think are the BEST handheld gaming consoles on the market. Here in this list, I’ll be ranking my tips for the top 10 best ones I’ve seen, going over what I love about them and why I think they’re worth a purchase.
#10 SEGA Game Gear
This is a really iconic handheld that many people have fond memories of. It featured better specs than the Nintendo Game Boy, its main competitor at the time of its release. This allowed it to play more graphically intense games. However, this game is at a cost. The console was more expensive, and it was also much bulkier and harder to carry around. When it comes to on-the-go gaming, I’d definitely prefer the smaller and more compact Game Boy.
Still, even with these issues, it’s still a great piece of gaming history that is a MUST-GET for any collector. If you want to play some games on this in 2023, I recommend getting a hold of a Flash Gear cartridge. This is a special device that you can download ROMs onto and then plug into your SEGA Game Gear like any other game cartridge. It will let you play ANY game you want on the go, with no need to carry around any extra cartridges!
#9 Game Boy Color
The GameBoy Color was the next step in the GameBoy line of consoles from Nintendo. It was all around pretty similar to its predecessor, but with one (very obvious) difference. Games could now be played in several different colors! This was a really cool feature at the time of its release.
While the colorful graphics might not wow us that much in 2023, the console’s extensive library and great exclusives are still more than enough to make it worth buying. Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, Pokemon, The Legend of Zelda, and much more are still great games that are still a blast to play all these years later.
#8 Game Boy Advance
The GameBoy Advance was one of the first handheld consoles I ever owned, and I still cherish the console to this day. It was the final console in the GameBoy lineup. Despite my bias for it, I feel fair in saying that it is also the BEST one in the series. With better hardware, this console could run more complex games than its older brothers could. I was surprised to learn that the console had several first-person shooters!
Additionally, this hardware also allowed for much better graphics. The pixel art on many GameBoy Advance games still holds up well to this day. Speaking of games, this console also has a really great library with lots of great Nintendo exclusives. Mario Kart: Super Circuit is the first of many that come to mind, along with Sonic Advance, Pokemon Emerald, and much more.
#7 PlayStation Portable
The PS Portable was Sony’s first-ever attempt at making a handheld gaming experience. The mobile console allowed users to play games that were surprisingly graphically intense for a handheld device released in 2005. While the graphics may not have aged the best in 2023, the games are still just as fun to play and enjoy.
This is helped in no small part thanks to the design of the console. It felt pretty comfortable to hold in your hand, and it was light and compact. The PSP even featured an analog stick, something Nintendo would not add to any of their mobile consoles until 6 years later. This made games easier to control and helped make the experience more similar to that of playing on a regular home console.
The DSi–specifically the DSi XL model–is my absolute FAVORITE mobile gaming console. This console was a big upgrade to the regular DS model. It had more-or-less the same feel and controls, with the same button layout and the return of the DS’s touch screen. But the DSi had better hardware, a completely overhauled OS, and a bigger emphasis on Wi-Fi connectivity.
It could play all the same games that the DS could (which, to this day still has one of the largest libraries of games). But it also featured some unique applications and games not available on the regular DS. You could take pictures of your friends and edit them. You could create animations called Flipnotes and share them with the world. And you could download games from the DSi shop. While many of these features are no longer available in 2023, it still made this console great in 2009.
#5 PlayStation Vita
Next up on this list of Top 10 Best Handheld Gaming Consoles, is the PlayStation Vita! This was the next generation of Sony’s line of handheld gaming consoles. It offered a number of improvements over the PSP. There were obvious enchantments like better hardware and therefore better graphics. But the UI was overhauled, and the PS Vita had a more comfortable design as well as the addition of a second analog stick.
What this meant is that it was easier than ever to comfortably play PlayStation console games on the go! Because of this, the PS Vita saw many ports of titles from the PlayStation 1, 2, and even 3. My personal favorites were the original Spyro The Dragon trilogy as well as Crash Bandicoot 1. I also enjoyed the Jak & Daxter collection, even with all the problems that port had.
The 3DS was the final entry in Nintendo’s DS line of consoles, ending off with the New 2DS XL model in 2017. The 3DS was the first Nintendo handheld to include an analog stick, a simple but much-appreciated addition to the already great design of the DS. This analog stick allowed for better control of 3D games. Super Mario 3D Land was incredibly fun to control thanks to the analog stick.
And of course, how can we talk about the 3DS without mentioning it’s 3D? Many people never really used it, finding it to be gimmicky and difficult on the eyes. While I can understand these complaints, I still really loved the 3D. It was a cool feature and I do enjoy playing with it on.
The last thing I want to talk about with this console is the moddability. This is arguably the BEST handheld device to mod in 2023. With a modded 3DS, you’ll gain access to an absolutely MASSIVE library of games. With a good-sized SD card, you’ll be able to install and play hundreds of them at once, allowing you to create the ultimate on-the-go retro gaming experience.
#3 Steam Deck
Valve’s Steam Deck is a really impressive piece of technology. Released back in early 2022, this is essentially a mobile gaming PC that comes pre-installed with SteamOS. This device will allow you to play just about ANY Steam game in your library on the go! Its hardware easily beats out most of the other handheld consoles on the market, allowing users to play really graphically intense games such as Ratchet & Clank and The Last of Us Part I.
As impressive as it is to play PC-quality games on the go, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this handheld comes with a few drawbacks. For starters, the battery life on this thing is less than ideal, only able to get about 2 to 8 hours depending on how graphically demanding your games are. It’s also pretty big and bulky, which for me personally is a huge turn-off. Regardless, this is still a really impressive piece of technology that I recommend you get if you spend a lot of time traveling.
#2 ROG Ally
The Asus ROG Ally is the strongest competitor to the Steam Deck right now, and that’s not without good reason. It manages to have even better hardware than the Steam Deck. Th eROG Ally can run the same graphically intense games at a better performance. It also features a sleeker, more stylish design. I always thought the Steam Deck looked bulky, and I never liked the overall design of the console. But I really, really love the look of the Ally.
However, even with these benefits, there is one crucial flaw that many people will take issue with. Depending on what mode it is set to, it can only last from 1 to 3 hours on a single charge. The Steam Deck was already pretty low, but this is even lower. For some, this may not be a dealbreaker, but I still feel like I should let you know about it.
One last thing I want to mention about the ROG Ally is that it uses Windows 11 as its operating system instead of SteamOS. I personally prefer this, as I’m more used to Windows and SteamOS has a fair amount of bugs. But some of you may prefer the more simplistic, user-friendly SteamOS. So this isn’t really a pro or con, just a matter of preference.
#1 Nintendo Switch
And finally, in first place, we have none other than the Nintendo Switch! This is without a doubt the BEST console that Nintendo has ever developed. It takes everything they’ve learned from making home consoles and handheld consoles over the past few decades and combines everything together to create the ultimate on-the-go gaming experience.
While the Switch can’t play as many graphically intensive games as the Steam Deck and ROG Ally, it makes up for that with a much more affordable price and a longer-lasting battery. One thing this console also has over those two handhelds is that this is a hybrid between a handheld and a home console, allowing you to play games on either the big screen or on the go.
The Switch also has some of the BEST exclusives in the gaming industry, unlike the Steam Deck and ROG Ally which just feature games you can find on console and PC.