Best handheld gaming consoles available for giving
Even with the relatively few options out there, it can be tough to parse the choices available. Especially so if you're a parent or grandparent shopping for a gamer kid and you're feeling way out of your element.
Why bother with a handheld console if your child is already equipped with a gaming-ready PC or PlayStation system? Handhelds are designed for on-the-go use. They can game wherever, be it in transit, on the porch, or anywhere else.
Handheld consoles aren't just for kids, either. Technological advances have transformed these mini gaming devices into systems suitable for all ages, with high-end graphics and ergonomic designs.
Overwhelmed by the choices available? Here's a breakdown of the top handhelds on the market.
Nintendo Switch: $298.99 at Amazon
The Switch is the outlier on our list because it's both a regular console and a handheld. If you're a fan of Nintendo classics like Mario Kart, nothing beats the Switch. It's one of the best-selling and best-received Nintendo consoles in recent history.
Pros: The 2-in-1 playability is a huge bonus for the Switch. Play on your TV or right on the portable screen. The newly designed Joy-Con controllers are ergonomic and not too bulky -- it's easy to forget you're even using them. The console dock is sleek and compact, so it doesn't hog up media unit space. In addition, the game selection is impressive. Nearly every release has been a hit -- we recommend Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Luigi's Mansion 3. The Nintendo Store also features a vast selection of retro games.
Cons: Extra controllers are expensive and so are the available games.
Unique features: Like its Wii predecessors, the Switch features motion sensor technology, but this time it's far more accurate and a lot less buggy. Nintendo also sells its innovative Labo Kits, which help kids create and build interactive cardboard accessories for the console.
Nintendo Switch Lite: $199.96 at Amazon
The Lite is a pared-down version of the Switch that embraces all of the travel-friendly features of its parent console. It's essentially an upgraded alternative to Nintendo's previous handhelds, the 2DS and 3DS.
Pros: Play almost all the same games available on the larger Switch but using a lighter, more compact unit. It's for handheld use only and features built-in controllers, unlike the regular Switch. One of the most significant advantages of the mini-Switch is the cheaper price tag -- it's about a hundred dollars less than the full-sized version.
Cons: Game sharing between consoles is not super intuitive. Users must assign a primary and secondary console. Secondary units cannot launch games offline.
Unique features: It's 30% lighter than the regular Switch, and it has a slightly longer battery life compared to the original Switch in handheld mode.
Nintendo 3DS XL: $214 at Amazon
In addition to the new Switch Lite, Nintendo's earlier handhelds -- the 3DS and 2DS XL are still available for purchase. Both are great portable gaming options for those unwilling to spend top dollar on the newest releases from the brand.
Pros: In terms of games available, there's plenty of choice for this handheld since you can play any that are DS-compatible. The 3DS also features an extra-large screen and is the fastest device in the DS lineup. It's an older system but remains a worthwhile buy for those seeking a portable gaming solution.
Cons: The XL screen is vivid and gorgeous to play on, but the larger footprint means the unit is heavier than previous iterations.
Unique features: The 3D screen is the standout feature of the device, which also boasts face-tracking abilities and 3D stereoscopic effects. The screen is also touch-enabled.
Razer Phone 2: $379.99 at Amazon
These days, there are countless games available for your tablet or smartphone. If you haven't yet played a game designed specifically for a tablet, you're in for a treat. The Razer Phone 2 is a device specially designed for phone-focused gaming that we think deserves a mention. Alternately, playing on a large-screen tablet like an iPad Pro is a visual spectacle, and well-thought-out games are a pleasure to play on these non-gaming specific devices.
Pros: The Razer 2 is ultra-portable with plenty of RAM to deliver fast performance. Use it as a phone or gaming device and take advantage of its expandable storage capabilities. It also features a 4,000 mAH battery, so feel free to play battery-sucking games for as long as you'd like on your commutes.
Cons: It's expensive, but the price seems fair considering it's an all-in-one gaming device and phone.
Unique features: Stereo speakers deliver clear, crisp sound, and the phone has a beautiful, bright display measuring 5.7 inches.
GPD XD Plus: $211.95 at Amazon
The GPD is a portable emulator designed for playing classic console games. Remember your old Gameboy? Don't worry about tracking it down -- use this handheld instead and access a wide breadth of console-friendly games.
Pros: Access a variety of retro games across multiple systems. It's a powerful little handheld with a large touchscreen and 4GB of RAM. In terms of playing comfort, it's very similar to the Nintendo DS systems.
Cons: Not everything runs smoothly on the GPD system, especially newer games. It's also not a great choice for the tech-illiterate. Loading it up with games requires more than a visit to an App Store.
Unique features: The device features a powerful 6,000 mAH battery perfect for all-day playing. It's easy to play for hours on this thing, but you'd have to really be into old games for it to be worth your while.
PlayStation Vita: $319.92 at Amazon
Although Sony is discontinuing its production of the Vita and exiting the realms of handhelds -- at least for the time being -- it's a console worth considering if you're not really interested in the world of Nintendo. You may even be able to snag one at a steep discount before they go out of stock.
Pros: The miniature handheld's screen is a feast for the eyes. PlayStation has always been known for its graphically advanced games, and the downsized console is no exception. The available games are varied from well-known to indie titles.
Cons: It's an old system, so there aren't any new games being released, but those available are worthwhile. The easy-to-scratch plastic housing really necessitates a protective covering.
Unique features: Remote play capabilities allow users to play games from their PS4 library on their Vita.
SEGA Genesis Ultimate Handheld: $58.99 at Amazon
The SEGA is an affordable alternative to the above picks and is pre-loaded with a handful of games to get players started. It's a solid pick for parents who want to introduce retro gaming to their kids without it being too much of an investment or for those feeling nostalgic for their gaming past.
Pros: The device is already on-boarded with a selection of games. The classic options include popular titles like Mortal Kombat and Sonic the Hedgehog. The handheld features a nice-quality screen and is surprisingly lightweight.
Cons: The built-in speakers are terrible.
Unique features: The handheld SEGA has an SD slot, so you can easily load and play additional games.
Steph Coelho is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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