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There’s quite a few different types of handheld games consoles nowadays. You have the retro variety, portable gaming PCs, dedicated cloud streaming devices, Android based consoles and your traditional console. With so many options between them all, finding the best of them all can be a little tricky. Luckily, we’ve had our fair share of experience with handhelds over here.
What is the best handheld games console in 2023?
To keep things brief, we think that the Nintendo Switch OLED is the ultimate handheld console. It’s fairly affordable which, when layered onto the great indie and AAA game collection, makes it hard to see how anything can trump it. With that said, I can’t speak for everyone, and that’s why we’ve included a wide range of top picks for the best handheld games consoles for all.
- Nintendo Switch OLED
- ASUS ROG Ally
- Steam Deck
- AyaNeo Air Plus
- Super Pocket
1. Nintendo Switch OLED (2021)
Nintendo Switch OLED
1280 x 720p
NVIDIA Custom Tegra processor
- Indie game library
- Fantastic display
- Performance is outdated
Our top choice for the best handheld games console has to be the Nintendo Switch OLED. Despite being six years old now, there’s a reason that the Nintendo Switch’s sales are only on the up. The Switch OLED released in 2021, upgrading the original console with a much needed new display.
If you’ve already got a Nintendo Switch, you’ll notice a huge improvement in color vibrancy and brightness making the original look pretty inadequate. Add onto that an Ethernet port and improved audio and you’ve got a really impressive games console in your hands.
One of the merits that the Nintendo Switch brings over other handhelds is the indie game library accessible to it. Of course, Android and x86 based systems will have access to the widest library of games, there’s a few titles exclusive to Nintendo that are definitely worth it. Tears of the Kingdom, Bayonetta 3, and Shin Megami Tensei V, for example.
Software aside, the Switch OLED feels the best in your hands by far. You know when you’ve got a handheld gaming PC in your hands, and too often do smaller retro handhelds cramp your fingers up, but the Switch strikes a fine balance between lightweight, sturdy and functional.
2. ASUS ROG Ally (2023)
ASUS ROG Ally
- Lightning fast display
- Battery life
The ASUS ROG Ally was the first real competitor to the Steam Deck in terms of performance, affordability and popularity. While it’s slightly more expensive than Valve’s handheld, it’s also going to boast a better screen reaching 1080p and 120Hz, while there’s also a much more powerful APU inside.
The ASUS ROG Ally also runs on Windows, giving you the largest library of playable games yet. Games such as Cyberpunk 2077 will be able to run at a fairly consistent frame rate on optimised settings while you’re also going to be able to tap into whatever library of retro games too. It might be a little overkill for that purpose though, you’re probably really best off sticking to AAA titles you’ve always imagined playing on the bus. You might also consider having a look at the best ASUS ROG Ally accessories to pair with your new handheld.
3. Steam Deck OLED (2023)
Steam Deck OLED
1280 x 800 HDR OLED
512GB / 1TB NVMe SSD
6nm Custom AMD APU
- Sleek design
- Comfortable ergonomics
- OLED display
- Battery life
There’s no talking about handheld gaming consoles without the mention of Valve’s.
It features a powerful AMD APU that marries Zen 2 processor architecture with RDNA 2 chip design. There’s also 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM, with storage options ranging between 64GB and 1TB.
You may have noticed that “Linux-based” appears in both the pros and cons of the Steam Deck OLED. It’s lightweight and open-source, making development and modding fairly simple. The drawback is that not all PC games are fully optimised for Linux. You’re going to be able to play all Steam Deck Verified games via SteamOS, though with the help of Proton you’re also going to be able to get other games running too.
Whlie the display only sports a 1280×800 resolution. This is definitely something to be aware of before you decide to pick up a Steam Deck. Visual fidelity isn’t going to be this console’s primary concern – nor should it be, really. It offers such an immersive and enjoyable gaming experience that you’re hardly going to be turning your nose up at the loss of a bit of resolution. The trade-off for resolution comes in the fantastic new OLED display which massively improves the brightness and vibrancy of colours.
We’ve explored the device a little more in-depth in our Steam Deck OLED review.
4. AYANEO AIR Plus (2023)
AYANEO AIR Plus
1920 x 1080
512GB, 1TB, 2TB
AMD Ryzen 7 6800U
- Outstanding performance
The Steam Deck and ASUS ROG Ally pale in comparison to the AyaNeo Air Plus. Even though it’s far smaller, it sports a AMD Ryzen 7 6800U mobile processor that you’d see in top end AMD gaming laptops.
You will, however, pay a much dearer price than other handheld PCs. Partly due to the vastly superior hardware, but also the limited availability of the product.
It’s a seriously powerful handheld fit for a wide range of usage, whether that’s AAA gaming, casual gaming or retro games. One of the best things about this device, unlike other “portable” gaming PCs, is that you actually can take this one out on the go.
It does run Windows 11 fully. This is useful at points but certainly detracts from the console experience that many are looking for. The Steam Deck, though much less powerful, does boast a dedicated operating system that makes accessing games much easier. That said, if you’re willing to get your hands a bit dirty, you could configure a Windows environment that’s a little more accessible to a handheld.
5. Super Pocket
320 x 180
- Form factor
- Fully licensed retro game
- Not the longest battery life
The final entry is by far the most affordable one. But unlike all of the other handheld consoles we’ve mentioned today, this one actually fits in your pocket (hence, Super Pocket). The handhelds designed by HyperMegaTech, let players enjoy retro games from a range of different publishers: Taito or Capcom, for the consoles themselves.
The Super Pockets aren’t limited to the games that ship with them as the cartridge on the back lets you swap in and out licenced titles. It has full support for the Evercade ecosystem, which includes a few different handhelds each with the same cartridge compatibility. There’s quite a few developers who are creating retro games for the Evercade ecosystem – Atari, Big Evil Corp and The Bitmap Brothers, to name a few.
It has the classic nostalgia inspiring Game Boy form factor that so many devices have now adopted, though it adds on four trigger buttons to the back. There’s a 320×240 pixel IPS screen on the front that doesn’t seem out of place on the 2.8-inch panel and you’re going to get roughly 4 hours of gameplay from the device. It charges via USB-C, which is also a huge benefit.
The Super Pocket will set you back $59.99 / £49.99, which is not too expensive at all. In our Super Pocket review we gave the devices a 9/10, showcasing just how good value for money they are. We’re highly anticipating these featuring in lots of Christmas stockings this year.
Other notable handheld games consoles
There’s plenty of handheld games consoles that are still kicking about. Many are new, some have been in gamer’s hands for decades, and some haven’t even been released yet.
There are two handheld games consoles that, while they might not technically be the best anymore, are still worth a mention (or heartfelt paragraph, each.)
The Nintendo 3DS is one of them. It released back in 2011 as an organic evolution to the DS – though brought a glasses-free 3D screen with it. Now, to be perfectly honest, I never cared too much for this effect. I’d only flick it on whenever I got really bored with whatever game I was playing.
The real reason that the 3DS has to go down as one of the best handheld games consoles of all time is the absolutely astonishing game library it was blessed with. From 2011 to 2020, games were consistently released on the console with classics such as Ocarina of Time 3D, Bravely Default, Shovel Knight, SMT IV, Monster Hunter Generations, and too many to roundup here. Tack on the fact that almost every standard DS was also playable via backwards compatibility and you’ll begin to realise why I still play on my 3DS today.
The PSP is the other. Shortly after the DS came out, Sony responded with its first handheld. It was incredibly lightweight and powerful, also targeting a slightly more mature crowd with franchises such as Metal Gear, God of War and Final Fantasy each dropping games that I consider masterpieces. What’s more, the PSP was capable of running PSX / PS1 games on it, making this one of the ultimate retro handhelds out there.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most powerful handheld game console?
The AYANEO Air Plus is the most powerful handheld games console. It’s got an AMD Ryzen 7 6800U mobile processor inside and can run games at 1080p at 60FPS.
What is the most successful handheld game console of all time?
The Nintendo DS is the most successful handheld game console of all time with 154m units sold. The Nintendo Switch is hot on its heels with 132m, and the Game Boy is third with 118m. Statistics courtesy of Nintendo.