Portable gaming consoles are big business right now. In fact, it feels like we’re seeing some of the best portable gaming consoles in recent years. Whether it’s the runaway success of the Nintendo Switch since its launch in 2017, or the hubbub around Valve’s brand-new handheld PC, the Steam Deck, it’s hot stuff. Better yet, we’ve got years of handheld gaming experience at our disposal to help you find the best one for your needs.
It’s not just big game companies getting in on the act, however. There’s GPD, Ayaneo, Playdate, and the OneXPlayer all vying for market share and gaining lots of popularity in recent years. And there’s also a bunch of the best gaming phones ever available, though we’re focused on larger, controller-having counterparts here. But how many get to be ranked among the best handheld gaming consoles you can buy today?
Here are the best handheld gaming consoles on the market:
- Nintendo Switch OLED – best handheld gaming console
- Steam Deck – best handheld gaming PC
- Playdate – best handheld for unique indie games
- Ayaneo Air – small handheld gaming PC
- Analogue Pocket – best handheld for retro games
- GPD Win Max 2 – most versatile handheld gaming PC
- Nintendo Switch Lite – best handheld under $200
- OneXPlayer – Steam Deck alternative
1. Best handheld gaming console
The best handheld gaming console is the Nintendo Switch OLED. Its RRP is set at $349.99 / £309.99, though you can often find it cheaper in bundles.
|Nintendo Switch OLED specs|
|CPU/GPU||NVIDIA Custom Tegra processor|
|Display||1280×720 7.0 inch OLED touchscreen|
|Battery||4310mAh lithium-ion battery|
|Memory||4 GB RAM|
|Storage||64 GB flash storage (expandable up to 2TB with microSD/SDHC/SDXC cards)|
- Excellent variety of first-party and indie games
- Big, colourful screen
- Works on the go and on the TV
- Walled-garden OS
- Limited power compared to handheld PCs
The Nintendo Switch OLED is undoubtedly the best portable gaming console on the market today. While it technically has a smaller library than the Steam Deck, current early issues mean that a lot of games don’t run quite right on Valve’s console.
The Nintendo Switch, however, has an exceptional library of first-party games from one of the best developers in history, Nintendo. Whether it’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Bayonetta 3, Xenoblade Chronicles 3, or all manner of exceptional indie titles, the Switch’s success has helped fill its library with plenty of excellent games to play.
The console itself has an excellent, bright, and colourful OLED screen, good ergonomics, and the built-in ability to play on your TV at no extra cost. It’s excellently versatile, packed with great games, and easily the best handheld gaming console out there. The only downside, really, is Joy-Con drift, but there are plenty of alternative Switch controllers to solve that issue.
Read our Nintendo Switch OLED review.
2. Best handheld gaming PC
The best handheld gaming PC is the Steam Deck. It costs $399/ £349 for the 64GB HDD, $529 / £459 for the 256GB SSD, and $649 / £569 for the 512GB SSD models.
|Valve Steam Deck specs|
|CPU||AMD Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)|
|GPU||AMD RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz (up to 1.6 TFlops FP32)|
|Display||7-inch 1280×800 60Hz IPS LCD (400 nits typical brightness)|
|Battery||40Whr battery (2-8 hours of gameplay)|
|Memory||16 GB LPDDR5 on-board RAM|
|Storage||64 GB eMMC / 256 GB NVMe SSD / 512 GB high-speed NVMe SSD|
- Massive library of games
- Huge amounts of processing power
- Good control scheme
- Size – it’s very, very big
- Not all games work (yet)
If you want as much freedom as possible, you probably disagree that the Nintendo Switch is the best portable gaming console, and that’s fair. The magic of Valve’s Steam Deck means that it’s very close to the best handheld gaming console in our eyes, and clearly the best portable gaming PC available at the moment.
With surprisingly good controls, huge amounts of freedom in the games you can choose from, and more than enough power for the majority of games out there, it is excellent. Downsides? Some games won’t work straight out of the box, and either require a little bit of tweaking on your end or the developer’s end.
With enough time, these issues could be fixed, and the Steam Deck could be the de facto leader in the handheld space (maybe if it’s a tad smaller, too – it’s a bit too big for our liking right now).
Read the Steam Deck review from our sister site PCGamesN.
3. Best handheld for unique indie games
The best handheld gaming console for unique indie games is the Playdate. It costs $179 (around £130), and it’s set to be available from early 2023 at the time of writing.
|CPU||68MHz Cortex M7|
|Display||400×240 1-bit display|
|Battery||8 hours of active use|
|Storage||4 GB flash storage|
- Original, exclusive games
- Inventive form factor
- Brand new games on the way
- Very limited library
- Almost as expensive as a Switch Lite
In our Playdate review, we call it a “bright yellow embodiment of the joy of playing and indie gaming spirit.” There’s little else to sum it up than that, really. The Playdate is a tiny handheld with buttons on the face and a crank handle on the side.
This crank has led to many inventive gaming experiences, and the console makers drew in many great indie devs to contribute, like the minds behind Cursed to Golf, Chuhai Labs, Bennet Foddy of Getting Over It fame, or Return of the Obra Dinn creator Lucas Pope.
Sure, it’s an incredibly limited console, but with a roster of devs that good, it’s definitely worth a try. And look how cute and creative it is! To us, it’s one of the best handheld game consoles just for its inventiveness.
Read our Playdate review.
4. Smallest handheld gaming PC
The best handheld gaming console with a small form factor is the Ayaneo Air. It starts between $569 (around £490) and can scale all the way up to $1249 (around £1100) depending on the configuration you go for.
|Ayaneo Air specs|
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 5 5560U / 7 5825U|
|GPU||AMD Radeon RX Vega 6 / Vega 8|
|Display||5.5-inch 1920×1080 AMOLED touchscreen|
|Battery||28 Wh (7,350 mAh) / 38 Wh (10,050 mAh)|
|Memory||8 GB LPDDR4x-3200, 16 GB / 32 GB LPDDR4x-4266|
|Storage||128 GB-2 TB SSD|
- Small form factor
- Attractive design
- OS issues
The Ayaneo Air is tiny. What’s more, it’s also surprisingly powerful given its form factor. It’s a console packed with features too, with hall effect joysticks (meaning no drift!) with RGB light rings under them, an OLED screen, and expandable storage. It’s one of the best handheld gaming consoles if you’re short on space.
There are some issues, however. With less power than others on the market, it can occasionally limit you. The Aya Space operating system could also do with a bit of polish, while if you turn the TDP up this little thing can get big hot.
These are the sacrifices you make, however, to have such a tiny and powerful portable gaming console. And, if you can stomach the price, this device doesn’t have any competition in the ultra-small handheld PC market.
Keep up to date with the Ayaneo 2 release date for all the latest on the company’s next handheld.
5. Best portable retro gaming console
The best handheld gaming console for retro games is the Analogue Pocket. Expect to pay around $219 (around £190), though there are long waits for delivery.
|Analogue Pocket specs|
|Circuit||Field-programmable gate array|
|Display||3.5″ 1600×1440 LCD (615ppi)|
|Storage||microSD card slot|
- Top-tier retro gaming
- Gorgeous form factor
- No emulation
- Retro only
- No ROM compatibility
The Analogue Pocket is the perfect version of the Game Boy, with a better screen, materials, and buttons, and a wider array of games to choose from. Whether it’s Game Boy, Game Boy Color, or Game Boy Advance, your Nintendo needs are covered.
It doesn’t stop there, though. If you have an adapter you can play Sega Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket/Color, Atari Lynx, and TurboGrafx-16 games too.
6. Most versatile handheld gaming PC
The most versatile handheld gaming PC is the GPD Win Max 2. Expect to pay between $999 / £1,000 and $1,299 / £1,200 depending on the configuration.
|GPD Win Max 2 specs|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-1260P / AMD Ryzen 7 6800U|
|GPU||Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics / AMD Radeon 680M (integrated)|
|Display||10.1-inch 1920×1200 IPS touchscreen|
|Memory||16GB LPDDR5 5200 MT/s / 16GB/32GB LPDDR5-6400 MT/s|
|Storage||1TB/2TB NVMe SSD|
- Huge screen
- Full keyboard
- Less portable
Oh no, that photo above isn’t wrong, friends. This is one of the best handheld gaming consoles, I promise, but it also doubles as a tiny little laptop. With a full keyboard below your standard gaming controller setup, the GPD Win Max 2 is a little odd at first, but looks can be deceiving – this thing is an excellent gaming machine.
Once you’re all done playing games though, what if you need to pause and write up a list of the best portable gaming consoles? Well, you can, as, with a lovely keyboard at your disposal, the GPD Win Max 2 is also great for on-the-go work-doing.
Downsides? The built-in controller is a little clunky due to positioning, though you may be surprised – it’s still comfier than it has any right to be. Oh, and it’s one of the most expensive devices on this list.
7. Best portable gaming console under $200
The best handheld gaming console below $200 is the Nintendo Switch Lite. Expect to pay $198 / £190 unless you find a good deal or bundle.
|Nintendo Switch Lite specs|
|Chip||NVIDIA Custom Tegra processor|
|Display||5.5-inch 1,280×720 LCD touchscreen|
|Battery||3570mAh lithium-ion battery|
|Memory||4 GB RAM|
|Storage||32 GB flash storage (expandable up to 2TB with microSD/SDHC/SDXC cards)|
- Super portable
- Great value
- Large library of games
- Small, low-res screen
- Not playable on TV
For $200, the Nintendo Switch Lite is incredible value to anybody looking to get into portable gaming but not break the bank. With exactly the same library as its bigger brother, the Lite is great for bedtime games or if there are any kids in the house you don’t want breaking a half-a-grand Steam Deck.
It also comes in a great range of colours (blue, pink, yellow, grey, plus a bunch of special editions) and has decent buttons for such a little thing, making it one of the best handheld gaming consoles on a budget.
Downsides? The screen is small and a bit fuzzy compared to others on the market, and you can’t connect the Nintendo Switch Lite to the television. But still, for portable gaming on a budget, this is the way to go.
8. Best Steam Deck alternative
The best Steam Deck alternative is the OneXPlayer. Expect to pay between $899 / £800 and $1,499 / £1,300 depending on your configuration.
|CPU||Intel Core i7-1195G7 / AMD Ryzen 6800U|
|GPU||Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics / AMD Radeon 680M (integrated)|
|Display||8.4-inch 2560×1600 IPS, 358 PPI|
|Storage||512GB/1TB/2TB of SSD|
- High-resolution display
- Nice ergonomics
- Weaker integrated graphics
- No expandable storage
- Very expensive
Do you really hate Valve for some reason? Do you want to spend more money on a handheld PC? Do you really, really need an Intel CPU? Well, buddy, have I got the best handheld gaming console for you.
In all seriousness, if you want a more traditional control scheme and more ergonomic design overall, the OneXPlayer is a good Steam Deck alternative. While it isn’t as powerful on the GPU side, it’s incredibly close in terms of performance.
Still, it has some OS issues and isn’t the same polished product the Steam Deck is overall. If you need it, however, it’s there (for almost twice the price!).
Read the OneXPlayer Mini AMD review from our sister site PCGamesN.
There you have it, folks, the best portable gaming consoles on the market today. We’ll update this list as we get our hands on new consoles like the Ayaneo 2, so be sure to check back. For more, check out our massive Skyrim marriage guide or even bigger Civilisation VI tier list if you’re planning to play either of these classics on your next portable console.