Handheld gaming is one of the most convenient ways to entertain yourself on the go. Sure, you can use one of the best gaming phones to jump into some casual gaming sessions, but the best handheld gaming system is the most efficient way to experience everything the industry has to offer on the go. Nintendo has something of a monopoly on all of the greatest handheld devices at the moment, with a wide selection of fantastic systems and games to enjoy while out and about — or even in another room of your home.
How We Chose the Best Handheld Gaming Systems
Although Nintendo has had its grip on the handheld gaming console sector, including introducing the new Switch OLED to their lineup (which we’ll get to later), gamers have additional options. Here is the criteria we used to find the best handheld gaming systems for you:
Portability – These are supposed to be handheld, right? With exception of the Stream Deck, all of our gaming systems can essentially fit in your pocket, or be accessed through the cloud.
Price – Gaming on the go shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg, and certainly not as much as your stay-at-home gaming consoles (yes, we’re talking about you Xbox and PlayStation). With the exception of the 3DS XL, you can get a great handheld gaming console for under $400.
Design – Beyond being portable, we also looked at the design and the features that make each option stand out from the rest. The Playdate gaming system slow-releases games for users while Amazon Luna offers games for free for Prime members. And of course, Switch has its fair share of unique design ability that makes it such a fun console for both individuals and parties.
Without further ado, here are our picks for the best handheld gaming systems available:
1. Nintendo Switch OLED
One of the most popular handheld gaming systems upped its visual prowess with the addition of an OLED screen. The seven-inch OLED screen with a wide adjustable stand makes it an absolute treat to play in handheld mode. No longer do you have to connect to a different screen to enjoy the OLED benefits. Other differences between the OLED and previous versions is the clean white color scheme on the joy cons and the bezels are thinner. Nintendo also threw in LAN support to plug direct into your router for more reliable streaming as well as an upgraded sound system.
2. Nintendo Switch Lite
The Nintendo Switch Lite is the portable-centric model of the traditional Switch. It cannot be used with a special dock to be displayed on a TV screen, but it’s a fantastic option for handheld gaming — in fact, it’s one of the best out there right now. It’s an all-in-one unit that doesn’t require Joy-Con controllers or a stand, but it will play most of the Switch games on the market with a bright, 5.5-inch touch screen and battery life of three to seven hours, depending on the game.
It’s much cheaper than the regular Switch, and it comes in a variety of colors: Turquoise, Gray, Coral and Yellow. It’s also hardier and more reliable than a full-sized unit, in that it has fewer moving parts that need to be replaced if it takes a spill. Plus, if you have a Switch library that you want to play on the go with a smaller, sturdier unit, then this is the model to go with — especially if you need to buy multiple systems for a larger family. It’s a solid all-around choice that’s well worth looking into, even if you’re just starting out with Nintendo’s library of handheld Switch titles.
3. Nintendo Switch
The original Nintendo Switch is a handheld powerhouse that can be transformed into a home console should you prefer to use it that way. It offers a gorgeous 6.2-inch touch screen, four to nine hours of battery life when played off of its dock, and includes to Joy-Con controllers that may be detached for motion control play. You can swap from handheld to gaming on your television in a snap, just by placing the device in its TV-connected dock.
It’s a larger system than the Nintendo Switch Lite, but it’s overall a more powerful option that’s perfect for smaller families who like crowding around the living room or single users who enjoy a more deluxe setup for their portable gaming needs. With an expansive library that includes platformers, RPGs, visual novels, shooters and more, you can’t go wrong with the OG, unless you don’t have enough pocket space. That’s where the Lite comes in.
4. Amazon Luna
A cloud gaming service that’s (mostly) free to Amazon Prime members, Amazon Luna presents a number of gaming channels, which you have to pay for to access with the exception of the Prime Gaming Channel if you’re a Prime member. What’s nice is you pay for what you want — you can pay extra for other channels, or if you’re good with the free games from the Prime Channel, that’s fine, too.
The games in the Prime Gaming Channel, for instance, rotate out every month, so you gain access to a new library of games regularly. Paired with the Luna controller, which Amazon claims lowers latency, this is a fun and somewhat free choice for Prime members to get their gaming on.
Amazon Luna Controller
The Playdate is a unique and ambitiously stripped-down-to-the-studs approach to handheld gaming systems. Who knew a micro monochrome system would be so lovable and fun in 2022? But alas, it’s a hit. It really is bite-sized; it fits in the palm of your hand, but has enough real estate for the screen, a directional pad, A/B buttons and a menu and power button, and let’s not forget the crank on the side. New games arrive on the Playdate regularly which include a mix of everything from RPG to puzzles to adventure games. It’s such a different take on gaming that the masses can’t get enough.
6. Elgato Stream Deck
Not so much your handheld gaming device as it is a gaming streamer’s ultimate companion. The Stream Deck essentially combines a lot of different functionality between all of the equipment you need to stream (your computer, microphone, etc) and provides you a single controller to manage all of those functions. Think of it as a universal remote, but for your game streaming equipment. Instead of fumbling with your mic to mute it, or seeing if your stream is live or not, all of this can be achieved through the controller with a press of a button. And all the buttons are customizable so you can make the controller work exactly how you want.
7. Nintendo 3DS XL
Before the Nintendo Switch debuted, Nintendo was hard at work refining its dual-screen handheld series, the Nintendo DS. Years after the system came out, Nintendo added 3D viewing capabilities, a bigger and better set of screens, various clamshell decorations and more games. Though the system is no longer in production, it remains one of the easiest ways to enjoy Nintendo’s lengthy line of titles dating back to the original Nintendo DS release. And you can grab one in a variety of colors and patterns.
These systems feature StreetPass, which allows your 3DS XL to exchange game data like personalized Mii characters with others when you walk by them. From Netflix apps to camera support, this handheld flips closed when you’re not using it and opens up with a viewing angle that projects full 3D. It’s an intriguing riff on the classic DS, and every bit worth buying, even if you already have a Switch.
8. Nintendo 2DS XL
The Nintendo DS line may have peaked with the 3DS XL, but the Nintendo 2DS XL was an impressive feat all its own. While it lacks the 3D capabilities of the 3DS XL, it features an attractive clamshell design and two screens that are much larger than the traditional DS setup. It’s also the cheapest of the DS lineup (aside from the original cake slice-like Nintendo 2DS).
It features lengthy battery life and can play any DS title (without 3D support, of course). Also, it’s extremely lightweight. It even includes the near-field communication (NFC) reader, which lets you scan in amiibo figures for use within compatible games. If you aren’t’ looking to break the bank on a handheld system, this is a great and affordable option.