Why Go Handheld?
Since the days of the original Nintendo Game Boy, high-quality video games haven't been limited to the living room. In fact, some of gaming's greatest franchises started or saw their biggest successes on a handheld game console. Today, many people claim that mobile gaming is moving from consoles to smartphones and tablets, and while there are indeed several great gaming experiences on these new platforms, the best portable games are still on dedicated gaming devices.
Handheld game consoles have made incredible strides since the early days of mobile gaming. Nearly all modern mobile consoles have some kind of touchscreen and wireless connection to the internet. The best handheld game consoles offer a wide range of gaming experiences as well as multimedia apps. Finally, since you're gaming on the go, many mobile consoles have impressive battery life.
Based on our criteria, the Nintendo 3DS XL, Sony PlayStation Vita and Nvidia Shield are the best handheld game consoles available. It is important to note that like their living-room based cousins, mobile consoles are constantly evolving, either through patches or new versions. For more information about mobile gaming, read our articles about handheld game consoles.
Handheld Game Consoles: What to Look For
Since each entry on this list is so radically different from the others, we based our reviews on each console's physical features, capabilities and multimedia apps. The console has to be portable, fun and worth using. We also based our reviews on the following criteria:
The two most obvious aspects of a console's physical features are its screen and weight. This category also looks at the type of gaming media the console uses, whether a cartridge, disk or digital download. We also look at the external and internal devices, like cameras, microphone and Wi-Fi.
Unlike computers and home video game consoles, the components on handheld gaming devices aren't that important. Sure, the RAM, CPU and GPU play the games, but unless the console offers remote play with another device, these pieces only give you a small idea of how capable the device is. Instead, we look at the game selection and base our score primarily on the exclusive games, the diversity of titles and the backward compatibility with previous consoles.
When you aren't playing, it's important that there are other uses for the console. If you are bored with your games or just need a break, you can switch over to apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube or Skype. Also, you should look for a console that lets you download music or movies on the memory card and play that content on the console.
Help & Support
Although problems are rare with handheld game consoles, you want to make sure that you can contact the manufacturer and get help just in case. We look for FAQs or support forums, and if you need to contact the manufacturer, look for email, telephone or live chat options.
Just because you're leaving your house, you don't need to stop gaming. Handheld game consoles may be smaller than traditional video game consoles, but that does not mean that the gaming experience has to be smaller.