Best Handheld Video Game Consoles iMore 2021
There are so many options when it comes to choosing how you want to game in today's world. One option is a handheld console you can take anywhere. Whether you're a frequent traveler or prefer to have a lightweight and portable system, there are a few to choose from. Our top pick is the Nintendo Switch Lite thanks to the ability to play most of the games coming out for the Nintendo Switch with a purely handheld experience in mind. Any of these consoles can make the perfect travel companion.
- Best Overall: Nintendo Switch Lite
- Best Transformer: Nintendo Switch
- Best Emulator: GPD XD Plus
- Best Additional Features: Nintendo New 3DS XL
- Best For Kids: Etpark Handheld Game Console
- Best Value: New Nintendo 2DS XL
Best Overall: Nintendo Switch Lite
The latest in the Nintendo family, the Nintendo Switch Lite lets players enjoy the new games coming out on Switch but solely as a handheld experience. Since this is designed to play on-the-go, there are no Joy-Cons or TV capability. You will want to check games to make sure you don't want Joy-Con only capability since these controllers are attached to this system. The Switch Lite is available in three color options - turquoise, gray, and yellow. Plus, coming soon, there's a new coral option! There is also a Zacian and Zamazenta edition color for Pokemon fans.
Like the Nintendo Switch, the Nintendo Switch lite comes with 32 GB of internal storage and can be expanded up to 2TB with a microSDHC or microSDXC card. You do still get a 1280x720 resolution but a little bit smaller LCD screen at 5.5 inches. The system is only 0.61 pounds and takes about 3 hours to charge when not in use and will last about 3-7 hours depending on what game you're playing. This is a very affordable option with many games to choose from, great quality, and lightweight.
- Console color options
- Get the latest games
- Smaller screen than the Nintendo Switch
- No TV option
- Joy-Con only games won't work
Best Transformer: Nintendo Switch
This versatile console allows you to play at home on the TV or as a handheld console. To play on your TV, place the Switch in the included stand, or you can pick it up to take it on-the-go! The Joy-Cons are also adaptable. You can use kickstand on the back of the Switch, while you sit back with the Joy-Cons detached. You can also play with the Joy-Cons connected for a more traditional controller feel.
There are thousands of games available can through the Nintendo eShop or as a physical game card, each one can be played on the 1280x720 resolution 6.2-inch screen. Regardless of which type of games you like to play, there are plenty available to play just about anywhere, including flagship series like Zelda, Mario, and Super Smash Brothers.
When it comes to battery life, the updated system released in 2019 can go for 4.5-9 hour battery life compared to the original's 2.5-6.5 hours. It comes with 32 GB of memory, but the system itself takes some of that space. You can expand this with a microSDHC or micro SDXC card up to 2TB. If you want to use headphones for this system, you will need to have headphones with a 3.5mm audio jack or a special dongle for wireless.
- TV capability
- Digital and physical game options
- Thousands of games
- No Bluetooth headphones without dongles
- Big name games are a little more expensive
- Only 32 GB of internal memory
Best Emulator: GPD XD Plus
Enjoy all the recent games available with Android Gravity and 7.0, or get some classics from older systems such as the PlayStation Portable, N64, Game Boy Advance, and more on the GPD XD Plus. This emulator's 5-inch screen is a touch screen with on-screen controls opening it up for even more game possibilities. Running on MT8176 CPU with 4GB DDR3 RAM and base frequency capability of 2.1Ghz, this console runs more like a tablet with an attached controller pad.
In addition to the games, you can also connect to Wi-Fi and download apps as you would for an Android device for email, shopping, videos, etc. The GPD XD Plus offers 8-hour battery life and can easily fit into your pocket at 3.5-by-6.2-by-0.95 inches and is just over a pound. Due to its size, the buttons do tend to be on the smaller side.
This isn't a system that would be recommended for anyone looking for something that comes all set up ready to play. You will need to get the games you want for it and set it up yourself as there is no game card availability. If you want a more plug and play option, another console would be better for you. The wide range of systems you can emulate with the added tablet functionality makes it a great choice for anyone familiar with setting up emulators.
- Play games from multiple systems
- Thin, lightweight design
- Wi-Fi connectivity for video viewing and more
- Only 5-inch screen
- Takes time to get set up
- Smaller buttons
Best Additional Features: Nintendo New 3DS XL
This system got its name from the option to view your games in 3D; it's a cool feature that brings an extra dimension to your gaming experience. To enhance this, the console was made with a camera that does face tracking to adjust the 3D imagery to your view angle. Another extra your games may offer is additional content with Nintendo amiibo on certain amiibo supported games.
With the foldable body, the 4.88-inch upper screen and 4.18-inch lower screen on the 3DS XL is going to be easy to protect. Players can easily fit this console into their pockets. It's only 6.4-by-6.3-by-0.8 inches and weighs under a pound, making traveling simple. To keep it compact, the system does come with a stylus that may be required to play some games, and it simply fits inside the console.
This handheld does require an AC Adapter to charge that is not included with your purchase of the system. It will hold charge for about five hours, so you will want to make sure to pick one up when getting this system.
- Face tracking 3D
- Foldable design for screen protection and ease of portability
- Amiibo support
- Smaller screen
- Small stylus
- Charger not included
Best For Kids: Etpark Handheld Game Console
This affordable system comes pre-installed with 400 games, making it a perfect one time purchase for younger kids compared buying a console and games separately. This also means there are fewer items to lose; it is simply the system itself, the charger, and the optional TV compatibility pieces. The vast library includes games include Mario, Tetris, Contra, and more that you may have played when you were a kid. This can make it a fun family experience to share what you used to have with your child. These can be played with two players, as the system comes with a gamepad for a second player, and can be played on a TV as well through an AV cable.
When played in handheld mode, players test their skills on a 2.8-inch LCD screen and is 5.6-by-4-by-2.2 inches. It only takes an hour to charge and will last for five hours of play after. This quick charge makes it easy to have this system ready in a snap if it wasn't put on the charger right after the last use. There isn't a way to save these games, so each time you play, you will start from the beginning again.
Considering spending a lower amount of money on a starter handheld for kids might be a good idea compared to the hundreds other consoles can go for. This way, if it is lost or broken, you aren't out quite as much money.
- 400 games are pre-installed, nothing to purchase after
- Two-player capability
- TV compatible
- 2-inch screen size
- No way to expand the game collection
- Can't save progress
Best Value: New Nintendo 2DS XL
Although this isn't the lowest priced item on the list, it may be the most bang for your buck. In addition to the availability of all the Nintendo 3DS games, this system comes pre-installed with Mario Kart 7, so you'll have something to enjoy right away. Overall, this is a more affordable option for you to enjoy most of the same games, just without the 3D feature. You can still have that ease of portability at a more affordable price than the 3DS and more game options than the Etpark.
With the same foldable design seen with the Nintendo New 3DS XL, the 4.88-inch upper and 4.18-inch lower screens are just as easy to keep protected without the need for an added screen protector. When it is folded, it is 3.4-by-6.3-by-0.8 inches, and it weighs 9.2 ounces and the upper LCD screen displays at 400 x 240 resolution.
The C-Stick has been added to this new version of the 2DS. Players now have both the circle pad and the C-Stick for an option of subtle movement. The system takes about three hours to charge and lasts from three to five hours on 3DS games and five to eight hours on DS games.
- Fold design for easy traveling and screen protection
- Mario Kart 7 pre-installed
- Enhanced C stick controls
- Smaller screen
- Only 400 x 240-pixel screen resolution
- No 3D capability
There are a few things to consider when you're trying to find the right handheld console for you. A difference in price is often a difference in quality and resolution. If you're looking for something more simple, maybe a lower budget item fits for you. Charging times and battery life are something to keep in mind when you are thinking through how you want to use your new system. How you keep your games is another important aspect of your new system. If you're looking to save space, something with a digital option or pre-downloaded may be your best fit.
Nintendo has dominated the handheld market for years and has built a variety of options to fit budgets, lifestyles, and ages. Most notable is the Nintendo Switch Lite for the great quality, number of games, focus on handheld design, and affordability. Plus, there's always the bonus of the fun color choices, including the recently announced coral Nintendo Switch Lite. Although many of the systems you find may have the Nintendo name on them, there are a few others out there too for different interests.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Alex Huebner Alex is a video game writer who has been writing professionally for five years. She has enjoyed gaming for as long as she can remember, growing up on Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox. She has since expanded her interests into PC gaming as well.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.