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Best handheld console 2022: Take your games anywhere with one of these great handheld consoles

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Whether you’re looking for retro-gaming fun or action-packed adventures, these handheld consoles are perfect for playing on the go

Handheld gaming is back. The phenomenal success of the Nintendo Switch proves that smartphones are a long way from killing off portable consoles.

Indeed, there are more mobile gaming devices around now than almost ever before. Games are big business, and everyone wants a slice. Amazon is now flooded with various Android-based handheld consoles and a myriad of pocket-sized devices made solely for emulation. But which is right for you?

Here's our buying guide to help you choose the perfect handheld, along with our pick of the best handheld consoles out there right now.

READ NEXT: The best Nintendo 3DS games


Best handheld console: At a glance


How to buy the best handheld console for you

Choosing a handheld games console can seem like a tricky task. But working out exactly what you want from a device can narrow the field considerably.

For instance, if you want a lightweight device for playing the latest games on the go, Nintendo’s devices are really your only option. If you want gaming plus online videos and music, a high-end Android tablet or a Sony PlayStation Vita is a better bet.

What games can handheld consoles play?

The range of games on offer varies considerably from device to device. The Nintendo Switch offers a full home console experience, while the 3DS XL is a more lightweight system that mostly plays exclusive titles. Android devices can run emulators and play retro games, as well as newer games downloaded from the Google Play store. Most handheld consoles support both cartridges and digital downloads; one advantage of picking a Nintendo or Sony device over a smaller manufacturer is the likelihood of finding secondhand cartridges, along with the expectation of better support if something goes wrong.

Can I play retro games on a handheld console?

The 3DS and PlayStation Vita offer backwards compatibility with older handheld devices and you may find remakes of classic titles. However, if you want to run an emulator you’re better off with an Android tablet – there’s a bigger range of high-quality emulation software out there.

What about battery life?

Whichever device you choose, you can expect a minimum of three hours of play. Most devices will give you five hours and some will last up to six or seven hours. Longer is better, obviously, but in reality, you’ll rarely be playing a device for hours on end, and once you switch your device into standby it’ll hold its charge for days or weeks – so you should have more than enough charge for a couple of train journeys without needing to top up.

READ NEXT: The best Nintendo Switch games

The best handheld consoles you can buy

1. Nintendo Switch: The ultimate handheld console

Price: £324 | Buy now from Amazon

The Nintendo Switch is more than a handheld gaming device. At home, you can hook it up to your living room TV like a regular console; then, when it’s time to go out, you can simply pop it out of its dock and carry on gaming on the built-in screen.

The games are very much up to home console standards too: star titles include the 100+ hour-long The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the superb Super Mario Odyssey. There’s also a slew of great multiplayer titles and the intriguing Nintendo Labo. Almost all major Switch games come on cartridges, but they’re also available digitally, along with a long list of indie games only available via the Nintendo eShop. Just don't expect low prices: Switch games remain infamously expensive. 

Key specs – Dimensions: 239 x 14 x 102mm; Weight: 398g; Display: 6.2in 1,280 x 720p touchscreen (outputs to 1080p when docked); Storage: 32GB built-in, expandable via microSD; Connectivity: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, headphone jack, USB-C, USB 3 (on dock), USB 2 (on dock); Battery: 4,310mAh (~3.5 to 7 hours)

2. Nintendo Switch Lite: The best compact handheld

Price: £198 l Buy now from Amazon

Alternatively, if you know you aren't going to be hooking up your Switch to the TV at home and would rather buy something a bit more pocketable, the Switch Lite is perhaps your best bet. Smaller and lighter than the original, the Switch Lite also has an improved battery life and it costs less than the normal model too. 

There are a few downsides, of course. The controllers on the side are fused to the screen (they aren't detachable) and it doesn't have a kickstand on the back, either – so that means no tabletop play. However, if you're planning on being out and about more often than being sat at home, the new design is far better suited for on-the-go gaming sessions: it's equally powerful and the slightly improved battery life on the original is also a massive plus. 

Key specs – Dimensions: 91 x 208 x 13.9mm; Weight: 275g; Display: 5.5in, 1,280 x 720p; Storage: 32GB built-in, expandable via microSD; Connectivity: 802.11ac, NFC, headphone jack, USB-C; Battery: 3,570mAh (~3.5 to 7 hours)


3. PlayStation Vita: The best handheld console for Japanese games

Price: £180 | Buy it now from Amazon (Preowned)

Sony’s second entry into the handheld console market is a phenomenal device – but, unfortunately, it was discontinued in the UK a few years ago. If you want a PlayStation Vita, therefore, you’ll have to track down a used one via eBay, Amazon or CeX.

If you’re a fan of weird and wonderful handheld games, however, it’s well worth seeking one out. Secondhand game cartridges can be had quite cheaply, and you’ll also find some exquisite Limited Run editions of quirky indie games to pick up. You can still buy new titles digitally on the PlayStation Store too – and, because the Vita is region-free, you can pick up a wealth of games from Japan, where the Vita is still going strong.

For retro gaming fans, the Vita also plays a wealth of original PlayStation games and PlayStation Portable titles. You can even connect it to your PlayStation 4 (either over your home Wi-Fi or via the internet) and play the latest games remotely.

Key specs – Dimensions: 183.6 x 15 x 85.1mm; Weight: 260g; Display: 5in 960 x 544p touchscreen; Storage: 1GB built-in, expandable up to 64GB with proprietary memory; Connectivity: 802.11bgn, 3G (optional) Bluetooth 2.1, headphone jack, micro-USB; Battery: 2,210mAh (~4-6 hours for games, 7 for video, 12 for music)

4. Nvidia Shield K1: The best handheld console for retro gamers

Price: £160 | Buy it now from Amazon

The Nvidia Shield K1 is strictly a tablet rather than a console – but don’t think it’s just another Android device. Nvidia’s powerful Tegra K1 processor makes it an exceptional on-the-go gaming platform.

Since it runs Android, you’ll have access to all the most popular smartphone games, as well as a wealth of emulators. The K1 is powerful enough to run PlayStation, N64 and Dreamcast games, and some GameCube games will work too. Nvidia has also worked with game studios to optimise classic titles for the platform, so you can play the likes of Tomb Raider and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance on it too. As if that weren’t enough, you also get Nvidia’s GeForce Now streaming service, so you can play PC-quality games anywhere you have a Wi-Fi connection, or stream your own PC games to the Shield K1 if you fancy a spot of PC gaming on the sofa.

The only catch with the Shield K1 is its price – and the fact that it’s becoming difficult to obtain new, as Nvidia shifts focus to the Shield TV and its other projects.

Key specs – Dimensions: 221 x 9.2 x 126mm; Weight: 356g; Display: 8in 1,920 x 1,200p touchscreen; Storage: 16GB, expandable microSD to 256GB; Connectivity: 802.11abgn, Bluetooth 4, GPS, micro-USB 2; Battery: 5,200mAh (~8.5 hours)

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