Handheld consoles are forever evolving. The demand for gaming on the go is bigger than ever and having not only power, but portability within a handheld console is what customers strive for.
I was born in 1992, the era of handheld gaming. The Gameboy was selling millions of units, and the battle for a child’s hands was like titans clashing within the isles of Toys R Us.
Sega wanted a piece, and Nintendo was doing its best to keep them away. Now, almost 30 years on, handheld consoles are still selling like hot cakes.
Portability is getting even more advanced too, with clam shell designs and docks that turn your handheld consoles into full blown gaming powerhouses.
It’s been an absolute pleasure watching this niche evolve from the early days, which is why we’ve decided to put together the ultimate list of the best handheld consoles of all time. It’s not just western consoles either; we’ve delved deep into China to find the best of the best.
Oh, and before the trolls start flexing their fingers, this list isn’t in any particular order. Savvy?
1. Nintendo Switch
Obviously, you knew that the Nintendo Switch was going to be featured in this list of the best handheld console.
To be honest, we’re extremely comfortable putting this at the top of our handheld consoles list. Released in March 2017, the Switch is a hybrid console that not allows for portable play and docks to your TV for a full blown console experience. Slide Joycons off for instant multiplayer, and even play in tabletop mode!
With BOTW as a launch title, it was always going to do well. It makes the Nintendo 3DS look like it’s from the ice age!
With a large 6″ screen, wireless joy-cons and incredible games, it’s hands down one of the best handhelds consoles of all time.
At $300 it isn’t cheap, but the price comes with quality and years and years of enjoyment. If you want to go even cheaper, then there’s the Nintendo Switch Lite, a $200 handheld without the joy-con and docking ability. Light, smaller and more portable, the Lite gives player a bit more money to splash out on some Nintendo Switch Lite accessories!
2. Retro Game 351M
The Retro Game 351M takes the next spot in this list of the best handhelds. It made some serious waves amongst the retro gaming community, and it’s not hard to see why!
Does it look familiar? It’s a metal version of the ever-popular RG351P released back in 2020. Crafted from a solid block of aluminium, it comes in grey or black for that steely gleam look.
Moving from plastic to metal makes this handheld feel so much nicer and a heck of a lot more durable. That metal casing can take bumps and scratches without looking haggard, but we still look after our handhelds like babies
The RG351M can emulate *BREATHES IN* Gameboy, SNES, NES, Gameboy Advance, Sega Mega Drive, MAME, Neo Geo, FBA, Wonder Swan and even Playstation 1 games.
Honestly, this entry in our best handheld consoles list has blown us away. We knew it would be great after spending so much time messing around on the RG350P, but having that premium metal feel makes it feel like a totally different console.
It’s an ultimate winner in our book and fits in our hands like a metallic glove. Give it a go; you won’t be disappointed.
3. Game Boy Advance SP
That’s right, we’ve ranked the Game Boy Advance SP above the Original, and we don’t feel bad about it at all. Some might say we’re mavericks, but we’re just huge fans of the SP.
Ok, history time. The Game Boy Advance SP released in March 2003 and totally changed the way portability was seen in handheld consoles. Nintendo revealed the iconic “clamshell” design, moving away from the solid look synonymous with the DMG.
Folding a Game Boy to fit inside a pocket – it was hard to think that the world could get any better than this back in the day!
Nintendo’s upped their game with the AGS 101 SP console. It came with a bright backlight screen finally allowed players to game in the dark or in sunlight without using that annoying worm light. Plus, the screen was so good that players finally replayed some of their best gameboy games just to experience it in full brightness.
In 2021, GBA SP remains a rare handheld. They don’t come cheap anymore, and if you’ve got one boxed in good condition, you can get a pretty penny for them on eBay or Craigslist.
4. Playstation Vita
The Sony Playstation Vita is a magnificent handheld. It released in early 2012 as a way to play your favourite games on the go in style.
Still to this day we think its one of best looking handhelds out there. It’s sleek, ergonomic, and it screams premium as soon as it lands in your hands.
The PS Vita competed directly with the Nintendo 3DS, and although some say it lost, it held some of the best PSP games that to this day are still phenomenal. It also captured the older market compared to the 3DS. Admittedly, it wasn’t exactly marketed that way, but the PS Vita had more mature games that captured the young teenager audience well.
The PS Vita had a 5″ screen, two analogue sticks, cameras and a bunch of other tech. It could also be used as a controller too.
But one of best features about these handheld consoles was the fact that you could play your PS3 and PS4 games through the handheld. That means God of War and Spiderman on a handheld, and that alone was incredible.
Unfortunately, it was Sony’s last handheld, and we can’t see Sony returning this beloved console to our hands anytime soon.
5. Sega Game Gear
The Sega Game Gear will forever hold a Sonic-shaped place in our hearts. It was one of our first ever handheld consoles, and although it weighs the same as a small elephant, it has its perks.
The Sega Game Gear released in April 1991 and competed directly with the insanely popular Gameboy. But Sega knew where it could advance, and that was within the screen.
This was one of the first and best handheld consoles to have a coloured screen, and boy did you notice when you opened it up on Christmas day.
Everyone knows the best Sega Game Gear games. We’re talking Sonic The Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat II ,and even Power Rangers, all in crispy colour all in a portable handheld.
It might sound commonplace now, but this was unheard of in 1991. It’s safe to say that the Game Gear pushed Nintendo to release the Gameboy Color, one of the best handheld consoles you’ll see later on.
The Game Gear was bulky, heavy and had poor audio quality, but thats why we love it. Playing it is like talking a walk down memory lane, and that’s why its so high on our list.
It’s one of Sega’s greatest achievements!
6. Nintendo DS
The Nintendo DS, or as we like to call it, the Gameboy Advance SP on steroids, was yet again another huge advancement in the handheld consoles scene.
In November 2004 Nintendo dropped the bombshell of the DS. DS stands for the consoles “dual screen”, and the handheld brought a whole new way of playing games.
It still had the ability to play old Gameboy Advance games, but they released new DS cartridges that could hold bigger and better games with touchscreen capabilities.
The GBA SP clamshell design went down so well that they added it to the Nintendo DS. Not only that, but it also came with a stylus, allowing even more games to use this accessory. Drawing games, mind games, and even strategy games which used two screens and a stylus – yep, Nintendo knew they had a winner on… or in, their hands.
Instead of just targeting children, the DS targeted adults that wanted to “get smarter” with games. It was powerful, sleek, and truly immersive. Heck, it felt like the start of a shiny a new era, but one that payed homage to the past with the old GB cartridge slot. It’s still our favourite DS model because of that little touch!
7. Game Boy DMG
The ultimate handheld had to feature in our list of the best handheld console. The Game Boy DMG remains one of the most iconic and best handheld consoles… scrap that, best games consoles of all time!
This original Gameboy has a place in our hearts as it was the first handheld that we ever had, the very machine that introduced us into gaming. It blew our tiny child minds; the fact that we could go anywhere with our portable handheld consoles and load up save files was incredible. And still to this day, it’s an amazing handheld that influences new machines.
It was thick, chunky, had a terrible screen that you could barely see. Don’t forget the bulky buttons, terrible battery life, and even worse audio quality. But somehow, all of those features combined made for an epic handled.
Like many things in life, the imperfections made it perfect.
With the Gameboy came some of the best gameboy games of all time. Pokemon, Zelda, Tetris; you name it, and they were available to play anywhere. An incredible feat for the 90s and a pivotal moment for the wider gaming world.
8. Sega Nomad
The Sega Nomad arrived in 1995, a very competitive era of the 90’s where many of the best handhelds bowed to Nintendo’s might. However, Sega released the Genesis Nomad, a portable handheld that can play all of your Sega Genesis cartridges on the go.
It was big, chunky, but allowed true Genesis fans to take their cartridges out on the go. This saved them a lot of money because those that liked the Game Gear just had to wait a while, and they wouldn’t have to buy new games.
Unfortunately, it didn’t sell very well. The bright screen, awesome controls, and portability fell short to its competition.
But now, in 2020, this thing is a rare find, especially if it comes boxed. We’ve been wanting to buy one for years, but they’re north of $200 unboxed, and even then, we’ll need to buy games!
It looks great, it’s aged very well, and we’re still eager to buy before the year is up!
9. Game & Watch
Nintendo created the Game & Watch to test the handheld market in the 80’s, and boy did it work. They sold over 40 million units and some say it was the birth of the handheld. Nintendo wasn’t expecting this much demand, and the Game & Watch is what could have possibly gave them idea for the upcoming Game Boy.
They played just one game on a tiny LCD screen which also doubled up as an alarm, should you want this thing screaming at you early in the morning.
I think ours is still ringing in our basement to this day!
It came in Nintendo’s iconic gold and red colour variant with a left and right button to play your game. They made a number of different editions that played different games; ‘Octopus’, ‘Fire’, and ‘Ball’ to name a few. They used the same controls but came with a different LCD screen ‘game’.
This is also a much wanted console and worth of anyones handheld consoles collection, especially after the release of the Super Mario 35th Anniversary edition.
10. 1UP XL
It’s time for the DMG’s mutant cousin, The 1UP XL. This beast is one of the best handheld consoles for playing N64 games on the go, and it has a lot of surprises up its sleeves…or it would if it had sleeves.
The 1UP XL costs more than the average emulation handheld, but it has a great track record for emulating lots of different classic consoles from over the years.
Gamers can either buy this handheld pre-built or put it together at home. It’s a heavy handheld and takes the muscles of a wrestler to hold up for long periods of time, but the 3.5″ display with 60-FPS image quality is a real beauty.
This console also works on TVs too via the HDMI out, providing 1080 resolution and multiplayer functions via external USB controllers.
To be honest, the Retro Dodo team basically use this instead of lugging an N64 around to each other’s houses. Pokemon stadium and Mario Kart anytime, anywhere.
We’re huge fans of the see-through casing too, giving visual access to all of the components that make this thing tick. You’ll need oven gloves for long sessions and it’s a bit of a bulky powerhouse, but we love it all the same.
11. Retroid Pocket 2
Next up on our list of the best handheld consoles is the Retroid Pocket 2!
Some readers may well have played on the Retroid Pocket, otherwise known as the ‘Devil’s handheld’. That thing was terrible, but the developers listened to gamer feedback and brought out an updated product that addressed all of our issues.
The new console is an absolute gem!
Far from being a cheap Chinese knock-off console, the Retroid Pocket 2 feels like it’s just shipped from Nintendo HQ. As fas as build quality, craftsmanship, and playability go, it scores top marks across the board.
Anyone looking for a compact console that still has a premium weighty feel to it should check out the RP2 immediately. USB-C charging, modern features, and a concave D-pad which we can’t get enough of.
Add a 3.5″ IPS display with a screen protector into the mix and a 4000mAh battery that easily knocks out 4 hours of gameplay, and this handheld starts to look even more impressive. It’s a winner on long journeys and one that we keep in our bag while travelling around the country.
The Retroid team got this console 100% right, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for these guys.
12. Game Boy Color
If there’s one console on this list that doesn’t need an introduction it’s the Game Boy Color.
After the mighty success of the immortal DMG developed by Gunpei Yokoi, Nintendo pulled out all the stops and produced the most ergonomic handheld console ever.
Nintendo characters were now portable and in color. Life would never be the same again.
The Game Boy Color remains one of the best 90s toys ever. Landing in late 1998, gamers, their parents, and every shop owner ever went mental for this thing.
Pokemon in colour; what more could you possibly want!
The Game Boy and Game Boy Color sold a whopping 118.69million units combined, making it the third best selling system of all time. The Color variant of the best handheld consoles regularly features on modded gameboy websites and is still popular with gamers everywhere!
13. PSP Street
I played some of the best PSP games ever made on the PSP Street. Ok, so on paper, this was the budget model and not the best PlayStation Portable that Sony produced.
But you know what? It looked the coolest of the bunch!
Sharing the same charcoal black colour scheme as the PS3, the PSP Street is one of the sleekest handheld consoles ever to grace the streets (see what I did there?).
With a monaural speaker, no microphone, and no WiFi comparability, it’s not the most technologically advanced handheld. But who cares! Playing on the go doesn’t require WiFi, and having brightness settings in the main menu is no different to the 3DS.
I love the look and feel of the PSP Street, and the screen size is an absolute winner for the cost of the console.
These handheld consoles (sometimes referred to as the PSP E1000) sell for between $27 and $175 on second-hand sites, and the back catalogue of games available for this super-swish console still keep me coming back for more.
14. PiBoy DMG
This is one of the newest and best retropie handhelds on our list of the best handheld consoles, and it’s called the PiBoy DMG.
This beefed-up DMG originally dropped on Kickstarter. Backed by the amazing retro gaming community, it smashed all of its funding goals.
This handheld boasts a new Raspberry Pi 4 inside, which means it can handle all manner of ROMs including N64 games.
How many handhelds can switch between the best neo geo games and the best n64 games in the blink of an eye? Heck, how many handhelds look like a DMG crossed with a Power Ranger?
Avid DIY fans may grab the kit for $119, but that price doesn’t include the Pi 4 computer brain. The fully assembled handheld only costs $179 and is a much simpler option.
Honestly, this is one powerful handheld and it plays like a dream. It has all the right buttons, triggers, and sticks to emulate all of your games perfectly. Plus, there’s a built in fan to remove the need for kevlar oven gloves while playing!
15. Analogue Pocket
The Analogue Pocket is a multi-video game system capable of playing DMG, GBC, and GBA games. It can play other handheld formats with a series of adapters, AND it can be hooked up to a TV via an HDMI out.
Just to put that into perspective, this handheld is compatible with 2,780 Nintendo cartridges straight out of the box. If that doesn’t make it one of the best handheld consoles of all time, then I don’t know what does!
The best bit about this console is the fact that it doesn’t use any emulation whatsoever. No lag or frame rate drop, just good-old-fashioned gaming with a modern twist.
This metal console comes with the same premium weight and feel that we love in the RG351M. The main difference that sets this handheld above the crowd is the 3.5″ LCD screen with a resolution of 1600×1440 and 615ppi. That’s some seriously impressive stats for a handheld of this size!
Pokemon on that screen will look so sick!
We say will because we’re still waiting to get hold of this console. On paper it looks superb and the rate the pre-orders sold out further back up that claim. The console should have dropped in 2020, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Analogue Pocket Release date pushed back to 2021.
We can’t wait to get our hands on this handheld after months, years in fact, of reading and dreaming about it. Expect lots of drool when it comes out of the box.
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A 29 year old fella that’s had a Gameboy addiction ever since he was a child. Brandon is the founder of RetroDodo and created a YouTube channel with 240,000 subscribers dedicated to retro gaming products. He now wants to create the No.1 site to showcase the latest retro products from around the globe.