After cautious hands-on screening, we include our preferred equipment and devices as Mashable Selects items in our devoted shopping guides.
Since its release, the Nintendo Switch has dominated the conversation around portable gaming consoles because to its innovative hybrid design, relatively affordable price point, and large, still-growing lineup(opens in a new tab) of titles. ((Who needs horsepower anyway?)) It’s one of the most popular consoles of all time, but it’s far from the only portable option.
After putting a number of portable consoles through their paces, we recommend the shiny Nintendo Switch– OLED Model(opens in a new tab) ($349.99), the portable Nintendo Switch Lite(opens in a new tab) ($199.99), the sleek Valve Steam Deck(opens in a new tab) (beginning at $399), and the wonderfully nostalgic Analogue Pocket(opens in a new tab) ($219.99). While each of these four platforms has its own unique design, set of features, and/or intended use, they share the ability to run high-quality games on the go and provide impressive performance for the price.
If you’re looking for a portable PC setup, sitting on a pile of old Game Boy cartridges, or just desperate to play The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on the best system available, this article can help you decide which console is best for you.
OLED Model of the Nintendo Switch (link opens in a new tab)
The Best Performance Ever
Illustration by Adam Rosenberg/Mashable.
- Genus: Hybrid
With the Joy-Con controllers attached, the system measures 9.5 by 4 by 0.55 inches.
OLED capacitive touchscreen, seven inches in size, 1280 x 720 pixels in resolution
Total (with Joy-Con attached) weight is 0.93 ounces.
Capable of 64GB of storage space, with support for microSDHC/microSDXC cards of up to 2TB in size for even more space.
Power reserves: 4.5-9 hours
Can I connect to Bluetooth?
Although the 2021 version of Nintendo’s best-selling multi-use system does not make any revolutionary changes to the portable experience, it is still an excellent device for solitary or group play and is perhaps the greatest Switch to date.
The most appealing aspect is implicit in the product’s title: The OLED model of the Nintendo Switch (opens in a new tab) features a seven-inch OLED touchscreen with a “lively scheme of colours,” a narrow black border, and high contrast, as described by Adam Rosenberg, formerly of Mashable’s senior video games press team. It excels in both portable and desktop modes, allowing you to play with both Joy-Con controllers attached to its sides in the former while benefiting from a wider, stronger kickstand with an adjustable hinge in the latter. (This is not a “lightweight device,” as Rosenberg implied in his first cost estimate, but rather a “natural extension” of the Switch’s hybrid design.) It looks fantastic, and now it sounds just as good, thanks to some “improved audio” included into the onboard speakers.
OLED Switch owners receive twice as much internal storage as those with the standard model(opens in a new tab) ($299.99), further justifying Nintendo’s $50 price increase. A MicroSD card will allow you to increase that capacity as well.
What gamers really wanted in a successor to the basic version was a next-gen “Switch Pro” with more processing power and 4K graphics, and this system didn’t quite deliver on that. It still has a 720p screen resolution and a 1080p output when docked in television mode. Due to the same NVIDIA Custom Tegra CPU, frame drops(opens in new tab) are still possible in the dense Korok Forest in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It can play video games for anything from 4.5 hours to 9 hours on a single charge. It’s the same method we’ve used for years, only now it looks fancier and works even better.
Despite this, the OLED Switch stands on its own as a fantastic, uniquely adaptable console. If you bought a basic Switch after 2019 (when it gained a better battery; opens in a new tab), you probably don’t need it; nevertheless, owners of the discontinued 2017 launch model may benefit from the update.
Advised video games:
- Breath of the Wild, a new chapter in the Legend of Zelda series.
Fear in the Metroid Universe (new window)
Ultimate version of Super Smash Bros.
Play Mario Party Superstars in a new window.
Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (new window)
Check out our in-depth review of the Nintendo Switch OLED Version for more info.
Switch Lite by Nintendo (new window/tab)
The Best Handheld Game System
Image courtesy of Haley Henschel / Mashable
- Designation: Transportable
Inches: 8.2 x 3.6 x 0.55
Display type: 5.5″ LCD capacitive touchscreen; resolution: 1280 x 720
A mere 0.61 ounces
Capable of 32GB of storage space, with support for microSDHC/microSDXC cards of up to 2TB in size for even more space.
Energy consumption: 3-7 hours
Can I connect to Bluetooth?
The Nintendo Switch Lite(opens in a new tab) is a handheld-only console released in 2019 that forgoes the detachable Joy-Cons in favour of built-in controllers, making it the company’s smallest, slimmest, and most budget-friendly system to yet. You can’t play it on the TV or a tabletop, and it doesn’t have any fancy specs, but that’s beside the point. As its primary purpose, it gives a warm and welcoming portable gaming experience.
It’s incredible that games like Hades and Breath of the Wild can be played on a device the size of a small clutch, as we were able to do during our screening. Furthermore, you are not actually giving up any influence: The LCD touchscreen is bright and colourful despite not being as attractive as an OLED display, and it uses the same NVIDIA processor as the rest of Nintendo’s Switch consoles.
Keep in mind that you won’t gain access to every Nintendo game right away. The Switch Lite does not have built-in support for HD Rumble or infrared motion controllers, thus certain titles will not work right out of the box. The good news is that this only affects a small number of games(opens in a new tab), and the problem may be easily remedied by pairing the console with a different Joy-Con.
The Switch Lite’s featherweight design was another standout feature in our testing; it weighs in at little over half a pound. (By comparison, the base Switch weighs 0.88 pounds, which may not seem like much but causes Lead Shopping Reporter Haley Henschel’s hands to feel cramped and numb after just a few of hours of use). Unlike the other Switches, this one is easy on the hands to handle for long periods of time, and it features a recognisable design with a regular D-pad instead of a four-button arrangement. If the Switch Lite’s battery life was longer than 4 or 5 hours, we would play it all day long. Ensure that it is fully charged before taking it on a lengthy bus ride or plane ride.
Like the original Switch, the 32GB limit on the Lite’s internal storage means you’ll need to buy a microSD card separately if you want to save more than a handful of titles on it. The Switch Lite’s $200 price tag is so low that even with its flaws, it’s easy to overlook them.
Advised video games:
- Hell(click to open in new window)
New Horizons in Animal Crossing (link opens in a new tab)
Arceus, Legendary Pokémon (new window)
(New tab opens) Super Mario 3D World plus Bowser’s Fury.
Start a new tab to play Stardew Valley.
See what we thought of the Nintendo Switch Lite in our full review.
Steam Deck by Valve (new tab opens)
For the most optimal PC gaming experience
Photo by Dylan Haas/Mashable
- Ttype: hybrid; dock sold separately
Measurements: 11.75 x 4.65 x 2.95
Display: IPS LCD, 7 inches, 1280 x 800 pixels
Approximately 1.47 ounces
Storage options include 64GB emmC, 256GB SSD, and 512GB SSD; more storage may be added using microSD cards.
Power source availability: 2-8 hours
Can I connect to Bluetooth?
The 2022 Valve Steam Deck(opens in a new tab) is unlike any other piece of technology that has gone before it. It’s essentially a portable that condenses the PC gaming experience into a more manageable format.
The Deck, thanks to Steam’s built-in operating system, grants you entry to the entirety of the Steam Store (including your own account, if it is linked to a PC system). Not all of the games are compatible with the Deck, but Steam helpfully labels them as such in their shop, and there are more than enough options to keep you occupied for a while. Video games may be downloaded directly to the device and played from there point.
The Steam Deck packs incredible punch. When demanding titles like Elden Ring, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and God of War all started up without a hitch, we had more than one “pinch me” moment. After tweaking the graphics settings, even games that aren’t “Deck Verified” performed smoothly. It was incredible to play Red Dead Redemption 2 on the go.
We really liked the Deck’s desktop mode, which essentially transforms it into a little PC for web browsing and other uses. While it takes some time and understanding of Linux, it is possible to configure it to run non-Steam launchers such as EA Origin and Ubisoft Connect. It’s a downside for those who want a really unrestricted PC experience, but there’s so much else to like here that it’s hardly a dealbreaker.
There are some little issues with the hardware itself, but it’s still great. We like the Deck’s thoughtful design and features, especially the two trackpads on either side of the screen and the buttons located in the back. It’s easy to grip, and the buttons are all within easy reach. However, the device is somewhat heavier than average, and after a few hours of use, its heft becomes noticeable. Unfortunately, the Steam Deck’s battery life isn’t the best, so that’s assuming you can get a couple of hours of playtime out of it. Considering how much juice some of these portable games use, its rapid depletion makes sense, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Luckily, you can still use it to play while charging its included battery.
Due to the hefty initial cost and ongoing maintenance, PC gaming has really traditionally been out of reach for a sizable portion of the population. We see the Steam Deck’s potential to level the playing field for all gamers as a monumental undertaking.
Advised video games:
- Position at the Aperture Help Desk(opens in a new window)
The Elden Ring (link opens in a new window).
Launches a new window with Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection.
New tab opens to God of War.
Half-Life 2 (new window/tab).
See what we thought of the Valve Steam Deck in our full review.
You may access Analogue Pocket in a new tab.
The Golden Age of Playing Old Video Games
Photo via Dylan Haas / Mashable.
- Dock sold separately; hybrid design
Measurements are 5.86 x 3.46 x 0.86 inches.
Display is a 3.5-inch Gorilla Glass LCD with a resolution of 1600 by 1440.
A mere 0.6 ounces
Capacity to store: none
Duration of use: 6-10 hours
Disconnect from Bluetooth:
Sometimes it’s not worth it to try to capture happy memories, but 2021’s Analogue Pocket(opens in new tab) is not one of those times.It’s not just a portable that plays classic Game Boy, Game Boy Colour, and Game Boy Advance games; it’s a triumph of video game preservation and a model of how something old can be revitalised in a way that improves upon what made it special in the first place.
The Analogue Pocket is not, to be clear, any sort of knockoff. The Pocket is compatible with classic Game Boy cartridges, bringing the nostalgia of the original handheld to a whole new console with superior build quality, a gorgeous screen, and a slew of fun extras.
The screen on the Pocket is very crisp, with a resolution that’s 10 times that of the original Game Boy and on par with some of today’s other portable gaming devices. We were pleasantly surprised by how well it looked on a television when docked in the Analogue Dock (sold separately for $99.99), similar to the standard Nintendo Switch. The audio is flawless and accurately re-creates some of our favourite moments from classic video games. The hardware is also of the highest quality; it has a genuine “superior feel,” and each button is incredibly responsive.
The Analogue Pocket has a tonne of neat extras, such the ability to make your own 8-bit music and video games using openFPGA. The fact that any player with a Pocket has access to free shows software is a fantastic opportunity, even if we don’t have any background in game development. You may apply screen filters to make your games seem as they did on the original Game Boy consoles, and you can use a variety of adapters to play games from other systems, such as the Game Gear, Neo Geo, Atari Lynx, and TurboGrafx-16. We’d prefer if the cartridge slot wasn’t so easily accessible, but it’s not a deal breaker. (Leave a cartridge in there, it’ll be easy to fix.)
The Pocket is a one-of-a-kind piece of technology that any fan of classic video games or preservation efforts for video games needs to have. This settles the argument once and for all: In reality, the Analogue Pocket is the best Game Boy.
Advised video games:
- The Red, Blue, and Yellow Pokémon
Link’s Revelation: The Legend of Zelda
Legend of the Sacred Fire Emblem Stones
You may use any old Game Boy cartridge you find.
- We played the Nintendo Switch Lite, the Valve Steam Deck, and the Analogue Pocket for at least ten hours apiece, splitting our time between three different titles on each system. For this guide, we made use of the work of Adam Rosenberg, a former senior video games press reporter for Mashable who has previously reviewed the Nintendo Switch—OLED Model.
We took into account the following factors when formulating our recommendations:
Because of the wide variety of games and file formats supported by each portable device, your own taste in games will likely be a major factor in determining which one you choose. Avoid buying a Pocket if you plan on playing Elden Ring or Animal Crossing. Beyond the Pale
- Type of Console: Some handheld consoles are hybrid systems, meaning they may be played standalone or docked to a television or monitor through an adapter (often sold separately). The Switch OLED goes a step further by enabling tabletop mode, in which the console can be used as a standalone screen when the Joy-Con are detached and the console is propped up using the included kickstand.
- Although portable consoles’ displays are often on the smaller side, they nevertheless need to be bright and clear enough for players to see fine writing and take in other details without straining their eyes.
- Most modern handhelds don’t have a lot of storage space on board (if they have any at all), but that’s okay because players can usually add more space by inserting a microSD card. The Steam Deck is the only device on this list to provide storage capacities above the standard 64GB eMMC (which are all expandable) and to do so at a reasonable price (at $529 and $649, respectively).
- The amount of time you can play your favourite games on a portable console’s battery depends heavily on the games you play and the brightness settings you choose. For example, playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at maximum brightness will consume energy far more quickly than playing Stardew Valley at minimum brightness. If you can use it for several hours without needing to plug it in for a recharge, that’s a huge benefit.
- A portable’s button layout and weight may have a significant impact on how easy it is to use. Consider investing in a console grip if you find that prolonged gaming causes pain or tingling in your hands and wrists.
- If you want to use wireless headphones or earbuds while you play, you’ll need this one.
- If a portable game system costs as much as an entry-level Xbox or PlayStation video game console, it must have the features and technology to back up that price.
- The basic Nintendo Switch from 2019 is a portable we’ve tested extensively but decided not to include in this guide because of space constraints. It’s a great console that will be well-supported for the foreseeable future, but for only $50 extra, you can purchase the OLED model, which boasts a sharper screen, an improved kickstand, and twice as much storage space. If you already have the original Switch, there’s no pressing need to upgrade, but as we’ve established, first-time buyers should definitely spring for the latest model.
We will swiftly examine three other portables to include in this guide:
The Logitech G Cloud was designed for use with subscription gaming services like Xbox Game Pass and NVIDIA GeForce Now. Priced at $349.99 (although regularly discounted to $299.99), it is currently sold out(opens in new tab).
- The Panic Playdate is an eccentric game system in the style of the Game Boy, complete with a crank controller and a rotating roster of independent games. It may be yours for $199, but there is a wait list.(link opens in a new window/tab)
- An upcoming Steam Deck competitor, the (for real) ASUS ROG Ally, is said to start at $599.99 for 256GB of SSD storage. On May 11, it will be released, and presale information can be found at Best Buy(opens in a new tab).
Games Regularly Asked Questions
The Nintendo Switch is, without a doubt, the most widely-used handheld gaming system currently available. Since Dec. 31, 2022, the system’s worldwide sales of its regular, Lite, and OLED models had totaled 122.55 million units, making it the third best-selling console of all time (after the Nintendo DS and the PlayStation 2).
Because of its low price, large selection of titles for players of all skill levels, and straightforward design, we think the Nintendo Switch Lite is the ideal handheld for casual gamers. (If you’re not sure where to start, Mashable has a great list to the greatest relaxing video games.) You can pick it up and play it in a few minutes, making it perfect for short gaming sessions on the train, over lunch, or before bed.
Dylan works at Mashable Shopping as a press reporter. You can reach him at [email protected] or by following him on Twitter at @iamdylanhaas.
Haley covers retail for Mashable from her home in Chicago. She formerly blogged for a number of Jersey Shore stars, covered politics for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and wrote for the Wisconsin Centre for Investigative Journalism. She spends her free time playing video games and interacting with her pet pierogi and parrot Melon. You may contact her by e-mail at [email protected] or by following her on Twitter at @haleyhenschel(opens in a new tab).(link opens in a new window/tab)