According to a 2021 report from the Entertainment Software Association, games aren’t just for kids. The report shows that 67 percent of American adults (18 years and over) play video games, which rivals 76 percent of children (under 18) who also play video games on a regular basis. The report also shows that more and more people are playing games on a variety of different devices. While expensive gaming systems like PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X steal headlines with stunning graphics, 57 percent of American gamers use their smartphones to play video games, according to an ESA report.
skip ahead The best portable gaming systems | How to shop for a portable gaming system
According to the gaming experts we spoke to, this all makes a lot of sense. Game systems and the games themselves are more accessible than ever. Many gaming systems have detached themselves from the TV entirely, acting as portable devices that you can take with you anywhere you go. To recommend the best handheld gaming systems, we spoke with gaming experts about the best hardware available and the games that make them shine.
What is a portable gaming system?
A handheld gaming system is any device that you can reasonably carry with you on the go to play video games. Portable gaming systems usually have a long battery life, do not require a constant Internet connection and can easily fit in a bag or backpack.
“Mobile gaming is great when you are traveling and planning to take some downtime, even if there is a TV where you go,” said Melissa King, video game journalist. “Even when you don’t need to go anywhere, and you are handheld [systems] It gives you flexibility where you want to play.”
Since portable gaming systems are not physically connected to a TV or monitor, you can use them anywhere, just as you would with a smartphone. And because it’s not connected to a TV, you don’t have to worry about video games getting in the way of watching movies or big sports.
Best portable gaming systems in 2022
All the experts we spoke to said that the most important part of any gaming system is the games. They said that the best systems are not necessarily the ones with the latest technology or the longest battery life, but the ones with the best games. With that in mind, we’ve included a variety of portable gaming systems, all compatible with loads of great games across many different genres.
The Nintendo Switch is unique among portable gaming systems because it can also be connected to a TV or computer monitor. The Switch includes a docking station that connects to a TV, allowing for docking, big screen fun or docking, and portable gaming on the go, with up to nine hours of battery life, according to the brand
“Mine, [the Switch] It’s the perfect all-around machine,” said Michael Perez, game designer at Iron Galaxy Studios. “I can play on the big screen and lie in bed with ease… without missing a moment.”
All the experts we spoke with praised the Nintendo Switch for its great selection of games. Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can only be played on Switch. Our experts also said they love the Switch’s wide offering of indie titles, including Hades and Stardew Valley.
2021 iPad Mini
There is a reason why playing games on smartphones and tablets is so popular: many people already own one of these devices and don’t want to spend money on a dedicated gaming system. Fortunately, there are plenty of great games available on these mobile devices through a variety of app stores.
With Apple devices in particular, the 2021 iPad Mini is one of the best recommended devices for tablet gaming. A defining feature of the iPad Mini — and Apple devices in general — is Apple Arcade, Apple’s subscription service that gives you access to more than 200 hand-picked, high-quality mobile games. Unlike many of the free games on the App Store, these Apple Arcade games don’t display ads or in-game purchases and instead focus on fun action and interesting stories.
Compared to the regular iPad, I’ve found that the Mini’s ergonomic size gives it a better hand feel, easier touch controls, and a lighter weight. Despite its small size, the iPad Mini still offers great battery life, with up to 10 hours of screen time, according to the brand.
Valve vapor deck (pre-order)
For anyone who is interested in the huge library of games available on PC but doesn’t want to stick around an entire PC, consider Steam Deck. Steam Deck is the latest handheld gaming system that is very similar to the Nintendo Switch in design and form factor, but can play thousands of new and classic PC games via the Steam platform. After downloading titles from the online Steam store, you can enjoy both short and long gaming sessions — according to Valve, the Steam Deck has a battery life of up to eight hours.
“The value I see in something like Steam Deck is access to PC games with ‘stabilization’ [traditional] Perez said. “That’s at least what I want it to be.” Perez and many other game critics are thrilled about the capabilities of Steam Deck, although they are concerned about the many software bugs and issues that the new system needs to resolve. Once these early release bugs are sorted out, Steam Deck should be a great portable device for anyone who wants a solid and powerful gaming system.
The Analogue Pocket is clearly a niche product: it plays old Game Boy cartridge games. While rummaging through your closet for vintage Game Boy games in 2022 may seem strange, Analogue Pocket is one of the only mainstream systems that offers a second life to these old games.
“There are some wonderful [old] games that are getting more and more difficult to access over time.” “Something like a pocket analog is a great solution.” As such, this quite old system is excellent for anyone with a dusty collection of Game Boy, Game Boy Color, or Game Boy Advance cartridges. It contains A fully transparent screen and ten hours of battery life, depending on the brand, make it the best way to play these vintage games if you have an old cartridge kit.
“I think these mobile devices serve a niche market, and that’s definitely not a bad thing,” King noted. “If you are the target audience for these [types of] Handheld devices, it looks like you’re going to have fun.”
How to shop for a portable gaming system
Shopping for a handheld gaming system is all about understanding your gaming habits. Take some time to think about the following before purchasing your new gaming device.
What kinds of games do you, your friends, or your family play?
The most important thing to consider when shopping for any portable gaming system is the games it can play. If the system doesn’t support the games you normally play, it won’t be fun for you, no matter how nice the screen or the buttons are.
Moreover, our experts have noted that you should pay attention to the social aspect of gaming as well. “For someone looking to buy a portable gaming system, I suggest they see what their friends, family and even acquaintances are playing, and on what platforms,” Perez said. “Even with single games, my group of friends loves being able to play the same game and share our experiences.”
How much time do you usually spend playing?
“The games you’ll find in mobile app stores and on platforms like Switch and Steam Deck often require different time commitments,” King said. “Of course, these time commitments differ between the games themselves.”
More often than not, games in mobile app stores are designed to be played in small bite-sized sessions: 15 minutes here, another 30 minutes there. Games on traditional platforms like the Nintendo Switch are pervasive by comparison, offering dozens of hours of narrative, action, and content.
How long will you play?
As with your smartphone, battery life is an important part of any handheld gaming system. Therefore, it is important to consider how many hours of gaming you want to have at your fingertips without the need for a charger.
“If you need something to play with on long flights or flights, for example, you should compare the expected battery life of your platform with your typical flight length,” King said.
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