The 10 Best Handheld Systems for Mobile Gaming

Updated Nov 01, 2022
Photo: Nintendo Switch Lite

As applies to every facet of both the mobile and gaming worlds, nothing is the same as it was a decade ago — not to mention forty years ago. And while it’s rightful to say that the industry was due for a seismic shift upon Milton Bradley’s Microvision in 1979, the first handheld to offer interchangeable cartridges, no one could have guessed just how far things would progress. Sure enough, they did so with flying colors, as the decades that followed delivered Nintendo’s iconic Game & Watch, a wide array of Game Boy models, and the revolutionary DS, the latter of which just recently stopped dominating store shelves. Of course, other developers hopped on this trend as well, with the early-’90s release of the Sega Game Gear and Sony’s polarizing PSP from the 2000s. While many of these iconic systems from yesteryear have come and gone, the world of portable gaming has excelled to new heights due to mobile game developers providing invigorating options to choose from, with many of these small-scale screens managing to compete head-on with full-on consoles.

The contemporary capabilities of gaming are truly a marvel, but the fact that we can seamlessly take those same power-ups with us on the go is simply astonishing. Be it new takes on timeless classics or state-of-the-art glimpses into even more of what we can expect from this limitless future, there are arguably no places to go wrong in this field. With that being said, however, a handful of mobile gaming systems have ultimately separated themselves from the pack, and it is only right to provide a thorough breakdown of the ideal portable consoles to pick up for yourself — no matter how patiently you may have to wait before buying one.

Atari Flashback Portable

If the Game & Watch was a blast from the past, then this nifty handheld jam-packed with 70 classic Atari games is a small-scale time machine all unto itself. Featuring the likes of Fatal Run, Night Driver, Double Dunk, and countless other favorites akin to the game-changing icon visible in the photo, there is simply a distinct feel to running some of your old favorites wherever you find yourself. With a vivid 2.8-inch display and SD slot intended for you to add some more classics, the fun never has to end.

Purchase: $42+

Nintendo Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch

Made in celebration of Super Mario’s 35th Anniversary, the plumber-centric spin on Nintendo’s first iconic handheld is a joy to play for gamers young and old. For a look back at just how simple games used to be, all that players have to deal with here are a D-Pad and a pair of action buttons that will dictate their fate upon taking on the iconic game that changed it all. On top of that, this Game & Watch comes equipped with the classic sequel, Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. Plus, it even serves as a shifting digital clock, and it may be just as entertaining to watch Mario’s battle against Koopas, Goombas, and time itself as it is to play.

Purchase: $50

Retroid Pocket 2+

While the last two offerings come directly from household names, it’s always refreshing to see a startup’s take on crafting handhelds filled up with playable games from yesteryear — and that’s what we have here. Retroid is a portable console manufacturer that has been around long enough to release a revamped version of their flagship’s follow-up, the Pocket 2+. Powered by Android and running on a 4000 mAh battery, the console features a 3.5-inch touchscreen that maxes out at 480p, going to show that the emulation opportunities are endless and those nostalgic, lo-fi graphics are highly prevalent.

Purchase: $99

Backbone One

Ever since Tetris became the first game available on a mobile phone back in 1994, the progression in that department has been ceaseless. While Nokia and Blackberry devices had their hand in its growth along the way, contemporary gadgets offer a display that is not only larger than old cellular phones but the screens of Game Boys and PSPs, too. Thanks to the manufacturers over at Backbone, you now have the opportunity to take advantage of that gorgeous display and turn your iPhone into a portable XBOX, PS5, Stadia, and just about any other console that you see fit. On top of that, for those who would prefer to sit back and play, the handy Backbone One can also connect to your iPad or PC via USB-C.

Purchase: $100

Nintendo Switch Lite

Purely by definition, Nintendo’s TV-free offering in their current generation may be the quintessential handheld device to own. Released back at the tail end of 2019, the Switch Lite takes from their classic DS Lite with its sleek profile, an array of color options, and primarily serving as no more than an ideal portable console. In the months following its arrival on worldwide shelves, the pandemic had ultimately struck and convinced countless people to get their game on, ultimately making this colorful console the market’s hottest commodity. With a 6-hour battery life and lightweight makeup, it’s hard to go wrong with playing your favorite classic Nintendo games or some of their latest and greatest wherever you may roam. 

Purchase: $200+

Nintendo Switch OLED

Here we have the new premium rendition of Nintendo’s now-iconic Switch. A couple of years removed from the aforementioned Lite, the original version was awarded a major visual upgrade in 2021 with the OLED version. With an upgraded 7-inch OLED display and crisp visuals, the new offering is as vivid as anything Nintendo has manufactured ever before, setting a whole new benchmark for what to expect from the beloved developers. Packed with 64 gigs of internal storage, it doubles the storage of the base-level Switch and its colorful counterpart, calling for no shortage of space to interrupt you en route to picking up a new copy of Mario Kart or downloading whatever Nintendo’s vast online store has to offer. Topping it all off is an improved set of onboard speakers and a wide-body kickstand, the latter of which is an incredibly convenient addition following constant complaints about the original model’s.

Purchase: $350+

Valve Steam Deck

Steam has served as the underground favorite platform of the past decade or so, with practically every option available to select from your computer with no need to pay for an additional console. Now, there is a bit of a need for it, considering you will soon have the opportunity to take your entire online catalog wherever you go. The unveil of Valve’s Steam Deck took the PC world by storm, and its specs are nothing to scoff at. In collaboration with AMD, the two companies came together to implement a custom APU that looks to optimize handheld gaming. On top of that, there is said to be a dock for the sake of connecting to compatible displays that they will reveal soon. However, it will be sold separately from the Deck, the latter of which is available for pre-order starting from 64 gigs.

Pre-order: $399+

Apple iPad Air WiFi + Cellular

When accounting for Apple’s bolstered pair of tablets in their flagship line, the iPad Air may not fall first in line when compared to the Pro and standard model — however, it has the upper hand from a sheer gamer’s perspective when it comes to snagging one for yourself. Thanks to its paper-thin, 0.24-inch makeup and a maximum weight of precisely 1.01 pounds, the Cupertino crew’s latest Air tablet manages to serve as a perfect lightweight piece of equipment to play your most beloved Apple Arcade games on the go. As goes with the majority of their products these days, the iPad Air comes available with or without a cellular option, but the latter is vital as far as getting your game on when you’re out and about.

Purchase: $460+


While many other companies are tailored to benefit the standard console gamer, very few platforms boast similar portable capabilities to GPD’s MicroPC. High-octane is an understatement when it comes to what this practical mobile office is capable of, serving as a handheld laptop with eye-popping technical specs that would make any gamer jump out of their chair. Running on an Intel N4120 processor, an ‎Intel UHD Graphics 600 coprocessor, and boasting 8 gigs of RAM, this is a handheld speed demon that is sure to prevent any potential lagging when hopping into parties, whether you’re on a train or on your couch.

Purchase: $570

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The battle of the smartphones has been in full force since 2010, which just so happened to be the same year that Samsung introduced their flagship phone which has seen a whopping 21 variations ever since. While their latest rendition features some great qualities across the board, it also serves as the ideal smartphone for all gamers. Seeing as the Ultra comes equipped with 12 gigs of RAM at the least, this is on par with the majority of cellular options specifically geared toward avid players — here, we are discussing a universal smartphone meant for the average commuter. Most notably, however, is the S21’s newly-implemented Adaptive Performance package, which keeps your phone at a low temperature without sacrificing graphic prowess or gameplay speed. This new hardware and their patented Game Booster technology come together to track data and temperature before automatically adjusting the phone’s settings to accommodate your playing experience. If you’re a gamer in the market for a new smartphone, then this might just be the way to go.

Purchase: $1,000+

Honorable Mention

It's Worth It — If You Can Get One

Analogue Pocket

Analogue’s iPhone-like take on the iconic Game Boy Pocket has garnered quite the reception since its unveiling, and for good reason. Coming off a surfeit of delays, price gougers, and equally-large amounts of anticipation, the Pocket is once again available for pre-order through Analogue’s website. With the ability to play the entire library of Game Boy cartridges, this is an emulation-free device that is deeply rooted in nostalgia and the future of tech, finished off with a 3.5-inch display constructed from Gorilla Glass that will have you playing these ’90s classics in a resolution that you never could’ve imagined.

Purchase: $220

PlayStation 5 vs. Xbox Series X: Which Video Game Console Is Better?

While the world of mobile gaming is on a consistent rise, the XBOX Series X and PlayStation 5 have managed to keep the standard console gamer’s morale afloat — that is, for those who have had the opportunity to get their hands on one. For those merely on the prowl for one or the other, check out our comprehensive breakdown in order to figure which of the two next-gen consoles is right for you.