From the Switch to all the various retro-focused, Android handhelds, what is the best handheld console in 2022? We take a deep dive to find out.
Handheld gaming has become the default for a lot of people. Whether you’re playing a gacha game on your phone or settling into a nice game of Splatoon 3 on the Nintendo Switch, we’re almost always gaming on the go.
However, handheld gaming has gotten difficult to parse. What’s the best option these days? With so many different handhelds making their way out of China, or even with Valve starting to enter the mix, it has become a vastly different conversation.
To keep things a little different here, as compared to our best retro consoles guide, we recommend, but won’t be including the DS, 3DS/2DS, and Gameboy. These consoles are by far and away the best if you want to jump in on the physical game train with an incredibly large portfolio of games to choose from.
In our review, we stated that the Steam Deck has changed the game – it’s just a little convoluted. Once you get past the learning curve once you start to play games outside of SteamOS, it’s an incredibly wide-open console.
Well, ‘console’ is a little bit of stretch. It’s a full-on Linux PC in the form of a handheld console. That doesn’t matter though, because both emulation and almost your entire Steam libraries (or Epic Games and GOG) always play great on the Steam Deck. With a few caveats thrown in, of course.
The main thing about the Steam Deck that we wholly recommend is just on a cost and performance basis. This could see you through so many high-end PC games, on the go, with very little compromise.
It’s also incredibly customizable, with people figuring out how to play games like World of Warcraft and other MMOs on the go, all within the embedded controller.
Alternative to the Steam Deck: AyaNeo Air Pro
The AyaNeo Air Pro is a comparable, Windows 11 device that does exactly what the Steam Deck and a whole host of other mini PCs are attempting to do.
We found the AyaNeo to be an incredible performer, but far more expensive than the Steam Deck.
“Why not Android?” Well, Android doesn’t come with the solid backing of Apple Arcade, one of the low key best subscription models to come out in the last few years. The games aren’t all brilliant, but the iPhone and iPad has a healthy library of titles that it’s hard to find something not to play.
Recommendations include puzzle game Grindstone, JRPG Fantasian and the slew of mobile-only games that have been stripped of their adverts. Jetpack Joyride and Fruit Ninja, as well as a few old favorites have had cash thrown at them to ensure that paying subscribers don’t have to suffer through 30-second, unskippable adverts.
While Android can compete with this as well, the massive selection of games available on the App Store in general, including some retro classics, makes getting hold of an iPad (or iPhone if you’re in the mood for upgrading) a no-brainer. The iPad is where we love to play some gacha and RPG titles, as well as stream Steam or Xbox games over the internet.
Nintendo’s almighty Switch might be getting on in age, but it doesn’t mean that the games aren’t worth a look into. Grabbing an OLED or even original Switch will unlock a healthy amount of games that you might otherwise never get to experience elsewhere.
Yes, the Switch is completely worth it for the exclusives alone. Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Odyssey and more. Nintendo’s entire lineup is an excellent example of what you’re missing out on. Even some of the exclusives from other developers, like Astral Chain and the upcoming Bayonetta 3 are just worth the entry fee.
It’s also an excellent device to have for multiplayer games, as well as catching up on the large portion of games that you never have time for. Who doesn’t want to explore Dragon Quest 11 on the go? Or the upcoming Pokemon games?
The Switch might be a bit long in the tooth, but the sheer amount of games that have made its way to the eShop over the last few years is nothing short of astounding. You will find something you enjoy, regardless of what it is.
The Miyoo Mini is a Linux-based handheld console that excels in emulating retro games. Available from AliExpress, it can play just about everything up to the PlayStation 1. However, without thumbsticks, you’ll be limited to an era before the DualShock.
We adore the Miyoo Mini, with its edge-to-edge IPS display and Gameboy aesthetics, it consistently outshined most of the competition by not trying to do too much.
On the back are two sets of triggers, while the front keeps things simple with a decent set of buttons and directional pad. As it runs Linux and not Android, there’s already some custom firmware to make your experience that little bit better.
It’s also fascinating to use it to play some consoles you might never have touched, like the Wonder Swan.
Retroid Pocket 2+ and 3
While some might disagree and say that Ambernic’s options are the top, Retroid continues to present the best overall package when it comes to these Android-based retro handhelds. From its software and organization, to supporting a variety of Android games from the Play Store out the box, it’s just an excellent package.
The Pocket 2+ and 3 can play games all the way up to the DS and PSP rather comfortably, but top out before you can begin putting on Gamecube and PS2 games.
Why are they both together? Well, the Retroid Pocket 3 presents itself with a better set of controls over the Pocket 2+. It has a pair of real joysticks, rather than the joystick and nub combo on the Pocket 2+.
The Pocket 3 will also suit bigger hands better, while the Pocket 2+, we’d still recommend for those that just want to grab hold of the device now, rather than be put on the waiting list for the 3.
Retro gaming is getting so much easier to get into these days. While we’ve spoken briefly about emulation, make sure you already own the games that you seek to play.