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The best portable game consoles

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The best portable game consoles

It feels like It’s already a distant memory, but just before the launch of the Nintendo Switch in 2017, it seemed like handheld gaming was on its last life. Mobile gaming had gobbled up huge chunks of the market and most modern games required a lot of power to run on devices like the Nintendo 3DS. Fast forward to today, and there are more ways than ever to take your gaming outside of the living room.

This is a bit of a strange category because, to be honest, a lot of the devices currently on the market aren’t very good. Valve’s Steam Deck started a wave of manufacturers looking to compete with the Nintendo Switch, but many of their offerings are rushed, buggy, or simply not a great way to play. Some have accepted the challenge and I feel comfortable saying that there are finally some good options to choose from. I’ve spent hundreds of hours testing as many gaming laptops as I could get my hands on; these are the best.

Be sure to check out our other game buying guides, including the best retro gaming consoles, the best mobile game controllers, the best Steam Deck accessories, the best Switch accessories, and the best gaming laptops.

Updated April 2024: Added new information on choosing the right gaming handheld for you and information on Asus Rog Ally software updates. We have also added new photos.

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What to look for in a gaming laptop

The Switch may have set a new standard for portable gaming, but since then, the category has become increasingly complex. New platforms, new control schemes and a battery life that ranges from several hours to “not stray too far from a charger.” With this in mind, here are some factors to consider when deciding which one is right for you:

  • Platform: The Switch runs games that were designed (or at least adapted) for the Switch. Easy enough. Other handheld computers can be a little more complicated. On the Steam Deck, for example, Valve uses custom software and the Proton compatibility layer to make games work and play well on a handheld. Some handhelds simply run Windows directly (which has its drawbacks). Make sure you see which games you want to play are available on which platform and how well they work before purchasing them.
  • Image: If you’re going to be looking at your handheld all day, it might also have a big screen. Many devices, such as the Switch and Steam Deck, have OLED variants with incredibly sharp and vibrant displays. However, better doesn’t always mean, ahem, better. Displays with higher resolutions and faster refresh rates can also use more battery.
  • Force: Speaking of battery life, that’s one area where gaming laptops can vary wildly. Some devices, such as the Switch and Steam Deck, are maximally optimized for battery consumption. Still, running graphics-intensive games like Tears of the Kingdom will always consume more battery than simpler games like stardew valley. On portable devices running less optimized operating systems like Windows, the battery can drain even faster. If you plan to use a lot of battery-draining features or games, you may want to purchase a portable charger.
  • Performance: It is notable that the Switch runs on a low-power processor compared to its competitors. However, their games make the most of it by optimizing for the hardware they run on. When it comes to games designed for Windows (whether running on the Steam Deck or directly on portable Windows devices), they can require a lot more power to get the same kind of performance. Faster, more powerful processors can mean you’ll get a smoother gaming experience. But again, keep in mind that faster processors use more battery, so be sure to balance performance with power consumption.

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