Handheld gaming systems are having a moment. Yes, gaming on the go has been a thing since the Game Boy, but the runaway success of the Nintendo Switch and continued growth of mobile processors has brought an explosion of devices that let you play all sorts of great games wherever you want. Figuring out the best gaming handheld for you, though, can be complicated. You already know that the Switch is worth buying, but depending on what you want to play, the right handheld could cost you less than $100 or more than $1,000. To help you narrow things down, we’ve extensively researched the best handheld gaming consoles and tested the major contenders, from beefy portable PCs to compact emulation machines.
Best handheld gaming PC for most
ASUS ROG Ally
Best Windows alternative
Retroid Pocket 3+
Best budget gaming handheld
A more powerful Android option
Logitech G Cloud
Another good (but pricey) option
A premium device for vintage portable games
A charming indie game machine
What to know about the gaming handheld market
You can break down the gaming handheld market into three broad tiers. At the top, you have x86-based portable gaming PCs like the Steam Deck or ASUS ROG Ally. These are the most powerful handhelds you can buy, as they seek to replicate the experience of a moderately specced gaming desktop. The Steam Deck runs on the Linux operating system, but most others use Windows. If you want to play modern, recently released PC games on the go (and need something stronger than a Switch), this is the type of device you’d get. They can also emulate the widest range of retro consoles. However, they’re typically the largest and most cumbersome devices to hold and their battery life can be short. Naturally, they’re also the most expensive, costing anywhere from $400 to more than $1,000.
Further down on the price spectrum are mobile handhelds like the Logitech G Cloud or Retroid Pocket. These often run Android or Linux and can range from under $50 to $400-ish. They aren’t equipped to play modern console or PC titles, but they’re usually more compact than a portable PC, and they can still be used for mobile games and cloud streaming. While most are marketed toward those ends, many gamers actually buy them to emulate classic games through software like RetroArch. Getting emulators to work can be complicated, and accessing the BIOS and ROM files required to play games this way is legally murky. (Engadget does not condone piracy.) Backing up files of games you already own for personal use only is considered more defensible, though, so for that a mobile handheld can be a more user- and wallet-friendly way to play the classics anywhere. Today, the ARM chips in top mobile handhelds can generally emulate games into the sixth generation of consoles.
We’ll call the last tier “handhelds that do their own thing.” This is a catch-all for things like the Switch or Playdate: portable devices that run heavily customized software and aim to provide a unique gaming experience. They aren’t necessarily ideal for emulation or playing the latest multiplatform titles; instead, they often have distinct game libraries. They might not have the widest appeal as a result (Switch excluded), but they’re often easier for less tech-literate folks to just pick up and use.
Best handheld gaming PC for most: Valve Steam Deck
It’s been well-documented over the past year, but Valve’s Steam Deck still offers the best balance of price and functionality in the gaming handheld market. The entry-level model, which costs $399 and comes with 64GB of easily expandable eMMC storage, is an unmatched value. (If you're willing to buy refurbished, you can get it for even less.) The $529 and $649 variants with faster SSDs and, with the highest-end model, a premium glass display are fantastic as well, though they face stiffer competition from similarly priced Windows handhelds. (We’ll dig into this more below.)
Either way, the Steam Deck continues to be a remarkably capable device. While not every game in the Steam library has compatibility with the device's Linux-based OS, thousands are, and the list of officially verified and still-playable titles is growing all the time. The Deck can play some games natively and stably that just aren’t possible on the Nintendo Switch, from Elden Ring to Final Fantasy VII Remake to the Resident Evil 4 remake. The process isn’t quite as plug-and-play as Nintendo’s console, as some games require tweaks to run optimally, but SteamOS makes accessing those settings relatively straightforward. And while some newer AAA titles are starting to push the device’s limits, this is essentially a last-gen console that plays in 720p but can be taken anywhere.
This power makes the Steam Deck a superb device for emulation as well. While some systems need a few tweaks (Wii) and others are more game-dependent (the oft-tricky PS3 and Xbox), most run flawlessly, and just about everything is at least playable. It can even play Switch games. With tools like EmuDeck, setting all of this up is about as easy as it could be. Beyond emulation, the Deck’s flexibility makes it a fine device for cloud streaming Xbox games. You can also pair it with a dock and play many (but not all) games at higher resolutions on a TV or monitor.
The Steam Deck’s biggest flaw is its size: At 1.5 pounds, about two inches thick and just under a foot long, it stretches the limits of a “handheld” device. Even if you have large hands, it can be tiring to hold for a couple of hours. Depending on what you play, its battery life can range from eight hours to less than two. The 7-inch IPS LCD display, while decent, isn’t as vibrant as the Switch OLED, and the d-pad is somewhat mushy. All that said, the Deck is a sturdy piece of kit. Its joysticks are pleasingly smooth, the face buttons and triggers are responsive and it dissipates heat comfortably. It doesn’t feel far off from a normal controller, plus there are four customizable back buttons and two trackpads that make navigating PC-style game UIs easier. And while the whole thing is heavy, its contoured grips fit naturally in the hands. You can read our full Steam Deck review for more details.
Best Windows alternative: ASUS ROG Ally
If you’re willing to spend more and want a more performant handheld, you could skip the Steam Deck and buy a Windows-based device instead. Of those, the $700 ASUS ROG Ally is the best we’ve tested. It’s not nearly as frictionless as the Steam Deck, but it’s a fine alternative to traditional gaming laptops if you’re willing to trade some ease of use for better frame rates and a superior display.
As our review notes, the ROG Ally’s AMD Z1 Extreme APU lets it play more demanding games at higher frame rates than the Steam Deck. After updates, we saw fps gains of roughly 15 to 25 percent in AAA titles like Cyberpunk 2077 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. While the Steam Deck officially maxes at a TDP of 15W, the ROG Ally has a Turbo mode that boosts the power draw to 25W (or 30W when plugged in), letting it eke out more performance. It’s not an enormous leap over Valve’s machine in practice, and new devices like the Ayaneo 2S can technically run a bit faster. But it can still do better than the Steam Deck, so it may be worthwhile if you mostly play big-budget AAA games.
The bigger selling point might be the display, which is seven inches like the Steam Deck but has a sharper 1080p resolution and supports faster refresh rates up to 120Hz. It’s brighter and more color-rich as well, plus it has thinner bezels around the sides. What's more, the ROG Ally is noticeably more svelte than Valve’s machine, as it’s roughly half as thick, a tad lighter and 0.7 inches shorter. It doesn’t come with a case like the Steam Deck, but, physically at least, it’s more portable.
Because the ROG Ally runs on Windows 11, it can play games from any gaming client, not just a selection of compatible games on Steam. If you’ve built up a large library on other stores like Epic, GOG, Itch.io, Battle.net or the Xbox app, you generally won’t have to jump through as many hoops to play them here.
There are some trade-offs, however. The ROG Ally’s upgraded performance and display come at the expense of battery life, which usually sits in the two-hour range. The Steam Deck isn’t a battery champ either, but it can last longer with less demanding titles. While the ROG Ally is less of a brick, its back is a bit sharper than the Steam Deck’s more rounded grips. If you can handle the extra weight, the Steam Deck may still be more pleasing to hold.
The main issue with all Windows handhelds is that Microsoft's OS simply isn’t designed for this form factor. Having access to any gaming client is fantastic, but whether a game works smoothly “out of the box” can feel like a crapshoot. Sometimes the UI won’t scale properly, other times you’ll have to spend several minutes fiddling with graphics settings or key bindings. Navigating the OS with a touchscreen keyboard is a chore. Nobody will confuse the Steam Deck with the Switch, but after a year of software tweaks and community help, it’s become much simpler to just pick up and use than any Windows alternative. With SteamOS, you know exactly which games will work with minimal issues.
The ROG Ally has also had some troubles with quality control. Most notably, several users have reported problems with the device ejecting or outright killing their microSD cards, leading ASUS to confirm in July 2023 that “certain thermal stress” can indeed cause the card reader to malfunction. The company plans to issue an update to help the issue, but that may lead to louder fan noise. The ROG Ally’s SSD is replaceable, at least, so we recommend upgrading that if you ever need more storage.
Best budget handheld gaming system: Retroid Pocket 3+
The Retroid Pocket 3+ is an Android device with far less power than the Steam Deck or portable Windows PCs, so the only way it can play modern games is via cloud streaming. But if you primarily want a handheld to emulate older games wherever, this is a generally comfortable and, at $149, reasonably affordable way to do so.
We praised this handheld’s predecessor, the Pocket 3, in 2022. The Pocket 3+ is effectively the same device, but with a stronger chipset (the Unisoc T618) and more RAM (4GB). The design is like a smaller Nintendo Switch Lite, which is to say it’s slim, lightweight (235g) and sufficiently ergonomic, so it's not fatiguing to hold for long sessions. The 4.7-inch touch display isn’t huge, but it’s bright and saturated, with a sharp-enough 750 x 1,334 resolution and a 16:9 aspect ratio that plays nice for cloud streaming and emulating systems like the PSP. (You’ll get borders with some older consoles, though.) The hardware still has some quirks: The face buttons are on the beady side, the start and select buttons are oddly placed on the left-hand side and the triggers aren’t pressure-sensitive. The joysticks are on the shallower side, too, though they’re smooth and accurate in action. For the money, the Pocket 3+ is built well and easy to carry.
The Pocket 3+ can emulate consoles up to the Dreamcast/PSP range fairly comfortably, so you’ll have few troubles if you’re mainly looking to play older games from the SNES, PS1 and earlier. After firmware updates, the device’s performance has also improved with more demanding machines like the PlayStation 2 and GameCube. It’s still not flawless (particularly with the PS2), but numerous games are at least playable, which is impressive at this price. You can also play most native Android games and stream games from a PC, Xbox or PS5. Battery life will depend on what you’re playing but typically lasts between five and seven hours.
By default, the Pocket 3+ has a smooth plastic shell, but Retroid sells a metal version of the device for $30 more. That variant also comes with Hall effect joysticks, which can be more durable over time. The company also makes a handheld called the Pocket Flip that’s more or less the Pocket 3+ with a clamshell design. That one costs $10 more and uses sliders instead of joysticks, but if you’d prefer a form factor that’s closer to a Nintendo DS than a Switch Lite, feel free to get that instead.
A more powerful Android option: AYN Odin
The AYN Odin is worth considering if you like the idea of the Retroid Pocket 3+ but are willing to pay a little more for better emulation performance with systems like the GameCube, PS2 and Wii. Its Snapdragon 845 processor and Adreno 635 GPU still can’t run 100 percent of games from those systems, but they can do more than the Pocket 3+, and the handful that are playable on both devices will generally perform better on the Odin. The device is even capable of playing some 3DS games.
The Odin is a better piece of hardware than the Pocket 3+ as well. Its layout is pretty much the same, but it has gentle curves on the back that make it easier to grip, a couple of customizable back buttons and analog triggers that’ll play nicer with more modern games and cloud streaming. It has a more expansive 6-inch 1080p display, yet it can still get around five to seven hours of battery life on average. It’s not as portable as Retroid’s handheld, but its build quality is more substantial on the whole.
All of this makes the Odin a better device than the Pocket 3+, but it’s hard to call it a better value. AYN sells three different Odin models: The base version, which often goes for $240, is probably the “Goldilocks” option for most people. A more powerful Odin Pro comes with twice the RAM (8GB) and storage (128GB) but usually costs closer to $300; at that price, you’re getting pretty close to the Steam Deck, which is comprehensively superior. The $200 Odin Lite, meanwhile, is technically more capable than the Pocket 3+ but less of a jump than its siblings.
The big caveat here is that AYN has unveiled the Odin 2, which’ll sport a faster Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip and new Hall effect joysticks, among other upgrades. That chip is used in recent flagship phones, so it should be even better for emulation and Android games. AYN says the Odin 2 will start at $299, but that only applies to the “early-bird” price for its Indiegogo campaign; the actual retail price will be around $340, which is even closer to Steam Deck territory. Beyond AYN, Ayaneo recently introduced the Pocket S, which’ll run on Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon G3x Gen 2 chip, as well as the Pocket Air, another Android model.
It may be a little while until these devices are truly available, though. As of this writing, AYN says the Odin 2 will begin shipping in December 2023, but the company has a messy track record when it comes to delays. Pricing and shipping details for the Pocket S are vague, and while the Pocket Air is supposed to arrive in September, it’ll start with a weaker MediaTek chip. The Odin is still a standout if you want a step-up Android handheld right now, but if you can wait, just note that brawnier handhelds in this price range are on the way. You can read our full Odin Pro review for more details on the current model.
Another good (but pricey) option: Logitech G Cloud
If the Logitech G Cloud cost $150 or so less, it might be our top Android pick. Its 7-inch, 1080p display is bright, vibrant and altogether more pleasing to look at than the Retroid Pocket 3+, AYN Odin and even the entry-level Steam Deck. Despite having the same screen size as the Deck, it weighs a half pound less, and its contoured grips are easy to hold for hours. Its haptics work as they should, and it gets a good 10 to 12 hours of battery life. The big panel makes it a treat for game streaming, and it can emulate into the Dreamcast/PSP range comfortably. Since Logitech is an established firm, you don’t have to worry about extended shipping fees or wait times, either; just grab one from a major retailer and you’ll have it in a few days.
Alas, the G Cloud has typically sold for $300 in recent months. While that’s $50 less than its launch price, it’s still too much when the Pocket 3+ and Odin get you most of the way there for much less — and when the Steam Deck can do far more for $100 extra. The Odin is more powerful as well; the G Cloud can still play some GameCube, 3DS and PS2 games, but not as comfortably, particularly at higher resolutions. As noted above, even faster Android handhelds are in the works, so that gap should only widen. Plus, while the G Cloud doesn’t feel cheap, its triggers are somewhat shallow, and its face buttons are just OK. (The triggers are analog, at least.) And because the device only supports the FAT32 file system, it can’t play any games larger than 4GB off a microSD card.
All that said, the G Cloud is a more luxurious experience than the Odin and Pocket 3+ in many ways. If money is no object, or if you ever see it on sale in the $150 to $200 range, it’s worth considering.
A premium device for vintage portable games: Analogue Pocket
The Analogue Pocket is the ultimate Game Boy. As we note in our review, its vertical design is like a modernized and premium version of Nintendo’s classic handheld. The overall layout is the same, and it can even work with classic accessories like the Game Boy Camera. Compared to the original, though, the Pocket adds two extra face buttons, a couple of triggers on the back, a microSD slot, a USB-C port and a rechargeable battery rated for six to 10 hours of playtime. Most notably, it has a gorgeous 3.5-inch display that’s backlit and incredibly sharp (615 ppi) but can look like an old Game Boy panel through different filter modes. The whole thing can also output to a TV with an optional dock.
Unlike the retro handhelds mentioned above, the Pocket is designed to play actual cartridges, not just ROM files. It works with Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games through its cartridge slot, while games from the Sega Game Gear (and eventually, other systems like the TurboGrafx-16 and Atari Lynx) are playable through optional adapters. Like past Analogue devices, the Pocket uses field programmable gate array (FPGA) motherboards to mimic its target systems on a hardware level. In practice, this means the Pocket’s “emulation” of older titles is near-perfect, with a level of responsiveness and visual faithfulness that software-based emulation can’t match. Pop a Game Boy or GBA cartridge in here and you can essentially play it as nature intended.
That said, thanks to a big update last year and an active user community, the Pocket can also run ROMs off a microSD card and thus play systems like the SNES and Sega Genesis. At $220, the Pocket isn’t cheap, and its shoulder buttons aren’t as crisp to press as the excellent face buttons or d-pad. Still, if you have a collection of Game Boy, Game Gear or GBA games, the Pocket is the most elegant way to play them, and it’s only become more versatile since launch. Its biggest problem is that it’s difficult to buy — expect to wait several months for any new order to ship.
A charming indie game machine: Playdate
The Playdate, from app developer and Untitled Goose Game publisher Panic, might be the most niche device in this guide. It’s a tiny yellow box with a 2.7-inch monochrome display, two face buttons, a d-pad and a physical crank built into its side. Our review called it a cross between a Game Boy and a business card, and it is indeed incredibly compact, measuring about three inches tall and just 0.18 pounds. Its game library largely consists of oddball indies, most of which focus on one or two core ideas instead of stuffing in as many mechanics as possible. A couple dozen of those games come with the Playdate for no extra cost, a few others are available through a built-in store and hundreds more can be sideloaded from shops like Itch.io.
None of this is designed for emulation or capital-m “Modern” gaming, and at $200, the Playdate is wildly expensive given its limitations. Plus, while the display is smooth and sharp enough, it’s not backlit, so it’s difficult to view in dim lighting. But beyond that, the Playdate is as polished as it is adorable, and many of its games are simple fun. Battery life is decent at six to eight hours, too. In a sea of devices that try to be everything for everyone, the Playdate’s goals are admirably focused and low-key. For the most part, it achieves them. If you’re into smaller-scale games and have some cash to burn, it’ll be a charming little toy. Like the Analogue Pocket, however, actually getting a hold of one will take time: As of this writing, Panic says new Playdate orders won’t ship until “late 2023.”
The Ayaneo 2S is a commendable alternative to the Asus ROG Ally, with a brighter and sharper 7-inch 1200p display, a larger battery and more configuration options. Some benchmarks suggest that it can outperform the ROG Ally with like-for-like settings, and its design is comfortable to hold over time. But it costs several hundred dollars more than the ROG Ally and still has the usual optimization shortcomings of any other Windows handheld. It’s also locked to a 60Hz refresh rate, which is fine, but not as quick as Asus’ 120Hz panel. If you’re willing to drop more than a grand on the absolute fastest hardware (for now), there's plenty to like about the 2S, but the ROG Ally gets close enough for most at a lower price.
In general, competition in the high-end Windows handheld market is starting to heat up. Beyond the 2S, the upcoming Lenovo Legion Go promises a 144Hz refresh rate and Switch-like detachable controllers for the same price at the ROG Ally, though it looks to be much bulkier.
The Miyoo Mini+ is more affordable than our top picks and comes in a well-built, Game Boy-style form factor that fits nicely with older games. Its 3.5-inch display really pops for something in the $60 to $80 range, its battery lasts as long as it needs to, and we found it to emulate retro consoles up to the PlayStation 1 without much issue. As a Linux handheld, its software is extensively customizable, though it can require a bit of tinkering to get the most out of it as a result.
Unfortunately, between stock shortages and its lack of availability at major retailers, the Mini+ is another handheld that's been difficult to actually buy. If you can’t find one, Anbernic’s RG35XX is a worthwhile alternative; it’s a bit easier to pick up and use once it’s set up, though it lacks built-in WiFi.
We weren’t able to test it, but the Anbernic RG405M should be a good alternative to the Retroid Pocket 3+ for those who want something more compact. The two devices run on the same chipset, but the RG405M has a 4-inch display and a more substantial metal frame. Its 4:3 aspect ratio means you won’t have to deal with black bars as much for retro games, too, though it can feel crunched with newer systems and cloud streaming. At $170 or so, it’s also pricier than the Pocket 3+.
We’ll also note the Retroid Pocket 2S, a newer 4:3 handheld that starts at $99. It’s a nice compromise if you’re on a tighter budget, but the lower cost means it has a smaller 3.5-inch display, a slightly slower chip and less premium build materials than the RG405M.
At their core, all of the mobile handhelds we’ve mentioned are just modified Android or Linux tablets. If you play more casually, you can get a similar experience by hooking up your existing smartphone to a mobile gamepad like the Backbone One. This connects directly to your phone’s USB-C or Lightning port and immediately works with any game with controller support. Its face buttons are somewhat noisy, and its d-pad is a bit spongy, but it’s comfortable for its size and has all the inputs needed for modern gameplay, including analog triggers and clickable joysticks. There's also a headphone jack and pass-through charging port, plus a useful app for starting party chats. The One costs $100, which isn’t cheap, but it feels much more natural than using a console controller with a clip.