The year 2023 has brought an exciting array of handheld gaming consoles, each vying for the top spot in the hearts of gamers worldwide. From revamped classics to groundbreaking newcomers, the competition is fierce. In this article, we delve into the top contenders and rank them based on their unique offerings and features.
Nintendo Switch OLED
The Nintendo Switch OLED model has become the top handheld games console in 2023, thanks to its game-changing screen. While the hardware remains similar to the base model introduced five years ago, the new OLED display delivers an exceptional gaming experience on the move. The OLED screen boasts remarkable sharpness and colour enhancement, elevating the visual quality of the best Nintendo Switch games beyond what the standard LCD can achieve.
In terms of design and features, the Nintendo Switch OLED has significantly improved compared to the original 2017 model. The screen size has been increased to 7 inches, providing a more immersive gaming experience with its vibrant OLED visuals. The console also features a wider kickstand and upgraded speakers, enhancing portability and overall enjoyment.
Priced at £309.99, the Nintendo Switch OLED may not be the most budget-friendly handheld console, but it offers one of the largest and most diverse game libraries, making it a worthwhile investment. The console comes with 64GB of internal storage, twice that of previous Switch models, although users may still benefit from using additional SD cards for extra space. The overall battery life has seen slight improvements, but the introduction of the Vivid mode, showcasing the OLED’s vibrant colours, slightly affects battery longevity. Nonetheless, the OLED model represents a significant upgrade for portable gaming, even though some intense games may cause the device to run slightly warm.
- OLED display
- Bigger than the previous Nintendo Switch.
- Stronger Kickstand
The Steam Deck, while resembling more of a pocket-sized PC than a dedicated handheld games console, offers an impressive gaming experience on the go. Its powerful hardware allows native play for hundreds of games from the existing Steam library without the need for a separate gaming PC or streaming. Notable titles like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Death Stranding, and Elden Ring provide a full-fledged home console experience in the palm of your hand. In terms of design and features, the Steam Deck may appear bulky compared to the Nintendo Switch at first, but its button layout is intelligently arranged, with sticks, face buttons, and D-pad conveniently located near the triggers. The addition of front touchpads, reminiscent of the Steam controller, adds to its versatility.
Priced at £349 for the basic model with 64GB of eMMC storage and a basic carrying case, the Steam Deck is more affordable than many other handheld PCs in the market. However, for improved performance and faster game loading times, the £459 and £569 options, featuring 256GB and 512GB NVMe SSDs, respectively, are more appealing. The Steam Deck is currently available in the US and the UK through Valve’s Steam client and select retailers, with plans to launch in Australia still in progress. Performance-wise, the Steam Deck impressively runs visually demanding titles mentioned earlier. Despite taking a resolution hit due to its seven-inch IPS display offering 1280 x 800 resolution (not Full HD), the verified and ‘great on Deck’ games perform remarkably well on the system. The relatively modest screen size helps compensate for the resolution downgrade, ensuring a satisfying gaming experience.
- Powerful for its size
- Steam games run consistently well
- Terrific retro game emulation
- Dock compatibility adds TV and monitors support
The Nintendo Switch marks a groundbreaking step in bridging the divide between home and handheld gaming consoles, making it a highly significant addition to Nintendo’s console lineup. Its unique features and hybrid form create a versatile and impressive gaming experience that builds upon the legacy of previous Nintendo consoles. Since its launch six years ago, the Nintendo Switch has seen continued success, bolstered by a 2019 revision and the introduction of the Nintendo Switch OLED and Nintendo Switch Lite models. This ongoing popularity indicates that Nintendo has struck gold with its innovative handheld hybrid concept.
The Nintendo Switch’s design sets it apart from its predecessors, drawing on the success of the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo 3DS while offering something entirely fresh and exciting. Its handheld nature allows it to deliver the best of both worlds, catering to gamers’ preferences for on-the-go play and home console experiences. As the library of top-notch Nintendo Switch games continues to grow with an array of high-quality first-party titles and unique third-party offerings, it becomes evident why gamers are eager to spend countless hours immersed in the console’s captivating worlds. The Nintendo Switch’s appeal lies in its ability to adapt to different gaming scenarios, making it a beloved choice among enthusiasts.
- Unique hybrid design
- HD Rumble
- Two controllers included
- Bright, crisp, colourful screen
Let’s start with the basics of the Playdate, a charming handheld gaming device that measures a mere 76 × 74 × 9mm, roughly half the size of a modern smartphone. Its adorable appearance resembles the Game Boy Micro, with a bright yellow plastic body and a matte texture. The 400 x 240, 1-bit display delivers visuals in black and white, though it lacks a backlight. The console features a D-pad, two face buttons, a home button, a sleep button on the top edge, and a USB-C port and headphone jack at the bottom. A distinctive feature is the one-inch long crank on the side, which can be used as an additional control option in various games, offering unique experiences depending on the title.
Despite its lack of a backlight, the Playdate performs admirably in bright sunlight, showcasing crisp visuals with beautiful character portraits and readable interfaces. Navigating the handheld’s simple interface is intuitive and playful, and accessing games is quick and straightforward. One of the notable aspects of the Playdate is its game distribution method. Upon purchase, users automatically receive a season of games, released gradually over time. The first season includes 24 games, developed by renowned creators like Keita Takahashi and Bennett Foddy. The games are relatively small in size, ensuring the 4GB storage space remains plentiful.
While I didn’t experience the full 12-week rollout during this review, I was impressed by the diverse range of experiences offered by the initial games. The Playdate, with its delightful design and unique crank feature, promises an enjoyable and distinctive gaming experience for handheld enthusiasts.
- Adorable design
- Crisp low-fi display
- Great initial library of games
Asus Rog Ally
Handheld gaming consoles have seen significant advancements, with the ROG Ally now offering a mini PC experience for gamers. While the Nintendo Game Boy pioneered portable gaming success in 1989, the Nintendo Switch remains dominant, having sold over 120 million units globally by December 2022.
However, the ROG Ally targets hardcore PC gamers and directly competes with the Valve Steam Deck, surpassing its rival in essential aspects such as processing power, screen resolution, brightness, and software support. Although it comes at a higher price, the battle for high-powered handheld supremacy intensifies with the ROG Ally’s entry. Being the first Windows 11 gaming handheld from Asus’ Republic of Gamers (ROG) brand, the Ally provides flexibility by supporting major game launcher services, including Xbox Game Pass, Steam, and more. Its AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme APU, 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM, and upgradeable 512GB PCI-E SSD ensure exceptional performance. As the ROG Ally vies for the top spot in the handheld gaming landscape, its powerful features and versatility make it an attractive choice for PC gaming enthusiasts.
- Capable work and gaming machine
The landscape of portable PC gaming has undergone a revolutionary transformation in the last couple of years. What once seemed like an unattainable dream – a truly immersive PC gaming experience in a handheld form factor – has now become a reality. Companies such as AyaNeo, Onexplayer, and GPD have been at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of portable gaming technology. The immense success of the Nintendo Switch solidified the popularity of mobile gaming, while chip manufacturers like AMD and Intel have continuously enhanced the capabilities of their integrated graphics chipsets.
Then, the game-changer arrived – the Steam Deck. It became the poster child of portable PC gaming, sparking a fierce competition in the market. Among the contenders is the AyaNeo 2, the latest offering from AyaNeo, a well-established player in this space. Building upon the successes of their previous models like the AyaNeo and AyaNeo Next stands out as one of the most impressive handheld gaming devices currently available. While the Steam Deck remains its primary competitor, the AyaNeo 2 manages to match and even surpass it in some key areas, leaving no doubt about its capabilities. The AyaNeo 2’s performance and features are top-notch, positioning it as one of the best choices for portable PC gaming enthusiasts. With a race to dominate the portable gaming market now underway, the AyaNeo 2 has proven to be a formidable contender, showcasing the remarkable advancements made in the field of portable PC gaming devices. As the competition continues to drive innovation, gamers are the ultimate winners, gaining access to an unprecedented level of gaming flexibility and immersion on the go.
- Wide access to PC gaming on the go
- Powerful enough for AAA gaming
- Ergonomic design
The handheld gaming landscape of 2023 offers an exhilarating range of options for gamers seeking portable entertainment. Each console brings its own strengths and appeal, catering to diverse preferences and needs. Whether it’s the game-changing OLED display of the Nintendo Switch OLED, the PC gaming prowess of the Steam Deck, or the charming quirkiness of the Playdate, there’s something for every handheld gaming enthusiast to enjoy. The best handheld console of 2023 ultimately depends on what you value most in your gaming experience.