Handheld gaming consoles: The best handheld gaming consoles in 2023

Steam Deck review: The Nintendo Switch for adults

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The Steam Deck is the real deal

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Tom’s Guide Verdict

The Valve Steam Deck mostly delivers on its promise of allowing you to play PC games on the go. While it’s not perfect, future updates may unlock the device’s full potential.

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Steam Deck Specs

Release Date: Feb 22, 2022
Price: $399 (starting), $529 (reviewed)
Chipset: Custom AMD Zen 2 “Van Gogh” APU
Storage: 64 GB (starting), 256 GB (reviewed)
Operating system: Steam OS 3. 0
Display: 7-inch LCD touchscreen (reviewed)
Max Resolution: 1280 x 800 (16:10)
Max Framerate: 60 fps
Ports: 1 USB-C, 1 3.5 mm audio jack, 1 microSD card reader
Size: 11.73 x 4.6 x 1.93 inches
Weight: 1.47 pounds
Battery Life: 3 hours 51 mins (as tested)

Valve’s Steam Deck (starting at $399) is arguably the finest handheld console ever made. That isn’t to say it’s perfect, but tech-wise, it blows away machines like the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation Vita. The fact that such a small machine can run Steam games is akin to magic. Valve has created a technological marvel.

Despite its virtues, Steam Deck is still something of a work in progress. You can’t play every game in your Steam library, and the touch-based controls aren’t as precise as I would have hoped. The battery life also leaves something to be desired. Valve can (and likely will) address some of these issues via future updates. In fact, Valve even revealed that it has been making some slight hardware upgrades under the radar as issues are discovered. But even in its current form, this handheld is exactly what I wanted.

Steam Deck review: Price and availability

  • Starts at $399
  • All configurations pack “Van Gogh” APU and 16 GB of RAM
  • Wait times are still long

The Valve Steam Deck has three configurations. Aside from different storage and display options, all three units are identical. Storage options include 64 GB for $399, 256 GB for $529 and 512 GB for $649. The latter model also has an anti-glare etched-glass display. All configurations come with a black carrying case that has a Steam Deck logo on top. The $649 unit’s carrying case has gray lining on the inside, and also comes with a cleaning cloth.

At present, the Steam Deck is only available to purchase on Steam’s website or desktop application. Though the handheld is technically out, snagging one is similar to the pre-order process from 2021. You’ll reserve your preferred configuration for $5, and pay the full amount when Valve ships the unit. Before that happens, Valve will send an email so that you can confirm and finalize your order. At the time of this writing, orders won’t begin shipping until October (or later) of 2022. 

  • One of the largest handhelds
  • Sturdy build quality
  • Light, despite its size
  • Comfortable to play for extended periods

At 11.73 x 4.60 x 1.93 inches, the Steam Deck is one of the largest handhelds ever released. It’s certainly the biggest I’ve played. Though many buyers compare it to the Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck reminds me more of the Sega Game Gear – though obviously, much larger. And despite weighing close to 1.5 pounds, the system feels surprisingly light. The Steam Deck’s build quality makes it look like a premium product, with its thick flat center and contoured hand grips.

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

There are two analog sticks and two trackpads on either side, along with a D-pad on the left and X/Y/A/B buttons on the right. The View and Menu buttons serve as Select and Pause in-game, respectively, while the Steam and Quick Access buttons let you access SteamOS. 

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Volume buttons, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, a USB-C port and a power button are located between the shoulder buttons. There are also four programmable back buttons and an SD card reader on the Steam Deck’s underside. Two speakers reside underneath the Steam and Quick Access buttons, respectively. You’ll also find air vents along the top.

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

The Steam Deck’s design isn’t wildly different from other handhelds, but it looks great regardless. Button spacing and weight distribution make the unit comfortable to use for extended periods. It’s clear that Valve put a lot of thought into the user experience, even going so far as to place the USB-C port on the top so you can easily play while plugged in.

Steam Deck review: Display 

  • Sharp 7-inch LCD touchscreen
  • Large bezels take up precious real-estate
  • Can be hard to read small text

Games look phenomenal on the Steam Deck’s 7-inch 1280 x 720 LCD touchscreen. The 16:10 aspect ratio works well when navigating through the SteamOS interface. Many modern games have a 16:9 aspect ratio, however, meaning that you’ll lose some real estate above and below the game screen.

In our Tom’s Guide testing, we found that the display reached an average of 169.7 nits of brightness. It produces 68.5% of the sRGB color gamut and registers 48% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. The latter figures fall short of the desired 100% or above target. Numerically, the screen isn’t all that bright. In real-world usage, though, it’s bright enough so long as you’re indoors. If you plan to play outside, you’ll want to remain in a shaded spot. I can’t speak to how well the model with the anti-glare screen works outdoors.

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While images look crisp, the large bezels surrounding the screen are something of an eyesore. I also can’t help but wonder if the device could have had a larger screen if the bezels were thinner.

The screen size is sufficient for displaying game graphics. However, that isn’t always the case when it comes to on-screen text. I have relatively good eyesight, but even I squinted when trying to read the tiny text in Cyberpunk 2077 and Command & Conquer: Remastered. That’s because these titles have in-game text suited to monitors and televisions. You can adjust text size in some games, but you’re out of luck if that option doesn’t exist.

Steam Deck review: Performance 

  • Can run most compatible games at around 30 fps

Steam Deck has impressive specs for a handheld. All three models run on a custom AMD Zen 2 “Van Gogh” APU and pack 16 GB RAM. This obviously can’t compete with the best gaming laptops or best gaming PCs, but it’s enough to play many games at decent frame rates, especially if they’re optimized for SteamOS.

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Testing the Steam Deck via our usual methods was interesting, since we were limited to using titles that are verified for the Steam Deck. We could have tried games that weren’t verified (more on that below), but those would likely not produce accurate results.

As far as what we were able to test, we ran some of the usual benchmarks on Steam Deck. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey achieved an average of 38 frames per second on High (default) settings but topped out at 23 fps on Ultra High. DiRT 5 averaged 40 fps on medium and 23 on Ultra. 

Cyberpunk 2077 and Doom Eternal were two games that have a “Steam Deck” graphical mode, which optimizes games for the handheld. Cyberpunk 2077 hit 29 fps on both Steam Deck mode and Ultra, which is an unexpected result. You would assume it would run worse on Ultra settings. We aren’t sure what contributes to the similar numbers seen here. As for the well-optimized Doom Eternal, it’s not a big shock to see that it runs at a smooth 60 fps across the board.

Steam Deck review: Software 

  • SteamOS 3.0 functions as well as Steam on desktop
  • The settings option allows for a great degree of optimization

Steam Deck runs on SteamOS 3.0, which is based on the Arch Linux distribution with a KDE Plasma 5 desktop. The OS supports Proton, which is a compatibility layer that lets Microsoft Windows-developed games run on the Linux-based SteamOS. All of that means Steam Deck can run a slew of games, although not all titles are compatible or optimized for the handheld.

Instead of a UI similar to Steam’s Big Picture mode, Steam Deck instead uses a modified version of the Steam desktop client that works well with a controller input. If you’re familiar with Steam’s interface then you’ll have little trouble navigating through its menus and sub-menus. You can access your game library, the Steam store, your friends list, downloads and settings.

Pressing the Quick Settings button lets you see your notifications and allows you to adjust settings such as brightness, speaker volume and controller rumble. You can also select performance options like frame rate limit, refresh rate, thermal power limit and scaling filter. A slew of other options allows you to configure the Steam Deck to perform exactly as you’d like. Tech-savvy users will no doubt appreciate the high level of customization the system offers.

Steam Deck review: Controls 

  • Responsive and clicky buttons
  • Smart button placement
  • You can configure every button
  • Touch control responsiveness isn’t ideal

Comfort was one of my primary concerns prior to testing the Steam Deck. I find the Nintendo Switch cumbersome to use, due to its size. I’m also not a fan of the Joy-Con controllers’ small buttons. The Steam Deck has bigger buttons than Nintendo’s handheld, but it’s also a larger, wider and heavier device. Thankfully, the Steam Deck is a joy to play, even for extended periods of time.

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The controller grips on either side of the Steam Deck feel good to hold, since they’re neither too thick nor too thin. The analog sticks are pleasantly loose, and it’s easy to reach them with your thumbs. The shoulder and face buttons provide good resistance and deliver satisfying clicks when you press them. The back buttons reside where your middle and ring fingers naturally rest. Because of that, using these buttons doesn’t feel awkward.

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I tested a variety of games to see how well they controlled on Valve’s handheld. Doom Eternal handled like a dream. Mowing down demonic hordes and traversing the hellish landscapes felt as responsive on Steam Deck as on a console or PC. The same is true for Cyberpunk 2077, with its mix of open-world exploration and first-person combat. Despite some of the small text issues I mentioned above, the game felt great to play.

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Playing graphically intensive titles on the go is a big selling point for Steam Deck, but it’s just as good for playing less-demanding games. Because the Steam Deck reminds me of the Sega Game Gear, the first title I fired up was Sonic Mania. It looked gorgeous on the 7-inch screen, and played just as well. The D-pad is somewhat small but I was still able to pull off special and super moves in Street Fighter Anniversary Edition with little effort. Retro game fans will love playing classics on this device.

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Steam Deck’s trackpads are not only an alternative to the analog sticks, but they also let you to play games that don’t have support for traditional controller interfaces. I ran Command & Conquer: Remastered to test how well the trackpads function with real-time strategy (RTS) games. Though the experience was somewhat clunky due to the imprecise touch controls and trackpads, I was able to select units and move them across the map. I should note that, for RTS games, you’re able to bring up a virtual keyboard by pressing the Steam and X buttons simultaneously.

The Steam Deck’s controls are just as good as those of any modern controller, and its large size is a non-factor. Touch-based controls can be wonky, but overall, playing games on the handheld feels fantastic.

If you want more info, check out our guide on how to customize your controller layout on your Steam Deck. 

Steam Deck review: Game library 

  • Not all Steam games can run on Steam Deck
  • Four different compatibiltity categories

The Steam Deck’s game library consists of titles available on Steam. Currently, there are more than 2,000 “Verified” games for Steam Deck. This includes games like Elden Ring and Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered.

Four compatibility categories exist. “Verified” titles, such as Elden Ring, run correctly right out of the box. “Playable” games, such as Team Fortress 2, may require you to select a community controller configuration, or may require you to use touch controls to navigate a launcher. “Unsupported” titles, such as the VR-based Half-Life Alyx are currently not functional on Steam Deck. Lastly, games such as Day of Defeat are designated as “Unknown.”

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

You can read more about Steam Deck compatibility here. ProtonDB also has a list of compatible titles. Note that games listed on ProtonDB are from user reviews, not from Valve. 

Steam Deck review: Battery life and heat 

Since the Steam Deck is capable of running graphically intensive games, it’s no surprise that the handheld can run hot at times.

Our tests revealed that the underside near the vents reaches 109 degrees Fahrenheit, and the entire underside gets as hot as 90 degrees. The screen also reaches 90 degrees. Thankfully, you’ll never feel more than mild warmth when playing, since the controls are far from any of the hottest portions.

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The Steam Deck lasted for 3 hours and 51 minutes during our tests. During my own testing, it ran out of juice at about the three-hour mark. In other words, battery life is dependent on what games you’re playing. Sonic Mania isn’t as demanding as Cyberpunk 2077, for example. I wish the battery life could have lasted at least five hours, though.

Steam Deck review: Verdict 

I’ve been excited about the Steam Deck ever since Valve announced it, and I am impressed by the finished product. The handheld feels great to play, thanks to its balanced weight and comfortable controller layout. Games look fantastic on its 7-inch display, and sound equally as good thanks to the surprisingly punchy speakers. This is arguably the best handheld console ever manufactured.

While the Steam Deck is almost perfect for me, it isn’t without its faults. At the time of writing, there are still many games that either aren’t optimized or cannot run on the handheld. It was wise to include a touchscreen for games that don’t have controller layouts, but I hope future updates make this functionality more precise. The same goes for the trackpads. Thankfully, all of my quibbles with Steam Deck are software-based, and Valve could patch them in future updates.

If you’re a Steam user who wants to take their games on the road, or if you’re someone who wants a beefier handheld than the Nintendo Switch, you can’t go wrong with ordering a Steam Deck. The wait to get one is long, but it’s entirely worth it.

Next: Steam Deck 2 teased by Valve — what we know so far. Looking for something else to play? Check out Hell Let Loose that is too good for its own good.

Tony is a computing writer at Tom’s Guide covering laptops, tablets, Windows, and iOS. During his off-hours, Tony enjoys reading comic books, playing video games, reading speculative fiction novels, and spending too much time on Twitter. His non-nerdy pursuits involve attending Hard Rock/Heavy Metal concerts and going to NYC bars with friends and colleagues. His work has appeared in publications such as Laptop Mag, PC Mag, and various independent gaming sites.

Nintendo Switch OLED review | Tom’s Guide

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The Nintendo Switch OLED delivers an awesome display, improved speakers and better kickstand but it may not be worth upgrading for existing Switch owners

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Tom’s Guide Verdict

The Nintendo Switch OLED sports a gorgeous screen, an improved kickstand and lots of storage space. It’s an easy recommendation for first-time Switch buyers — and an extravagance for current Switch owners.

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Pros
  • +

    Beautiful OLED screen

  • +

    Handful of small, useful upgrades

  • +

    Handsome black-and-white color scheme

  • +

    Retains excellent Switch features and library

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Nintendo Switch OLED: Specs

Release Date: October 8, 2021
Price: $350
Chipset: Custom Nvidia Tegra X1
Storage: 64 GB (expandable)
Display: 7-inch OLED
Max Resolution: 720p handheld/1080p docked
Max Framerate: 60 fps
Ports: USB-C, 3. 5 mm audio, microSD, HDMI (docked), LAN (docked)
Size: 9.5 x 4.0 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 14.9 ounces (handheld)
Battery Life: 4.5 – 9 hours

If you are a newcomer to the Switch, then the Nintendo Switch OLED is the model to get. It’s a mere $50 / AU$80 more than the original Switch, yet for $350 / AU$539.95 you get a notably improved display, as well as a few other quality-of-life tweaks, which promise to make for the best Switch gaming experience around. 

The Switch OLED has the neat advantage of making the best Switch games look even better, thanks to its brighter and more vibrant display; if you have a modern Android smartphone or iPhone, take a glance at that, as it’ll have an OLED display and you can get a taste of what to expect from the Switch OLED. 

There caveat here it that if you already own a standard Switch the upgrades on offer are probably not enough to buy the console again. It might be best to hold out for a a full 4K variant, which may or may not be in the works.  

  • Nintendo Switch OLED (Black OLED) at Amazon for $331.58

Still, taken on its own merits, the Switch OLED is a strong machine. It still has a killer hybrid design, a terrific library of games and an admirable focus on gaming, first and foremost. If you’ve been on the fence about a Switch, the OLED is the model to get. Read on for our full Nintendo Switch OLED review — and once you’ve bought one, check out our Nintendo Switch OLED starter guide for tips on how to get the most from it and our most anticipated Nintendo Switch games for 2022 list. 

First things first: The Nintendo Switch OLED is, for the most part, exactly like the console’s base model. If you want to know how the system functions overall, I recommend you check out our Nintendo Switch review, which covers the system’s general size and shape, portable functionality, idiosyncratic controllers, uneven online features and extensive game library.

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The first thing I noticed about the Switch OLED was that it’s the same size as the base Switch: 9. 5 x 4.0 x 0.6 inches. This is a bit bigger than the handheld-only Nintendo Switch Lite, but it’s a comfortable size for most teens and adults to hold for long periods of time. (It’s probably a bit too big for small children.) This may seem like a minor point, but because the Switch OLED retains its counterpart’s physical design, all of your existing accessories should still work. Stashing the Switch OLED in my regular Switch’s carrying case saved me a big headache right off the bat.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

To be fair, the Switch OLED is a tiny bit heavier than the base model: 14.9 ounces, as opposed to 14.1 ounces. I didn’t find the OLED less comfortable to hold for long periods of time, but when it comes to handhelds, lighter is better.

Nintendo Switch OLED review: OLED screen

From a physical standpoint, the Switch OLED makes two big deviations from the base model, and one small-but-significant deviation. The most noticeable change, of course, is the 7-inch OLED screen, compared to the 6-inch LCD screen on the base Switch.

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

The OLED screen is the centerpiece of the Switch OLED, and where most of Nintendo’s praise is due. The larger screen renders crisp images with vibrant colors and deep blacks. When you play a game with dark, detailed levels — such as the alien caverns of Metroid Dread or the foreboding castles of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — the experience feels even more immersive than before. While the image quality isn’t vastly different between a 7-inch OLED and a 6-inch LCD, the color richness is.

When you play a game with dark, detailed levels — such as the alien caverns of Metroid Dread — the experience feels even more immersive than before.

At the same time, it’s worth pointing out that your eyes get acclimated to just about anything after a while. When I first jumped from the base Switch to the OLED model, I found the bigger screen and more lifelike colors stunning. After half an hour, I’d tuned them out to focus exclusively on gameplay. Likewise, going back to the base Switch felt like a big step down at first, and a nonissue shortly thereafter.

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For this reason, among others, I’d caution existing Switch owners against running out to buy the OLED model. It looks good, but it’s not a night-and-day difference from what you already have. The screen still maxes out at 720p resolution; the console still chugs during demanding gameplay sections sometimes.

If you’re worried about the Nintendo Switch OLED suffering from display burn in, don’t be. A recent real-world test has found that it takes around 3600 hours of continual use for the console starts to showing even faint signs of ghosting. 

Nintendo Switch OLED review: Kickstand and speakers

The Switch OLED’s other upgrades are more subtle, but still useful. The kickstand now runs the length of the device, rather than being a simple, flimsy piece of plastic. This makes it easier to stand the Switch OLED up on a variety of surfaces, without worrying about it taking a sudden dive.

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Furthermore, the Switch OLED’s dock possesses a built-in Ethernet port, so you no longer have to buy a separate adapter.

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Then there are the speakers, which don’t look much different, but sound considerably better. On the Switch OLED, the speakers are slightly bigger and have more of a rectangular shape.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

The more important change, though, is that they sound much better than before, with a clearer, more nuanced soundscape, even at lower volumes. The ambient sound in Metroid Dread felt sufficiently ominous; the strong melody of the Hyrule Castle theme in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild felt sufficiently heroic.

Nintendo Switch OLED review: Interface

The Nintendo Switch OLED’s interface is exactly the same one you’ll find on the base Switch and Switch Lite with the same OS. That means that you’ll still get the easy-to-navigate game menu on the home screen, with separate sections for Nintendo Switch Online, news, the Nintendo eShop, saved photos and videos, controller options, brightness and other system settings.

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The Switch OLED’s navigation is arguably not as robust as the PS5 or the Xbox Series X/S, but it’s also arguably much simpler and more straightforward. All Switch systems — including the OLED — now support Bluetooth audio, thanks to a recent firmware update, which is a nice touch.

Nintendo Switch OLED review: Performance

If there’s one area where the Switch OLED falls a bit short, it’s in performance. That’s not because the Switch OLED is any worse than the base model; in fact, it’s almost exactly the same. But the fact is that the Switch is a four-year-old console, and the industry has made some pretty significant strides in hardware since 2017. To put it bluntly, after playing the PS5 and Xbox Series X, it’s difficult to go back to a Switch, OLED or otherwise.

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To put it bluntly, after playing the PS5 and Xbox Series X, it’s difficult to go back to a Switch, OLED or otherwise.

Like the base Switch, the Switch OLED features a custom Nvidia Tegra X1 chipset. This is similar to what’s inside a high-end streaming device; the Nvidia Shield uses one as well. The Switch OLED has 4 GB RAM and 64 GB flash storage. (The base model has 32 GB flash storage, so that’s improved, at least.) The result is a handheld hybrid that can display 720p at up to 60 frames per second in handheld mode, and 1080p at up to 60 fps in docked mode. 4K resolution and 120 fps frame rates are a pipe dream — not to mention the near-instantaneous loading times that SSDs can facilitate.

While Nintendo didn’t design the Switch to incorporate cutting-edge components, the device felt a little underpowered in 2017, and downright outmoded now. In handheld mode, you’ll notice long load times and low resolutions; in docked mode, you’ll notice dated graphics and inconsistent frame rates.

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It’s also worth noting that if you own a base Switch and play primarily in docked mode, the Switch OLED has almost nothing to offer you. Once you plug the console into a dock, the OLED screen, larger kickstand and better speakers are meaningless. And if you need an Ethernet port, you can get a perfectly good adapter for $30.

The good news is that there is a way to get visuals from your Switch with an external accessory. We’ve tested the Marseille mClassic upscaler ($79 on Amazon) on games like Metroid Dread, and it does deliver cleaner, crisper graphics when using a larger 4K TV. 

Nintendo Switch OLED review: Controller

Much like its interface and components, the Nintendo Switch OLED’s controller options are identical to those of the base Switch. The Joy-Cons are still competent when attached to the console, and a bit off-center and uncomfortable when plugged into the controller base.

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They’re also great for impromptu multiplayer sessions. I still recommend the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller if you’re going to sit back and play games on the couch for hours on end.

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This time around, you can get the Joy-Cons in either the traditional blue-and-red, or a stately black-and-white. I adore the Switch OLED’s new color scheme, but I do wonder how easily it will get dirty over time.

Nintendo Switch OLED review: Game library

The Nintendo Switch OLED offers a robust and eclectic game library, just like the base Switch and Switch Lite. The game selection is exactly the same among the three console variations. Just be aware that you’ll be able to play beloved first-party Nintendo fare, such as Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, as well as more recent third-party hits, such as Doom (2016) and Dragon Ball FighterZ. The Switch OLED is also a fantastic place to play older games, from venerable classics like Mega Man X, to newer favorites like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

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I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention Metroid Dread: the first original side-scrolling Metroid game in 19 years. Coming out alongside the Switch OLED, Metroid Dread is arguably the console’s flagship game. Samus Aran’s latest adventure does indeed look gorgeous on the OLED model, particularly the deep reds and blues of her power armor, and the stately blacks of the dangerous Planet ZDR. If you have any affinity for side-scrollers, Metroid Dread is among the best Nintendo Switch games, and therefore should be your first Switch OLED game purchase.

Nintendo Switch OLED review: Battery life

Nintendo claims that the Switch OLED can get between 4.5 and 9 hours of gameplay on a single charge, depending on which games you play. The Switch OLED employs the same battery as the base-model Switch, so the battery life may not be tremendously different. In our testing so far, Metroid Dread ate through a fully charged battery in about 5 hours, which is in line with Nintendo’s predictions.

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It’s difficult to come up with a standardized gameplay test for the Nintendo Switch’s battery life, as different gameplay activities tax the battery to different extents. Instead, we selected a colorful YouTube video with a lot of motion, then ran it on four different Switch models with the screen brightness at 100% and the volume at 50%. Here’s how each Switch variant performed:

Swipe to scroll horizontally

Nintendo Switch: Battery life comparison
Row 0 – Cell 0 Nintendo Switch OLED Nintendo Switch (2019 Model) Nintendo Switch (Launch Model) Nintendo Switch Lite
Battery Life (Hrs:Min) 5:00 4:40 3:28 3:19

The Switch OLED performed just as Nintendo promised, offering a solid 5 hours of battery life. A launch model Switch provided 3 hours and 28 minutes, while a Switch Lite lasted for 3 hours and 19 minutes. Nintendo implemented a better battery in the base Switch in 2019; one of those models lasted 4 hours and 40 minutes on a single charge.

Nintendo Switch OLED review: Verdict

Overall, the Nintendo Switch OLED is a great system. This is primarily because the base Nintendo Switch is still a great system, and the Switch OLED makes a handful of smart additions. The OLED screen looks as impressive as we’d hoped. Smaller improvements to the kickstand, speakers, dock and storage also address shortcomings in the base model.

Still, there’s something decidedly unsatisfying about the Switch OLED. After four years, it still has the same components, the same resolution and the same controllers, none of which were perfect to begin with. With a whole new generation of consoles on the market, even an OLED screen can’t make the Switch feel particularly slick or powerful.

If you take it for what it is, the Switch OLED is a solid system, and an easy bet for gamers who haven’t taken the plunge on a Switch yet. But if you consider what it might have been, the Switch OLED may simply be a stopgap before Nintendo takes another big risk on another inventive idea.

Nintendo Switch OLED: Price Comparison

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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom’s Guide, overseeing the site’s coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi. 

TOP 6 Best Handheld Game Consoles in 2023

Best Handheld Game Console and Set-Top Box will allow you to enjoy games when you are on the road, on vacation or just on your way to work.

The best portable game consoles to help you have fun anywhere. While the best gaming consoles and laptops, like the PS5 and Xbox Series X, are great companions at home, they’re awkward to take on a trip and impossible to play on the go. That’s where handheld consoles come in: moderately powerful and lightweight devices that are easy to fit in a backpack or even pocket.

03/02/2023 Update

The Valve Steam Deck has been added to the ranking of the best portable consoles.

While the best handheld game consoles in the past forced you to choose between limited performance (like the Nintendo Game Boy) and excessive power consumption (like the Sega Game Gear), today’s handheld consoles do not suffer from such limitations. The consoles in this rating support beautiful games with great graphics. You can also play for hours thanks to the long battery life.

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If you need to pass the time on the road or keep yourself busy when you get to your destination, here are the best handheld game consoles that you can buy.

What is the best handheld console?

A few years ago, the handheld game market was split between Nintendo and Sony as devices such as the Nintendo 3DS and Sony PlayStation Vita competed for dominance. Now, Nintendo has pretty much taken over the handheld market thanks to the Switch model.

Three variants of Switch are available: Nintendo Switch , Nintendo Switch OLED and Nintendo Switch Lite . The first two are multifunctional game consoles that can be connected to a TV or played in handheld mode. The latter is for portable use only. The selection of games across the three systems is identical, which is good news for fans of Nintendo franchises like The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing. Just be aware that transferring save data between two systems isn’t as easy as it could be, so you’ll probably want to pick one and stick with it.

The Apple iPad Air has always been a pretty decent gaming device, in addition to being a full media tablet. Many good games are available in the Apple App Store menu. However, with the introduction of Apple Arcade last year, iOS devices have received a wide range of high-end services from both independent developers and major studios. If you haven’t tried Apple Arcade yet, some of the games are comparable in quality to what you’ll find on your home console and are well worth a look.

We also recommend Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro , which has some pretty decent games available on the Google Play Store. However, it’s also a portable Google Stadia game box, which means you can play traditional big-budget games on a tiny screen. Just don’t forget to take your controller with you.

1

Nintendo Switch

Best Handheld Game Console

Screen: 6.2″ (1280×720)
Runtime: 9 hours
Max resolution: Full HD
Virtual reality support: Yes
Wireless: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Interfaces: HDMI output, USB x 2
Type: portable
Dimensions: 239x102x14 mm
Weight: 297 g

Pros

  • Hybrid design
  • Great selection of games
  • Integrated multiplayer

Cons

  • Relatively short battery life
  • Expensive games

The Nintendo Switch is by far the best Nintendo handheld in recent years, offering great games both at home and on the go. The hybrid console offers two ways to play. At home, you can dock your Switch and then play on your TV with a standard controller.

When you need to go somewhere, simply unplug the Switch from the docking station, attach the Joy-Con controllers to both sides of the device, and take it with you wherever you go. Either way, the gameplay is virtually identical; you don’t even need to stop your current gaming session.

The game library is full of fantastic Nintendo games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2 and Animal Crossing New Horizons. Just be aware that more demanding games will drain your battery faster, and backing up your saves requires a paid subscription to the obfuscated Nintendo Switch Online service.

Read More – Complete Nintendo Switch Review

2

Nintendo Switch OLED

The Ultimate Handheld Console with a Stunning Screen

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Wireless: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Interfaces: Ethernet, HDMI output, USB x 2
Type: portable
Dimensions: 242x102x14 mm
Weight: 320 g 900 03

Pros

  • OLED screen
  • The stand is now much more reliable
  • Increased storage capacity

Cons

  • No performance improvement over Switch
  • No significant updates to dock mode

9000 2 Nintendo Switch OLED is not a mission-critical upgrade for current Switch owners. But if you haven’t already invested in a Nintendo hybrid handheld, OLED is the model to get.

This version of the switch features a 7-inch OLED screen, a sturdy stand, upgraded speakers, and a docking station with a built-in Ethernet port. Other than that, it’s exactly the same as the basic Switch handheld, which is a great console thanks to its large game library and smart handheld features.

Admittedly, Switch OLED has a few drawbacks. Without an SSD drive or 4K support, the system feels a little dated. But if you want to play the latest Mario, Metroid and Zelda games, Switch OLED is the best way to do it.

Read More – Complete Nintendo Switch OLED Review

3

Nintendo Switch Lite

The best handheld console, but only for use on the road

Screen: 5.5″ (1280×720)
Operating time: 6 h
Wireless: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Type: portable
Dimensions: 208x91x14 mm
Weight: 275 g

Pros

  • Great compact design
  • Excellent game library

Cons

  • No TV connection
  • Small battery

what we like about the full size model. Like its big brother, the Switch Lite portable console has access to an incredible library of games from Nintendo and third-party manufacturers, as well as a user-friendly control scheme and a large, bright screen. Whether you want to play Zelda, Mario and Animal Crossing to your heart’s content or Doom, Bayonetta and Assassin’s Creed, the Switch Lite can deliver the same great games in a profile that’s easy to tuck into your backpack or purse.

However, there are some disadvantages. Due to its smaller size, the Switch Lite has a smaller battery, which means less overall gaming time. The Switch Lite also doesn’t have removable Joy-Cons, meaning that impromptu multiplayer sessions are a lot harder to set up. You also can’t easily transfer save data between Switch Lite and regular Switch, so think carefully about which one you want.

4

Steam Deck

Best Handheld Game Console for PC Users

Screen: 7-inch, 1280 x 800 pixels
Refresh rate: 60Hz
Processor: Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5 GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CU, 1.0-1.6GHz (up to 1.6 TFLOPS FP32)
RAM: 16GB LPDDR5
Internal Memory: 64GB eMMC; 256 GB NVMe; 512 GB NVMe SSD
Expandable storage: MicroSD card compatible

Pros

  • Strong and light
  • Comfortable to hold
  • Large 7-inch screen

Cons

  • Large bezels 90 082
  • Does not support all Steam games

Steam Deck is not the first portable PC on the market , but perhaps the first to make this experience mainstream. As the name suggests, Steam Deck is designed by Valve and allows you to access most of your Steam library natively. This means that you can play almost any PC game you can buy on Steam, and if you want to try your luck with third-party games, you can do that too. Steam is the largest and best-known game download platform on the web, and Valve has done an incredible job of optimizing these games for platforms other than Windows.

The system is not perfect as battery life is still a bit lacking and not every Steam game works perfectly. But the system also receives frequent updates and new games are constantly being optimized. With a user-friendly design, bright screen, and great performance, this is a great deal.

5

Apple iPad Air

More than just a game console

Screen: 10.9″ (2360×1640), Full HD IPS
Wireless: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Type:
portable
Run time: 10 h (28. 6 Wh)
Dimensions: 247.6×178.5×6 .1 mm
Weight: 458 g

Pros

  • Apple Arcade
  • Overall good tablet
  • Battery life

Cons 9000 3

  • Expensive
  • Requires careful transport

Apple iPad Air is one of the best tablets on the market, so it goes without saying that this is also one of the best handheld gaming consoles. The Apple App Store has some of the best smartphone games, and usually the best games arrive a few months ahead of Android. In addition to perennial favorites like Fortnite, Hearthstone, and Minecraft, you can also play indie favorites like Monument Valley, Florence, and Threes.

What really sets iPad apart from Android tablets is Apple Arcade. This subscription service gives you access to over 100 games for a low monthly fee. Some games are exclusive to Apple Arcade; others, you can get on Switch or PC, but not on Android device. Sayonara Wild Hearts was one of the first contenders for Apple’s best arcade game, but What the Golf, Dear Reader and Lifelike are also original games that you typically won’t find anywhere else.

6

Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro

Best Dedicated Gaming Phone

Screen: 6.8″ AMOLED (2488 x 1080)
Refresh rate: 165Hz
Processor: Snapdragon 8 Plus 1 gen
RAM: 18GB
Memory: 512GB
Weight: 238g

Pros

  • 9000 6 Incredible battery life
  • Superb performance
  • Fantastic dynamics and tactile engine

Cons

  • Costs more than some gaming phones

think about a dedicated gaming phone , such as Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro. This excellent (albeit very large) smartphone is powerful enough to run any Android game, which means you can enjoy casual handheld gaming as well as more serious ones. (For the latter, having a controller is helpful.) If your tastes lean more towards Crossy Road or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro has something to offer.

Don’t forget that Android smartphones now have access to a variety of cloud gaming services, from Google Stadia to Nvidia GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming. With ROG Phone 6 Pro’s large screen and high refresh rate, you can play many of your favorite console and PC games from anywhere in your home or anywhere with a reasonably fast Wi-Fi connection.

Read More – ROG Phone 6 Pro Full Review

How to Choose the Best Handheld Game Console

The best portable game console depends on where you want to use it. If you want something that you can put in your pocket and play anywhere, ROG Phone 6 Pro is the smallest and most versatile device on the list. If you want to evenly split your gaming time between home and travel, the Nintendo Switch is probably your best bet since you can hook it up to your TV.

Price is also an important criterion. The iPad Air and ROG Phone are a lot more expensive than the dedicated gaming handheld console on this list, but they are more versatile devices. It’s probably not the best idea to buy them purely for gaming, but if you already have something like this, you might want to see what games you can get before bundling it with a special Nintendo device. Similarly, the Switch Lite is cheaper than the full-fledged Switch, but it has fewer features.

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