The 10 Best Handheld Gaming Systems

Updated March 27, 2018 by Quincy Miller

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We spent 43 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki. If you've ever had your cell phone die, then you know the icy feeling of horror that sinks in as you realize that you might have to look at the world around you, or even — gasp — talk to your family. Luckily, with these handheld gaming systems, you won't need to worry about that, as they offer crisp graphics, engaging gameplay, and all sorts of bells and whistles to keep you endlessly entertained. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best handheld gaming system on Amazon.

10. Wolsen Color

The Wolsen Color is a nifty little 8-bit emulator that lets you relive your early gaming days. It comes with 152 games, but they're not all complete, so you'll have to take what you can get. For the price, though, it's hard to complain too much.
  • easy to see outdoors
  • strap to prevent accidental drops
  • confusing button layout
Model pending
Weight 5.8 ounces
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

9. GBA Retro Mini

The GBA Retro Mini looks eerily familiar, almost as if it were a knockoff of a popular classic handheld device. Surprisingly enough, though, it's actually a lot of fun, and you can even watch TV on it when you get tired of playing imitation Pokémon.
  • crisp screen resolution
  • generous battery life
  • incredibly small
Brand HuonGoo
Model pending
Weight 8 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

8. I'm Game 120

You can power the I'm Game 120 with either AAA batteries or a USB cable, so the fun never has to stop — and you never have to talk to another real, live person again. It's great for road trips, as there's a short learning curve but tons of replay value.
  • built-in speaker and headphone jack
  • good stocking stuffer
  • gobbles up batteries
Brand I'm Game
Model GP120R
Weight 8.8 ounces
Rating 3.6 / 5.0

7. Rongyuxuan Console

Almost as much fun to play as it is to pronounce, the Rongyuxuan Console lets you play all the old games you forgot you loved. It can hook up to your TV as well, so you can use the 8-bit graphics to really put that 4K big-screen to the test.
  • 168 titles built-in
  • excellent value for the price
  • won't survive many drops
Brand Rongyuxuan
Model pending
Weight 5.6 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

6. Sony PSPGo

If you want something you can slip in your pocket and take with you to church or the DMV, the Sony PSPGo has a 3.8" LCD screen that still manages to be easy to see. It even has a built-in microphone for Skype calls, so you can tell yourself it's for business.
  • can add space with memory sticks
  • supports bluetooth connectivity
  • limited battery life
Brand Sony PSPGo
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

5. Nvidia Shield

You can stream your favorite games from your PC or Android device, thanks to the Nvidia Shield. It offers surprisingly good graphics and audio for a handheld machine to go with one of the of the best controllers you'll find in this category.
  • plays hd movie files
  • latest kitkat operating system
  • connectivity can be spotty
Brand Nvidia Shield
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

4. LeapFrog Leapster

It should be noted that some games can make learning fun — and almost all games can buy you a few precious hours of peace. The LeapFrog Leapster is great for younger kids, teaching them things like math, science, geography and, most importantly, playing quietly.
  • comes with virtual pet
  • allows audio and video recording
  • flash cards to test memory retention
Brand LeapFrog
Model 80-39100E
Weight 1.2 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

3. New Nintendo 3DS XL

The New Nintendo 3DS XL boasts a big screen, enhanced control options, and rapid processing power that fuels new functionalities, making it a step up over its predecessors. It has built-in amiibo compatibility as well, so you can port your characters over from the Wii U.
  • built-in internet browser
  • face-tracking 3d screen
  • motion sensor for interactive play
Brand Nintendo
Weight 16 ounces
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

2. Sony PlayStation Vita

The Sony PlayStation Vita is the ultimate gaming device for the modern era, combining extraordinary gameplay and crisp visuals with a super-connected broadband platform for streaming and more. It even lets you play games remotely from your PS3 and PS4 consoles.
  • over 1000 games in the library
  • slim and lightweight
  • intuitive button placement
Brand Sony
Model 3000726
Weight 1.2 pounds
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

1. Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch is a blast whether you're at home or on the road, as it can be played as a docked console or a handheld device. It's fun for the whole family and durable enough to handle the abuse that little ones will undoubtedly throw at it.
  • supports multiplayer action
  • impressive touchscreen display
  • vast kid-friendly selection of games
Brand Nintendo
Weight 3.5 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

Why A Handheld System Over The Phone?

A few years ago I was standing in line at the post office (not something I would recommend doing without a good book on hand), and I caught myself observing the behavior of a child in front of me. The kid couldn’t have been more than two years old, and his mother held him in her arms. In his hands he held her phone, and at a certain point he turned it toward her and said, “Password. Password.” He wasn’t trying to get into the phone, he was trying to buy an app, and he needed his mother’s password to complete the purchase. He had navigated from the home screen all the way through to the point of sale on his own. I’m still not sure my father — an engineer by trade — could do the same.

As technology grows, it also uses the most basic pattern recognition infrastructure of the human brain to inspire its design, pushing to be as easy-to-use as possible, particularly for children. And getting sucked into that world from a young age can pose a number of dangers, especially as services like Facebook (and WeChat in China) seek to fulfill all of our needs — from social interaction to gaming — on a single platform.

In other words, when you hand your child your phone for them to use as a plaything, even if you expect them to confine their activities to the games and shows you have stored on it, they’re liable to be exposed to several aspects of the web, including social media.

In this day and age, the social media landscape is particularly toxic for children and teens, as cyber bullying and trolling allow for unparalleled and anonymous cruelty to rain down at a moments notice on the most innocent of youths. According to several surveys, anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of high-school-aged children report having been bullied online at some point in their lives. Considering the fact that bullying victims are often recalcitrant about their experiences, this number may be even higher.

If you want to provide your children with a fun and engaging way to stay entertained while they join you out in the world, there are few better things you can get them than a handheld gaming system. These devices allow children to enjoy any number of classic or modern games in an environment that’s insulated from the internet. Some devices do connect to internet marketplaces and other online exchanges, but these are almost always divorced from the social media landscape.

How To Choose The Best System For Your Child

Handheld gaming systems come in a lot of different styles. It can be difficult for parents who aren’t avid gamers to identify which are the ones their children would like the most. There’s no shame in that; you’re a little too busy providing your kids a home and a life to sink 120 hours into the latest immersive RPG.

The easiest way that you can make sure you get your child the right handheld system is to survey the landscape. There’s a good chance that your kid already has some kind of gaming system in the home, if not several. Make note of the brand name of whichever one they use most. If there’s a handheld gaming system by the same brand, then that’s likely your best bet. Your child will already be familiar with the brand’s menu systems, and some games might even work on both platforms, allowing your kids to take their household fun with them on the road.

Another important part of the survey is to see what their friends are playing. If you’re friends with the parents of your kids’ friends, you can enlist them for more information. If your kid’s best friend has a particular system and loves it, then your child likely wants the same system for themselves. The bonus in this case is that once they both have the same system, they can share and trade games, saving both sets of parents money on expensive title purchases.

One last thing to consider is the age of your child. Some systems are better known for producing more violent games than others. If you want to protect you children from that kind of exposure, you should opt for a game system targeted at a younger set. Nintendo is a great example of a brand that keeps it games — even the ones that contain mild violence — friendly for all ages without seeming lame to more mature players.

Ways To Maximize The Fun

Once you’ve decided on a handheld game system for your child, you’re going to want to make sure they have every advantage possible to enjoy it. The most important thing anyone needs to enjoy a gaming system of any kind is a suite of games. As we mentioned above, the children of other parents can be your friends here. Ask them what their kids have been playing if they own a handheld device. You can also look through the library of your kids’ console games and cross-reference it with the handheld games available. Often, the makers of popular titles will also create handheld offshoots of the same content, which children who love the original are sure to enjoy.

If the device didn’t come with a wrist strap, but one may be attached, definitely buy one. Either way, encourage your kids to use one, as it will prevent significant amounts of damage if — and when — they lose their grip on the system.

One last thing you should definitely look into purchasing is a high-quality pair of headphones. A lot of these games make a terrible racket, and when the action gets exciting the last thing your kid wants to hear is you asking them to turn the volume down. Instead, investing in a pair of isolating — or even noise-cancelling — headphones can take their experience to the next level. A lot of gaming headsets create a virtual surround sound environment, as well, which will completely immerse your child in the world of the game.

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Last updated on March 27, 2018 by Quincy Miller

Quincy is a writer who was born in Texas, but moved to Los Angeles to pursue his life-long dream of someday writing a second page to one of his screenplays.

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