Best Handheld Consoles Of All Time, Ranked By You 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

While home consoles tend to be at the vanguard of video game technology, the humble handheld occupies a slightly different position.

Seen by some as a way of filling the time between sessions on the couch with a PS5, the portable console perhaps doesn't get enough credit – the fact you can take them with you everywhere means that a stronger bond is often forged with handheld systems, and this amplified by the gloriously tactile experience of cradling a system in your hands while you're on the bus home from work.

This fusion of mobility and physical connection means that many of us will have very fond memories of playing our handheld consoles as kids, but with powerful devices like the Steam Deck now available, it means that you're not giving up power for portability; AAA gaming on the go has been possible since the days of the PS Vita (and, later, Switch), so it's perfectly possible only to own a handheld system these days and not feel like you're being treated as a second-class citizen.

Given the deep affection players have for their portable gaming platforms, we thought it might be a good idea to rank them. Below, you'll find all of the significant handheld systems from the past few decades. Now, we're not suggesting for one second that the humble Game Boy should be compared to its vastly more powerful successor, the Switch, in terms of game quality and processing grunt, but there's no denying that some machines have a bigger impact than others – regardless of how powerful they are.

We recently asked you to vote for your favourite handheld, and those votes have been used to create the ranking below.

21. Bit Corp Gamate

Bitcorp Gamate
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 1990
  • Manufacturer: Bit Corp / United Microelectronics
  • Units Sold: Unknown

The Bit Corp Gamate was released around the same time as the original Game Boy in a fairly transparent attempt to steal some of that seminal machine's thunder. The Gamate could hardly be deemed a successful console and its impact on Nintendo's market share is negligible, but it nevertheless managed to survive for longer than some of its higher-profile rivals – and it even saw release outside of its native Taiwan.

Approximately 70 games were released for the console between 1990 and 1995, with many of the later titles never seeing the light of day outside of the Far East. Bit Corp was not a big company, but it managed to secure distribution deals with quite a few Western firms, including UK joystick maker Cheetah and GIG in Italy.

Sadly, the low-quality, blurry screen and lack of decent games ensured that the Gamate's impact was non-existent, despite its ability to survive in its native Taiwan.

Notable Games:

  • Witty Apee
  • Myth of Asamia
  • Enchanted Bricks

20. Watara Supervision

Watara Supervision
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 1992
  • Manufacturer: Watara
  • Units Sold: Unknown

Also known as the QuickShot Supervision, the Watara Supervision, like the Gamate, was an attempt to muscle in on the incredible success of the Game Boy in the early '90s.

It had a similar monochrome display but a unique tilting design, which set it apart from its rivals. You could even link the system up to your TV via a special cable. A later revision removed the tilting screen, presumably to bring down production costs.

However, just like the Gamate, the Supervision was plagued by a poor-quality display, which made it hard to see fast-moving objects. Despite the promise of an accessory which would add colour to Supervision software, the device vanished from store shelves, unable to compete with the might of the Game Boy.

Notable Games:

  • Matta Blatta
  • Pyramid
  • Block Buster

19. Gizmondo

Tiger Telematics Gizmondo
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 2005
  • Manufacturer: Tiger Telematics
  • Units Sold: Less than 25,000

One of the most high-profile hardware flops of all time, Tiger Telematics' Gizmondo promised to be a revolutionary device, offering a camera, mobile data, GPS and much more – all at a time when these kind of features were far from the norm.

Millions were expended developing and promoting the system, including lavish parties, a boutique store on London's prestigious Regent Street and countless celebrity endorsements, but it ultimately sold less than 25,000 units worldwide. It would later transpire that some of the Tiger Telematics executives had connections with the Swedish criminal underworld.

However, by far the Gizomodo's biggest crime is the rubber-like coating on its casing, which makes it sticky and unpleasant to hold. Yuck.

Notable Games:

  • FIFA 2005
  • Sticky Balls
  • Trailblazer

18. Tiger

Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 1997
  • Manufacturer: Tiger Electronics
  • Units Sold: Less than 300,000

Not to be confused with Gizmondo maker Tiger Telematics, US firm Tiger Electronics had made a comfortable profit from its licensed LCD games during the '80s and '90s, and clearly felt like it had the ability to take on Nintendo's ageing Game Boy handheld when it released the in 1997.

Equipped with a monochrome touch-based display and support from the likes of Sega and Capcom, Tiger was bullish about the console's chances – it could even connect to the internet via a modem, making it a rival to the PDA systems that were popular in the era before smartphones.

However, the terrible screen made playing even moderately-paced games impossible, and the quality of available software was poor despite boasting some famous names, such as Sonic, Frogger, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil and Fighters Megamix.

Recently, the port of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night surfaced online – a remarkable event, seeing as many had believed that it was never actually put into production.

Notable Games:

  • Duke Nukem 3D
  • Fighters Megamix
  • Sonic Jam

17. Sega Nomad

Sega Nomad
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 1995
  • Manufacturer: Sega
  • Units Sold: Approximately 1 million

Released just as the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive market was beginning to wind down, the Nomad was, for the average Sega fan, a dream come true.

It had a decent full-colour backlit screen and could run all of your Genesis cartridges – the catch was that it was the size of a brick and didn't include any space for internal batteries. Instead, you had to place your AAAs into a caddy which bolted onto the back of the machine, making it even more cumbersome. To make matters worse, 6 batteries lasted just 4 hours.

Having said that, a unit modded with a new screen, multi-region support and an aftermarket rechargeable battery pack is one of the most appealing retro offerings you're likely to encounter, and despite its lack of out-of-the-home gaming potential, there's something to be said for being able to play anywhere in the house – provided there's a wall socket within arm's reach, of course.

Notable Games:

16. Blaze Evercade / EXP

Blaze Evercade / EXP / Super Pocket
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 2020
  • Manufacturer: Blaze Entertainment
  • Units Sold: Unknown

When Blaze launched its Evercade concept in 2020, there were doubts it could even work.

The concept of a physical-only gaming portable which played retro games might not sound outlandish on paper, but the video game industry is moving closer towards a wholly digital distribution model with each passing year, so there was a very real concern about whether or not people would actually buy a machine that relied solely on physical cartridges. However, with loads of carts now available and more on the way, it has proven to be a success.

The original Evercade handheld was a welcome surprise but one that certainly left room for improvement. The Evercade EXP, however, is an important step in refining the concept thanks to its superior design, improved screen and amazing TATE mode, the latter of which will make the device even more attractive to serious arcade fans.

In 2023, Blaze released the Super Pocket, a related handheld device which runs Evercade carts.

Notable Games:

15. Playdate

Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 2022
  • Manufacturer: Panic
  • Units Sold: 77,000 (as of Feb 2024)

Panic's $179 Playdate is perhaps the ultimate 'hipster' handheld, and it takes a fair amount of inspiration from Nintendo's iconic system.

It, too, has an unlit black and white display – albeit one which is many leagues ahead of that seen in the Game Boy (ironically, Sharp is the manufacturer of the screens in both systems, despite them being separated by more than three decades).

It also has that familiar D-Pad and two-button control setup. However, beyond that, the Playdate has plenty of unique ideas – and while it may seem gimmicky initially, it's actually a very exciting piece of hardware.

Notable Games:

14. WonderSwan / WS Color / Swan Crystal

WonderSwan / WS Color / Swan Crystal
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 1999
  • Manufacturer: Bandai
  • Units Sold: 3.5 million

The WonderSwan hit Japanese store shelves on March 4th, 1999, costing just ¥4,800 (£25 / $31). Powered by a single AA battery and boasting overall dimensions that made it even more pocket-friendly than the Game Boy Pocket, this monochrome handheld's success seemed assured thanks to one other key fact: it was designed by Gunpei Yokoi, the engineer who transformed Nintendo's fortunes with a host of smash-hit products.

Never released outside of Japan, the WonderSwan didn't really come close to challenging the dominance of the Game Boy line, despite clocking up sales of around 3.5 million (around 10 percent of the Japanese handheld market) and attracting the support of companies such as Capcom, Namco and Square.

The 1999 monochrome model was followed by the WonderSwan Color and SwanCrystal, but by the time the latter arrived in 2002, the technically superior Game Boy Advance was already available.

Notable Games:

13. Atari Lynx

  • Release date: 1989
  • Manufacturer: Atari
  • Units Sold: 2 million

Infamously bulky and power-hungry, the Atari Lynx has nonetheless gone down as one of the few legitimate challengers to Nintendo's handheld dominance in the early '90s.

Backed by decent internal tech and a wide range of games, the Lynx sold around two million units worldwide – but this wasn't enough to compete with the Game Boy, which, despite being markedly inferior from a tech perspective, was more portable, could run for a decent amount of time on four AA batteries and had some of the best games of the era available for it.

Today, you can experience some of the best Lynx titles on the Evercade.

Notable Games:

  • Xybots
  • Chip's Challenge
  • S.T.U.N. Runner

12. PC Engine GT / TurboExpress

PC Engine GT / TurboExpress
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 1990
  • Manufacturer: NEC
  • Units Sold: 1.5 million

Like Atari and Sega, PC Engine maker NEC was keen to get involved in the world of portable gaming in the early '90s, and produced the PC Engine GT (known in the US as the TurboExpress).

With its cutting-edge display technology and the ability to play original PC Engine / TG-16 games, it was a solid idea on paper – but, like the Lynx and Game Gear, its biggest weakness was stamina. It gobbled AA batteries like nobody's business, and this curtailed its usefulness as a portable gaming platform.

Notable Games:

11. Neo Geo Pocket / NGP Color

Neo Geo Pocket / NGP Color
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 1998 (monochrome version)
  • Manufacturer: SNK
  • Units Sold: Approximately 2 million

The Neo Geo Pocket Color really deserved better than it got. Released at a time when the Nintendo Game Boy was the dominant force in portable gaming, SNK's mobile marvel had an awful lot going for it; it was more powerful than Nintendo's system, and it even boasted connectivity with Sega's Dreamcast console.

Naturally, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was well supported by SNK itself, with the Japanese company porting over many of its famous properties to the console, including Metal Slug, Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown, Neo Turf Masters and The Last Blade. Even Sonic and Mega Man appeared on the device – but sadly, it wasn't enough to put a dent in Nintendo's vice-like grip on the market.

The ailing SNK would be gobbled up by pachinko manufacturer Aruze in January 2000, and the Neo Geo Pocket Color would be discontinued in the West in the same year (it lasted until 2001 in Japan). Despite its lack of commercial success, the machine is still seen as one of the best portables of the period by fans, and while its library of just 82 games might seem small, it had a pretty good hit rate.

Notable Games:

10. Analogue Pocket

Analogue Pocket
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 2021
  • Manufacturer: Analogue
  • Units Sold: Unknown

With its solid design, excellent display and wide range of accessories, the Analogue Pocket is arguably one of the best handhelds money can buy right now.

Using FPGA technology, it can replicate the performance of systems on a hardware level, and even accepts cartridges for the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Game Gear, NGPC, Atari Lynx and even PC Engine games – although, for some of those, additional cartridge adapters are needed.

What makes the Analogue Pocket even more exciting is the fact that, via its OpenFPGA system, it can host community-made FPGA cores – and these have been coming thick and fast over the past few years, bringing support for loads of console, computer and arcade games to the device.

9. Sega Game Gear

Sega Game Gear
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 1990
  • Manufacturer: Sega
  • Units Sold: 10.62 million

First released in Japan in October 1990, the Game Gear was Sega's first portable games console and was in direct competition with Nintendo's Game Boy, Atari's Lynx and NEC's PC Engine GT.

The Game Boy would emerge the ultimate victor, but the Game Gear lasted longer than the competition and was only discontinued by Sega in 1997 – by which point it had sold over 10 million units worldwide, putting it comfortably ahead of its non-Nintendo rivals.

Host to some of the company's biggest names – including Sonic, Shining Force, Panzer Dragoon, Out Run, After Burner and Wonder Boy – the Game Gear has a library of titles that stands up very well, even by modern standards.

Notable Games:

8. Sony PS Vita

Sony PS Vita
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 2011
  • Manufacturer: Sony
  • Units Sold: 18 million (unofficial estimate)

Following the success of the PSP was never going to be easy, but few could have predicted the struggle Sony would have convincing the world that the PS Vita was a handheld worth buying.

Despite the attractive design, powerful hardware and selection of decent games, the Vita struggled to compete with the Nintendo 3DS commercially, but it was more successful when it came to fostering an underground level of support – support which meant that physical Vita games were still being released long after Sony itself had lost interest in the device.

Even today, there are people who swear this is the best handheld games console of all time.

Notable Games:

7. Sony PlayStation Portable / PSP Go

Sony PlayStation Portable / PSP Go
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 2004
  • Manufacturer: Sony
  • Units Sold: Between 80-82 million

While the PlayStation Portable didn't outsell the Nintendo DS – Nintendo's machine sold a staggering 154 million units globally – it still managed to get a whopping 82 million consoles into the hands of players all over the globe, far eclipsing anything that Sega, Atari, SNK or Bandai had previously managed in the same sector of the market.

The PSP was a vital disruptive force in what had become a predictable part of the gaming arena, and its success not only created a widespread interest in mobile gaming that went beyond Nintendo fandom, but also encouraged studios such as Capcom, Namco and Konami to produce handheld titles that more than rivalled home console games when it came to sheer spectacle and playability.

Notable Games:

6. Valve Steam Deck

Valve Steam Deck
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 2022
  • Manufacturer: Valve Corporation
  • Units Sold: 3 million (estimate as of 2023)

Powerful hardware, a great design and access to one of the world's biggest digital stores for video games – what's not to like about Valve's Steam Deck?

While it hasn't sold in the kind of volume that Nintendo's Switch has managed, the Steam Deck has nonetheless carved out a profitable niche for the company, and the arrival of the OLED model has made it even more appealing.

Being able to play AAA games on the go is a godsend, and the fact that progress is synced between any machine running your Steam account is brilliant.

Notable Games:

5. Nintendo DS / DSi

Nintendo DS / DSi
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 2004
  • Manufacturer: Nintendo
  • Units Sold: 154.02 million

The DS arguably introduced an entire generation to the principle of a touch-based interface, paving the way for the smartphone revolution that would occur a few years after its 2004 launch, yet its design was steeped in history; the twin-display, clamshell approach mimicked the Donkey Kong Game & Watch LCD handheld from 1982.

This cunning fusion of the past with the future created the ultimate portable gaming platform, one which managed to outsell the technically superior Sony PSP by doing something totally different to what had come before.

The DS would spawn the Nintendo 3DS family of consoles, which introduced glasses-free 3D but retained the same basic formula. With less than half the sales, the 3DS couldn't live up to its forerunner, a system which is arguably as important in video game history as any of Nintendo's other platforms.

Notable Games:

4. Nintendo 3DS / 2DS

  • Release date: 2011
  • Manufacturer: Nintendo
  • Units Sold: 75.94 million

In many ways, it's hard to believe the 3DS is a 'dead' system, because the gimmick of glasses-free 3D is still amazing, even a decade later.

Following in the footsteps of the Nintendo DS – the company's most successful hardware ever, with 154.02 million units sold – was never going to be easy, and while 3DS may have failed to beat its direct forerunner in terms of units sold (75.94 million, as of 2022), it offers one of the most well-rounded libraries you could ask for, with plenty of platformers, racers, RPGs, action games and much more besides.

Notable Games:

3. Game Boy / Game Boy Color

Game Boy / Game Boy Color
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 1989 (monochrome version)
  • Manufacturer: Nintendo
  • Units Sold: 118.69 million (Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Color combined)

Nintendo certainly isn't short on hugely influential, million-selling pieces of hardware, but the original Game Boy is perhaps the first system produced by the Japanese giant that became a desirable, almost ubiquitous consumer product brand.

There's a well-known anecdote – which may or may not be apocryphal – that claims a high-ranking Sony manager berated his staff following the success of the Game Boy (which, along with its successor, the Game Boy Color, sold almost 120 million units worldwide), stating that it should have been a Sony product. Indeed, the brand became as famous as the Walkman during the late '80s and early '90s, cementing Nintendo's place at the forefront of the gaming sector.

Then there was its successor, the Game Boy Color – a machine so closely linked to the monochrome original that Nintendo lumps them both together when reporting on sales of the Game Boy line of consoles. How do you follow up on one of the most successful consumer products of all time? Well, if you're Nintendo, you add a splash of colour.

Notable Games:

2. Nintendo Switch / Switch Lite

Nintendo Switch / Switch Lite
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
  • Release date: 2017
  • Manufacturer: Nintendo
  • Units Sold: 139.36 million (as of December 31, 2023)

It might come as a surprise to see such a recent console so high in this list, but it's fair to say that Switch has proven to be a revolutionary product in Nintendo's history.

The first console to unify the company's domestic and handheld interests, it has skillfully fused the worlds of TV and portable gaming, delivering experiences which are big enough to be classed as AAA but also addictive and compelling enough to encourage you to take your device out of the house and on the road with you.

With an amazing library and decent digital storefront, it's no wonder that the Switch has sold robustly over the past few years – it's clearly a well-regarded piece of kit, hence its high ranking in this list.

Notable Games:

1. Game Boy Advance / GBA SP / GB Micro

Game Boy Advance / GBA SP / GB Micro
Image: Zion Grassl / Time Extension
  • Release date: 2001
  • Manufacturer: Nintendo
  • Units Sold: 81.51 million

Released in 2001, the Game Boy Advance was seen as a significant upgrade on its forerunner, the Game Boy Color, which, to many people, felt like a fairly modest improvement on the 1989 monochrome Game Boy.

Powered by a 32-bit ARM-based processor, the GBA promised SNES-standard gaming on the go, and, ultimately, it delivered that in spades – not only via a series of excellent ports of titles like Zelda: Link to the Past, Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country, but also with a selection of amazing 2D titles which pushed the boundaries of portable entertainment, like Fire Emblem, Mario Kart Super Circuit, Metroid Fusion and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.

The GBA is also the system on which Nintendo iterated to the most, in pure hardware terms; the initial model lacked a backlight and ran off AA batteries, so it was a big deal when Nintendo announced the GBA SP in 2003 – a clamshell system with a front-lit screen and rechargeable battery. This was followed by the GBA SP AGS-101, an updated variant with a superior back-lit screen, and then again in 2005, when Nintendo revealed the Game Boy Micro, the final handheld to use the famous brand.

With 81.51 million units sold worldwide, the GBA didn't quite reach the 118.69 million sales of its forerunner (although it should be noted that figure combines the sales of both the Game Boy and the Game Boy Color), but it totally overshadowed all of the rival platforms which appeared at this time, including Nokia's ill-fated N-Gage phone.

Notable Games: