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You’re probably used to playing video games at home, but that’s only half the picture. Portable game consoles have been popular since the Game Boy took the world by storm decades ago.
It’s easy to see the appeal in games you can play anywhere. But assuming you want something more than your smartphone, which portable game console should you buy in 2019? In this article, we’ll help you decide between the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, and others.
After the Wii U flopped, Nintendo is enjoying smashing success again with the Switch. Released in March 2017, this hybrid console acts as both a home and portable system.
Just drop it into the included dock and you can connect it to a power source and your TV via HDMI. When you want to play on the go, you can take it anywhere thanks to the built-in rechargeable battery and portable Joy-Con controllers.
A few years into its life, the Switch has built an excellent library, and these are the best Nintendo Switch games. It features stellar first-party titles like Super Mario Odyssey and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It also has some can’t-miss third-party games, like Rayman Legends and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.
The Switch is also a great way to enjoy indie games and ports of Wii U gems you might have missed, like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Hyrule Warriors.
Unlike the other systems on this list, the Switch is on its way up. Buying it now means you’ll have new games to enjoy for years to come.
Should You Buy It?
The Switch provides the best overall value in gaming at the moment. It’s a console you can enjoy anywhere, and it’s still in its early stages. You’re in for a treat with the amount of amazing games that await on it.
The major negatives of using it as a portable console are the battery life and size. You can expect somewhere around three hours for major games, but this depends on what you’re playing. Compared to the other systems, the Switch is also a fair bit larger. This is a consideration if you want to take it everywhere.
Buy: Nintendo Switch
On the other end of the spectrum is Nintendo’s 3DS. As it was first released in March 2011, this system is getting a bit long in the tooth. The 240p screen is noticeably blurry compared to the Switch’s 720p screen. And since 3D was essentially a fad, new 3DS games don’t even offer 3D graphics.
But despite its age, the system offers an incredible package for the money. There are dozens of essential Nintendo 3DS games, including Super Mario 3D Land, Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Pokémon Sun and Moon, and many more.
Beyond 3DS titles, you can also play all original Nintendo DS games thanks to backwards compatibility. And with the Nintendo eShop offering hundreds of downloadable games, including Virtual Console classics, there’s always something to play.
As of mid-2018, Nintendo has stated that it plans to keep the 3DS alive. The company sees it as a companion to the Switch, not a competitor. 2018 saw several releases for the system, though most of them were ports or remasters.
Should You Buy It?
If you don’t have the money for a Switch or want a more portable system, the 3DS is hard to argue against. It offers an ultra-portable system with over a decade of great games to choose from. The battery life is better than the Switch too.
The 3DS has gone through several iterations. Currently, you can buy the New 3DS XL if you want 3D support, the New 2DS XL, which lacks 3D, and the 2DS, which is a budget model. Check out our comparison of the different 3DS models for a deeper look at this.
Buy: New Nintendo 2DS XL
The PlayStation Vita is Sony’s current handheld. It released in February 2012 as a successor to the PSP, and has suffered a rocky life. Originally, it was poised to offer console-like experiences on-the-go, which sounded exciting.
However, the system didn’t sell as well as Sony hoped, and many big-budget games experienced delays. Thus, the PS Vita has been hanging on with a library of mostly Japanese RPGs and indie games for years. It’s also capable of remote play with the PS4, but this isn’t an ideal way to play through games.
Another major issue with the Vita is its storage. It uses proprietary memory cards that are outrageously expensive. Even years after release, a 16GB Vita memory card costs around $40. For comparison, you can get a 32GB microSD card for under $10.
Unlike Nintendo’s systems, we know when the Vita will give up the ghost. Sony has announced that it will stop producing the system and physical games in 2019. Additionally, PlayStation Plus will no longer offer free PS Vita games after February 2019.
Because of this, the Vita really only appeals to a small group of people. If you’re a fan of Japanese games like RPGs and visual novels, you’ll find a lot to love here. It also makes a good system for playing indie games on the go, and offers some handheld entries in PlayStation series like Uncharted and Killzone. These may be worth looking at if you’re a huge fan.
In particular, the Vita is the only place to play Persona 4 Golden, an enhanced version of Persona 4. It’s a phenomenal RPG, so if you can find the Vita for a good price, this game is almost worth buying the system for.
Should You Buy It?
Whether you should buy a PS Vita really comes down to the game selection. If you don’t like the types of games on offer, or haven’t built up a library of free Vita games from being a PS Plus member, we recommend staying away from the Vita. It’s essentially dead in the water at this point.
Sony released a PS Vita revision that’s marginally thinner and lighter. It has slightly better battery life and 1GB of onboard storage, which can mitigate the memory card issue if you’re only interested in playing one or two games. However, the Vita Slim has an LCD screen, which is a downgrade from the original model’s OLED screen.
Buy: PlayStation Vita
Other Handheld Systems to Consider
The three systems discussed above are the main portable game consoles worth considering, but what if none of them appeal to you? As it turns out, they aren’t your only options.
On-the-go gaming has changed in the 2010s because mobile gaming on iOS and Android exploded in popularity. You don’t need to carry around a dedicated video game console to play games in your downtime anymore. If you’re more of a casual player, why not download some games to your iOS or Android device instead?
This comes with its own set of issues, however. Mobile games largely consist of free-to-play titles that try to nickel-and-dime you at every corner. This makes them less enjoyable for fans of traditional games. Still, there are great mobile games with no in-app purchases out there.
If you’re more interested in emulation or streaming games, the Nvidia Shield K1 tablet may be a good fit. However, Nvidia has discontinued the device, so you’d have to buy it from a third party.
Portable Gaming in 2019
As we’ve seen, you can still enjoy an excellent handheld gaming experience, largely thanks to Nintendo. The PS Vita is another option, but is only worth buying if you like the kind of games it offers. And don’t forget that the best gaming device for you might already be in your pocket!
If you still can’t decide between the different options, check out our detailed comparison of the Switch vs the 3DS.