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Best retro handhelds: overall, budget, emulator picks

Which is the best retro handheld for you?
Last Updated on November 20, 2023
best-retro-handhelds

In this article, we cover the best retro handhelds of 2023, offering a nostalgic journey back to the golden era of gaming. Whether you’re a seasoned gamer longing to revisit the classics or a new enthusiast curious about the roots of modern gaming, these handhelds provide a perfect blend of retro charm and contemporary technology.

Retro handhelds have seen a resurgence in popularity, thanks to their unique appeal of combining classic gaming experiences with modern conveniences. They offer a trip down memory lane, with many featuring games that define entire generations.

Products at a Glance

How we picked the best retro handhelds

Our selection of the best retro handhelds is based on extensive research, incorporating user feedback, expert reviews, and publicly available performance benchmarks. We look for handhelds that offer a seamless blend of nostalgic gaming with the convenience and reliability of modern technology.

In addition to performance, we also consider the value offered by each device. This includes evaluating the cost relative to the features provided, such as the variety and quality of pre-loaded games, the durability of the hardware, and any additional functionalities that enhance the user experience.

We’ve also got a great guide to the best handhelds, if you’re looking for something more competitive. Or check out our guide to the best PlayStation Portal alternatives.

Our Recommended

Product Reviews

1
Best retro handheld

Switch Lite (US)

PROS
  • Highly portable and lightweight.
  • Access to a vast library of Nintendo games.
  • More affordable than the standard Nintendo Switch.
CONS
  • Limited battery life compared to the original Switch.
  • Non-detachable controllers.
  • No connectivity to a TV.

The Nintendo Switch Lite is a sleek, handheld portable gaming device offering a 5.5-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 1280×720. It’s equipped with a custom NVIDIA Tegra processor, ensuring smooth gaming performance. The console has a built-in battery that offers 3-7 hours of gameplay, and it supports all the Nintendo Switch games that work in handheld mode.

The Switch Lite is perfect for gamers who prefer a more portable and affordable version of the Nintendo Switch. Its compact design makes it ideal for gaming on the go, and it’s compatible with a vast library of Nintendo Switch games. There’s a port for headphones and all the original hardware still works fine.

This console is ideal for gamers looking for a dedicated handheld gaming experience. It’s particularly suited for those who travel frequently or those who prefer gaming in a more compact form. It’s also a great choice for younger gamers due to its durability and ease of use.

2
PROS
  • Expansive library of classic games.
  • Compact and portable design.
  • Long battery life for extended play sessions.
CONS
  • Screen size might be small for some users.
  • May not appeal to those seeking modern gaming titles.
  • Limited stock availability.

The Miyoo Mini Plus sports a 3.5-inch IPS screen with a resolution of 640×480. It’s powered by a 1.2GHz processor and comes with a 64GB TF card loaded with over 10,000 classic games. The device boasts a 3000mAh lithium battery offering 7-8 hours of gameplay and supports wireless network connections for multiplayer gaming experiences.

The Miyoo Mini Plus is a haven for retro gaming enthusiasts. Its extensive game library covers various genres and emulators, offering a nostalgic gaming experience. The console’s optimized system ensures stability and efficient running, enhancing the overall gaming experience.

This device is perfect for retro gaming fans and collectors. It’s also a great option for those who love exploring classic games across multiple emulators. Its compact size, tactile action buttons and ease of use make it suitable for all ages, especially those looking to relive their gaming past.

3
PROS
  • Powerful performance for retro gaming.
  • Easy setup with minimal tinkering required.
  • Versatile Android functionality.
CONS
  • Capped at Gamecube-level games.
  • Limited appeal for those seeking advanced gaming capabilities.
  • No games preloaded.

The Retroid Pocket 3 Plus is a powerful, premium handheld retro gaming console, featuring an Octa-core T618 CPU with 4GB RAM and a 4.7-inch touchscreen display. It operates on Android 11, providing access to the Google Play Store for a wide range of games and apps. This device comes with 128GB internal storage, expandable via a Micro SD card, and is equipped with a 4500mAh battery for over 6 hours of gaming. It has 10x resolution of an original Game Boy. Plus, it is compatible with Game Boy, GameBoy Advance and Game Boy Color games.

The Retroid Pocket 3 Plus stands out for its ease of use, making it an excellent choice for both seasoned gamers and beginners. Its simple launcher installs all necessary emulators with a single click. The handheld’s capacity to smoothly run retro games up to the Gamecube era, coupled with its Android functionality, offers a versatile gaming experience. The inclusion of a rumble motor and clickable analog sticks, plus tactile shoulder buttons, enhances the overall gameplay.

This device is perfect for retro gaming enthusiasts who appreciate a mix of classic and modern titles. Its straightforward setup and compatibility with a wide range of emulators make it a great pick for those new to retro gaming. It’s also suitable for gamers who value portability and long battery life.

4
PROS
  • Powerful performance.
  • Long battery life.
  • High-quality display.
CONS
  • Expensive.
  • Possibly excessive for casual use.
  • Not as 'retro' as some of the others on this list

The ROG Ally is a high-end handheld gaming device that’s renowned for its powerful performance and sleek design. It features a vibrant, high-resolution display and is powered by a robust processor, ensuring smooth gameplay even for demanding retro titles. With ample onboard storage, expandable via microSD, and a comfortable ergonomic design, the ROG Ally is tailored for extended gaming sessions. The 920×1080 resolution gives 315 ppi, and there’s a 120Hz refresh rate. Retro in style, but certainly not in performance.

The standout benefit of the ROG Ally is its ability to seamlessly emulate a wide range of classic games. Its high processing power and superior display make for an immersive retro gaming experience. Moreover, its build quality and design cater to the needs of serious gamers who value both aesthetics and performance. The device also boasts a long battery life, making it ideal for gaming on the go.

The ROG Ally is best suited for gamers who are serious about their retro gaming experience and are willing to invest in a high-end device. It’s perfect for those who appreciate the combination of modern technology with a classic gaming experience. Its powerful hardware makes it capable of handling a wide range of games, including some of the more demanding titles that may not run as smoothly on other retro handheld devices.

Features and considerations

When it comes to the best retro handhelds, several key features are crucial. The game library is paramount, with an emphasis on the diversity and authenticity of the games offered. The quality of the emulation also plays a significant role, ensuring that the classic games run smoothly and retain their original charm.

The build quality and design of the handhelds are important too, with some models mimicking the iconic styles of classic consoles, while others opt for a more modern and ergonomic design. Screen quality is another essential factor, as it impacts the overall gaming experience.

Top tip

Retro handhelds are a good option for kids, as they are usually fairly straightforward to use.

Is Steam Deck good for emulation?

The Steam Deck is an exceptional choice for emulation, thanks to its powerful hardware and versatility. It allows gamers to effortlessly emulate a wide range of classic consoles and games, plus new games. Its combination of performance, portability, and user-friendly interface makes Valve’s Steam Deck a top contender in the realm of handheld gaming devices.

Our Verdict

Best retro handheld
best-retro-handhelds

Best retro handhelds: overall, budget, emulator picks