The best gaming device, just like the best camera, is often the one that's with you right now. The PlayStation 4 may be the best gaming console, but you can't take it with you wherever you go. If you want to game when you're travelling, then you need a handheld gaming device such as your smartphone or a portable gaming console. We looked at all the options in the market to pick the best device for handheld gaming.
The best handheld gaming device: iPad mini (2019)
The iPad mini (2019) may not be an obvious choice for a handheld gaming device, but it is overall the best device for gaming on the go. It has the powerful Apple A12 Bionic SoC, which means that you'll face no issues running any game available on iOS. The iPad mini (2019) has a 7.9-inch display which is big enough to ensure that all games are enjoyable and at the same time the tablet weighs just 300g, which ensures that carrying it around is never an issue. We're pleased with the battery life of the iPad mini (2019) as well — it will easily go through six to eight hours of gaming depending on the kind of games you play.
We recommend the 64GB Wi-Fi only iPad mini (2019) model which costs Rs. 34,900. We think 64GB is enough storage space for an iOS gaming device. Many of the largest games on iOS are under 5GB and you can install a lot of games without running out of space. If your primary use is going to be gaming, we don't think most people need the Wi-Fi + Cellular variant — you can just use your phone as a hotspot if you don't have a Wi-Fi connection. As for the 256GB Wi-Fi only iPad mini (2019), it costs Rs. 48,900 and is a bit too expensive to be our top pick. However if you want to install all the games you'll ever need and then some, it's certainly an option.
The iPad is often not looked at as a device for serious gamers, but the kind of high-quality games that released for the device in recent years convinced us that the library of games isn't going to be a problem for most people. Games such as Life Is Strange, The Witness, and Civilization VI are just a few of the many PC-grade titles now available on iOS and they scale well, even on the relatively smaller screen of the iPad mini. If you don't believe us, just check this list of top 100 iOS games released in 2017 and in 2018 over at TouchArcade, or our own list of best iPhone and iPad games.
The App Store underwent a dramatic evolution with the release of iOS 11 and is now easily the best digital storefront for buying games. We say this because Apple's editorial team goes through all new games and curates these into neatly organised sections which is pretty good for discovery. They also publish interviews with developers and game recommendations on the App Store, which has often helped us discover great games such as Playdead's Inside as well as the stories behind a game's development, such as Badland being made entirely on an iPad. These are interesting facts if you're even mildly curious about what happens during the game creation process. It has a pretty smooth refund process too. Games on iOS are a lot cheaper than most other platforms and they frequently go on sale, which is also a big plus.
The iPad doesn't ship with any gaming-related accessories. While you don't need any accessories to use your iPad as your primary gaming device, the device supports gaming controllers and some games such as The Witness are best played using a controller. Support for PS4 and Xbox One controllers is coming with iOS 13, which is good news for Indians because those controllers are easily available in the country. We've used these controllers with their respective consoles and they're both excellent. This might entice more developers to add controller support for their games and will make playing a lot of games such as The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Limbo, and Oceanhorn much more fun on iOS.
If you haven't yet updated to iOS 13, a controller such as the SteelSeries Nimbus will get the job done. The Nimbus costs around Rs. 6,000 and it's worth the price for serious gamers, although if you know someone coming from the US to India, you could get it for around Rs. 3,500 from there.
Buying a controller means that you will need an iPad case that can prop up the tablet while you play using a controller. You can buy any case that can hold the iPad upright — we don't have a preference as such. Almost all iPads use the Lightning connector for charging, which is the same one as that on the iPhone and quite a few other Apple products. Lightning cables are easily available in India and so is the iPad charging adapter and replacing it should present no problems in case your original charging cable or adapter conk off.
The cons of the iPad mini (2019)
Pretty much every gaming console in the market sells games in some form of physical media. The iPad doesn't have any such feature. Buying a game on disc or cartridge often means that you don't have to download massive games over your slow or data-capped Internet connection. It also allows you to sell games once you're done playing, but none of these are possible on the iPad.
While iPad games aren't nearly as taxing on your bandwidth as the Xbox One X or PS4, you'll still find yourself downloading and updating games as large as 5GB once in a while. This means that the 64GB iPad mini (2019) may not have space enough for some people. In this case, you could go for the 256GB variant.
The best handheld gaming device, runner up: Nintendo Switch
In an ideal world, the Nintendo Switch would've been our recommendation for best handheld gaming device. However, Nintendo's lack of an official presence in India pushed the Switch down the pecking order. The Nintendo Switch is only available in India via unofficial imports and that's not good news if you're thinking in terms of service and support.
Still, the Nintendo Switch makes for a great purchase for those who want a great portable console along with Nintendo's awesome lineup of games. Titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are some of the best games of this generation across platforms. The Nintendo Switch now has a strong library of games and most of these are best played in handheld mode. It has a dock in the box for those who want to connect the console to a TV or a monitor, which gives it added versatility. Its battery life is roughly four to five hours, which is not great but it's good enough for most people.
The Nintendo Switch has a few weaknesses that you should know about. Its internal storage is limited to 32GB, which means that most people will have to buy a microSD card as game sizes, especially from third-party developers, are quite large. A few games require large downloads even after buying the cartridge, which is another negative. We also feel that games are a bit too expensive on the Switch right now. Most top-notch exclusive games like Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild cost more than Rs. 4,000 each and that's going to leave a big hole in your wallet. You can get some of the best PS4 games for around Rs. 1,000 and on iOS many of the best games don't cost more than Rs. 1,600.
Best handheld gaming device: How we picked
While we love playing games on home consoles, the reality is that most of us here at Gadgets 360 end up gaming a lot more on handheld devices. We made a list of the most popular handheld gaming consoles we've seen this generation and then narrowed it down by looking at what's easily available in India. We own most of the consoles named in this guide and have played lots of games on almost all of them. We've also reviewed a few of these devices, so we know exactly what to expect when you purchase any of these consoles.
Then we looked at the following things to pick the best handheld gaming device in India: library of games, how easy it is to buy games, cost of games, Internet bandwidth requirements, portability, and finally, support and service. In the end we looked at the pricing of the device as well to decide the winners.
Best handheld gaming device: The alternatives
Here are the portable gaming consoles we looked at and why they didn't make it as our main picks:
- iPad Air (2019): If you prefer a larger form factor than the iPad mini (2019) for gaming, then the iPad Air (2019) is an excellent choice. We didn't recommend it because we feel that Rs. 44,900 is a bit on the higher side. If you can afford it, however, everything is the same as the iPad mini (2019) except for the larger display.
- iPad 9.7-inch (2018): If you think the iPad mini (2019) is too expensive, then the iPad (2018) is a decent affordable alternative. It gives you all the benefits of the iOS ecosystem at a slightly lower price. Its display isn't as good as the iPad mini (2019), and it is powered by the Apple A10 SoC, which powers the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus. It can handle all iOS games without much of a problem. The iPad (2018) is pretty good for gaming, but its processor is over two years old at this point. We think the small premium you pay for iPad mini (2019) is worth it because it will buy you a tablet that'll be supported for longer.
- iPad Pro (2018): The iPad Pro (2018) is a fantastic device for gaming (and much more) in every respect but we think its pricing is a bit too high for a recommendation as a gaming handheld device. If you can spend Rs. 85,900 on this device, you'll get a great gaming experience but for that much money you could get the iPad mini (2019), a controller, a case, and a whole truckload of games as well.
- iPad touch (2019): The iPod touch is the most affordable iOS device you can buy right now, but it has a tiny screen that isn't ideal for gaming for anyone other than kids. It's powered by the same A10 Fusion chip, which is inside the iPhone 7 (Review) and iPhone 7 Plus (Review) — and the 9.7-inch iPad — so it should run most games without any issues, but there are other compromises like the lack of Touch ID that hinder the experience in the long term. Unless you are on a really tight budget and are willing to live with a small screen, the iPod touch isn't the best bet for gaming.
- Nintendo 3DS XL: Another strong contender for the handheld gaming crown, the 3DS XL is also held back by Nintendo's lack of an official presence in India. It also has region locking which means that for example if you bought your Nintendo 3DS from the US and your games from Japan, they won't work. Games and the console have to be from the same region for your console to play them. This complicates purchases further because the console isn't available in India officially. In spite of having amazing games from the Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing, and many other Nintendo franchises, getting the 3DS XL in India is not worth the hassle for most people.
- Nintendo 2DS: This console didn't make it to our top picks for the same reasons as the 3DS XL.
- iPhone: The iPhone is fantastic as a handheld gaming device and has all the benefits of a robust App Store and controller support that the iPad has. However, it is too expensive in India (the nearly four-year-old iPhone 6S costs almost as much as our recommended iPad). A dedicated gaming handheld device is better off not being your primary device for phone calls, texts, and a host of other notifications, which means that the iPhone doesn't make the cut for this list.
- Android phones and tablets: Android tablets haven't been anywhere near as good or as successful as the iPad, thanks largely to the lack of apps optimised for the big screen, which is why we haven't included any among our top picks. Google Play is also nowhere near as well-curated as the App Store and still doesn't have as many high-quality games.. These are some of the reasons why we don't recommend most Android devices as dedicated handheld devices for gaming.
- Gaming smartphones: Gaming oriented smartphones such as the ROG Phone (Review) and Nubia Red Magic 3 (Review) add a few useful features for gamers such as capacitive trigger buttons, displays with a high refresh rate, a physical fan (either built in or via an accessory), and a highly optimised gaming mode to block distractions while playing. If you're heavily invested in games such as PUBG Mobile that can make the most of these features, this could be a great option for you. However, our top pick is cheaper than most of these smartphones and offers a better library of game, supports better controllers, is just as — if not more powerful — and has a bigger screen.
- Nvidia Shield: The Nvidia Shield is difficult to find in India as it was not officially launched here, and even if you find one you will end up paying much more than its $179 (roughly Rs. 12,500) price in the US. This is why we don't recommend buying the Shield in India.
- PlayStation Vita: The PS Vita has reached the end of its life, which put it out of contention for this guide.