The progression of handheld gaming technology is truly mind-blowing. These modern devices are akin to having pocket-sized gaming consoles, a far cry from the unwieldy gadgets we once used. The technological landscape at large follows a similar trend, with advancements and affordability growing in tandem. The notion that quality gaming necessitates an exorbitant investment is becoming obsolete. Cast your eyes away from the mainstream console giants, and you’ll discover a wealth of reasonably priced handheld gaming devices.
Yes, the attention-grabbing Nintendo Switch Pro and Sony PlayStation Vita are undoubtedly remarkable, but top-notch handheld gaming doesn’t necessitate draining your wallet. Curious to learn more? That’s where our expertise comes in handy. We present to you the finest selection of budget handheld gaming devices on the market.
We tirelessly scrutinize hundreds of handheld gaming devices annually, saving you the hassle. This enables us to confidently point you towards the budget handheld gaming device that best fits your needs. Below is our diligently updated list of the most affordable and high-quality handheld gaming devices, complemented by a convenient buying guide.
How to Choose the Best Budget Handheld Gaming Device for You
Choosing the perfect budget handheld gaming device isn’t easy, and there are several factors to consider when making your purchase. Before you head to the checkout, you’ll want to make sure you’ve considered all the important aspects. To make your decision a bit easier, we’ve highlighted the main criteria you need to look out for.
Should I Buy a New or Used Handheld Gaming Device?
Budget handheld gaming devices are, as you would expect, cheaper to buy outright than other devices, with prices starting as low as $50 or so. As a result, if you have the cash, we recommend you buy one new. You can then enjoy the full warranty and have peace of mind knowing your device hasn’t been previously used or potentially damaged. If you don’t have the cash, you may need to consider a used device, but be aware that these don’t usually come with a warranty and may have hidden issues.
Which Handheld Gaming Device Operating System Do I Need?
With budget handheld gaming devices, there isn’t much choice when it comes to operating systems. Most budget handheld gaming devices run on custom firmware or Android. Rest assured, though: both are easy to use, whether you’re a first-time user or a gaming veteran. Just check which version the device is running as older versions may no longer be supported with regular updates and lack essential features.
What Should I Look for in a Handheld Gaming Device Display?
While flagship gaming devices are fitted with the best, biggest, and highest-resolution screens, you can still find budget handheld gaming devices with high-quality displays. Cheap devices usually have a minimum screen resolution of 480p, but some slightly more expensive alternatives offer HD (720p) resolution displays for sharper viewing.
The majority of budget handheld gaming devices we recommend use LCD panel technology, which is more than good enough for the price you’re paying. However, we’re starting to see OLED displays crop up at the lower end of the scale as well, which produce even better colors and a deeper black level. Read our full reviews if you want to know how good a device’s screen is.
Battery Life and Performance
Budget handheld gaming devices aren’t equipped with top-end internals. But that’s not to say their performance is bad – far from it, with reasonably speedy chips often making an appearance in affordable devices. To get an idea of what to expect from a device’s performance, look at the clock speed of the chip (measured in GHz) and how much RAM is inside (anything more than 1GB will do the job nicely).
Battery life is crucial, and each device’s stamina is different. When considering your next budget handheld gaming device, keep an eye out for the device’s battery capacity (listed in mAh) – the higher the number, the longer you can expect the battery to last on a single charge.
How Much Storage Do I Need?
It’s amazing how much storage you can use on a device with games and save files. You will want at least 16GB of onboard storage and look out for devices with a microSD card slot, as you can cheaply add more space when your internal storage eventually fills up.
How We Test Budget Handheld Gaming Devices
Budget handheld gaming devices are tested using a variety of in-house and publicly available benchmark methods. We test CPU and gaming performance using the Geekbench and GFXBench applications. Both of these apps provide us with performance scores, which can be used to directly compare against other devices.
Display testing is performed using a colorimeter and the DisplayCal software. This test provides us with figures for overall color accuracy, as well as maximum brightness and contrast.
For battery life, we set the device’s screen to a standardized brightness, switch off all data connections, and play a 20-hour looped video. When the device switches off, we charge it up and record the timestamp.
Best Budget Handheld Gaming Devices You Can Buy in 2023
1. Powkiddy Q90: Best Budget Handheld Gaming Device Overall
Powkiddy has been consistently delivering quality with its budget handheld gaming devices, and the Powkiddy Q90 is no exception. The Powkiddy Q90 is far better than it has any right to be for a device that costs this little and with upgrades across the board, it’s an even more tantalizing option than ever before.
Yes, the handheld gaming device we would recommend above all other wallet-friendly options on the market is the Powkiddy Q90. This budget device is powered by a surprisingly speedy Quad-Core Cortex-A7 processor, which in our tests produced speeds that easily matched devices costing twice the price. Its 3-inch IPS screen is also remarkable for the price.
You might expect to see these sorts of high-level specs in a flagship device, so it’s a proper treat to see these features in a device that costs a fraction of the price. The Powkiddy Q90 is the very definition of a budget handheld gaming device, setting the benchmark for affordable devices to come. At this price, you can’t do much better.
Key specs – Processor: Quad-Core Cortex-A7; Display: 3-inch IPS; Storage: 16GB; Battery: 1500mAh; Weight: 122g
2. Anbernic RG351V: The Most Affordable Budget Handheld Gaming Device
A $50 handheld gaming device used to bring about negative connotations, but the Anbernic RG351V is far better than its bargain price suggests. Running a specially tweaked version of EmuELEC that caters to low-powered devices, the Anbernic RG351V exceeds all expectations for a device so cheap. Despite the comparatively weak hardware (it only has 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage), it runs surprisingly well and has a bright IPS display with a gaming performance that isn’t half bad for the price.
Its sturdy build materials and compact design should help it last the test of time and the battery life lasted long enough in our tests as well. It may be lacking when it comes to raw processing speeds, and there are far better alternatives if your buying budget can stretch beyond $50, but when it comes down to sheer affordability, the Anbernic RG351V is the undisputed champion.
Key specs – Processor: RK3326
Quad-Core 1.5GHz; Display: 3.5-inch IPS; Storage: 16GB; Battery: 3900mAh; Weight: 200g
3. GPD XD Plus: The Cheapest Premium Handheld Gaming Device
It isn’t GPD’s most up-to-date device, but the GPD XD Plus is still a reliable purchase. If your budget can’t quite stretch to a brand-new GPD device, then the GPD XD Plus, despite launching in 2018, will still serve you well.
The GPD XD Plus’s build quality still holds up, as does its lovely-looking 5-inch H-IPS display. Likewise, the Quad-Core Cortex-A53 processor, while not quite a match for the latest GPD chipsets, is still more than capable against a variety of intensive tasks. The GPD XD Plus also supports the newest version of Android, if you were worried that you might be outdated on the software side of things.
If you want a premium handheld gaming device on a budget and aren’t fussed about it being slightly outdated, then the GPD XD Plus is your best bet.
Key specs – Processor: Quad-Core Cortex-A53; Display: 5-inch H-IPS; Storage: 32GB; Battery: 6000mAh; Weight: 300g
4. Retroid Pocket 2: Best Budget Handheld Gaming Device for Repairability
At first glance, the Retroid Pocket 2 is a fairly standard budget handheld gaming device, with the kind of specifications you’d expect for this price. The 3.5-inch display uses an IPS panel with a 640 x 480 resolution, and while it’s not the brightest or crispest screen out there, it’s perfectly usable. Equally, the processor and gaming performance are far from perfect, but are competent enough to get by.
What sets the Retroid Pocket 2 apart from the sea of similarly specced devices is that it has been designed to allow users to quickly and easily replace various parts – including batteries, screens, and charging ports – without having to go to a repair shop. The iFixit website has affordable replacement parts and tools for sale, as well as free step-by-step guides that can lead even first-time repairers through the process.
Repair times vary – a battery replacement can be done in around five minutes, with more complex procedures taking a little longer – but all are made easier by the accessible design of the Retroid Pocket 2. Best of all, performing the repairs yourself won’t void the device’s warranty.
Key specs – Processor: Quad-Core Cortex-A7; Display: 3.5-inch IPS; Storage: 32GB; Battery: 4000mAh; Weight: 200g
5. Powkiddy X18: Best-Value Premium Handheld Gaming Device
The Powkiddy X18 might be stretching the definition of a budget handheld gaming device, but Powkiddy’s idea of what constitutes cheap isn’t exactly the same as everyone else’s. If you want a newer Powkiddy device – the Powkiddy Q90 above is a few years old – then your best-value option is the Powkiddy X18.
Despite having the look and feel of a device from days gone by, the Powkiddy X18 is a formidable small-sized device that benefits from a speedy Quad-Core Cortex-A53 processor. That’s the same processor found inside the GPD XD Plus, which costs more than twice as much. The cheapest premium device by quite a distance, the Powkiddy X18’s 5-inch IPS screen is also absolutely exceptional. The only fly in the ointment is the short battery life, but if you’re able to spend twice as much compared to other devices on this list, then the Powkiddy X18 is well worth considering.
Key specs – Processor: Quad-Core Cortex-A53; Display: 5-inch IPS; Storage: 32GB; Battery: 5000mAh; Weight: 300g
6. Anbernic RG351P: Best Budget Handheld Gaming Device for Battery Life
The Anbernic RG351P isn’t just the best budget handheld gaming device for battery life, it has enough stamina to outlast devices that cost two, three, even four times as much. In our standardised test, the RG351P lasted for an outstanding 8 hours, rocketing up to very near the top of our best device battery life list.
The Anbernic RG351P isn’t just a one-trick pony, either. Alongside that incredible stamina, the device has a large and vibrant 3.5-inch IPS display that curves elegantly off to the sides, with a crisp 480 x 320 resolution. Contrast levels are essentially perfect, as is the case with IPS, and the peak brightness is impressive for this price as well.
There are a couple areas of compromise – performance, while decent, isn’t class-leading by any stretch, and the device lacks a touchscreen – but if you want the best battery life you can get for less than $100, no device can beat the Anbernic RG351P.
Key specs – Processor: RK3326 Quad-Core 1.5GHz; Display: 3.5-inch IPS; Storage: 64GB; Battery: 3500mAh; Weight: 160g
7. Powkiddy V90: Best Budget Clamshell Handheld Gaming Device
Powkiddy keeps upping its game with budget handheld gaming devices. Taking everything that made the previous Powkiddy Q90 such a bargain and building even further upon the formula, the Powkiddy V90 is the brand’s best-value clamshell device to date.
Two of our biggest concerns with the Powkiddy Q90 were that the display was lacking and the device was a bit too small, both of which are rectified here. The screen still uses an IPS panel, but the size has been upped to a more acceptable 3-inch and is paired with a clamshell design that protects the screen when not in use. The device has also seen some minor but appreciated improvements in the gaming performance.
The battery life has dipped slightly, but a score of over 6 hours is still nothing to sniff at, and should easily see you into a second day of use. Add to this the best performance you can get from a $50 handheld gaming device, and the Powkiddy V90 emerges as an astounding budget choice.
Key specs – Processor: Allwinner F1C100S; Display: 3-inch IPS; Storage: 16GB; Battery: 1020mAh; Weight: 160g
8. Anbernic RG280V: A Solid Handheld Gaming Device for Less
The Anbernic RG280V is one of the cheapest premium handheld gaming devices we’ve reviewed, so if you’re hoping to make the most out of your gaming without spending much money, then this is a great choice.
It helps that the Anbernic RG280V is a device with plenty of positives. With a stunning design for the price and a generously large screen, the Anbernic RG280V is a bit of a beauty. The only reason
it doesn’t rank higher is that the performance isn’t quite as good as other devices on this list, but it’s still more than capable for most tasks.
The Anbernic RG280V is also a great choice for those who want a device that can last all day without needing to be charged. In our battery life test, the RG280V lasted for a very respectable 7 hours. It might not be the best device on this list, but for the price, it’s a solid choice.
Key specs – Processor: JZ4770 Dual-Core 1.0GHz; Display: 2.8-inch IPS; Storage: 16GB; Battery: 2100mAh; Weight: 160g
9. GPD Win 2: Best Budget Handheld Gaming Device for PC Games
The GPD Win 2 is a bit of an oddity on this list. It’s not a traditional handheld gaming device like the others, but rather a miniaturized Windows 10 laptop with built-in gaming controls. It’s also the most expensive device on this list, but if you’re looking for a handheld device that can play PC games, it’s your best bet.
The GPD Win 2 is powered by an Intel Core m3-8100Y processor and has 8GB of RAM, which is more than enough to run many PC games at low to medium settings. It also has a 6-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, which is quite good for a device of this size.
The GPD Win 2 isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a PC gamer who wants to take your games on the go, it’s worth considering.
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core m3-8100Y; Display: 6-inch IPS; Storage: 128GB; Battery: 4900mAh; Weight: 460g
10. RG350M: Best Budget Handheld Gaming Device for Build Quality
The RG350M is a bit more expensive than some of the other devices on this list, but it’s worth the extra cost if you value build quality. The device is made from a sturdy metal alloy, which gives it a premium feel that most other budget handheld gaming devices lack.
The RG350M also has a 3.5-inch IPS screen with a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, which is quite good for a device in this price range. The device is powered by a JZ4770 Dual-Core 1.0GHz processor and has 512MB of RAM, which is enough to run most retro games smoothly.
The RG350M isn’t the cheapest device on this list, but if you’re willing to pay a bit more for a device with a premium build quality, it’s a great choice.
Key specs – Processor: JZ4770 Dual-Core 1.0GHz; Display: 3.5-inch IPS; Storage: 16GB; Battery: 2500mAh; Weight: 160g
When it comes to finding the best budget portable gaming console in 2023, there are several contenders that offer a blend of performance, build quality, and value for money. The landscape of handheld gaming has evolved tremendously, with devices catering to both retro enthusiasts and those seeking more modern gaming experiences.
From our list, the GPD XD Plus stands out as a versatile choice, offering a blend of Android gaming and emulation capabilities. Additionally, the Anbernic RG351P is noteworthy for its impressive battery life and robust build, making it a favorite among retro gaming aficionados. Both these devices offer a compelling gaming experience without breaking the bank, ensuring that quality gaming on the go remains accessible to everyone.