Handheld gaming has transformed. And I’m not just talking about the Switch (although I’m probably gonna talk about the Switch). Over recent years a new kind of gaming market has exploded, and another is growing alongside it. Both of these spaces are focused on a particular gaming niche, and that’s console-quality gaming on portable platforms. I’d say “handhelds,” and I totally did that last time we did holiday content (let’s not talk about 2021). But it’s more complicated in 2022.
Related: The Best of Handheld Gaming in 2020
So while I work out what to call this phenomenon for real, let’s explore some of 2022’s best ways to make console games portable. This list comprises a variety of tech, from mobile controllers to dedicated, handheld PCs masquerading as handheld consoles.
Riot PWR iPhone Controller – Xbox Edition
Earlier this year I wrote a piece about this iOS mobile controller, and had a lot of great things to say about it! Later on I received a special edition of the same controller, this one thoroughly Xbox branded. I struggled to find a home for it for a few reasons, but here we are! Game Pass’ X-Cloud feature has been a rising star in streaming games, and having new peripherals to make it great is a must. This controller not only boasts a Xbox color scheme, but it also comes with a month of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
Backbone One: PlayStation Edition
It’s like the console wars have spilled out into mobile territory – weird! While Riot and Xbox hooked up, Backbone did the same with PlayStation. This is the same controller as the regular Backbone One, but done up like a DualSense. The buttons have that pearl-like quality to them, and it has baked-in recognition software to do things like prompt Remote Play in the PlayStation app or change button glyphs in games that support it. iOS owners can’t go wrong with a Backbone if they want a more sleek option.
Logitech G Cloud
We’ll have a review of this bad boy up on the site soon, but for now it’s going in the gift guide. Streaming hit a speed bump this year with the shutdown of Google Stadia, but many services stand in its place. Logitech jumped in with a piece of hardware designed to enable ergonomic, high quality game streaming in handheld form. There are drawbacks of course, but a 1080p screen on a handheld with over ten hours of battery life is unheard of. This device meets a specific set of gaming needs, but for people with said needs the G Cloud is a godsend.
I mean, yeah. The Steam Deck came out this year. It’s causing everyone who touches it to completely lose all sense of reason when it comes to their perception of portable gaming. A very different kind of device compared to the G Cloud, this is literally a portable computer designed to run the Steam OS without being tethered to the internet. It’s a clunker, but a technical marvel nonetheless.
AYA NEO Air
Steam Deck is a revolutionary product, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have competition. Handheld Windows PCs have been a thing for a while, albeit much more niche. These things are expensive and have weird tinkering requirements to get the most out of them. The AYA NEO Air is still expensive, but it’s the first one of these to feel like a true, viable handheld device. It’s super thin and light compared to the Steam Deck and has a ridiculous OLED screen. It’s still fiddly and not quite as powerful as Steam’s handheld, but the design and presence of this thing is unmatched.