6 Questions You Should Ask Before Buying

If you’re a hardcore gamer and want to play games on the road, your first thought would be to get a handheld console like the Steam Deck or Nintendo Switch.

However, smartphones are increasingly becoming viable options in mobile gaming. There are many great titles on iOS and Android, plus many accessories that’ll give you a console experience. You can also get a dedicated gaming phone if you’re into that.

If you’re lost picking between the two, here are six questions you should consider before buying.

1. Do You Play Games Specific to a Platform?

You’ll have to go with the console if you’re looking for specific titles. For example, the Nintendo Switch has several exclusive games and franchises like Kirby, Animal Crossing, Pokémon, and more. If you have an extensive Steam library, then the Steam Deck will be something that’ll let you take your PC games with you on the road. It also has other unique abilities, like letting you seamlessly sync between your computer and the handheld console.

However, Android and iOS smartphones also have an extensive game library. You might also find that smartphone games are more suitable for portable gaming, allowing you to sync your progress easily across devices and having shorter rounds that last between 10 to 30 minutes—great if you’re outside and just waiting for someone.

Furthermore, many game developers are porting their PC titles as smartphones get more performance. You can now find popular PC and console titles like Call of Duty, Apex Legends, and Diablo in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

2. How Long Can You Play on a Single Charge?

Battery life is a mixed bag among consoles and smartphones alike. For example, the Nintendo Switch lasts between four and a half and nine hours of gaming. On the other hand, tests show that the Steam Deck only gets two to eight hours of gaming.

Smartphones also vary significantly in battery life. When you compare the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the iPhone 13 Pro Max, you’ll find that the latter boasts up to 22 hours of video playback. But if you start playing high-end games with it, you will likely get less than half of that.

However, one clear advantage that most smartphones have over gaming consoles is fast charging. The Steam Deck does not support the different fast charging standards, while the Nintendo Switch only supports up to 30 watts. And although smartphone charging speeds vary, the most popular devices usually charge at 45 watts or higher, allowing you to juice up faster.

3. Do You Prefer Traveling Light?

The smartphone will hands-down beat the gaming console in terms of portability. That’s because they’re designed to be pocketed, whereas most handhelds must be in a bag for storage and transport. Handheld gaming consoles are also only useful for gaming. Although you could browse the internet and watch movies on them, especially for the Steam Deck, they’re not terribly efficient at those tasks.

Furthermore, you usually bring your smartphone, as it’s your all-around device. Aside from gaming, you use the smartphone for transportation, navigation, photography and videography, communication, and much more. So, if you’re out and about and unexpectedly get some free time, you can easily pull out your smartphone and start playing.

4. Are You Okay Playing With Virtual (On-Screen) Controls?

Of course, the smartphone can’t beat a handheld console’s controller. Despite the flexibility touchscreens offer, physical buttons and joysticks are still better for hardcore gaming. That’s because you can use tactile response (i.e., feel the controls) to move in your game. Furthermore, the additional buttons on the shoulder and back of handheld consoles give you more control.

But if you’re gaming on your smartphone, you’re typically stuck with on-screen controls. Not only will your fingers block on-screen elements, but you’re also limited to pressing two buttons simultaneously. Some gaming smartphones have extra shoulder buttons and other features that improve the experience, but these models are few and far between.

You could get a smartphone controller, like the Razer Kishi V2, to help you game better, but it’s an extra accessory you’ll have to lug around with you.

5. How Much Can You Afford?

If you already have a decent smartphone and are picking between upgrading to a flagship model or getting a handheld gaming console, you’ll find that the latter is far more affordable than phones.

At the time of writing, the Nintendo Switch retails at $299, while you can get a base-model Steam Deck for $399. You can also get the 256GB and 512GB Steam Deck models for $529 and $649. However, one issue hounding gaming consoles, especially the Steam Deck, is its lack of availability.

Smartphones are readily available on the market, but you’ll have to pay substantially more to get the best gaming performance. The iPhone 13 Pro Max and Galaxy S22 Ultra both have a launch price of well over $1,000. You can also go for dedicated gaming phones, like the Black Shark 5 Pro, Redmagic 7S Pro, and ROG Phone 6 Pro, but their prices still range between $699 and $1,100.

6. Do You Want a Gaming Device You Always Bring With You?

If you’re buying a portable gaming device for specific titles, you must stick with the console that carries it, like the Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck. But the smartphone is the no-brainer choice if you want something well-rounded and always on you.

And to improve your smartphone gaming experience, you should go for a flagship device and a third-party controller. Or you could pick a gaming smartphone—these devices are usually built for long gaming sessions. Because of their advanced cooling systems, you can have prolonged gaming sessions on them without suffering from thermal throttling.

But if you have a two-year-old smartphone that still works well and you’re considering upgrading to a flagship device just for gaming, then maybe you should consider getting a handheld gaming console instead. After all, many smartphone brands nowadays have extended software update support, allowing you to use them for longer.

The Best Portable Gaming Device Is One That Fits Your Lifestyle

If you’re in a perfect world, you can afford to get all the handheld gaming consoles and smartphones you want. But alas, that isn’t the case for most people. Both options have pros and cons, and you have to weigh which one is more important for you.

If you want an excellent gaming experience and don’t need flagship specifications for your smartphone, then why not get a mid-range Android phone and a Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck? But if you’re always on the go and don’t have the time and energy to lug around a separate device, then a flagship smartphone or gaming-focused phone would be your best bet.

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