The Complete Guide to Handheld Game Consoles

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The Complete Guide to Handheld Game Consoles

Portable gaming has come a long way since the release of the Nintendo Game Boy in 1989. Modern handheld game consoles are able to rival the graphics and gameplay of home consoles. Their displays are bright, crisp, and easy to view from all angles, and games feature colourful 3D graphics that can be played with built-in analogue support. Some handheld game consoles also include a range of multimedia capabilities, such as video playback.

The most popular handheld game consoles are developed by Nintendo and Sony. These include the Game Boy Advance, DS, and 3DS systems from Nintendo, and the PlayStation Portable (PSP) and PlayStation Vita (PS Vita) from Sony. Handheld game consoles are commonly released in multiple versions, so it is important to understand each model to choose the best option for each platform.

Handheld game consoles can be purchased from electronics shops, department stores, and specialist game retailers. Many websites also sell consoles, and marketplaces like eBay can be used to locate older or rare products. Consider the features of each system to begin enjoying the best games for handheld consoles.

Types of Handheld Consoles

The two primary brands of handheld console systems on the market are Nintendo and Sony. Although Nintendo dominated the handheld market through the 1990s and early 2000s, Sony's PSP established itself as viable competition with the release of the PS Vita.

Nintendo Handheld Game Consoles

Nintendo entered the modern era of handheld gaming with its celebrated Game Boy Advance console. It has since released successful products in the form of the DS and 3DS. Each of these has been produced in multiple versions with different features.

Nintendo Game Boy Advance

Game Boy Advance is the last console in Nintendo's famous Game Boy line. It is a 32-bit system that is able to play games with graphics at or exceeding the level of Super Nintendo games. As a result, the Advance is popular with retro gamers who enjoy 2D gameplay. The Game Boy Advance was released in three different versions: the original, SP, and Micro. The following table offers a brief description of the features and design of each of them. 

Model of Game Boy Advance



Horizontal format

Exposed screen and buttons

Unlit screen

Reverse compatible with Game Boy and Game Boy Colour games


Clamshell design that flips closed to protect it from dust and scratches

Smaller and lighter than the original model

Frontlit screen

Reverse compatible with Game Boy and Game Boy Colour games


Horizontal format

Exposed screen and buttons

Backlit screen

Smaller and lighter than the SP

No reverse compatibility

Nintendo released a second version of the SP to coincide with the launch of the Micro. This version featured a brighter, backlit screen. It was released in three new colours: Pearl Blue, Pearl Pink, and Graphite. Both versions of the SP are considered to be collector's items, and sealed products are quite valuable.

Nintendo DS

Nintendo DS expanded the graphics capabilities for the brand's handheld systems. It also introduced touch screen capabilities with a second, lower screen. Players use a stylus to control characters, make menu selections, and perform a variety of other actions. There are four models of DS, all of which flip closed like the Advance SP to protect the screen and enhance portability. The following table lists key features of each model.

Model of Nintendo DS



Reverse compatible with Game Boy Advance games

DS Lite

Brighter screen than the original

Thinner and lighter than the original

Reverse compatible with Game Boy Advance games


Screen size 1.3 centimetres larger than the DS

Connects with DSi Shop

Features two digital cameras

Has internal storage for photos and downloads


Significantly larger screen and form factor than DSi

Same features as DSi

DSi models can connect with the Internet via Wi-Fi. This allows users to download new games from the Nintendo DSi Shop.

Nintendo 3DS

Released in 2011, Nintendo 3DS features several notable improvements and additions when compared to the DS models. In addition to improved graphics, the 3DS has full 3D image capabilities without the need for glasses or any other peripheral devices. It also features an analogue pad for precise control. In 2012, a larger version of the 3DS was released, called 3DS XL. Like the DSi XL, it has all the same features as the smaller version, but with a significantly larger screen and form factor. The models of the 3DS are described in the table below.

Model of Nintendo 3DS



Analogue control

3D display capability


Larger screen and form factor than 3DS

A supplementary control unit called the Circle Pad Pro is available for the original 3DS. This unit increases the size of the grip area on the console and adds a second analogue pad on the right of the console. This allows dual analogue control for select games for the system.

Sony Handheld Game Consoles

After establishing itself as a powerful force in the home console gaming market with the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, Sony released its own handheld gaming system in 2005. Called the PlayStation Portable (PSP), it battled the DS series of consoles for dominance of the handheld market. The success of the PSP led to the release of the PS Vita as part of the eighth generation of consoles.

Sony PSP

Sony's PSP console is the only handheld gaming system to use an optical disc drive. The system features powerful graphics capabilities and has a vast game library. The PSP is also designed as a multimedia device able to browse the Internet, and play films and MP3s. The PSP has been released in three primary models: the 1000, 2000, and 3000. A smaller PSP Go is also available with a redesigned format. A PSP E1000 was released in 2011 for PAL regions only. The following table offers a list of notable features and differences between each model.

Model of Sony PSP



USB 1.0

No video output

No built-in mic


Thinner and lighter than the 1000

Component video output

USB 2.0

No built-in mic


Brighter screen than earlier models

Component video output

Built-in mic

USB 2.0


Approximately 50 percent smaller and lighter than the 1000

Smaller screen than other PSP models

No UMD drive for playing games on disc


Similar form factor and design as the 3000

No Wi-Fi connectivity

Mono sound instead of stereo

No video output

All Sony handhelds have an analogue control pad. They also have a digital directional pad for easy navigation of menus.

Sony PS Vita

The PS Vita is the successor to the PSP. It improves on the design and technology of the earlier system in several ways, including advanced graphics and a larger viewing screen. The PS Vita replaces the discs from the PSP with NVG game cards. These are similar in design to those used for Nintendo DS and 3DS games. The PS Vita uses two analogue control sticks that are longer than the analogue pad found on the PSP. It also features the Sixaxis Motion Control used in PlayStation 3 controllers.

How to Buy Handheld Game Consoles on eBay

All handheld game consoles from Nintendo and Sony can be purchased from the sellers on eBay. These items are listed on the site by both commercial and private sellers, and are available in new or used condition. To shop for these items, begin by entering the name of the desired console into the search field on the home page. For example, enter "ps vita" to see all items tagged with those terms. You may refine listings with additional keywords.

Click on the name or image of any item to see its full listing. You can find details about its price, delivery costs, and the payment methods accepted by the seller. Read the description provided by the seller and compare it with available images to be clear on the specific product being sold.

Sellers on eBay have a feedback rating that reflects the satisfaction of buyers within the past 12 months. Use this rating in relation to the number of completed transactions to make an assessment about the user's experience and reliability. Leave feedback about your transaction to inform the eBay marketplace and help the seller to improve.


Handheld game consoles are some of the most popular systems on the market. Modern devices like the PS Vita are able to do much more than play games; they are multimedia devices that can be used to play music, watch films, and browse the Internet.

Nintendo and Sony are the two prominent manufacturers of handheld consoles. Buyers should research platforms from both companies to choose the ideal system. Nintendo's Game Boy Advance is still cherished by many players for its 32-bit design. The DSi and 3DS systems allow users to connect with other players online and download games from the DSi Shop. The 3DS also has full 3D capabilities without the need for glasses or other devices. Sony's PSP and PS Vita consoles are true multimedia devices. The PSP has a single analogue pad while the PS Vita uses two full analogue sticks. The PSP has also been released in a smaller, compact Go version for users who need a highly portable device.

Marketplaces like eBay have a high number of listings for both new and used handheld game consoles, as well as a large selection of games for all systems. With their well developed games and multimedia capabilities, modern handheld consoles can provide hours of enjoyment for all players.

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