Handheld game systems were once ubiquitous on kids' wish lists, as well as those of teenagers and adults. But now that cellphones have become adept at game play, does buying a dedicated handheld system make sense? If you're interested in long game sessions and immersive play, the answer might still be yes.
Much has changed in the handheld arena in the past year. The Sony PlayStation Vita (*Est. $250) has debuted to mostly rave reviews, though many have also poked at various issues not directly related to game play. Nintendo led the way into the third dimension with the 3D-capable Nintendo 3DS (*Est. $170) in spring 2011. Many critics loved it, but the public, it appears, was not buying. High pricing was one reason, and many critics added that while 3D was a nice "gimmick," in too many cases it added little to game play. To some, the 3D effect strained their eyes and induced headaches. A steep price cut from the original $250 -- one of the fastest and steepest in gaming history, experts say -- helped spur an increase in the 3DS' popularity, though it left early adopters feeling a little cheated. An "ambassador" program that gave 20 free games to those who paid the higher price eased the sting.
If you don't need the latest and the greatest in handheld video game consoles, lots of well-established and well-liked older systems remain available and in production. Options include the Sony PSP-3000, the previous standard-bearer among hard-core gaming enthusiasts looking for console-like play in a handheld. For more casual gamers and the younger set, there's the still popular Nintendo DSi (*Est. $150) and the similar (save for larger screens) Nintendo's DSi XL (*Est. $170).
CNET has the most comprehensive coverage of handheld gaming devices. Editors have reviewed all of the major systems, and their analysis is balanced and updated on a regular basis. CNET is particularly valuable for its prizefights, a series of video reviews that pit two handheld consoles -- the Sony PlayStation Vita and the Nintendo 3DS, for example -- against each other using criteria such as design, value and performance. Other technology sites like PCMag.com and Engadget.com also have solid handheld console reviews. There are a number of British sites worth a look as well, including TechRadar.com, T3.com and TrustedReviews.com.
When it comes to owner-written reviews, Amazon.com is a top resource. Some handheld gaming devices have hundreds of individual reviews. BestBuy.com and Newegg.com are also worth a look, but their collections of reviews pale in comparison to Amazon.com's. The only downside is that most handheld games get similar ratings, although the reviews help point out details that the professional reviewers might have missed.