Are handheld emulators worth it, and if not, what should you be getting instead? If they are worth it, which ones are actually worth considering? Today, I’ll be covering these questions and more in the article below, so let’s not waste any time tackling all you need to know about handheld emulators.
Table of Contents
A Brief on Handheld Emulators, or Handheld Emulation Devices
Handheld emulators (or handheld emulation devices, more accurately, since an emulator is a piece of software) have become somewhat notorious in the budget gaming space over the years. By repurposing mobile hardware and old portable console supplies, a thriving market of handheld emulation devices has been allowed to pop up on Amazon and other e-tailers.
Obviously, not all handheld emulators are made equal. However, some devices are of considerably higher quality and make than others. In fact, I’ve actually already highlighted some handheld emulators in my previous Best Handheld Consoles For Retro Gaming piece, which mixes proper handheld consoles with a few of these devices.
Are Handheld Emulators Worth It? Your Options Explained
How Much Do Handheld Emulators Cost?
Most handheld emulators cost $200 or less, often closer to the $100 price point or even lower than that if the system is low-power enough to skip out on trying to emulate 3D systems at all. As it turns out, mobile hardware is a surprisingly cost-effective solution for emulation, even in this incredibly budget pricing range. However, you can still get much better bang for your buck with other devices on the market…
Are Handheld Consoles Better Than Handheld Emulators?
From a collector’s standpoint and (arguably) a handfeel standpoint, I’d say that most actual handheld consoles are far more desirable than handheld emulators that only serve to imitate gaming systems with whatever mobile chipset they have onboard. It doesn’t help that most handheld emulators are literally manufactured with second hand parts repurposed from old portable consoles, which directly draws the line of quality comparisons between them and their predecessors.
Is a Steam Deck Better Than a Handheld Emulator?
I would say so, yes.
While most handheld emulators occupy a compelling price point below the $399 entry point of the Steam Deck, they’re also so much weaker in emulation and (generally-speaking) so much more poorly-made that I wouldn’t even begin considering them competition to the Deck.
The Deck may be a little more expensive, but it’s so powerful and flexible as an all-around device even before you start emulating games on it. Once you do start emulating on Deck, though, you realize you have a handheld that can unironically emulate games made for the PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Switch, and you understand that the GameCube-at-best world of most handheld emulators just won’t cut it.