While there’s no definitive “best video game console,” determining the ideal one for your gaming experience is certainly within reach. Currently, there are seven systems that can be considered “current gen,” and additional options like Valve’s Steam Deck further complicate the selection. Engadget’s team of experts engages with games on virtually every console imaginable, including a few you might not have considered in a long while.
It’s important to recognize that not every gamer requires the same type of console, and the most powerful system isn’t always the best fit. Some individuals demand nothing less than the highest-spec model, while others seek an affordable way to enjoy the latest games. Perhaps you prioritize portability, necessitating a handheld console that’s as convenient to play as it is to carry. Alternatively, if you haven’t gamed in years and are seeking a console for family enjoyment, your requirements will differ. The versatility of game consoles caters to an array of needs, and that’s precisely why we’ve crafted this comprehensive guide.
After rigorous testing and multiple reviews of each console listed below, we’ve categorized the ten best gaming consoles to address specific preferences. This compilation encompasses all major players, along with two top-tier “high-end consoles,” each catering to distinct criteria. By the conclusion of this guide, we aim to bring you one step closer to selecting the console that aligns perfectly with your desired specifications and functionality.
Best high-end game console: PS5
The PlayStation 5 stands out as the epitome of current-gen gaming consoles, delivering exceptional graphics and flawless performance. Sony adhered to the conventional hardware-upgrade cycle for the PS5, resulting in a significant boost in processing power and visual quality compared to its predecessor. Additionally, Sony introduced a cutting-edge controller, the DualSense, which features immersive mechanics. Notably, the DualSense controller offers precise and intense haptic feedback along the grips, along with adaptive triggers that adjust the tension in the R2 and L2 buttons in response to the player’s actions, such as equipping various weapons and tools. This is a feature that sets it apart from the Xbox Series consoles.
The PS5 boasts an extensive library of console exclusives, including titles like God of War: Ragnarök, Returnal, the Demon’s Souls remake, Insomniac’s Spider-Man series, The Last of Us games and re-releases, as well as numerous Final Fantasy titles. For those seeking an enhanced gaming experience, PlayStation Plus Premium, the top-tier subscription service from Sony, offers cloud streaming, complimentary games, and a collection of downloadable games accessible at any time. Premium membership is available for $18 per month or $120 annually, with more affordable tiers in the Plus ecosystem for those seeking fewer perks.
While the PS5’s design may appear unconventional when placed next to your TV, its true value lies in its internal capabilities. And for those who prefer a different aesthetic, companies like dbrand offer customization options. – Jessica Conditt, Senior Reporter
Best high-end game console: Xbox Series X
The Xbox Series X takes the crown as the most potent gaming console currently available, offering an extensive game library through a Game Pass subscription, which includes immediate access to Microsoft’s latest releases. While the Xbox could benefit from more exclusive titles, there are promising games on the horizon, such as Starfield, Redfall, and a revamped Forza Motor Sport. PC gamers will also appreciate the seamless cross-platform compatibility between Windows and Xbox titles, in addition to the option to stream games from the cloud using Game Pass. Although Sony retains a strong position in delivering high-budget narrative games, the vast array of offerings on Microsoft’s platforms, encompassing small indie titles, cherished franchises, and a plethora of remarkable games via EA Play (included with Game Pass for PCs and Ultimate), is truly impressive.
In the past, gaming platform choice often hinged on what your friends were using. However, with the widespread availability of cross-play multiplayer in most titles today, this factor has become less relevant. Whether you opt for an Xbox Series X or a PlayStation 5, it’s feasible to play games like Call of Duty with friends regardless of the console they choose. Consequently, the best guidance now is to base your selection on the exclusive titles you desire to play, along with the potential benefits offered by subscription services. If you’re eager to follow the next adventures of Master Chief or you’re looking for cost-effective access to first-party games and indie gems, the Xbox Series X combined with Game Pass is likely your best choice. – Devindra Hardawar, Senior Reporter
Best cheap game console: Xbox Series S + Game Pass
The Xbox Series S boasts sufficient power to handle the latest and most impressive games, but it truly excels as a semi-portable Game Pass device. This compact console lacks a disc drive and typically carries a price tag of $300, although it’s frequently available at reduced prices, ranging from $250 to $270. Despite its diminutive size, this rectangular console is capable of rendering games at resolutions surpassing 1080p, even though it doesn’t quite reach the 4K threshold. While it offers impressive gaming capabilities, it falls short of the Series X in terms of overall power and has a more limited storage capacity, which represents its primary limitation.
The advantage of Game Pass becomes evident here. With a Game Pass Ultimate subscription, users can tap into cloud streaming capabilities on the Series S (as well as on PC and mobile devices), enabling them to access an extensive game library without the need for extensive downloads. Game Pass Ultimate is priced at $15 per month, with the first month available for just $1. Microsoft boasts the most dependable cloud network in the industry and has made a commitment to making all major new releases from Xbox Game Studios available on Game Pass from day one. Sony, in contrast, has yet to offer such a guarantee for in-house launches on PlayStation Plus.
Even without Game Pass, the Series S stands out as the most budget-friendly entry into the Xbox console ecosystem, providing access to the same games as the Series X, albeit with a need for occasional data management as storage fills up. – J.C.
Best game console for local multiplayer: Nintendo Switch
Regrettably, the era of online multiplayer has largely replaced local gaming options on most gaming consoles. There is, however, one notable exception to this trend: the Nintendo Switch. This is a testament to Nintendo’s enduring commitment to the pure joy of playing alongside friends and family in the same room. Whether it’s engaging in competitive four-player races in Mario Kart or enjoying an array of mini-games in Mario Party, the Nintendo Switch makes it easy to have a fantastic time when connected to a TV. Adding more controllers for your friends to join in is a straightforward process, especially if they have their own Switch. Furthermore, the portability of the console allows for local network play, delivering the pleasure of being in the company of friends while each person enjoys their own private screen. Achieving this level of local multiplayer interaction with a PS5, for instance, would be quite a challenge. – D.H.
Best couch portable: Valve Steam Deck
The concept of a portable gaming console primarily used at home may seem counterintuitive, but it aligns with the preferences of many gamers, as exemplified by the Steam Deck. Released in February 2022, the Steam Deck swiftly gained popularity as a portable PC gaming device for those who wished to extend their gaming beyond their desks without leaving their Steam game libraries behind. This substantial yet potent console features dual analog sticks, trackpads, standard face buttons, bumpers, and triggers, along with four rear clickers and a 7-inch LCD touchscreen. Its notable size and distinctive design make it a captivating choice, delivering smooth performance for most PC games.
With a starting price of $400 and a top-end option priced at $650, the Steam Deck offers affordability within the realm of portable PC gaming. While it may be slightly unwieldy for travelers seeking a compact carry-on device and has limited battery life for extended on-the-go gaming, it excels as the perfect companion for relaxed gaming sessions on the living room couch, particularly when you have a comfortable pillow and a nearby power source. – J.C.
Best game console for first-time gamers: Nintendo Switch Lite
Nintendo has a reputation for crafting robust portable consoles, and the Switch Lite upholds this tradition. It matches the speed of the Nintendo Switch OLED model while featuring integrated controls that eliminate concerns about Joy-Cons becoming dislodged upon impact. With a 5.5-inch screen and a more compact frame, the Switch Lite is not only convenient for users with smaller hands but also a valuable option for young gamers. This attribute has proven especially helpful as my four-year-old daughter begins to explore the world of video games. The Switch offers a diverse selection of child-friendly content, but we highly recommend delving into the extensive library of classic Nintendo titles available through the console’s online service. While kids may eventually navigate Minecraft on their own, it falls upon the older generation to impart the timeless value of skillful platforming with titles like Super Mario Bros. 3. – D.H.
Best handheld gaming console for commuting: Nintendo Switch Lite
The Switch Lite stands out as the most adorable handheld gaming console available today, and this quality makes it particularly well-suited for public use. This diminutive and lightweight handheld device features a 5.5-inch LCD touchscreen and basic gamepad buttons, and it comes in various color options and special editions. It feels entirely natural to take out while on the bus, subway, in waiting rooms, or simply when hanging out at a cafe, bar, or park. Its unobtrusive and compact design makes it ideal for daily commutes, and it’s an excellent choice for travelers who value portability. With a price tag of $200, the Switch Lite is also notably more affordable than its larger counterpart, the standard Switch, and offers access to a rich library of captivating games from Nintendo and other publishers, including beloved franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Mario Kart, Smash Bros., Bayonetta, Animal Crossing, and Kirby. – J.C.
Best game console for travel: Nintendo Switch
The Switch’s hardware may be showing signs of its age, but it remains the premier choice for gaming during lengthy flights. With a 6.2-inch screen (or 7 inches if opting for the pricier Nintendo Switch OLED), it effortlessly allows you to disregard bothersome seatmates, endless flight delays, and the various hassles of air travel. The Switch is capable of providing several hours of gameplay, and recharging it for extended journeys is a straightforward process. It also offers a reasonable amount of built-in storage, though individuals with extensive game collections might want to consider acquiring a microSD card to expand their storage capacity. While the Steam Deck may appear enticing, it is also considerably bulkier and likely to occupy a significant portion of your backpack. The Switch, on the other hand, can coexist with your laptop and other equipment, and the extensive library of Switch games from Nintendo ensures you’ll always have an abundance of entertainment at your fingertips. – D.H.
Best retro gaming console for nostalgia: Retroid Pocket 3
The Retroid Pocket 3 is a user-friendly, simplified emulation device with the capability to run games spanning from the sixth generation and earlier – encompassing titles up to the GameCube and PlayStation 2. It can even handle select PSP games, although that might be pushing it a bit. The Retroid Pocket 3 serves as a conduit for retro and classic gaming experiences, featuring titles like Super Mario RPG, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy IX, and many more, all enhanced to look better than ever.
Additionally, the Retroid Pocket 3 operates on the Android platform, effectively functioning as a handheld console. This means it doubles as a central hub for cloud streaming via services such as Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Despite its diminutive size, the device is even smaller than a Switch Lite and boasts a 4.7-inch LCD touchscreen – slightly larger than a classic Game Boy screen, for reference. What’s most remarkable about the Retroid Pocket 3 is its affordability, with a price tag of just $150. – J.C.
Best game console with a large streaming library: Xbox Series X (or S)
Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription has revolutionized the gaming experience for console players. For a mere $10 per month, you gain access to a vast library of games, encompassing all of Microsoft’s in-house software and popular titles like Monster Hunter Rise and A Plague Tale Requiem. What’s even more remarkable is that Microsoft-owned games are available on the day of their release! Opt for the $15 Game Pass Ultimate tier, and you’ll unlock the power of cloud gaming, allowing you to stream selected titles to your mobile device, computer, and even some televisions. With the immense variety of content on Game Pass, it becomes difficult to justify paying full price for any game in the future.
Sony’s response to Game Pass represents an evolution of its PlayStation Plus service. Their top-tier offering, “Premium,” priced at $18 per month, provides access to an extensive game library and cloud streaming. However, Sony has yet to include first-party titles in any PS Plus tier on their launch day. Players are left with the choice of paying the full price or patiently waiting for them to be added to the rotation. Until Sony follows suit and offers day-one access to their titles, Game Pass remains the superior subscription service. – D.H.