Portable Gaming: Mobile vs handheld
Should you pick a dedicated gaming handheld or smartphone to sate your portable gaming urges?
It's official: Aussies love playing videogames. In fact, we love it so much nearly 70 percent of the population are getting into gaming, regardless of age and gender.
We also love taking our games with us, with gaming-on-the-go a big growth market in the world of videogames. When you want to get some gaming in while you're on the move, you've got a choice to make. Do you opt for a handheld, or get your gaming fix in on a mobile?
Now these are arbitrary terms but they do serve to draw a distinction between two similar, but quite different styles of games, gaming and gameplay. When we say mobile gaming, we mean games you play on your smartphone or even tablet.
With handheld gaming we mean a dedicated portable gaming console. At first blush, there might not seem to be too many differences, but trust us. The differences can be substantial.
In fact it can feel a little disingenuous comparing mobile and handheld gaming. It's a bit like someone saying they feel like an apple and you explaining where they can get some artisanal fruit yoghurt. Sure, they're both food but they're fulfilling some very different requirements when it comes to taste.
So, let's break it all down.
Why we love it: It's easy to see the appeal of gaming on a phone or tablet and we can sum it up in one word: convenience.
For a start, you're already likely to have the device with you when you're out an about. According to research from the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association people are mostly like to indulge in a little mobile game to pass time. They're avoiding boredom, in essence, and that's where the convenience comes in.
Unexpected train delay? Drag out the phone and play. This is what we call casual gaming, because it's a casual way to fill in a little bit of time here and there.
The convenience extends to how easy it is to get mobile games. Both the Apple Store and the Google Play Store are jammed with games that can cost just a few bucks. Some may even be free, although you should watch out because in-game purchases can definitely sting if you're not being careful.
Tablets have proven particularly popular as a device for digital versions of beloved board games and for complex games (Lord of Waterdeep, we're looking at you) an app that remembers all the weird rules and avoids the two-hour set-up time is a bonus.
For the major of mobile games, the lower price has nothing to do with lower quality. These are great games made by award winning studios.
It's more to do the scope of the game. You'll easily find a lot of games to while away the time, but you're unlikely to lose hundreds of hours of your life the way you might with, say, a dedicated console game like Fallout 4 or Destiny 2.
The limitations: The device itself is the biggest limitation here. Touchscreen controls need to be simple or run the risk of being infuriating and while smartphones are definitely powerful, there are still limits to what can be done in terms of processing power in a device small enough to go in your pocket. That's especially true if your phone is an older or lower cost model, where the processor might not be powerful enough to handle the more demanding mobile titles.
And we haven't even got to battery life yet, because the pressure of running high intensity games can sap your phone's battery like no other activity can.
Why we love it: A handheld, or portable, gaming console is a dedicated bit of kit that exists purely to entertain you with quality gaming. These are all in one devices that give you access to quality gaming no matter where you are and the games on offer are as varied as the games you'll find on a home console or PC.
The dedicated hardware is the main point of different from mobile gaming and this includes some very clever controls. The PlayStation Vita, as just one example, offers two thumbsticks, a d-pad and four-button combo, shoulder bumpers and even a rear touch-sensitive panel to complement the touchscreen. This means that game design teams have a lot more latitude when it comes to the complexity of the interface.
Right now, Nintendo has five handheld consoles available: the 2DS, the 2DS XL, the 3DS, the 3DS XL and the Switch. The first four are dual-screen consoles that differ a little in design, size and a pricing, ranging from around $150 up to $250.
The Nintendo Switch is a different beast indeed. It's a handheld console that can also be played on your home TV with either the attached controls or a more familiar looking Bluetooth controller. It's also currently going to set you back around $470 standalone, although it's also common to see games bundled in with the Switch from various retailers.
But these are handheld consoles that you can really sink your teeth into. Nintendo Switch exclusive title Zelda: Breath of the Wild can easily take you 50 hours just to complete the main story line. Not bad for a game that can easily be slipped into a bag and taken with you.
The Limitations: As we noted before, you're spending anywhere from $150 to $470 and that's just for the hardware. From there most games start a $50 and go up from there. The expense is the big commitment with these devices.
Also, let's be honest, it's another device to remember to charge, to pack and to worry about losing with just one single function, where your mobile device is also your phone, social media hub, camera and portal to the Web.