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Handheld Games Console Buyer’s Guide

Since Nintendo took handheld gaming to the masses with its Game Boy in the 1980s, playing the latest titles on the move has become increasingly popular.

Mobile or portable gaming is now big business, whether it’s using your phone, a tablet computer such as the iPad or a specific handheld machine like the Nintendo 3DS.

It can help pass the time on the train, while waiting for an appointment and let’s face it; it’s also a great way to keep the kids quiet on long journeys.

Today’s options are a long way from old monochrome and black and white systems and feature colour graphics, much of which is nearly as good as those produced by home consoles, and even 3D.

Below we take you through the most common choices so you can buy the system that most suits your needs. If you’re looking for a home console such as the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360 or Nintendo Wii, then read our buying guide to games consoles.

What handheld consoles are there?

The main four handheld systems are the PlayStation Portable (PSP), the Nintendo DSi or DSi XL and the Nintendo 3DS. Each runs off a rechargeable battery allowing it to be used anywhere.

The PSP-3000 model has a 4.3-inch screen, built-in stereo speakers and it uses Universal Media Discs (UMDs) that slot in to the device and contain each game. It also has Wi-Fi on board allowing you to connect to the internet.

A new PlayStation handheld called the PSVita, which features a touchscreen, hard drive and internet gaming is due out next year.

Nintendo’s DS handheld consoles each boast two screens, one that works by touch using your finger or a stylus and one normal display. The recently launched 3DS features graphics shown in 3D.

How do I decide which handheld is best for me?

The PSP is primarily aimed at an older, more hardcore gamer and is more popular with men. Like the home consoles, some games will be specific to it, mainly those designed by its maker Sony.

The DSi and 3DS are suited to any type of player of any age but in recent years have become extremely popular with women and more casual older gamers thanks to the success of titles such as Brain Training.

The range of games available for the Nintendo DSi is by far the largest with a massive selection of titles made solely for the platform by Nintendo.

Like with the Nintendo Wii, these include many featuring classic Nintendo characters such as Mario, Donkey Kong and Link from The Legend of Zelda.

The Nintendo 3DS, released in early 2011, has fewer specific 3D games right now but it will play any title made for any DSi or older DS model.

What other differences are there between the Nintendo DSi handhelds?

The Nintendo DSi XL boasts two large 4.2-inch screens while the displays on the normal DSi are only 3.25-inch each. The XL version is also naturally larger and so is 100g heavier.

Both feature a small camera lens built-in to take pictures, an SD card slot for saving game information plus music and photos and have Wi-Fi on-board to play against family and friends online. This wireless internet connection also allows you to download games from the DSi Shop.

According to Nintendo, with the lowest brightness setting for the screen, the DSi will give 9-14 hours of battery life while the DSi XL offers 13-17 hours.

Each come in a range of different colours, have a microphone, offer PictoChat to exchange text messages and drawings with other DS users and a simple web browser.

What about the Nintendo 3DS?

The Nintendo 3DS is the latest handheld console from Nintendo and its main difference is obviously the ability to display graphics in 3D. This is unlike any other handheld console available.

3D graphics however are not suitable for children under seven due to their vision not being suitably formed at that age.

However, the 3DS incorporates a sliding button that can turn off 3D images and simply show them in 2D. It will also play all former DS titles along with the limited but growing number of 3D ones.

The 3DS has stereo speakers, Wi-Fi, a large wide-screen 3D display and smaller touchscreen plus a microphone.

It also has motion and gyro sensors to allow movement of the machine to control actions in a game while two cameras allow you to snap pictures, including in 3D.

Two other great features of the Nintendo 3DS are SpotPass and StreetPass, which allow owners to wirelessly exchange game information with other DS owners simply by walking past them or with hotspots placed in certain locations.

How do I play against friends?

Both the PSP and DS models can be linked up wirelessly to play against friends who own the same console. You can also log onto online services to have multiplayer gaming with people across the world.

Can I play games on my mobile phone or tablet?

The arrival of the Apple iPhone, Apple iPad and Apple iPod touch along with Android mobile phone handsets offer a whole new level of mobile gaming.

Games are downloaded over the internet direct to the device and cost far less than buying a cartridge or disc for the PSP or DS.

But these are not dedicated games machines and while the titles available often have great graphics, they may not have the same depth or length of gameplay as on a standalone handheld console.

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