How to find the best gaming console for you in 2023
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There is no such thing as the “best game console,” but figuring out which one is right for you is more in reach. There are seven systems that you could reasonably call “current gen,” and others, such as Valve’s Steam Deck, further muddying the waters. Engadget staffers play games on pretty much every console you can think of, and a few that you might not have thought about for a very long time.
For some, nothing but the highest-specced system will do; others just need the cheapest way to play the latest games; maybe you value portability over everything; or maybe you haven’t played in years and are looking for a system for your family to enjoy together. There are endless use-cases for a games console, and that’s why we’ve put together this article.
We’ve reviewed and evaluated every console in here, some more than once, and tried to categorize the “best gaming console” for specific needs. You’ll find 10 picks in here, with all of the big players represented, and two best “high-end consoles,” each for different reasons. We hope by the end of this guide, you’ll be much closer to deciding on the perfect console for you.
Best high-end console: PS5
The PlayStation 5 delivers the most stunning graphics and seamless performance of any current-gen gaming console. Sony stuck with the traditional hardware-upgrade cycle for the PS5, significantly improving processing power and visual fidelity over the previous generation, and introducing a new gamepad packed with immersion mechanics. The DualSense, Sony’s latest controller, is a standout feature: It offers intense and precise haptic feedback along the grips, and has adaptive triggers, meaning tension in the R2 and L2 buttons changes as players equip various weapons and tools. This is something that the Xbox Series consoles simply don’t have.
Meanwhile, the PS5 offers a library of console exclusives including God of War: Ragnarök, Returnal, the Demon’s Souls remake, Insomniac’s Spider-Man series, every The Last of Us game and re-release, and a litany of Final Fantasy titles. PlayStation Plus Premium, the highest tier of Sony’s monthly subscription service, adds cloud streaming, freebies and a catalog of games to download at any time. Premium costs $18 a month or $120 annually, and there are cheaper tiers with fewer perks in the Plus ecosystem.
The PS5 may look a little funny sitting next to your TV, but truly, it’s what’s inside that counts. And hey, that’s why companies like dbrand exist. – Jessica Conditt, Senior Reporter
Best high-end console: Xbox Series X
The Xbox Series X is the most powerful gaming console on the market, and together with a Game Pass subscription it gives you an almost endless library of titles to dive into (including launch-day Microsoft releases). While we’d still like to see more exclusives on Xbox, there are major titles on the horizon like Starfield, Redfall and the revamped Forza Motor Sport. PC gamers may also appreciate cross-purchases between Windows and Xbox titles, as well as the ability to stream games from the cloud using Game Pass. Sure, Sony still has a stranglehold on big-budget narrative games, but the sheer wealth of offerings on Microsoft’s platforms — including small indies, classic franchises and a ton of great games via EA Play (included with Game Pass for PCs and Ultimate) — is staggering.
It used to be that you’d have to stick with the same console all of your friends are using, but these days the availability of cross-play multiplayer on most titles makes that consideration moot. If you want to play Call of Duty with your friends, it doesn’t really matter if you get an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5. So the best advice now? Base your choice on the exclusives you’d like to play, as well as the potential subscription benefits. If you want to see where Master Chief goes next, or are just tired of paying full price for first-party games and some indies, you’ll probably be happiest with a Series X and Game Pass. – Devindra Hardawar, Senior Reporter
Best budget console: Xbox Series S + Game Pass
The Xbox Series S packs enough power to play the latest and greatest games, but it truly shines as a semi-portable Game Pass machine. The Series S is a disc-less, compact console that typically costs $300, though it’s frequently on sale for $250 to $270. This little rectangular baby can play games at resolutions higher than 1080p, though it won’t hit 4K, and it’s less powerful overall than the Series X. The Series S also has less storage space than its big sibling, and this is its main drawback.
That’s where Game Pass comes in. A Game Pass Ultimate subscription unlocks cloud streaming on the Series S (as well as PC and mobile devices), allowing players to dive into a large library without downloading anything. Game Pass Ultimate is $15 a month, with the first month for $1. Microsoft has the most reliable cloud network in the business and it’s committed to releasing all of its big new Xbox Game Studios titles on Game Pass day-one. Sony has yet to make such a promise with in-house launches on PlayStation Plus.
Even without Game Pass, the Series S is the cheapest way to participate in the Xbox console ecosystem and it’ll play every game the Series X can. You might just have to delete downloads as you go. – J.C.
Best for local multiplayer: Nintendo Switch
It’s a pity that the rise of online multiplayer meant the death of local options for most gaming consoles — that is, except for the Nintendo Switch. Chalk it up to Nintendo’s legacy: It’s a company that’s always prioritized the simple beauty of playing with your friends and family on the couch. Be it four players racing against each other locally in Mario Kart, or diving into an assortment of mini-games in Mario Party, you can have a blast using a single Switch hooked up to a TV. It’s a cinch to connect other controllers to let your friends join — something they’ll likely have on-hand if they have their own Switch. And since it’s a portable console, you can always play against others over local networks, giving you the beauty of being together with friends while also having your own private screen. Just try doing that with a PS5. – D.H.
Best couch portable: Valve Steam Deck
The idea of a portable console that’s primarily used at home might feel counterintuitive, but this is actually how a lot of people prefer to play games, and the Steam Deck helped prove it. The Steam Deck came out in February 2022 and quickly emerged as a popular PC portable for people who wanted to spend time away from their desks, but not their Steam libraries. It’s a chunky handheld gaming console with dual analog sticks and trackpads; standard face buttons, bumpers and triggers; four rear clickers, and a 7-inch LCD touchscreen. It’s big and strangely beautiful, and plays most PC games just fine.
The Steam Deck starts at $400 and tops out at $650, making it relatively affordable in the world of PC portables. The Steam Deck is a little too big and battery-sucking to be a must-have carry-on while traveling, but it’s perfect for cuddling on the couch – with a supportive pillow and power outlet nearby. – J.C.
Best for first time gamers: Nintendo Switch Lite
Nintendo has a history of making tank-like portable consoles, and the Switch Lite is no exception. It’s just as fast as its larger sibling, but since it has integrated controls, you won’t have to worry about any Joy-cons flying away if it’s dropped. The Switch Lite’s 5.5-inch screen and smaller frame always makes it easier for tiny hands to hold, something I’ve found particularly useful as my four-year-old daughter is finally getting into games. There’s a wide variety of child-friendly content available on the Switch, but we’d recommend diving into the classic of library Nintendo titles via the console’s online service. Kids will ultimately figure out Minecraft on their own, but it’s up to the older generation to instill the value of proper platforming with Super Mario Bros. 3. – D.H.
Best for commuting: Nintendo Switch Lite
The Switch Lite is by far the cutest handheld gaming console on the market today and this is just one reason it’s ideal for use in public. The Switch Lite is a tiny, lightweight handheld with a 5.5 inch LCD touchscreen and basic gamepad buttons, and it’s sold in a variety of colorways and special editions. It feels natural to pull out while on the bus, riding the subway, in a waiting room, or just hanging out at a cafe, bar or park. It’s a low-profile portable that offers a library of engaging games from Nintendo and beyond, including exclusive franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Mario Kart, Smash Bros., Bayonetta, Animal Crossing and Kirby.
In comparison to the standard Switch, the Lite model is sturdier for everyday commutes because it doesn’t have detachable controllers and it takes up less space in your bag. It’s also about $150 cheaper than the larger Switch, at $200. – J.C.
Best for air travel: Nintendo Switch
The Switch’s hardware may be showing its age, but it’s still the best way to get some gaming in during long flights. Having a 6.2-inch screen (or 7-inches with the pricier Switch OLED) in your hands makes it easy to ignore annoying seat neighbors, countless delays and all of the other indignities of air travel. The Switch should also survive for several hours of gameplay, and it’s easy to charge for longer journeys. While the Steam Deck may be tempting, it’s also so large it’ll likely fill up much of your backpack. The Switch can still fit alongside your computer and other gear, and its game library is so vast, you’ll never be left wanting for things to play. – D.H.
Best handheld gaming console for nostalgia: Retroid Pocket 3
The Retroid Pocket 3 is an accessible, streamlined emulation machine that’s capable of handling games from the sixth generation down – that’s anything up to the GameCube and PlayStation 2. It can even run some PSP games, apparently, but at this point, you’re just getting greedy. The Retroid Pocket 3 brings classics like Super Mario RPG, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy IX and so many others to modern audiences, and they all look better than ever.
What’s more, the Retroid Pocket 3 is an Android-based handheld gaming console, which means it also works as a hub for cloud streaming through services like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. This little device is tinier than a Switch Lite and it has a 4.7 inch LCD touchscreen – that’s smaller than Nintendo’s latest handheld but bigger than the screen of a classic Game Boy, for what it’s worth. What’s most astonishing about the Retroid Pocket 3 is its price: just $150. – J.C.
Best console with a large game streaming library: Xbox Series X (or S)
For console gamers, Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription has been a revelation. For $10 a month, you can play hundreds of games, including all of Microsoft’s first-party software, as well as major titles like Monster Hunter Rise and A Plague Tale Requiem. Even better, Microsoft-owned titles are available the day they’re released! Bump up to the $15 Game Pass Ultimate tier and you’ll also get access to cloud gaming, which lets you stream select titles to your phone, computer and even some TVs. The sheer variety of content on Game Pass makes it hard to stomach paying full price for a game ever again.
Sony’s response to Game Pass amounts to an evolution of its PlayStation Plus service. Its highest-tier “Premium” offering costs $18 a month, and it also gives you access to a large library of titles and cloud streaming. But, Sony isn’t adding first-party titles to any PS Plus tier the day they launch — you’ll either have to pay full price, or wait until they get added to the rotation. Until Sony caves, having release day access to titles makes Game Pass the obviously better subscription service. – D.H.