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(Pocket-lint) - Ever since Apple introduced the first iPod touch naysayers have been prophesying the imminent death of dedicated handheld games consoles. However, Nintendo and Sony have managed to stay the course, selling millions of their devices regardless of the increased competition.

Yes, iPhones and other smartphones on the market are capable portable games machines in their own right, but ask a true gamer what they would prefer to grasp firmly in their hands and they'll point towards a 3DS or PlayStation Vita.

And with Nintendo soon to bring the latest iterations of its 3DS consoles to the UK and US, instead of diminishing in popularity, handheld gaming could be about to enter another growth period.

Here are some reasons as to why.

1. Physical buttons and thumbsticks

One of the most important elements for true gamers is the ability to control the action on the screen without having to constantly peer down at the buttons. Play any action game on a phone, for example, and you'll often find yourself doing just that.

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Without a physical button or thumbstick controller you have no immediate reference point as to where your fingers are resting on the screen. In addition, there is no feedback as to how far you are moving them so you can't quite tell whether you are sliding them too far or even enough.

In a frantic battle or race, this could mean the difference between winning or losing.

2. Dedicated hardware

Handheld games consoles are naturally built specifically for gaming, so will invariably have a dedicated graphics chip to keep things running smoothly. There are other features too, such as the 3D screens on the 3DS XL and 3DS that add a different type of experience, especially on the new versions of each where the effect is much improved.

Dedicated handheld consoles are also ergonomically designed to sit in your hands properly when gaming. A smartphone is designed first and foremost as a phone.

READ: New Nintendo 3DS XL hands-on: Finally glasses-free 3D that works

3. The games, of course

The biggest reason we can give as to why a 3DS or Vita is a better portable device for gaming lies with the games themselves. While there are some excellent titles out there for tablets and smartphones, some of which able to rival or even better games for the Vita or 3DS when it comes to graphical presentation, none of them have quite the same allure as Super Mario 3D Land or Tearaway.

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Admittedly, games on the handheld consoles are often considerably more expensive than those available on iTunes, Google Play, Windows Store or other app stores. However, they more than make up for it with depth and immersion.

Games on mobile devices are generally designed to be played on the tube or bus on the way to work, keeping things simple and casual – at least the most popular ones anyway. But while there are plenty of cheaper, casual games on the handheld consoles too, they are more designed to be played when the living room console is not available.

4. Free-to-play and the lack thereof

One of the other elements of gaming that now dominates the app market is the free-to-play (or freemium) pay model. Although some games still charge to download, such as the mobile version of Minecraft, most of the biggest titles are free with extra content – sometimes essential content – only available for an additional fee.

Quite often these days, smartphone and tablet games charge for the initial download and still push in-app purchases at you until the cows come home.

While it is not always the case, more often than not you get the whole game for one initial fee on Vita or 3DS. That's surely preferable regardless of the initial outlay being more expensive?

READ: Sony PS Vita Slim review

5. Back catalogue

Both Nintendo and Sony offer a vast back catalogue of retro games for their respective handheld consoles. And considering each company's legacy that increases the number of top drawer games available for them dramatically.

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If you didn't catch the classics, such as the Gameboy Zelda games or the original WipEout for PSOne, you have an ideal opportunity here. We'd still put them up against any of the most popular games for other devices.

6. Nintendo

And finally, Nintendo! The Japanese gaming giant is so adept at making the most playable games on the planet that unless it finally decides to develop for iPhone, Android or the rest, the only place to play them when on the move is on a 3DS or 2DS. That is reason enough to own one.


It must be said that we love playing games on our phones and tablets. And some manufacturers have put extra effort into making that experience appeal to hardcore gamers like ourselves – just look at Nvidia's excellent Shield Tablet. But nothing quite compares to having a dedicated games console in your hands and console-quality games to play on it.

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Rather than replace handheld gaming devices, it can be argued that smartphones and tablets have introduced an all-new audience to the concept of gaming on the go, and once hooked, a Vita or 3DS is the next step.

Writing by Rik Henderson.