Eighth generation handheld games consoles have been around longer than the same generation of video games consoles. With the video games consoles the battle for dominance of the 8th generation is mostly between Microsoft and Sony, with Microsoft possibly just ahead. Nintendo is way behind the others, with their offering, the Wii U, being both older and less capable than the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

It is a rather different picture when it comes to handheld consoles. Nintendo is pretty much winning here against Sony, and Microsoft is (currently) not even in the picture as they do not even manufacture a handheld console. Whether or not that will change in the future is another question, but it does seem unlikely given the current state of the handheld market. There are also a number of other handhelds by other manufacturers, just like with the games consolesNintendo 3DS XLCredit: Amazon.

Handhelds, like traditional game consoles but to an even greater extent, are suffering from competition from other portable devices such as smartphones and tablets. The problem handheld consoles face is that these mobile devices have a large overlap between what they are capable of and what handheld consoles can do. The hardware of handheld consoles, in particular how they are built, may be specifically designed for game playing, but that is becoming less relevant.

Nintendo DS Consoles

Nintendo's DS (Dual Screen or Developer's System) series has been around since 2004 when the Nintendo DS itself, a seventh generation handheld console, went on sale. The total number of DS consoles purchased, of all systems, is slightly behind the PlayStation 2 games console. The three latest consoles have a fair amount of backwards compatibility with software from the DS and DSi, although they are no longer compatible with software that required the use of the Gameboy Advance Port seen on earlier systems, which itself allowed backwards compatibility with Gameboy Advance games. This means that buying a new console doesn't make an existing games library worthless; quite a significant benefit when the price of new games is considered.

As well as that, the consoles are compatible with DSiWare as well as some GameBoy, GameBoy Color, Sega Game Gear, Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis games using Nintendo's Virtual Console available from their eShop which functions as an emulator for some of the older games. Each of the DS consoles features two displays, one of which is a touch screen. Both of the 3DS models work with the Wii and Wii U games consoles with certain games

The various DS models have a number of preloaded applications, including third party ones such as Netflix and Hulu Plus which are available by paid subscription. All three consoles have 1GB in internal flash memory and will take external memory cards of three different types; 128 GB SDXC, 32 GB SDHC or 2 GB SD.

As well as a front facing 0.3 megapixel camera there are two rear facing cameras, which can take 3D pictures. All the models feature a dual core processor.

Nintendo 3DS

Nintendo 3DS Cosmo Black - Nintendo 3DS
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Nintendo's 3DS is the oldest of the 8th generation DS consoles, and the oldest of all the 8th generation handheld consoles, being released in February 2011.

The top screen of the two on the device features autostereoscopic 3D that does not require glasses, and the bottom one is a 2D touchscreen.

Nintendo 3DS XL

Nintendo 3DS XL Black/Black - Nintendo 3DS XL
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The 3DS is also available in an improved and larger XL version which was released in July 2012. This is the heaviest of the major handheld consoles. Apart from some tweaking and improvements, including an increase in size, this is overall very similar to the original 3DS.

Nintendo 2DS

Nintendo 2DS - Electric Blue
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The 2DS is the latest model of the DS family (briefly, and a bit inaccurately, promoted in the UK as being a member of the 3DS family) being released in October 2013. It is the cheapest of the series and is considered to be an entry-level console.

It lacks the 3D capability that the 3DS models boast, and also has a different design; the other two use a clamshell design, allowing them to be folded up, whilst the 2DS is a slate design which does not fold. The ability to fold the other consoles in half provides an additional measure of protection for their screens and controls that this model lacks.

The console is poorer in most respects, befitting its' cheaper price, and is apparently targeting young children under seven as its' primary market, as it is not recommended for children of that age to use a stereoscopic 3D display.

The 2DS is significantly cheaper than the other DS models and the PS Vitas, but there is otherwise not much to recommend it unless you are purchasing one for a young child. It also only has a mono speaker, and the 3DS models and the PS Vitas have stereo.

PlayStation Vita Consoles

The successor to Sony's PlayStation Portable, the PlayStation Vita comes in two models. Like the 3DS, the PS Vita will work, with certain selected games, with Sony's games consoles, the PS3 and PS4. There is some backwards compatibility with PlayStation Portable and PlayStation One games that are available digitally through the PlayStation Store.

The PS Vita has slightly better connectivity options in some models than the DS, and has a quad core processor.

External memory on the Vita is done using proprietary memory cards in 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64 GB sizes, none of which are included unless they are added in a bundle. The unfortunate use of proprietary memory means that you can't use any existing memory card you have lying around. There seems to be no very good reason for doing it this way, other than being able to sell the customer something else that they will need.

Rather than the two separate displays seen in the DS models, the Vita has a single, larger touchscreen display. Like the DS, the Vitas come with a number of preloaded applications, although these seem to be more Sony branded than Nintendo's.

They come with front and rear facing 0.3 megapixel cameras.

PCH-1000 Series

PlayStation Vita (PlayStation vita) Wi-Fi model Crystal Black (PCH-1000 ZA01)japan import
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Released in December 2011, this has no internal memory. It comes in Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + 3G variants.

PCH-2000 Series

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The October 2013 released PS Vita has 1GB in internal flash memory, but otherwise features minor upgrades to the system.

PlayStation Vita TV

PlayStation Vita TV (VTE-1000AB01) (Japan Imported)
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This is not a handheld console, but is in fact a microconsole variant of the PS Vita. It connects to HDMI televisions like traditional video games consoles, rather than using a built in display, and controlled using Sony's DualShock 3 and 4 controllers.

The console has access to a selection of games from the PS Vita, PS Portable, PlayStation and PC Engine digital titles. This should be considered to be a low-cost video games console.

Other Handheld Consoles

As well as the main consoles made by Sony and Nintendo, a number of other companies have their own ones out. These are the Archos GamePad and upcoming GamePad 2, Tommo's Neo Geo X, JXD's JXD S7800, Wikpad, Inc.'s Wikipad and Nvidia's Shield.

With the exception of the Neo Geo X, which runs on Linux, the other handhelds use Google's Android operating system. Production of the Neo-Geo X was effectively terminated after less than a year.

The Android consoles can usually run games that are generally available on the Android platform, which does raise the question of whether there is any point buying a console when there are tablets and smartphones running variants of the same system, with to a large extent the same games. The primary difference is that the handheld Android consoles are designed to play games, and are set up with traditional gaming controls such as buttons, control pads and analogue sticks.

Which to Buy?

Overall, Nintendo is ahead with good reason, although the 2DS, the latest, is a fairly poor console. The PS Vita has an apparent edge in hardware, with more powerful processors and better memory, but the proprietary memory cards is a letdown.

The 3DS XL is probably a better buy, given, amongst other things, the greater number of consoles, giving more choice for local (not over the internet) multi-player games. There have been more units of the DS's game Super Mario 3D Land shipped than have PS Vita models,

Should you be planning on an eight generation handheld, therefore, consider the 3DS XL. There may not be a ninth generation handheld, as other mobile devices continue to eat away at their market.