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Best portable gaming device 2016: Nvidia Shield Tablet vs New Nintendo 3DS vs Sony PS Vita Slim

We compare the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1, New Nintendo 3DS and Sony PS Vita Slim to work out which is the best portable gaming experience for you in 2016…

Ever since the original GameBoy smashed its way onto shelves a shocking 25 years ago, the world has taken its gaming on the go. From bashing Bowser while you empty your bowels, to catching all of them Pokemons as you train it to work, portable games consoles let us get our fix in every spare moment when we can’t cosy up on the sofa.

In 2016, the portable console battle is so far taking place between three devices - the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1, the New Nintendo 3DS and the Sony PS Vita Slim. That said, there are always rival portable gaming devices, like the awesome nostalgia-spewing ZX Spectrum Vega+.

So, which of these three on-the-go games machines is best for you? Check out our full comparison review.

Nvidia Shield Tablet vs New Nintendo 3DS vs Sony PS Vita at a glance

Gaming device Nvidia Shield Tablet K1 New Nintendo 3DS Sony PS Vita Slim
Price of hardware £149 plus controller £149 £149
Weight 390g 230g 219g
Screen size 8-inch 3.53-inch, 3.02-inch 5-inch
Screen resolution 1920x1200 800x240, 320x240 950x540
Cameras 5MP, 5MP 0.3MP 1.3MP, 1.3MP
Storage 16/32GB + memory card Memory card (4GB included) 1GB + memory card

Which gaming console is the most portable?

All three devices here are designed to be portable gaming machines, although the Nvidia Shield Tablet does take a bit of work. It’s a tablet first and foremost and perfectly light and compact which makes it ideal for touchscreen games. However, when you need precise controls for your action titles and anything fast-paced, you’ll want to hook up Nvidia’s wireless controller.

That’s all well and good if you’re sat on a train or somewhere else where you can prop up the tablet (a magnetised case is available which does the job nicely). However, if you’re crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with other commuters, you’re a bit stuffed.

The New Nintendo 3DS and Sony PS Vita are your best friends in confined spaces or when you’re stuck without a seat. All of the physical controls are housed on the device itself, so as long as you’ve got a little elbow room, you can comfortably play in pretty much any conditions.

All three devices are easy enough to slip into a bag, with suitably slender form factors. Of course, with the Shield Tablet you’ll also have to factor in the controller, if you’re not just playing touch screen games.

As for battery life, all three devices deliver around three to four hours of non-stop gaming per charge. Not ideal if you’re on a journey across the Atlantic or some other massive commute, although you can always carry a micro USB portable charger with you, which can keep the PS Vita Slim or Nvidia Shield Tablet topped up.

Which device has the best games?

This is entirely subjective of course, but I’ll offer my own opinions and you can obviously rip them apart in the comments below.

When it comes to versatility (as well as value), the Nvidia Shield Tablet is the best for games overall. For a start, you can download and play any Android game on the Google Play store, with hundreds of thousands of titles available. Then there’s the ability to stream PC games from your home computer via Steam, which means you can chill on your sofa or in bed and play the likes of Borderlands or Titanfall.

Even more impressive is Nvidia’s free-to-play GeForce Now service, which allows you to stream games from the cloud. The selection of games available is constantly growing and the service is incredibly slick, even over a not-so-great network - check out our full GeForce Now review for more info.

The Nintendo 3DS has the most appeal for younger audiences, with most games sporting kiddie-friendly certificates (you’re unlikely to hear the F-word or see any sinful flesh in a 3DS game) as well as colourful, cartoony graphics. But that isn’t to say Nintendo’s console is only for kids. The likes of Super Mario 3D Land, Smash Bros and Zelda are a joy to play no matter what age you are.

And ‘mature’ titles do exist - just check out the slightly disturbing Senran Kagura Burst, which allows you to blow on the 3DS’ mic to push up the female characters’ skirts. Uck.

This cover shot should tell you everything you need to know...

But if you’re all about the graphics, then the Nvidia Shield Tablet and the PS Vita Slim are your best bets. The PS Vita sports several impressive handheld titles that make the most of the hardware, with the likes of Borderlands 2 and Injustice Gods Among Us looking blooming lovely. However, Sony’s LCD screen isn’t as gloriously crisp and vibrant as the Nvidia Shield’s beautiful 8-inch Full HD panel, while the Tegra K1 in the Shield can handle all kinds of awesome graphical effects.

There’s a decent-sized collection of titles for the PS Vita now, with something for everyone. Action games are well represented (and play well thanks to the dual thumbsticks), while nostalgia fans will get a kick from the likes of the Metal Gear Solid and God of War collections. And of course Sony has its online store, which contains a decent selection of downloadable titles.

Like the Nvidia Shield Tablet, you can also stream games from another device - this time your PlayStation 4, using PS Remote Play. However, streaming isn’t as slick as with the Nvidia Shield Tablet, with occasional bouts of lag. Even Nvidia’s GRID service operates with less latency than Sony’s Remote Play, which just has to stream games from one room of your house to another.

Which console has the best controls?

All three portable devices are surprisingly versatile, offering a range of control methods for your games.

The Nvidia Shield Tablet is ideal for touchscreen titles, thanks to the spacious and responsive 8-inch display. However, the wireless controller is also a wonder for your action titles, with zero latency and a surprisingly long battery life. It’s easily as comfortable to handle as the likes of the Xbox One gamepad and features a full set of controls, including a volume rocker and even a mini touchpad.

Nintendo’s latest 3DS also rocks a touchscreen, albeit a much smaller 3-inch effort. However, most games use the larger 3.5-inch display above the touchscreen for general gameplay, with the touchscreen used as a control panel.

That 3D gimmick means that the 3DS has a fair few third-person action titles on it, which always controlled a little awkwardly with the original console’s single thumbstick. Hence, the New Nintendo 3DS comes packing a second thumbstick - or rather, a nipply nubbin thing that you can use in supported games to change the camera angle. It’s a slightly awkward control setup and not as smooth as the PS Vita’s, but it does its job when needed.

The PS Vita is built with fast-paced gaming in mind, designed like a flattened gamepad complete with dual thumbsticks and everything else you’d expect. However, the display is also touch-compatible and Sony has even thrown in a rear touch panel which can be used in a handful of compatible games. These features aren’t used much or at all in the majority of games sadly, so feel more like an afterthought.

What about other features?

If you want an all-round media machine to take on the go, then it’s no contest. The Nvidia Shield Tablet is the winner.

Not only does it sport the best display here for enjoying HD movies - it’s the sharpest and also the most spacious - but you can also stream TV and movies from any service that’s Android compatible, including Netflix. There’s an HDMI port too, so you can hook up to your massive telly when you’re kicking back at home.

The PS Vita Slim offers a range of apps, although not nearly as many as the Shield, which has full Google Play access. Still, there’s everything you’d expect, including media players, social networks and plenty of ways to get online and chat with mates.

Nintendo’s baby offers the most kiddie-friendly experience, with an easy set-up process and plenty of tutorials to help young ‘uns get the most from their new console. There are plenty of cool features packed in too, such as the ability to create your own Mii persona and socialise with other 3DS gamers using StreetPass.

And just try not to grin like an idiot when you play with the AR feature, which pops Nintendo characters into existence right in front of you.

All three devices also come packing cameras. Naturally, the 3DS can take 3D snaps, although they’ll end up blurry if your subject’s moving around and the results are too low-res to be of much use. The Vita and the Shield can be used to take general social snaps or chat over the interwebs with your mates, but not much more.

I’m a wee bit skint, so which is best for me?

The final thing to consider in Nvidia Shield Tablet vs New Nintendo 3DS vs PS Vita Slim is also one of the most important, if your savings account is running a little dry: how much will each console cost me?

Well, the initial outlay for all three devices is the same; roughly £149 depending on which retailer you go to, although you’ll also have to buy a charger for the 3DS if you don’t own one already.

However, if you go for the Shield then you'll ideally need to fork out another £50 or so for the controller, giving a greater initial outlay. The flip side is that the Shield Tablet will cost you very little once you’ve bagged the hardware. You can pick up the latest and greatest Android games for pocket change, while massive Nvidia exclusives such as Half Life 2 only cost a few quid. And the GeForce Now service gives you a strong selection of PC-quality games for a small monthly fee.

And if you’re streaming games from your PC to your Nvidia Shield Tablet, we recommend stocking up on games during Steam’s regular sales. Over Christmas, for instance, we picked up collector’s editions of top titles like X-COM and Bioshock Infinite for under a fiver.

Compare that with the Nintendo 3DS, where games rarely drop in value. Nintendo’s first-party titles such as Mario World 3DS still sell for over £30 despite their age and even in sales they rarely dip below £20. Even the games on Nintendo’s online store are ridiculously expensive. Re-releases of ancient NES and SNES games will set you back a fiver, while Angry Birds: Star Wars - which costs sweet FA on Android - is an eye-watering £30.

PS Vita games tend to be more respectably priced, with big hits generally selling for around £15-£20. You can usually find older games for under a tenner and if you spunk out for a PlayStation Plus membership (£5.49 a month), you’ll get two free games every month to download and play for as long as you want (as long as you’re still a member).

Verdict

So, which of these three sexy portable gaming machines is best for you?

Well, if the steep initial cost and fact that you need to prop up the screen aren’t issues for you, then the Nvidia Shield Tablet is an overwhelmingly powerful and versatile gaming machine. You can hook it up to your TV and blast through the latest games like a home console, then when it’s time to bugger off, just disconnect and take on the road. And although the upfront cost is a bit more if you grab the controller too, the games are much cheaper to make up for it.

Kids are more likely to be wowed by the Nintendo 3DS with its 3D gimmick and family-friendly features, helped along by an abundance of tutorials and easy set-up. Games are expensive however and the cartoony visual style and tiny second thumbstick are unlikely to impress any ‘hardcore’ action gamers who demand slick graphics and an experience more in tune with the latest home consoles. For those people, we recommend taking a look at the PS Vita Slim instead.

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