Which HANDHELD games console should I get my kids for Christmas?

Are you fed up of handing your children your phone every five minutes to keep them quiet playing Angry Birds? Would you like to send a text message without having to wade through a hundred notifications that their pet monster is needing fed? Do you go to make a call, only to discover the battery has been used up by kids watching cute cats on YouTube?

If so, you clearly need to buy them their own portable gadgets. Hot on the heels of my guide as to which games console to connect to your TV, here are a few quick pointers on which handheld games console might be right for your family.

I'm going to keep it quick because there are so many options. This might seem a bizarre tactic but almost every portable gizmo plays games these days. If I went into the pros and cons of all of them, we'd be here all year.

Dedicated games machine or tablet computer?

First off, you need to decide what kind of thing you're after. Something that's mainly for playing games (like a Nintendo 3DS) or something that could also be potentially used to help with homework (like an iPad).

A dedicated games machine has better games and controls but the games are much more expensive. Tablets have a near-infinite supply of cheap (or even free) games to download, most of which aren't very good or are difficult to control using only a touchscreen. On the other hand, tablets are much better for things like watching movies or surfing the internet. Very young children will also get on better with the kind of simple, touchscreen games which are available on tablets.

One big advantage of the dedicated games machines is that they won't get superseded quickly. Buy a 3DS today and it will still play the latest games in three year's time. Buy anything but the most expensive tablet and it may already struggle with newer releases.
Dedicated games machines (with buttons and everything!)

Nintendo 3DS - The current portable home of Mario and Pok√©mon. The console itself isn't too expensive but the games are £30 a time which quickly adds up. Games can be viewed in 3D without glasses but this adds nothing to gameplay and most people turn the effect off pretty quickly. The 3DS plays nearly all DS games so it has a vast back catalogue. The 3DS XL is like a 3DS but bigger - for those with large hands or poor eyesight. (Stupidly, the XL doesn't come with a charger. Grr.)

Nintendo 2DS - Like a 3DS but without the option of viewing things in 3D (which is no great loss). The 2DS also doesn't fold shut, taking away the structural weak point of a hinge but meaning it's harder to store. A little cheaper.

PlayStation Vita - A wonderful console. More powerful than the 3DS and with a better screen and better buttons. The selection of games is limited, though, and you'll almost certainly need to buy a memory card to store online purchases. Many old PlayStation Portable titles are available in the online shop.

By taking out a PlayStation Plus subscription you get two free games a month to download and play for as long as you're a subscriber. This is great but you'll definitely need to buy a very large memory card. (Also, many of the games aren't suitable for younger children.)

As a bonus, it will be possible to play games running on a linked PlayStation 4 using the controls and screen of a Vita. Handy if someone else wants to use the telly.

3DS/2DS or Vita?

Both are brilliant in their own way. The selection of games makes the 3DS/2DS a better bet for children. At the moment, the Vita is more of a niche product for avid adult gamers.

Tablet devices

Apple Devices e.g. iPad or iPod Touch - Intuitive and well-built but expensive. The lack of an SD card slot to increase the storage memory is particularly irksome. If you go for the cheapest model, it will quickly fill up with apps and music.

Android Devices e.g. Google Nexus, Kindle Fire, Nook HD - Often much better value for money than Apple devices but the available options will make your head hurt. The selection of games is smaller than in the iStore but there's still plenty there. My eleven-year-old has managed to play a Nook HD fairly constantly for six weeks without paying a penny for software.

The Nexus has the most raw power. The Kindle is close but is rather too tied into Amazon. The Nook is a little limited but very cheap and takes microSD cards. (Hurray!)

Apple or Android?

Whichever device you buy, the chances are that it will be out of date already. If not, it will be out of date by the end of the week. There's nothing you can do. Live with it.

If you have money to burn, then buy an Apple device. It will probably be a smoother experience. Otherwise, go for a Nexus. If you're after something as cheap as possible but still decent, try the Nook HD.


Pick a budget, ask your kids what they want and try to get the two to match up somehow.

Your best bet might be upgrading your phone and handing over the old one permanently. Just remember to wipe the contacts beforehand so your boss doesn't accidently get sent your kids' latest high score on Temple Run...

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