20 Years of Handheld History: 11 Portable Gaming Consoles

6 Apr 2009 2009-04-06
Posted by Jared Newman


The Nintendo DSi launched over the weekend with some new technologies, such as a built-in camera for face-detection games and a long-awaited online store. We love handheld consoles, so we thought we’d take some time to reflect on their rich past.  Here is a visual reflection on 11 of our favorite handheld consoles of yesteryear, from the Milton Bradley Microvision to the Nintendo DSi.

Microvision by Milton Bradley (1979)

Milton Bradley Microvision

For every great technological leap, there’s got to be one product that bites the dust ahead of its time. The Microvision, which played games such as Phaser Strike and Friday the 13th, only lasted two years.

Game Boy by Nintendo (1989)


And then, there’s always one product that defines the revolution. Despite the console’s technical deficiencies, the Game Boy and its successors were the envy of the console market for years to come.

Lynx by Atari (1989)


Props to Atari for creating the world’s first color handheld, but good luck trying to name any games for it off-hand. The next item on this list was the nail in Lynx’s coffin.

Game Gear by Sega (1991)

Game Gear by Sega

The luxury of color and built-in backlighting meant instant schoolyard fame in a sea of pea green screens with clip-on accessories. Six hours of battery life be damned, the Game Gear was awesome.

Nomad by Sega (1995)

Nomad by Sega

If Sega had created its portable Genesis/Mega Drive player during those consoles’ heyday, the Nomad might’ve had a chance. It’s still a cool idea, though.

Neo Geo Pocket (1998)


SNK’s foray into handhelds was cursed at every turn. The original Pocket never made it out of Japan and Hong Kong before being replaced by the Pocket Color, which had to endure the sale of SNK to a Japanses pachinko company. Got to love those Neo Geo games, such as Samurai Shodown, though.

Game Boy Advance (2001)


The leap to 32-bit was another fruitful move for Nintendo. Console enjoys great success. Yawn.

N-Gage by Nokia (2003)

N-Gage by Nokia

This console/phone/media player/Swiss Army knife was so overhyped, despite its egregious $300 price tag, it deserved to sell only 5,000 units on launch week. With poor games and poor controls, the N-Gage did nothing right. Good riddance.

Playstation Portable by Sony (2004)

PSP Slim

While Sony is lagging behind Nintendo in the handheld game, the PSP respects traditional handheld design and offers some solid features such as Internet and multimedia support. Plus, it gives the fanboys something else to debate over.

Nintendo DS (2004)


The reason we’re here today. Doubted at first for its unconventional touch screen and regular screen combo, the DS breathed new life into Nintendo, going on to sell over 100 million units.

Nintendo DSi (2009)


Finally falling into the hands of the public this weekend, the Nintendo DSi is an evolutionary step forward for gaming giant Nintendo.  It includes a built-in digital camera, wi-fi connectivity and social elements that make it not just a competitor to the PSP and other handheld games, but the iPhone and iPod Touch as well thanks to a focus on downloadable apps.