Gaming laptop vs. gaming handheld

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Handheld PC gaming devices really seemed to take off in 2023, but it was the popular release of the Steam Deck a year earlier that really pushed a lot of other manufacturers to begin taking the devices seriously. We’re now seeing a long list of quality PC gaming handhelds on the market, ranging from the Linux-based Steam Deck and Steam Deck OLED to Windows-based models from Asus, Lenovo, Ayaneo, GPD, and more.




On the other hand, gaming laptops are nothing new in 2024, but they have evolved drastically to meet the needs of modern games and to match modern design trends. PC gaming is in a great place right now, and it’s easy to recommend any of our favorite gaming laptops based on your budget and needs.

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But what about gamers who can’t decide between a handheld and a laptop for their PC gaming ambitions? This guide will help to sway you one way or the other so that you can spend your money in the best way possible.


Portability and comfort

Countless hours of play ahead of you

Legion-5-Pro-Gaming-Laptop-3-2


Gaming laptops and handhelds are both designed to allow gamers to take their favorite titles with them wherever they may go. And while they’re both portable by nature, a handheld is going to fit into more scenarios than a gaming laptop. If you’re usually hanging around your house, a gaming laptop is going to work just fine. You can use it at a desk, in your lap on the couch, or even in the backyard in a hammock.

I’ve also enjoyed countless hours of gaming on a laptop, but it’s not something I’d like to do on, say, a cramped plane or bus ride. That’s where my Nintendo Switch — and now my Steam Deck — come into play. Sitting back with a handheld on a plane or bus is simply much more convenient. Although gaming laptops are slimming down and coming with ever-more compact footprints, a handheld is always easier to tuck into a backpack or carry-on luggage.


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As for comfort, this might differ from person to person. I have no problems holding a handheld up in front of me for hours (with scheduled breaks to get my blood flowing), but others might prefer having a laptop on a desk in front of them. You can, of course, use a handheld with additional accessories, propping the main hardware up in front of you, but for the most part, you’ll be using it held in front of you.

The Jsaux Grip Set on an ROG Ally powered-on.


I was actually surprised at how comfortable the Steam Deck is to hold, and most handhelds aren’t too far behind (if not more comfortable). Gaming on a laptop when you’re on the go usually means you’ll have a controller or an external mouse connected anyway, which can again reduce portability or create comfort issues (like trying to use a mouse on the seat next to you in an airport).

Bottom line? A handheld can go anywhere a laptop can go, but the reverse isn’t always true. You should find that a gaming handheld is a better choice if you frequently fly or take the train or bus. If, instead, you’d like to be able to play your games in different spots around the house or in other places with room for a mouse hand, a gaming laptop still makes sense.


Price and value

What kind of cash are we talking about?

Angled view of the Razer Blade 16

Yes, the Razer Blade 16 is a gaming laptop.

Looking at some of our favorite budget gaming laptops, you’re likely going to have to spend somewhere around $1,000 to land a product that will deliver a proper PC gaming experience. And that’s just to start. Some of the best gaming laptops on the market climb well into thousands of dollars, putting them out of reach of the majority of gamers.


Keep in mind that gaming laptops are a full PC, with keyboard, touchpad, large display, and the ability to handle just about anything you’d normally throw at a desktop. Their versatility can’t be ignored, so it makes sense that you’re paying so much.

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Gaming handhelds are even more carefully engineered, raising their cost for comparative performance hardware in a laptop. The original, non-OLED Steam Deck starts at about $400 for a model with just 256GB of storage space, while the newer OLED model comes in at about $550 for 512GB of storage. Other handhelds range from $400 (in the case of the Asus ROG Ally) up to $1,000 and beyond for something like the Ayaneo Kun.


Bottom line? Some handhelds, like the Steam Deck or ROG Ally, are a solid value, but I’d still generally weigh this section in favor of a laptop. You can get far more powerful performance hardware and full PC versatility for not much more than the cost of a handheld. If you’re looking for a high-end gaming experience with demanding AAA titles, the extra money you spend on a laptop will be well worth it.

Battery life

Long may you run

Steam-Deck-OLED-1-1

Battery life in gaming laptops is generally abysmal, and it gets increasingly worse as you add more powerful performance hardware. That’s due to the 100Wh cap on batteries to be allowed onto commercial flights; you can add the most powerful gaming hardware, but the battery remains, at most, 99.9Wh.


For example, when I reviewed the HP Omen 16 (2023) with Intel Core i7-13700HX CPU and Nvidia RTX 4080 Laptop GPU, the 83Wh battery lasted just more than an hour in PCMark 10’s Gaming rundown test. Using the laptop in a real-world gaming scenario, it struggled to reach 45 minutes in Red Dead Redemption 2 at my desired settings.

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We also reviewed the Steam Deck OLED, noting that the battery “will last hours upon hours on a full charge.” This will change based on the game you’re playing — Hades won’t suck up battery life nearly as fast as something like Red Dead Redemption 2 — but in general, you should expect much better battery life from a gaming handheld than a gaming laptop. If you’re getting an hour or so on a laptop, you should expect somewhere around three hours on a handheld.


Bottom line? A gaming handheld will deliver better battery life than a gaming laptop. If you plan on enjoying your favorite games away from an AC outlet, you should stick with a handheld.

Gaming performance and compatibility

A clear winner

HP Omen Transcend 16 (2023)

The long list of gaming laptops on the market today means there’s an enormous performance gap between budget and high-end models. In general, though, a gaming laptop’s processor, dedicated GPU, and speedy RAM are going to deliver better performance than a gaming handheld.


With a gaming laptop, you’re looking at a 1080p display (at least) with high refresh rate, driven by something like a Nvidia RTX 4050 (or better) dedicated GPU. There’s a lot of room to climb from there, and many gaming laptops now offer performance very close to what you can find in a desktop.

Handheld devices rely mostly on an AMD Ryzen APU with integrated graphics. While these chips do a respectable job of running most games on the market to some degree, you’re not going to be setting any framerate records. I don’t really care about the handheld performance tradeoff in the face of mobility and comfort. But if you do want to make the latest games look as best as possible, a gaming laptop should be your first choice.


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As for compatibility, this really comes down to what sort of handheld you’re buying. The Steam Deck runs the Linux-based SteamOS, which prohibits plenty of games from running natively on the system. You can work around these restrictions with something like Proton (a tool that translates Windows-only games to Linux), but you still won’t have the same level of compatibility as a handheld (or gaming laptop) running Windows. Yes, you can install Windows on a Steam Deck, but it’s an involved process that most people won’t want to attempt.

Bottom line? A gaming laptop offers a much higher level of performance compared to a handheld, and you won’t have nearly as many compatibility issues as with a Linux-based gaming handheld.


Which gaming device is better for you?

The perfect PC gaming setup

For hardcore PC gamers, a gaming handheld should be considered a complimentary device to a proper gaming laptop or desktop PC. Laptops are the full package, with countless games designed specifically for their powerful systems.

Gaming handhelds aren’t necessarily not for serious gamers. I absolutely love my Steam Deck, but I’m also very glad to have a full gaming PC to show off the true beauty of modern games. I enjoy pushing framerates on an oversized, high-res monitor, and that’s simply not possible with a handheld.

More casual gamers are going to have a great time on a handheld, especially if they can spend hundreds less than on a gaming laptop. This is especially true if mobility is near the top of your list of priorities, as a handheld can be used practically anywhere without much fuss.


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