Well, here we are at the end of another year. A year full of happiness, sadness, and just about too many handhelds to count. If you’re anything like me you’re used to reading “Best X of 20XX” articles, or “The Game Awards,” whatever those are. Well this article is similar to both, but more focused on our little corner of the tech community. Welcome to Retro Handhelds: Handheld of the Year 2023!
Just to let you know how this works: at the beginning of November we took nominations across all 10 categories in this article. Following that, votes that had at least 2 nominations for devices released (or had a revision) between December 2022 and November 2023 were included into the final vote. Finally, a survey was given out to the Retro Handhelds Discord (check it out) and from there we took in numerous votes to bring you this. These are what the community voted as the top choices of the year. If you would like more detail on some of the devices in the article, just check out the link to their review on our website!
So let’s stop the talking and get into…well, more talking.
Best Vertical Handheld
2023 felt like a continuous push for vertical handhelds, and for the most part they were all done well. But to the community there can be only one “best” vertical of the year, and a particular device stood above the crowd.
The Miyoo Mini Plus, with 49.7% of the votes.
It’s pretty easy to see why as well. The community support behind the Miyoo Mini Plus in the form of OnionOS and MinUI pretty much helped cement the device as the pinnacle of “ease of use.” While it wasn’t perfect, mostly in terms of its ergonomics, it did many things well enough that it became the community pick.
Runners-up for this category included the Anbernic RG35XX with 22.1% of the votes, and the Anbernic RG405V with 21.4% of the votes. The 35XX being solid as a runner up due to its own community support through numerous custom firmware options, and the 405V being great due to its pure power in a vertical form factor, as well as just being a damn comfy device.
Biggest Surprise of the Year
There were a lot of surprises that came out of 2023. The KT-R1 finally being released after who knows how long of waiting, an absolute slew of x86 devices including ones from big names such as Asus and Lenovo. But out of everything, the community had their vote and only one thing surprised them most.
The release of the Steam Deck OLED took home 33.1% of the community vote.
Again this is quite the easy one to understand. We finally received a revision to the most popular x86 handheld. But it was way more than just a revision; we got a larger OLED screen, a bigger battery, more storage, and a 90hz display. Overall, the release of “more than simply a revision” shocked us all. And it was in stock to boot. Unlike the original Deck, this was basically ready to ship immediately. In turn it demolished the used Steam Deck second hand market; for better or worse.
Runner-up goes to the Odin 2 and its early shipments with 28.3% of the votes. While AYN guessed December, much of the community was suggesting March or April for shipments at the earliest. In turn we were all hit with the 1-2 combo and started receiving the device in November. As of December, AYN has actually gone through most, if not all of their Indiegogo orders and are now taking orders through their website – already.
Finally 3rd place goes to the Powkiddy RGB30 with 17.2% of the vote. This is likely due to the fact that Powkiddy released a new device with a new screen and honestly very few issues compared to some of their prior devices (looking at you X55). Hopefully Powkiddy continues on that path.
Most Pocket Friendly Handheld
Back into more handheld realms, we wanted to ask what the best device was for putting in your pocket and taking it with you. The community responded, and honestly the answers don’t really surprise me too much. And the one that stood above the crowd is.
The Miyoo Mini Plus, again! It got 26.2% of the votes.
Again, a small compact handheld that was easy to slip in a pocket or bag and take on the go with you. Its inclusion makes quite a bit of sense. The next in line include the Miyoo Mini (V4) with 24.1% of the vote, and the Anbernic RG35XX with 9.7% of the vote. The Miyoo Mini makes sense as it’s everything the Miyoo Mini Plus, albeit smaller. The Anbernic 35XX is also a good choice as, it’s everything the first two choices are, but slightly larger and with its own community support and OS options.
This category came down to size, and operating system bias. But as we can tell, those who want something to put in their pocket, do not want sticks. Analog sticks and pockets do not always jive.
Chip of the Year
All these handhelds are great, but what powers them? Tomato soup? Drugs? Beans? No. What powers them are a variety of chips that have offered power from “runs NES with frameskip” to “runs Playstation 2 at 4K”. And of all these chips, the community decided one deserves the title of “Chip of the Year” more than any other.
Cool Ranch Doritos – I mean the Snapdragon 8 Gen2 walked away with 36.6% of the votes this year.
This was a device only seen in one device this year: the AYN Odin 2. The 8 Gen2 struck a chord with the community, and the power allotted took their votes. PS2? You got it. Nintendo Switch? Yeah it can do that. It can do it all, and it does it well.
Runners up included the Unisoc T618 with 30.3% of the vote, and the Rockchip RK3566 with 13.1% of the votes. The T618 was the first “yeah it can do some PS2 and Gamecube nicely” device that was truly under $200. We saw it in handhelds from Anbernic, Powkiddy, and Retroid that really helped fill the market with capable devices. Though by now we are a bit tired of it.
The Rockchip RK3566 really saw a resurgence this year as well. Showing up in devices from Anbernic, Powkiddy, and GKD, we saw under $100 devices that filled unique positions (Arc, and RGB30), as well as devices that offered excellent value for what they had at their price (RK2023). All three chips did well this year, and I hope 2024 does even more for the value end of the market.
Best X86 Handheld
We were swimming in x86 handhelds this year. Every time you turned around, Ayaneo released a new device. Kun, 1S, Slide, Flip, Air, Air Plus, and more. AYN finally got around to shipping their Loki line, and Asus and Lenovo both released their own devices. But this year, only one device takes the crown.
The Steam Deck, with 69% (nice) of the votes.
Another one of those times where it just makes sense. The Steam Deck was a huge success that garnered a bunch of community support behind it. Repairability and upgradability being supported by Valve as well as having software support made the Deck an incredibly nice thing to have. The Steam Deck just works. That’s more than you can say for other devices.
Speaking of, the runner-ups included the Asus ROG Ally with 13.8% of the vote, and the AYN Loki Max with 7.6% of the vote. The Ally being another device that is backed by a huge company like Asus made it more appealing to the general market. Being sold through Best Buy certainly helped too. The AYN Loki Max was a powerful handheld in a nice package at a decent price, though its lackluster software and long wait time before delivery makes it a bit questionable as an option.
Regardless all devices did well enough to deserve their spots in the top three, despite the Micro SD cards lost along the way thanks to Asus!
Best Big Handheld
I’ll make this quick and easy. Most big handhelds are x86 based, which in turn meant that this year, the best big handheld was also the best x86 handheld… A.K.A. the Steam Deck with 56.6% of the vote.
To get my opinion there, please refer to the previous portion of this article. As for the runners-up, you have the AYN Odin 2 with 23.4% of the vote, and the Lenovo Legion Go with 6.2% of the vote.
Why is that? The Odin 2 is probably the largest Android handheld to release this year. And no, the TJD T80 didn’t end up releasing. Which for the OS meant this truly was the best big Android device. The Legion Go on the other hand? Well that was just BIG. Larger than the deck, running Windows. It was obvious the Windows crowd was going to flock towards it. In the end it was third place over all, but only had about a tenth the amount of votes compared to the winner.
Best Retro Achievements Handheld
Retro achievements, retro cheevos cheeves, re-chievments. Whatever you call them, there’s a group of retro handheld nerds screaming that they need them, which means they need Wi-Fi to get them. And of all the handhelds that came with Wi-Fi, one rose to the top. The Miyoo Mini Plus for the THIRD time with 23.4%.
Not a commanding amount of a votes, not even a big lead, but enough to win. People like it for its size and its custom firmware, but the Wi-Fi is the cherry on top of this rectangular cake. That gives the Linux field the win.
Runner ups include the AYN Odin 2 with 20.7% of the vote, and the Retroid Pocket 3+ with 17.9% of the vote. Both of these are landscape Android handhelds with access to Wi-Fi and therefore to Retro achievements. While neither will blow you away in this field, they both do well enough; so well that they ended up falling within 3% of each other. Good times….
Best Value Handheld
Here we are. My personal favorite category: value. Value doesn’t mean a budget, it means “what gives you the most performance for your dollar” or “the best experience.” And again, this was a close race overall, but it goes to the Retroid Pocket 2S, receiving 20.7% of the overall vote.
Starting at $99 for a device that can run some Gamecube and PS2 is an incredible proposition. There are even some hacks going around to run more demanding PS2 games at a more playable framerate on the RP2S. For $99 you’re getting your moneys worth.
Just like you would with the runners up. Second place goes to the AYN Odin 2 with 15.9%. For $299 starting (or even less if you got an IGG early bird), you would get full speed Gamecube and PS2, as well as proper Vita and Switch emulation on the system. At that point it beats out other devices in price and performance. Looking at you Pimax Portal, Razer Edge, GPD XP+, and Ayaneo Pocket Air.
Third place was fittingly a tie between the Miyoo Mini Plus and the Anbernic 35XX. Two devices that came out around the same time, for around the same price, with around the same performance. I’ve already talked your ears off about both of these devices by know. If you get either device on a good deal, you won’t be disappointed.
Biggest Flop of the Year
While there was a lot good going for the handheld scene this year, but there were also quite a few flops. Whether that’s cracking hinges, broken handhelds out of the box, or “wearing in the buttons before use” we saw a lot. Nobody like to be let down by a device they spend hard-earned money on, but alas, it happens.
The Biggest Flop goes to the Sony Playstation Portal with 54.5% of the votes.
Originally regarded as an interesting handheld, it quickly became a lackluster accessory. The comfort was there, but people noted it lacked qualities of life, a good screen, had mediocre battery life, no Netflix or other streamers. While all of that’s true, it isn’t a terrible device, I just don’t think many people want to buy it.
Despite an accessory winning flop of the year, the KT-R1 with 17.2%, and the Powkiddy RGB10 Max 3 Pro Plus Ultimate getting 10.3% made a good pair of distant runners-up. The KT-R1 was in the works for years, before finally coming out in 2023 to disappointed stares and unfavorable opinions. Yeah the screen was great, but dang what was up with those buttons? The RGB10 Max 3 on the other hand was released, then immediately forgotten. A powerful-ish Linux handheld with questionable software led to one of the most “meh” devices of the year. But luckily it could get 30 minutes of PS2 before crashing.
Handheld of the Year 2023
Finally you’ve made it to the end. Handheld of the Year. What was the handheld that the Retro Handhelds community voted as “top dog?” Which piece of electronics is now the “big Kahuna?” Rather than tell you right away I’m gonna cover the runners-up first.
Third place is the Powkiddy RGB30 with 14.5% of the votes. Compared to some of the other devices PK released this year, the RGB30 stands out for its strange choice in screen alone. While that may have put some off, the 4 inch 720p screen makes games look great, and 1:1 games looked perfect on it. Very few faults made this a great contender for HOTY.
The Steam Deck takes second place with 24.1% of the votes. It won the title of the Best x86 Handheld, the Best Big Handheld; well deserved. The Steam Deck is in stock and meant to just work, which it sure does, even if I won’t buy one.
Finally, first place, and our winner of HOTY:
It’s the AYN Odin 2, with 34.5% of the total vote! This makes sense as this device covers pretty much every base you could want. It runs Android, it can do Switch emulation, it is an all-around improvement upon its wildly successful predecessor. The only thing it cannot do is x86 emulation… yet. The Odin 2 is a beast of a device and deserves its praise. It may not fit in your pocket, but the price vs. performance ratio paired with the ergonomics and stellar power cemented it as the handheld to rule all in 2023. Do yourself a favor and try one out, I have a feeling you won’t regret it.
Well, was it as good for you as it was for me? Thanks for joining us here at RH and for reading this massive HOTY article. Whether you agree or disagree, the community has spoken. If you’d like to vote next year be sure to join the RH Discord below. Have a wonderful year, and drink loads of eggnog, even if it does taste bad. Until next year, the HOTY crew bid you farewell, and happy gaming! Take care of your handhelds and each other.
And if you want to hear the RH team talk about these results as well as their chaotic top 10 you can always check that out at their Debate Livestream below!
What did you think of this article? Let us know in the comments below, and chat with us in our Discord!
This page may contain affiliate links, by purchasing something through a link, Retro Handhelds may earn a small commission on the sale at no additional cost to you.