Gaming phones are all the rage today. Xiaomi, Asus, Lenovo and several other mobile manufacturers have their own range of dedicated gaming phones with ascetics and design elements that go head-on against edgy gaming PC set-ups. Yet, when it comes to gaming, handheld consoles have always had an edge on gaming phones. Even in an age where gaming phones, such as the Asus ROG Phone 5, are far ahead of Nintendo Switch when it comes to raw comparable specs, the Switch reigns supreme when it comes to the gaming experience.
Today, we're here to discuss why seemingly underpowered handheld consoles will be always better than gaming phones with crazy specs?
The Games, Development and QA
Let's start off with video game development and the many rounds of Q&A and bug-fixing that must go into any game before it can be released - well, usually that is what happens.
On a console such as the Nintendo Switch, the specs and software are the same on all the models that ship out. For a developer, this means that if one game runs on one Nintendo Switch, it will run on all Nintendo Switches. For mobiles, that's not the case. You can get an Android phone for as low as $120 and as high as $,1200 and beyond, that's a 10x price difference. If a game runs well on an $800 Android phone, it should work just fine on a $1000 phone, but it may encounter problems on a $300 phone.
The problem that I illustrated above also exists on the Apple end of things, but its magnitude is far less since Apple has only a few models in the market, as well as complete control over the hardware and the software. Still, Apple releases new iPhones every year, which just brings us back to square one. However, Apple's strict control has allowed it some benefits over its Android rivals when it comes to gaming, and Apple Arcade is the best example of that.
The fast-evolving hardware means that a phone and its chipset becomes old and obsolete within a few years. If you compare that to a life cycle of a console, which lasts about 7-8 years, phones seem to live an awfully short life. Even if a mobile developer works 24x7 to be at the cutting edge of the technology available, their product will invariably be at the top for just a few months as the new chips and better video games come along.
It's not just the hardware that's the problem, it's the consumers and the development communities as well. The accessibility that was provided by Android phones allowed publishers to capitalize free to download, monetized games. Free games with either in-app purchases or ads perform much better on Play Store and App Store than their paid counterparts. Hence, mobile developers are keen to make games that are quick to make, easily accessible (which means they're not demanding), and easy to monetize. So far, the console market and the majority of PC gaming is free from such an ideology, which makes it better them better than phones that simply don't receive well-crafted video games.
It's not just the devs who are at fault here, it's the consumers as well. Most people are unwilling to pay for mobile games when free alternatives for quick-hit entertainment are available. Hence, devs and publishers have to resort to other alternatives in order to survive.
The Handheld Market Monopoly
In the 2000s, the handheld consoles weren't targeted at hardcore gamers. They were meant to be for a casual gaming session while on the go. If you think about it, mobile games did eat into the market share of casual gamers who just wanted to make their train rides a bit more fun. The accessibility of phones led to the eventual demise of Sony's beloved PSP.
The only developer that made it through the phone revolution was Nintendo. Nintendo did some things very cleverly, while others just aligned with their luck, resulting in a complete monopoly over the handheld console market. Here are a few factors that have led to Nintendo's monopoly in the handheld console market.
An Amazing Console
When it came out (and even now) the Nintendo Switch was a revolutionary piece of tech. The Switch is a console with an assorted selection of play modes, including docked, handheld, and tabletop modes. It could essentially mould to fit your surroundings.
Games & Nostalgia
The biggest hits on Nintendo Switch are the games developed by Nintendo itself. Zelda BOTW, Super Mario Odyssey, Animal Crossing New Horizons, Pokemon Sword and Shield and the upcoming Pokemon Arceus Legends are all made by Nintendo in house. Not only are they exclusive to the Switch, but they also have a factor of nostalgia. In fact, none of Nintendo's biggest hits are new IPs, they're built upon the legendary IPs of Nintendo's history.
Everyone who is buying a Nintendo Switch is getting it for the exclusive experience. Sure, Nintendo could release Pokemon Sword and Shield on mobile but why just sell a game of $60 when you can also sell a console for $200 along with the game. On top of that, about 80% of games of Nintendo Switch that are not made by Nintendo themselves are still exclusive to the Switch. Fire Emblem, Monster Hunter Rise, Xenoblade Chronicles and Bravely Default are a few examples.
Physical buttons will be always better than touch controls, there is simply no debate over the subject. Mobiles have tried to integrate the physical buttons in the past, the best example being Sony Xperia Play, but that made phones chunky and undesirable. Even today, companies like OnePlus are coming up with a creative solution such as clip-on gaming triggers for a better mobile gaming experience, but it's still no match for the physical buttons.
It's not far from the truth to say that the handheld market is thriving on Nintendo's shoulders. For Nintendo, it's a win-win. They have complete control over the hardware and (nearly complete control) over the software, which not only allows them to make better games for which people are willing to pay $60, but also make sure that their hardware does not become obsolete in just a couple of years.
While I'll always stand by my statement that "handheld consoles are better than gaming phones", I have to, as a gaming journalist, acknowledge the progress that the mobile industry is making. We have games like Genshin Impact running on mobiles, which is a feat for both the devs as well as mobiles.