The 8 Best Current Gaming Consoles of 2021

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A new console generation has just started, meaning that your list of the best current gen consoles to pick from is ever-growing. All of the new consoles have great graphics, powerful specs, and plenty of games to play, though there are relatively few exclusives at launch. The three big dogs are Sony with the PlayStation 5, Microsoft with the Xbox Series X, and Nintendo with the Switch.

All three consoles fit into their own special niches, with the PS5 having an advantage in exclusives at launch, the Series X being power graphically potent on paper, and the Nintendo Switch being the ideal portable device. You wouldn't be remiss in owning all three of them, though most people will be picking between the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. In our humble opinion, everyone should buy a Nintendo Switch, it's the best choice for the gamer on the go.

If you're not much of a console gamer, you may be more interested in our list of the best gaming PCs. For all others, read on to see our take on the best current gaming consoles to buy.

The Rundown
The PlayStation 5 has gorgeous, native 4K games at 120fps, an impressive new controller, and excellent launch exclusives.
Best for Mobility:
Nintendo Switch at Amazon
Makes playing on the go easy.
For 4K and 8K gaming, the Xbox Series X is one of the most powerful new consoles you can get.
Best for Affordable Gaming:
Microsoft Xbox Series S at Amazon
The relatively affordable Series supports 1440p gaming and can tackle all the games as the more chunky Series X can without breaking the bank.
A cheaper, more portable option for gamers who want to experience all the best Nintendo titles on a budget.
Best Streaming Platform:
Google Stadia at Best Buy
Stream games like Destiny 2 straight to your phone, PC, Smart TV, or ChromeCast.
Resurrects the glorious gaming era of the 1990s.
Best Versatility:
Amazon Luna at Amazon
Amazon's platform in the gaming streaming world comes at an affordable price with great performance.

Best Games: Sony PlayStation 5

Sony PlayStation 5

Sony’s PlayStation 5 represents a significant boost in visual quality over its predecessors, with more than five times the graphical output of the original PlayStation 4 and more than double that of the half-step PS4 Pro revision. The result is smooth, crisp, and ultra-detailed game worlds delivered in native 4K resolution at up to 120 frames per second on supported screens, with 8K content compatibility coming in the future. It also provides much smoother play experience thanks to its speedy SSD storage, which dramatically cuts down on load times.

Beyond the power boost, the new DualSense controller is an exciting innovation, packing in precise haptic feedback and adaptive, resistance-providing trigger buttons for a more immersive play experience. The PS5—which is available with or without a disc drive—also has a solid array of launch games, including excellent exclusives like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls. The rival Xbox Series X is a bit more powerful on paper and sports a more compact, entertainment center-friendly design along with other perks, but the PlayStation 5 provides more early reasons to invest in new hardware during these early days.

GPU: AMD Radeon RDNA 2 | CPU: AMD Ryzen | Storage: 825GB SSD | Optical Drive: Yes | Dimensions: 15.4"x4.1"x10.2" | Weight: 9.9 Lbs

"The PlayStation 5 provides added benefit beyond visuals with the NVMe solid-state drive (SSD), which delivers a tectonic shift in loading speeds compared to the PS4." Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Sony PlayStation 5

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best for Mobility: Nintendo Switch

Nintendo Switch
What We Like
  • Extremely portable

  • Great for local multiplayer

  • Relatively low cost

What We Don't Like
  • Graphics aren't as good as other consoles

  • Lackluster online service

  • No Ethernet port, Wi-Fi only

Upon its first reveal, the Nintendo Switch marketed itself as a mobile gaming system that not only could be played at home on your television, but also carried around and playable wherever you go. Nintendo’s innovative console makes playing on the go easy and comes with a disassembling controller with split-screen options, so you can play with friends.

The Nintendo Switch has 50 third-party publishers in partnership for developing its future games. Hits like Mario Kart 8, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey have given it a strong lineup. The Switch makes for a great system for parties with its mobile snap-off joy-con controllers–once out of its docking station, it acts like a tablet with its own dedicated screen that can be shared with others through split-screen multiplayer games.

GPU: Nvidia Custom Tegra Processor | CPU: Nvidia Custom Tegra Processor | Storage: 32GB Internal | Optical Drive: No | Dimensions: 4"x9.4"x.55" | Weight: .88 Lbs

"Considering many consoles in the current lineup range from $200 to $500 depending on which version you pick, the $300 price tag of the Switch is both affordable and competitive." Zach Sweat, Product Tester

Nintendo Switch

Lifewire / Jordan Provost

Best Graphics: Microsoft Xbox Series X

Xbox Series X
What We Like
  • Beautiful 4K graphics

  • Fast loading and menus

  • Most powerful console

  • Extensive backward compatibility

  • Runs quiet and cool

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks big exclusives

  • No rechargeable controller battery

  • Extra storage is expensive

The Xbox Series X is the most powerful home console ever created, powering up to 12 teraflops of graphical performance for hyper-detailed native 4K games at up to 120 frames per second on supported screens. Just as impressively, the super-fast custom SSD enables rapid loading of games and lets you swap between open games in mere seconds thanks to the unique Quick Resume feature.

Microsoft’s console is compatible with a wide array of past Xbox One, Xbox 360, and original Xbox games, but is currently lacking any big, new exclusives to truly warrant the $499 asking price. It’s impressive hardware with a lot of potential ahead, although it could be well into 2021 before we start to see games that really make the most of this power-packed new Xbox.

"In terms of raw hardware grunt, it is the most powerful home console today, surpassing the new PlayStation 5 on that front as well, plus it has an array of user-friendly features that really stand out in use."Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Microsoft Xbox Series X

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best for Affordable Gaming: Microsoft Xbox Series S

Microsoft Xbox Series S
What We Like
  • 1440p next-gen gaming

  • Plays all Xbox Series S/X games

  • Backwards compatible

  • Tiny form factor

  • Great price

What We Don't Like
  • No 4K graphics

  • Underpowered for a next-gen console

  • No disc drive

  • Limited storage

  • Can't play physical discs from previous generations

If you have to pick just one gaming console from this list, the Xbox Series S is likely to be the most lucrative option for most people. It's a good low-cost alternative to the Series X, bringing much of the same experience to the table, albeit with some limits. The console can tackle 1440p gaming at 60fps or 120fps, but not 4K. Storage is a bit limited with 512GB, but you can expand it with the expansion card.

The real value of the console comes from its ability to play all the same games as the Xbox Series X. It's also backwards compatible, giving you a wide range of games to play. The most cost-effective feature might be that you can use the Series S with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, giving you access to a large library of games for a monthly fee.

GPU: AMD Custom Radeon RDNA 2 | CPU: AMD Custom Ryzen Zen 2 | Storage: 1TB SSD | Optical Drive: Yes | Dimensions: 5.9"x5.9"x11.9" | Weight: 9.8 Lbs

"Load times were negligible in each of the games I played, which is expected from a system with super-fast NVME SSD storage." Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Microsoft Xbox Series S
Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen.

Best Handheld: Nintendo Switch Lite

What We Like
  • Great price

  • Ultraportable size

  • True D-pad rather than buttons

What We Don't Like
  • Only offers 720p

  • No motion controls

  • No TV hookup option

The Nintendo Switch Lite is a cheaper, more portable option for gamers who want to experience all the best Nintendo titles on a budget. It ditches the dock and Joy-Con from the Nintendo’s original Switch, establishing itself as a handheld-only device, and comes in multiple colors that pop, like bright turquoise or banana yellow.

At two-thirds the price of a standard Nintendo Switch there's a much lower barrier to entry, but it does come with a few sacrifices. Most notably, the Switch Lite doesn’t dock to a television, meaning you can only play games in handheld mode. Along with the lack of a built-in kickstand, that severely limits local multiplayer, but there are a handful of improvements over the OG Switch as well.

The form factor feels better in the hands, and the smaller size makes it easier to take with you on the go. There’s a real directional pad that works better than the OG Switch’s directional buttons, especially for platformers or fighting games. These upgrades make the Switch Lite perfect for anyone who plays exclusively in handheld mode who's looking for a better option on the go.

GPU: NVIDIA Custom Tegra processor | CPU: NVIDIA Custom Tegra processor | Storage: 32GB Internal | Optical Drive: No | Dimensions: 3.6"x8.2"x.55" | Weight: .61 Lbs

"Despite being stripped of some of the Switch’s more unique features and strengths, the Switch Lite is a perfect console for gamers on the go or those who prefer handheld." Zach Sweat, Product Tester

Nintendo Switch Lite

Lifewire / Zach Sweat

Best Streaming Platform: Google Stadia

Google Stadia
What We Like
  • Low cost compared to PC

  • Works on multiple platforms

  • Decent performance

What We Don't Like
  • Frustrating setup

  • Meager library of games

  • Mobile-only supported on Pixel phones

Google’s gaming experiment technically isn’t a console, it’s an online streaming service designed to let you play games anywhere on any device. If you have a strong enough internet connection, you can stream games like Destiny 2 straight to your phone, PC, Smart TV, or Chromecast. For players with weaker internet, there are options to turn down the graphical fidelity to boost the performance. In addition to multiplatform third-party games, Google has opened its own development studio to create Google Stadia exclusives. With many other companies venturing into cloud-based gameplay, Stadia’s premise is an interesting concept for players wondering what gaming could look like in the future.

Hardware-wise, Google created a Stadia-specific controller that can connect directly to WiFi to reduce latency. However, it’s not necessary to buy Google’s official Stadia controller—you can instead grab a third party controller like the Xbox One Elite or Dualshock 4.  

If you do go with Google’s controller, you’ll have easier access to the suite of social features Stadia is experimenting with. Stadia looks to build on the groundwork laid by platforms like Twitch, putting gameplay, streaming, and social media in one place. Google has a lot of work to do to establish Stadia as a main player in the video game landscape, but its premise is certainly intriguing.

GPU: Vega 56 | CPU: Custom Intel CPU | Storage: N/A | Optical Drive: No | Dimensions: 4.3"x6.4" | Weight: 9.45 Oz

"Despite getting off to a pretty rocky start, the tech giant may be onto something here if they can iron out the kinks."Zach Sweat, Product Tester

Google Stadia

Lifewire / Zach Sweat

Best Re-Release: Nintedo Super NES Classic

What We Like
  • Classic nostalgic games

  • Supports HDMI out and powered by USB

  • Includes two controllers

What We Don't Like
  • Difficult to find in stock

When news dropped that Nintendo would be re-releasing updated classics of its former consoles like the NES and Super NES Classic, gamers rejoiced. The Super NES Classic resurrects the glorious gaming era of the 1990s with 21 different games, including Starfox 2.

With the original look and feel of the 16-bit home console (only smaller) the Super NES Classic acts as a sort of timepiece for when gaming was reaching its peaks. Some of the best two-player games of its era are included and ready to play, such as Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II Turbo. Defining games such as Megaman X, Earthbound, Kirby Super Star and Super Mario RPG return, too.

Any gamer wanting to relive their youth or introduce new gamers to a simpler time when the Internet was first starting should get the Super NES classic. Included are two wired Super NES Classic controllers for multiplayer action.

GPU: Mali-400 MP | CPU: ARM Cortex-A7 | Storage: 512GB Flash Storage | Optical Drive: No | Dimensions: 10"x2.68"x8" | Weight: 2.12 Lbs

Best Versatility: Amazon Luna

Amazon Luna
What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Decent number of games

  • Good performance

  • Works well in browsers and Fire TV

  • Good build quality on the controller

  • Controller connects via Wi-Fi

What We Don't Like
  • Poor Android support

  • No 4K graphics

  • Intermittent network issues

Amazon Luna is a game streaming platform, not a traditional console, but it serves the same basic purpose as a console. This streaming service is essentially Netflix for video games, in that it provides you with access to a library of games that you can play whenever you want, with no additional charges, on your computer, phone, Fire TV device, or even directly on your television.

Unlike consoles that have a large initial purchase price, Luna doesn’t have any physical hardware to purchase. The way it works is that you pay a low monthly fee, and you gain access to a library of games. The games run on Amazon’s hardware, and you stream them over the internet. The basic technology is similar to Google Stadia or Microsoft Game Pass Ultimate, but you don’t have to buy games like you do with Stadia, and it’s more affordable than Game Pass Ultimate.

Luna has the lowest cost of entry of any game console or streaming service, as the monthly fee is quite low, and you don’t need to buy any hardware. Amazon does sell a Wi-Fi Luna controller that works quite well, but you can use most USB and Bluetooth controllers with the service if you already own one.

While Luna is a great alternative to modern game consoles due to the low price of entry, there are a few drawbacks. It has fairly poor Android support, which means you may not be able to run it on your Android phone. It does work well on both Windows PC and macOS though, in addition to iOS, newer Fire TV devices, and even some televisions that have Fire TV built-in.

"Luna offers an impressive streaming experience that’s on par with what I’ve seen from Google and Microsoft." Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tes

Amazon Luna

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Final Verdict

The best handheld gaming console to buy is the Nintendo Switch. It's a flexible, versatile option that plays just as well in handheld mode as when docked in your TV and it's chock-full of appealing AAA games. For those focused on graphics, we like the sheer power of the Xbox Series X, though the PS5 does have better exclusives at launch and benefits from the unique DualSense controller. Either will still look great, though.

About Our Trusted Experts

Zach Sweat has been writing for Lifewire since 2019. As a gamer and game reviewer, he's previously been published by IGn, Void Media, and Whalebone Magazine. He reviewed a number of the consoles on this list, praising the Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite for their handheld gaming capabilities.

Andrew Hayward has written for Lifewire since 2019. With publications in TechRadar, Stuff, and Polygon, he's been covering gaming since 2006. He was impressed by the power of the Xbox Series X.

Jeremy Laukkonen is a tech generalist who's written for Lifewire since 2019. He covers games extensively and reviewed the Xbox Series S which he liked for its value.

FAQs

Do you need a stable internet connection to use these consoles?
While gaming consoles are reliant on an internet connection for much of their functionality, having a stable connection isn't entirely essential. However, not connecting your console will severely hamper its features and your overall enjoyment. Besides not being able to play with your friends online, you won't be able to get updates for your console or games, purchase or download games digitally, or have access to the multitudes of free games that typically become available over the course of a console's lifetime.

Can you upgrade your consoles?
Modern consoles do have a limited capacity for upgrades, but this is usually restricted to storage and aesthetics. Unfortunately, there is no way to install granular upgrades like you would see with a gaming PC, but you still have the option to increase your storage space or swap its color for something more palatable.

Why can't you find a Playstation 5 or Xbox Series X anywhere?

Since their launch, both of these consoles have been red-hot commodities and nearly impossible to find. Some of the blame can be placed on scalpers buying up available stock and reselling it at a disgusting markup. However, the larger problem that has been plaguing these consoles is an overall shortage of the chips that are used in the manufacturing of these consoles. There was a massive demand for these parts in 2020, and that is likely to continue through this year while supply catches up with demand.

What to Look for in a Gaming Console

Price

The newest gaming consoles can be pricey, but you don’t have to spend a lot for an exciting gaming experience. Nintendo’s mobile gaming system, Switch, for instance, is more than $100 cheaper than many of its competitors. You can also find great deals on classic systems.

Compatibility

If you’ve previously owned a gaming console, you should consider buying a new console that’s compatible with the library of games you’ve likely collected. For example, your PS4 won’t play games from older Sony consoles, but you can still access hundreds of older PlayStation titles using the PS Now streaming service. Xbox One, on the other hand, has much better backwards compatibility, not to mention a digital redemption scheme that lets you download newer versions of your existing games for free.

4K or VR support

How important is it to you to be able to play your favorite games in true 4K? If your answer is “very,” you’ll want a console that supports 2160p, like the Xbox One X, but if your answer is “not really,” you can settle for something else. The same goes for virtual reality, as not all systems will support it.

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