It’s no secret I like old games. At one time or another I’ve used an emulator on every handheld device I can find. Which one do I think is the best?
If you already have a PSP this is a good choice. PSPs are very easy to load emulators on. They will run consoles up to SNES or GBA just fine. They’ll run PSP games and stream from your PS4 too.
A 3DS can emulate up to SNES era. It will semi-natively run GBA and DS games. It’ll run 3DS games too. You’ll need to buy a DSTWO flash cartridge though to get everything working. The build quality on the DSTWO carts can be suspect, mine works but is held together with tape. Unless you already have a 3DS I wouldn’t bother.
Android Phones and Tablets
The quality of the emulators for Android is outstanding. You can easily attach purpose made Android controllers or even use a PS3 or XBOX controllers. A two year old Samsung Galaxy S3 will emulate NDS, N64, and PSX games.
iPhone and iPad
IOS devices will run emulators once jail broken. I wouldn’t recommend it. PITA to jail break and then a PITA if you want to update your phone. There is also a trick wherein you can install and run an emulator if you change the date on your phone every time you load the emulator, again a PITA. (This doesn’t work in the newest IOS version)
Random Chinese Android Consoles
They’re great when they work. The build quality and battery life can be very poor. There are a lot of different devices out there and I’m painting with a wide brush. Unless you can get one for practically free I would stay away.
The GCW Zero will run anything up the SNES era. The build quality can be iffy at times. The battery life is awesome. If you can find one for under $100 its not a bad choice, though you can find PSPs for under a $100 and the PSP would be a better choice.
NVIDIA Shield Portable
The Shield has all of the good points of an Android phone and a built in controller. It will run any system short of the Game Cube. It’s seriously good.
What do I recommend?
If you have an Android phone made in the last two years, get yourself controller and use it. If you don’t have an Android phone, buy an NVIDIA Shield.
The quality and the ongoing support for emulation on Android is really amazing. The quality of the hardware on most Android phones and definitely on the Shield is excellent.
Cost wise a phone or a Shield are great choices. An NVIDIA Shield portable is $150 at the time this was written. An Android phone is something lots of people already have, you can get yourself setup with controller that attaches to your phone for less than $50. The other devices I mentioned in this post typically start at around $175 and go up from there.
I have an NVIDIA Shield and love it.