It’s hard to think of the average child (or adult child for that matter) finding a shiny new game console under the tree on Christmas morning and being disappointed. However, for a non-gaming gift-giver it can be a little tricky to figure out which of the many game consoles is the one you should buy. 

So we’re going to keep it as simple as possible and help you make sure that any disappointment is avoided come Christmas day.

Asking The Right Questions

Every person is different and so some people will gravitate towards one game console or the other. Take the time to have a conversation about which games this person is excited about playing, what game consoles they already have (if any) and what their friends are playing,

If someone is enthusiastic about gaming, they shouldn’t take much prodding to chat about it. Don’t worry about understanding what it’s all about, just take note of what gets them excited.

Counterfeit Consoles

There’s a whole industry built around making cheap, knockoff consoles with the purpose of fooling non-gaming buyers into handing over their hard-earned cash. Just because one console looks a bit like another, it doesn’t mean they have anything in common under the surface. 

Always make sure you buy the game console from a reputable buyer and make sure it’s branded properly. If a console is suspiciously cheap, your alarm bells should already be ringing. 

PS4 Slim & Xbox One S

These are the two mainstream console leaders. The PlayStation 4 (PS4) is made by Sony and the Xbox One is made by Microsoft. The PS4 Slim and Xbox One S are the current entry-level models. They have replaced the original versions of these consoles and are quieter, smaller and less power hungry. 

Don’t worry about the technical differences between these game consoles. There are only two things that matter when it comes to choosing between them.

The first is whether there are any games your giftee wants to play that are exclusive to one console or the other. A simple visit to a game’s Wikipedia site under the “platforms” entry will show you whether their desired games are exclusive or not.

The other important factor is which consoles their friends are playing with. Online multiplayer gaming is incredibly popular, but in general you can’t play together across brand lines. This is changing, but right now most online games only allow players on the same platform to play together. 

If you buy your giftee an Xbox and their friends are all using Playstation 4 consoles, they’ll be left out of the fun.

PS4 Pro & Xbox One X

You may see much more expensive consoles branded as the “PlayStation 4 Pro” and “Xbox One X” for sale. These are premium, upgraded versions of the base model PS4 and Xbox One consoles we discussed in the previous segment. 

Games run and look better on these game consoles, so if the price difference is irrelevant to you, the premium consoles are worth the extra money.

However, they play exactly the same games as the base models. Game developers ensure that their games play well on both. So it’s not a choice between “bad” and “good”. Instead it’s a choice between “good” and “better”. If you want more information, check out our article on these elite consoles.

The upgraded versions of these game consoles do make an excellent gift for anyone who currently owns the base model of each respective product. The best gifts are those which the giftee wanted, but would never justify buying for themselves. The premium console versions are exactly that sort of purchase.

Nintendo Switch & Switch Lite

Finally, we get to the latest addition to this generation of game consoles. The Nintendo Switch comes in two versions. The plain Switch is a large handheld console with detachable controllers. It comes with a special “dock” that allows you to connect it to a TV and use it as a traditional console.

The Switch Lite, on the other hand, is a handheld-only device, without the parts needed to connect it to a TV.

Both consoles play exactly the same games, with a handful of exceptions that rely on the larger Switch’s TV connectivity and removable controllers. For the most part however, either console offers the same game library. 

We’d suggest that most kids would appreciate the smaller Switch Lite, if they don’t have their own TV or long enough access to the family TV to make the higher price of the big Switch worth it. It’s a true handheld, better for smaller hands and comes in great colors. If the family already has a Switch that’s shared as a home console, the Switch Lite becomes the obvious choice.

If you are however buying a Switch not for an individual, but for a family, the standard one is the way to go. Just make sure you pick up the revised model, which has cooler, less power-hungry components.

The Switch is a console with wide appeal, it’s not just for people who are fans of Nintendo’s (admittedly excellent) first-party games. However, it does not get most of the fancy AAA games you’d find on Xbox One or PS4.

Rather, it gets occasional (smartly cut down) versions of those games, with many excellent first-party exclusives as well as great ports of games from older game consoles which have never been portable before. Take that into account before deciding if a Switch is the right console.

Older Game Consoles

The consoles listed above are from the current generation, with the next generation of gaming machines all likely to launch long after Christmas 2019. However, you can still get amazing deals on refurbished (or even new!) consoles from the previous generation. This includes consoles such as the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii U.

Younger gamers are almost certainly not the right audience for these decade-old game consoles. That being said, older gamers who may miss their previous-gen consoles (or never had them) might love getting one of these consoles.

Since a good gift is often something a person couldn’t justify buying for themselves. The same goes for cash-strapped gamers, who might find it easy to quickly build a large library of previous generation games, which can be bought for single-digit prices on the used market. 

On the handheld side, the Nintendo 3DS is still an excellent choice and can be had for a bargain. It’s more pocketable than even the Switch Lite and has one of the best exclusive game libraries of any console. In fact, we’d strongly suggest getting one of the latest “New 2DS” models, which is the best version of the 3DS family. It just doesn’t have the 3D screen.