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How to play games online without a console

With games like Fortnite and Apex Legends leading the charge, online gaming is more popular than it’s ever been. However, if you can’t flip the bill for a PS4 or Xbox One, you can’t get in on the action. That’s why we decided to put together a guide on how to play games online without a console.

Cloud gaming

Google Stadia

If you’re looking for the full, fat console experience, cloud gaming is the way to go. Although very close to consoles in terms of performance, cloud gaming still suffers from input lag and streaming issues (read our Google Stadia review for an in-depth look at that). Still, you can play games online, on your TV, without a console.

Unlike playing on your phone, though, you’ll need to dump some sizable money into a cloud gaming platform to get up and running. With Google Stadia, that means $130 for the controller and a Chromecast Ultra, as well as the price of games. For that, you could easily pick up a Switch Lite.

As Digital Trends Senior Editor Matthew Smith points out, though, “Stadia is way, way behind.” Services like GeForce Now and Shadow are not only cheaper — all things considered — but offer a better experience overall. Those services support PC games through platforms like Steam, and given how frequently Steam games are discounted, that means you can buy a full library for the cost of a few games with Stadia. Still, if Stadia sounds like your bag, check out our best Google Stadia games guide.

A few years ago, cloud gaming was simply a pipe dream, forcing hopeful gamers without a console to play on their phone. Now, though, it’s the best way to play console or even PC quality games without owning dedicated hardware. Latency is still an issue, and it likely will be for a few years, but services like Shadow and GeForce Now show that the technology has legs.

Play on your phone

Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

The purest way to play games online without a console is on your phone. From Call of Duty Mobile to Hearthstone to Fortnite, there is an increasing number of high-quality, online games available for mobile devices. They look pretty great, too, especially if you have a phone with a high refresh rate like the OnePlus 8 Pro.

Touch controls aren’t the best when playing online, though. Even with the push toward bezel-less displays on mobile devices, too much screen real estate is eaten out by your thumbs when using touch controls. You can solve that problem without too much money, though. A Xbox One controller and accompanying phone clip will get the job done for under $100.

Android is definitely the preferred platform for this approach. Although iOS has a great selection of games, the support for controllers on Android devices is much wider.

Low-spec PC games

Chrome OS Chromebook Gaming Android Gaming
Arif Bacchus/Digital Trends

Although your laptop may not seem like an ideal candidate for online gaming, there are a lot of titles that can run on very little hardware. The minimum Fortnite requirements only call for a 2.4GHz i3, 4GB of RAM, and Intel HD 4000 graphics, which are common specs for midrange laptops from a few years ago.

Brawlhalla, the popular, cross-platform arena fighter, requires even less. Its only listed system requirements are 1GB of RAM and 75MB of disk space. There are loads of free-to-play games on Steam that require very little in the hardware department. As long as you have a computer from the last few years — pre-built or otherwise — you should be able to play a long list of games online without a console.

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