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Consoles like the NES didn't have any sort of menus when not playing a game. Nowadays, however, stuff like the Switch and PS4 have all sorts of stuff built in:

The Nintendo Switch home menu The PS4 home menu

What was the first video game console or handheld to have a user interface without being in a game?

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    Not sure if it's the first, but certainly a very early contender - the Sega Saturn from around the mid 90s had an interface that would load up if you didn't have a disc in I believe. Looks like you were even able to play music off of it and do various other things. – Timmy Jim Jun 10 at 17:09
  • Would something just to manage memory cards be enough of a "user interface" for you ? – Fana Jun 13 at 12:07
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    [Comments Cleaned up] - This question has a Meta discussion about it's on-topicness: all interested parties, please weigh in there. – Robotnik Jun 15 at 5:17
  • The Famicom Disk System had a screen that prompted you to put in a disk, but as far as I can tell, it didn't have any UI outside of that. – Powerlord Jul 27 at 17:11
  • @Powerlord I’m thinking more like menus, which now do stuff like say what game’s in it and have settings, rather than just one prompt, which isn’t a menu. – Chaosblessed Jul 27 at 17:46
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+50

It's pretty hazy by what you define as a user interface. Judging by the criteria you laid out in the comments then the Sega Saturn (1994) is the first console to have a home dashboard with various options including playing games, music, and console settings.

User Timmy Jim was correct, stating:

Not sure if it's the first, but certainly a very early contender - the Sega Saturn from around the mid 90s had an interface that would load up if you didn't have a disc in I believe

User Fana also pointed out:

After some research, I've found this video that shows a Phillips CDi interface (from 1992).

It has a couple of options (like checking the memory cards, changing language / options, etc ...). I don't know if you would accept this as an "user interface".

Before this, the earliest main menu I could find was the Sega CD (1991), but that shows only a Press Start which does not meet your criteria.

Earlier gaming devices were not consoles but actual computers such as the Apple II (1977) and the Commodore 64 (1982) but did accept inputs to start games. Neither of these are consoles and thus do not fit your criteria.

A notable console is the Atari 2600 (1977) for having the first screensaver. While this could hardly be considered an interactive dashboard, it would turn on after a period of inactivity, change colors to prevent screen burn-in, and would turn off after user input. If we're playing loose with definitions, this is the first menu of any kind on a dedicated gaming console.

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    Nice, thorough answer! I’ll wait to give the bounty so this gets more attention and you get more upvotes :-) – Chaosblessed Jul 29 at 18:59
  • what's the point copying other answer into your own? It's right here, everyone can read it – arghtype Aug 1 at 17:39
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    Accuracy, I missed a console (does that count as a console?) and my question is invalidated if it is not updated. Plus not everyone reads beyond the first answer. I gave credit to Fana and hyperlinked their answer, I don't know what else I'd need to do to give proper credit. – PausePause Aug 1 at 18:24
  • Relevant meta post – PausePause Aug 1 at 18:38
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After some research, I've found this video that shows a CDi interface (from 1992).

It has a couple of options (like checking the memory cards, changing language / options, etc ...). I don't know if you would accept this as an "user interface".

Keep in mind that the CDi itself is a weird beast, mix between a video player and a gaming console. It has something like 5 models with different hardwares AND firmwares panning over 2-3 years.

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    Impressive find! I don't know if a CD player meets the qualifications of being a dedicated game console, but you certainly have my vote on this. – PausePause Jul 30 at 17:41
  • Upvoted, but I think the other counts more because it's explicitly a console. Good find, anyway! – Chaosblessed Aug 2 at 16:06

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