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The world of handheld gaming PCs has never been more competitive. Ever since Valve joined the fray, more and more companies have realized just how important this budding segment of the market really is — hence the competition.
And we, for one, couldn’t be happier for that being the case. There are now more viable options than ever before, and, perhaps most importantly, they’re all worth the asking price. They do cater to slightly different demographics which, fortunately, doesn’t complicate one’s purchasing decision all that much. It all boils down to three things: the level of performance you’re after, your budget, and your preferred form factor.
But, before we delve any deeper, a small PSA:
What About AYANEO, GPD, and Others?
Sourcing a handheld device from a company like AYANEO, GPD, or ONEXPLAYER is still a viable option, but we’d definitely advise against it. If something happens to go awry, getting it repaired would be astonishingly difficult and taxing. And so, with that in mind, you should really prioritize buying a handheld gaming PC from one of the three big “players:” Valve, ASUS, and Lenovo.
Their offerings are the most well-rounded and, needless to say, they’re all sold by reputable companies that have safeguards in place to protect their customers. Still, having three pretty distinct options to choose from — that being Valve’s Steam Deck, the ASUS ROG Ally, and the upcoming Lenovo Legion Go — one cannot help but wonder: which handheld gaming PC should you buy?
Best Performance — ASUS ROG Ally
The Lenovo Legion Go still hasn’t come out. Still, those who’ve had the opportunity to try it have mostly commented on its acoustics — it’s supposedly a lot louder than both the Steam Deck and especially the ROG Ally, despite being thicker than both.
All of this really goes to show just how great a device ASUS was able to make, especially when it comes to cooling and fan noise. One of the latest BIOS updates has resulted in slightly lower power limits, but the ROG Ally can still draw a stupendously large amount of power — despite its petite enclosure.
The fact that it has a variable refresh rate display means that, even if your titles aren’t running all that well, you’ll still have a superior gaming experience when compared to any other mainstream handheld gaming PC.
Based on all available information, the ROG Ally is the one to go for if you’re after sheer performance. Our recommendation might change once we’ve put the Legion Go through its paces but, for now, ASUS’ handheld does seem like the better pick.
Longest Battery Life — Steam Deck
Valve’s Steam Deck is still unrivaled when it comes to performance-per-watt. Its APU is frugal and incredibly well-optimized. The device itself is designed in such a way to offer respectable runtimes, especially when playing older legacy or indie titles, and the same holds true for emulation as well.
Moreover, the Steam Deck, as we’ve said a bunch of times in the past, is incredibly malleable. You can really tweak and tune every single element of the equation and, in doing so, attain even longer runtimes.
It’s a tinkerer’s dream device, really.
Granted, many of the same settings (or methods) can also be harnessed on the ROG Ally as well, but seeing how that device only gets to shine in its higher performance modes — which draw up to a whopping 30W — it’s rarely, if ever, going to last longer than an hour and a half or, say, two.
It’s still too early to tell just how long the Legion Go will last on a single charge — seeing how we’re still a few weeks away from its release — but, based on its 49.2 Wh battery and high-resolution display, we don’t think it’ll last much longer than the ROG Ally, especially if pushed to its limits.
The Legion Go, much like the Ally, is designed to draw a lot more power than the Steam Deck in order to deliver the kind of performance gamers expect. And until AMD comes out with an even more advanced chipset, handheld PC owners will simply have to deal with laughably short runtimes. This obviously varies depending on the games you play and your preferred settings (alongside a million other factors), but the point stands nonetheless.
The Steam Deck is still the very best option on the market as far as performance-per-watt is concerned and, by proxy, battery life as well. You can, to be fair, get similar runtimes on the ROG Ally as well, but you will have to tinker with the settings in order to get there, as it doesn’t provide nearly as seamless of an experience as Valve’s prominent offering.
Best for FPS Games — Lenovo Legion Go
One of the biggest and most unique selling points of this device is definitely its so-called “FPS Mode.” Everyone who buys a Legion Go will get a small little puck inside the box that connects magnetically to the right controller. Once everything snaps into place, what you essentially end up with is a makeshift vertical mouse which, according to those who’ve tried it, works a lot better than one would expect.
Now, to be fair, this isn’t exactly an ideal kind of setup for those who’ve been gaming with regular mice for years (if not decades), but it is a somewhat viable alternative, and, better yet, you get everything you need right inside the box — no additional investments are required.
To see it in action, make sure to watch the following video:
If you’re a casual FPS gamer, then this might just be enough to win you over. The alternative would be having to carry a separate gaming mouse alongside a USB-C dongle/hub which, needless to say, is nowhere near as alluring.
You’ll also get a ton of programmable buttons at your disposal (on both the left and the right controller), all of which can be mapped to whichever in-game actions you want — sprinting, jumping, ADS, melee, and so on and so forth.
If you can live with this bespoke setup, you’ll no doubt love the experience and, hopefully, be able to get a few highlights in whilst climbing the ladder.
Best Desktop Replacement — Lenovo Legion Go
Lenovo’s upcoming handheld would, one could argue, best serve as a full-fledged desktop replacement out of all available options. It’s very comparable to the ROG Ally when it comes to power, but the fact that its right controller can be turned into a makeshift vertical mouse definitely gives it an edge as far as sheer usability is concerned. Having it by your side means that you’ll have to carry/source one less peripheral.
Moreover, the fact that it has a whopping 8.8” display means that it can also be used as a netbook-like device whilst on the go. It’s not going to be ideal, granted, but your viewing experience isn’t going to be nearly as cramped as it would on an ROG Ally or a Steam Deck.
Additionally, the fact that the Legion Go sports not just one but two USB4 ports means that it’s going to offer a much wider gamut of potential use-cases as opposed to its biggest competitors — the inclusion of Thunderbolt makes a world of difference.
Best for an eGPU Setup — Lenovo Legion Go
The Lenovo Legion Go is, undoubtedly, the handheld to go for if assembling an eGPU setup is your primary goal; it’s also the only handheld made by a large OEM that’ll have USB4 support (Thunderbolt) out-of-the-box.
The ROG Ally is technically the better option as its proprietary connection actually offers around 63 Gbps of bandwidth (as opposed to Thunderbolt’s theoretical 40Gbps), but, as already mentioned, it’s a proprietary port which can only be utilized if you invest a hefty amount of money on an XG Mobile.
GPD’s G1 (which connects via either TB or OcuLink) also warrants a mention but, again, should it ever malfunction you’ll probably have to go through a veritable ordeal in order to get it fixed or replaced. And, moreover, it’s nowhere near as versatile as a regular eGPU setup due to the fact that it cannot be upgraded or tinkered with.
As such, it’s really not that good of an option for the vast majority of people.
Best for Emulation — ROG Ally & Steam Deck
As far as emulation is concerned, the ASUS ROG Ally takes the cake. It’s an incredibly powerful device, and while the Legion Go is imbued with the exact same chipset, it supposedly won’t be able to draw as much power. It’s also a lot larger and heavier which makes it less ideal for most use-cases; emulating your favorite legacy titles whilst in bed on a portable PC that weighs nearly a kilo simply isn’t all that alluring.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Ally’s emulation chops, make sure to watch the following video:
The reason why we’ve included the Steam Deck here as well is because it’s still a killer emulation machine for the asking price, even for some less demanding PS3 titles. It’s obviously not as powerful as the ROG Ally, but it sure doesn’t lack performance.
If emulation is your main concern and you don’t want to break the bank, the Steam Deck is undoubtedly your best option.
To see how well it handles a myriad of different systems and games, make sure to watch the following video:
Most Repairable — Steam Deck
The folks over at Valve deserve a lot more credit than people seem to be giving them. The fact that they’ve partnered with iFixit speaks volumes about their overall philosophy and ethos, and that’s just not something one can say about the vast majority of other OEMs.
Getting your Steam Deck repaired is incredibly simple and, perhaps most importantly, it won’t burn a hole through your wallet. If any individual part happens to malfunction, getting it repaired or replaced won’t be nearly as complicated as it would with any other handheld gaming PC.
And, better yet, you can even repair it yourself!
Best Overall Pick — Steam Deck
Valve’s Steam Deck is still the price-to-performance king and that, needless to say, isn’t going to change any time soon. It’s powerful enough for most games you’d want to throw its way, and while it’s not exactly the best option for AAA titles, it’s still a stellar choice for basically everything else.
The fact that it offers a console-like experience right out of the box is also a tremendous boon to those who aren’t particularly tech savvy.
It offers an astonishing amount of value, and the fact that the base SKU costs just $400 — or even less if you buy it refurbished — simply boggles the mind. It’s not the most powerful. That much is a fact. It’s still powerful enough, though. It can also be tweaked and tuned in a million different ways which makes it endlessly malleable in a sense.
It punches way above its “weight-class” and, as such, is more than worthy of a glowing recommendation. If you’re interested in playing AAA titles, however — or just want a brighter, faster, and more enjoyable display — then going with an ROG Ally would be the better option.