Home Top 10 Even Xbox is dreaming of a better Windows handheld

Even Xbox is dreaming of a better Windows handheld

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Even Xbox is dreaming of a better Windows handheld

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OPINION: How do you know a product category might not be long for this world?

The death knell is almost certainly sounding when a CEO close to the situation is publicly describing how they’d reinvent it. The category is Windows handhelds and it’s Xbox’s Phil Spencer that thinks they can do better.

It’s nothing new, as there’s been plenty of chatter and rumours swirling around the idea of an Xbox gaming handheld, especially as we’ve seen PlayStation release the Portal and more manufacturers join the PC handheld rat race. I’ve even written about it in this very column previously, declaring ‘The ROG Ally shows why we need an Xbox handheld‘. Xbox CEO Phil Spencer appears to completely agree.

“I want my Lenovo Legion Go to feel like an Xbox”

The Steam Deck offers a wonderful value-packed streamlined experience for playing your PC games on the go.

By comparison, Windows 11-powered handhelds have offered varying degrees of success in this department, often dependent on the performance of the hardware inside as well as how good the manufacturer’s software works in bringing all your games together.

In our review experience, the Asus ROG Ally does this well but the Lenovo Legion Go… not so much.

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Legion Space on Lenovo Legion Go
Lenovo Legion Go – Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

And, based on a recent interview with Polygon, Xbox CEO Phil Spencer thinks the exact same, and he’s begun speculating on how Xbox could make that experience better.

I brought [the Legion Go] with me to GDC. I’m on the airplane and I have this list of everything that makes it not feel like an Xbox … Are all of my games there? Do all my games show up with the save [files] that I want? I’ll tell you one [game] that doesn’t right now — it’s driving me crazy — is Fallout 76. It doesn’t have cross-save.

I want to be able to boot into the Xbox app in a full screen, but in a compact mode. And all of my social [experience] is there. Like I want it to feel like the dash of my Xbox when I turn on the television. [Except I want it] on those devices.”

Same, Phil, same. Coincidentally, I, myself, used the Legion Go on a plane during my test period with the device. As well as the software quirks, the hardware irked me as it wouldn’t sit steadily on the tray table. Add that to the list, Mr Spencer.

On to the main point the Xbox CEO is making, the current Windows-based handheld experience isn’t great and I suspect he’s looking on in envy at a device like the Steam Deck. I’ve made the specific argument for an Xbox handheld but, while Xbox continues to have a key focus on hardware, it’s clear that getting Xbox Game Pass everywhere is the priority above all else.

But, when (and what)?

Phil Spencer hasn’t, of course, outright stated that an Xbox handheld is coming. Instead, he says the Xbox hardware team is looking into ‘different hardware form factors’.

Spencer added that the Xbox team were specifically looking into a device that would allow people to play games when and where they normally wouldn’t be able to. That does sound a lot like it could be handheld, but sceptics would suggest he could simply be referring to Xbox Cloud Streaming being available on Android, and the door now open for it to return to iOS.

Hands holding GameSir X3 controller attached to smartphone with racing game.
GameSir X3 mobile controller – Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

However, it’s clear to me that Spencer is talking about new avenues to get into. Given Xbox has its consoles, and you can find the Game Pass app on mobiles and some Smart TVs, where else is there for Spencer to expand the Xbox ecosystem into? I’m not sure I want to play Starfield on a smartwatch.

Further, Spencer is so clearly thinking about it and what it would need to be. When talking about PC gaming handhelds he stated, “The things that usually frustrate me are more Windows-based than device-based.” And, the head honcho knows who is best positioned to fix that: “[It’s] an area I feel some ownership of. Like, I want to be able to log in with a controller. I’ve got my list of things we should go do.”

So, an Xbox handheld must be a go, right? Spencer does add a key caveat that suggests handhelds from the likes of Asus, Lenovo, MSI and others aren’t going away. “If I want to go play my console games on the go with a handheld, I don’t want to only be able to buy one brand of handheld… I want everything that we’re doing in the hardware space to be great. But if somebody chooses to go play today [somewhere else], I don’t want them to feel like a lesser Xbox [player].”

Steam Deck (Top), Asus ROG Ally (Bottom)
Steam Deck (Top), Asus ROG Ally (Bottom) – Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

All that adds up to an added level of intrigue on my part regarding the next evolution of Xbox on handhelds, but it largely brings more questions than answers. Will we get PC handhelds that have a much more siloed Xbox experience so you can live in that space without the stress of tackling the awkwardness of Windows and manufacturer software?

Or, could we see those new style handhelds and an Xbox handheld for those who’d like it, as it doesn’t seem like an Xbox handheld completely taking over that space is something Phil Spencer wants to do?

My thoughts are: just do it. An Xbox console-like experience on a handheld sounds like a stress-free dream and, if Xbox did improve the operating system experience for all PC handhelds but still introduced its own hardware, I’d expect users to flock to the Xbox version anyway.


Ctrl+Alt+Del is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of PCs, laptops, handhelds, peripherals and more. Get it straight into your email inbox every Saturday by signing up to the newsletter.

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