Advancements in chipmaking and overall hardware design have made it possible to develop and manufacture portable personal computers in a handheld form factor. A range of these devices can even provide a full desktop operating system experience. Some are designed for PC gaming that are capable of running a range of PC game titles on-device. These handheld PC gaming devices have become an emerging category of gaming devices that compete with other handled gaming consoles, mobile gaming, and traditional PC gaming and console gaming. There are advantages to playing PC games on a portable device. However, considering its form factor, there are also disadvantages. This article discusses the pros and cons of handheld PC gaming.
Pros: Advantages of Handheld PC Gaming and Notable Features
There are now several handheld PC gaming devices to choose from in the market. These include the more popular Steam Deck, Asus ROG Ally, and Lenovo Legion Go and devices from startup brands such as Ayaneo and OneXPlus. Some of these devices allow PC gaming via the Windows platform while others use a customized Linux distribution as their operating system. Below are the general advantages of handheld PC gaming devices:
1. Portable PC Gaming
It cannot be denied that one of the main advantages of handheld PC gaming devices centers on the fact that they are portable. These devices are self-contained units that operate using batteries and can be carried around. Hence, because these devices can be carried around, one of their main use cases is on-the-go gaming. This is similar to the appeal of handheld gaming consoles such as the original Nintendo Switch model and the Nintendo Switch Lite.
2. Versatile Applications
Another notable feature of most devices built for portable PC gaming is their versatile use cases or applications. These devices run on a full desktop operating system. This means that they can be used for anything and everything a person would use a regular PC for. It is also worth noting that most of these devices can be connected to an external monitor. Some can even be docked or connected to an external graphics processor for an extra kick.
3. Decent Performance
The processing capabilities of chips used in these devices are not as powerful as desktop-class or even laptop-class chips. However, based on their technical specifications, they are still capable of running PC game titles. Steam Deck and Lenovo Legion Go are remarkable for running Triple-A games under average-level resolutions and frame rates or at medium settings. This allows gamers to play the latest PC games minus the clunkiness of traditional PCs.
4. Access to PC Games
Another advantage of handheld PC gaming is the access to an expansive library of games. This is true for devices that support Windows. PC gaming via Windows remains superior because of the range of game titles from established and independent game developers. Take note that the game library for Linux is also decent. There are more than 6500 game titles on Linux and Steam is the leading distributor of these game titles for Linux distributions.
5. Cloud Gaming Use
It is also important to note that another defining feature of these devices is that they can be used for cloud gaming. There are devices that are already configured for cloud gaming services such as Nvidia GeForce Now, Xbox Cloud Gaming, and Amazon Luna. Take note that these services have native support for Windows and Linux. Nevertheless, through cloud gaming, users of these devices have a wider and better selection of available game titles.
6. Platform Emulation
Furthermore, apart from cloud gaming, another advantage of handled PC gaming devices is their potential for console emulation. These devices are already equipped with the most relevant specs for running emulation software. A user can use software programs for emulating classic consoles such as Atari, Sega Genesis, Nintendo SNES, Gameboy and Gameboy Advance, First-Gen and Second-Gen PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and even Android.
Cons: Disadvantages of Handheld PC Gaming and Main Issues
It is worth noting that the market appeal of these devices comes from the fact that game titles that take advantage of personal computer hardware are often unmatched compared to both traditional handheld consoles and mobile gaming. However, in terms of performance, these devices are still not on par with desktop and laptop gaming and tabletop console gaming. The following are the general disadvantages of handheld PC gaming devices:
1. Limited Performance
Remember that the tech specs of these devices are decent but are not in the same league as the technical specifications of mid-range to high-range laptop and desktop computers. The problem centers on their small form factor. It is impossible to equip them with more advanced CPUs and discrete GPUs that can take advantage of higher power draw or better thermal design power and an adequate internal heat management and cooling system.
2. Issues With Controls
Not all handheld PC gaming devices are built the same. This is evident from the placement and the functionalities of their controllers. Some placements feel cramped. Furthermore, in several cases, the grips in some devices are unergonomic and uncomfortable. It is also important to note that the controls lack precision and customization compared to a traditional PC in which games work best with a full-sized keyboard and a mouse pointer.
3. Main Heating Issues
In addition, despite the absence of desktop-class processors, the chips used in these devices can still generate too much heat, especially when games are played at higher settings. This is another one of the main disadvantages of handheld PC gaming devices. The small form factor translates to a tightly packed placement of hardware components and a smaller surface area. These two factors result in inefficient heat dissipation and smaller cooling components.
4. Modest Battery Life
These devices might be marketed for portable or on-the-go PC gaming but the fact remains that their batteries would not last more than 8 hours of continuous gaming. The processors and other components inside them consume high amounts of power. This is true during gameplay or when stretching the graphics processing capabilities to the limits. Expected gametime is about 2 to 4 hours on a single charge. Some can even be as low as 1 hour.
5. Power Source Dependence
Furthermore, related to the aforementioned, these devices run best on batteries that are in their best shape and have a decent amount of charge. An aging battery or a low charge would result in slower performance due to lesser power draw. Devices such as Lenovo Legion Go also do not perform well when running on batteries. The system performs better when plugged into a power source because the chips take advantage of maximum power draw.
6. Expensive Price Point
Another disadvantage of handheld PC gaming devices is their high price tags. Lenovo Legion Go is the most expensive handheld gaming device on the market. Steam Deck is a bit inexpensive but it is still more expensive compared to traditional handheld consoles such as the Nintendo Switch or as expensive as mid-range laptops. There are cheaper devices but their performance or overall gaming capabilities are not on par with their more expensive counterparts.
Takeaway: Advantages and Disadvantages of Handheld PC Gaming
Purchasing a handheld PC gaming device is recommended for gaming enthusiasts and for those with cash to spare. What is good about these products is that they are decent enough for running and playing PC game titles on a handheld form factor. Adding to this is the fact that they are also suited for cloud gaming and console emulation. However, for those who value high-performance PC gaming, these devices are unsuitable. The main drawback of handheld PC gaming is that it is not comparable with desktop PC gaming and tabletop console gaming. The tech is also new and current devices or models might quickly become outdated with the developments in chipmaking and overall hardware design in the future.