An Xbox Handheld could be the Nintendo Switch Competitor we Need


The ongoing popularity of the Nintendo Switch has pretty much kept dedicated portable gaming alive and well, to the point that people are already hyped up about its rumored successor. At the same time, the arrival of several other portable gaming devices from major brands like Valve, ASUS, Lenovo and more have ensured that folks have more options to choose from in terms of hardware.

Perhaps aside from the Steam Deck however, one might say that the Switch doesn’t have that one true rival that it’s constantly being compared to, unlike the olden days when devices like the PSP and PS Vita (the PS Portal doesn’t really count) were big and popular enough to challenge the likes of the Nintendo DS and 3DS. Sure, the ROG Ally and Lenovo Legion’s hardware setups outperform the Switch in many ways, but they lack a certain “household name” vibe to them.

Rumors from the House of Microsoft

This is where Microsoft comes in – it’s definitely got the resources to pull off such a project, and the Xbox’s legacy in the gaming industry does speak for itself, like it or not. Interestingly though, Microsoft’s flagship gaming brand has yet to manufacture a dedicated gaming handheld, although there have been rumors that this might all change soon. In an interview with Polygon, Xbox head Phil Spencer mentioned that the Xbox hardware team is considering “different hardware form factors” with regards to future Xbox products, which does suggest the possibility of a handheld device.

READ: Phil Spencer: “I want my Lenovo Legion Go to feel like an Xbox”

Unsurprisingly, Spencer mentioned that he has used the current crop of handhelds including the ROG Ally, Lenovo Legion Go and Steam Deck, although they missed that unique Xbox feel. Some might interpret this statement as a desire to bring the Xbox experience in a more pocket-friendly form factor, but how should Microsoft go about doing this? It’s clear that current tech now allows for console-quality gaming on-the-go, although a portable Xbox experience might mean more than just a handheld.

Going the Hardware Route

Should the Xbox hardware team go with an actual handheld (or maybe even handheld-hybrid) Xbox, then it would need to make considerate changes with regards to the user interface, which ideally would be adapted for a smaller display. As someone who plays on a Nintendo Switch, the way that the console simply shrinks or sizes up the UI when switching between handheld and docked mode is fairly effective, albeit a bit basic. Given the more complex Xbox UI, it might take a bit more experimentation to get this aspect right.

“…a handheld Xbox running on a custom Snapdragon chip would be amazing to see”

There’s also the question of hardware – Qualcomm’s efforts with ARM technology has yielded impressive and promising results, as shown by its Snapdragon flagship SoCs. Speaking from the perspective of an end user, a handheld Xbox running on a custom Snapdragon chip would be amazing to see, and given the right pricing might be enough to effectively take on the Nintendo Switch, not only on the basis of performance, but in terms of branding as well.

Additionally, a handheld Xbox would also require a distinct take on form factor, which should feel organic enough to fit in with the rest of the Xbox brand, in the same way that the ROG Ally feels like an ROG device, the Switch Lite with its signature Nintendo-y look, and so on.

The Software Approach

In the interview we mentioned earlier, Spencer also noted how a portable Xbox experience might instead take the form of a software-based solution, such as a dedicated app or user interface. As of this moment, you technically can play select games via the Xbox Cloud app on your Android phone for example, although this relies mostly on streaming your titles via an internet connection.

READ: Microsoft Finally Addresses Rumors Regarding the Future of Xbox

Another software-based approach is if Microsoft opens up access to its Xbox library and somehow devises a way to make its games natively playable on existing systems, although this will take a considerable amount of time and effort to ensure seamless compatibility. Microsoft does offer a number of games under its “Play Anywhere” program, allowing users to purchase Xbox games and play them on a Windows 10/11 device, although again we go back to the need for a dedicated UI and/or app.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps I’m just rambling here, but as someone who’s spent a considerable amount of time playing on handheld devices including ones from both Sony and Nintendo, a portable Xbox is not something to scoff at – sure, it might be a pipe dream for many, or it might even turn out into something no one absolutely expected (hello again, PlayStation Portal). But a dedicated handheld from Microsoft is long overdue, and if Phil Spencer’s comments are a teaser into this endeavour, then I’m going in with arms wide open.

Mike Viray
A writer and content creator with a love for tech and music, Mike is also an avid gamer as well. He and his wife are big fans of Mario Kart.

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