I wanted to like the MSI Claw — and then I tested it

MSI Claw
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I’ve been stoked to fully test the MSI Claw since I tried it at CES 2024

While I like other Windows 11 handhelds like the Asus ROG Ally and Lenovo Legion Go, Microsoft’s operating system and the machines’ respective launchers don’t work as seamlessly as SteamOS does on the Steam Deck. The Meteor Lake-driven MSI Claw gave me hope for Windows 11 handhelds, but unfortunately, the reality isn't living up to the hype.

I’ve just received an MSI Claw review unit and have begun putting it through its paces. While there are aspects I love, such as how good it feels to hold, how quietly it runs and its vivid 1080p 120Hz display, I’ve been disappointed by the overall experience. The main culprit? You guessed it — the software.

Though software updates may eventually mitigate the issues I’m having, that won’t help anyone who spends upwards of $799 at launch for this handheld. I’m a tech reviewer so I have patience when dealing with finicky devices… but that’s not true for the average person who just wants a gaming handheld to play the best PC games.

I’ll have a full review of the MSI Claw for you soon. For now, here are my initial thoughts — and why you might want to hold off on buying this device for now.

Troublesome software 

MSI Claw

(Image credit: MSI)

When I first began testing the ROG Ally and Legion Go, I went through the same setup process as on the best Windows laptops and best computers. I didn’t care to do that on a gaming handheld, but given these are Windows 11 machines, this process was unavoidable.

I went through the same process when setting up the MSI Claw. However, there was the added bonus of also ensuring all the latest Intel graphics updates were installed. I didn’t know about the latter initially, which was frustrating given the number of crashes I dealt with after setting up Windows 11. Installing two of the three available Intel drivers went fine, but at time of writing, I haven’t been able to download the Intel Arc and Iris Xe Graphics updates — which might mitigate some of the instability I'm experiencing.

Simply launching a game shouldn’t be this difficult on a gaming device.

I have mixed feelings about MSI Center, which serves as the Claw’s launcher. Though I appreciate its clean and simple interface, it doesn’t work as I expected. For instance, if I select a Steam game, the Steam launcher will sometimes pop up — forcing me to use touchscreen controls to select a game. In other instances, selecting a game from MSI Center instantly launches it... which is what's supposed to happen. The inconsistency is frustrating. Quitting a game also returns you to the desktop instead of back to MSI Center, which isn’t great.

Software updates can iron out most of the problems I’ve outlined. MSI Center and Intel’s graphics drivers will likely receive patches but Windows 11 is still a concern — though Xbox’s Phil Spencer promises Microsoft is working to make the operating system work better for handhelds. But as I said above, if you’re paying up to $799 for an MSI Claw (the entry-level model is $699), then you deserve a more seamless experience. Simply launching a game shouldn’t be this difficult on a gaming device.

But there’s hope

MSI Claw

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I don’t want to completely dismiss the MSI Claw. In the Claw’s performance mode, I was able to play Doom Eternal at 30 to 40 frames per second (fps) at 1080p resolution and medium graphical settings. At 720p, the game runs at a little over 60 fps. Cyberpunk 2077, which can utilize Intel XeSS (Intel’s answer to Nvidia DLSS and AMD FreeSync), runs at a relatively stable 30 fps thanks to the frame-boosting technology.

These results are about on par with other Windows 11 handhelds at 1080p and better than Steam Deck at 720p. So when I’m actually able to successfully launch games, performance holds up well.

I might change my mind after I’ve spent more time with the MSI Claw. Again, I love the ergonomic design and how quietly it runs. But if its issues aren’t addressed soon, it might end up being the worst Windows 11 handheld from a major manufacturer. That’d be surprising given how the company makes some of the best gaming laptops and best gaming PCs we’ve tested.

As things stand, I can’t recommend the MSI Claw. Not until the company fixes the existing issues I and other reviewers have experienced. But again, I'll make a final determination in my full MSI Claw review.

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Tony Polanco
Computing Writer

Tony is a computing writer at Tom’s Guide covering laptops, tablets, Windows, and iOS. During his off-hours, Tony enjoys reading comic books, playing video games, reading speculative fiction novels, and spending too much time on X/Twitter. His non-nerdy pursuits involve attending Hard Rock/Heavy Metal concerts and going to NYC bars with friends and colleagues. His work has appeared in publications such as Laptop Mag, PC Mag, and various independent gaming sites.