If Xbox wants to survive, it needs a handheld — here’s 3 reasons why

An AI generated image depicting what a handheld Xbox console could look like
(Image credit: MidJourney/Microsoft/Future)

We’ve seen a slew of handheld gaming consoles hit the market recently. The Nintendo Switch might have arrived first, but you could argue that the Valve Steam Deck truly set off the current handheld arms race. Big-time manufacturers like Asus, Lenovo and MSI have all released portable systems such as the ROG Ally, Legion Go, and MSI Claw (respectively). This is something Xbox head Phil Spencer hasn’t failed to notice.

In an interview with Polygon conducted during the latest Game Developers Conference (GDC 2024), Phil Spencer discussed what he’d want from an Xbox handheld (thanks, TechRadar). Among other things, he expressed his desire for cross-saves and a robust UI. Regarding the Lenovo Legion Go, Spencer said: “I want my Lenovo Legion Go to feel like an Xbox.”

Discussions about a portable Xbox aren’t new, but Phil Spencer’s recent remarks got me thinking about the future of the Xbox brand. While the Xbox Series S has sold well and Xbox Game Pass packs great value, Xbox is still in third place behind PlayStation and Nintendo. The brand can’t seem to find a way to get ahead of its competitors. But I think a dedicated gaming handheld is exactly what Xbox needs. Here’s why.

Renewed interest in Xbox

Xbox Series X console

(Image credit: Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

As I said, little that Xbox has done since the disastrous Xbox One reveal in 2013 has allowed it to gain an edge over PlayStation and Nintendo. Yes, there have been some months when Xbox outsold PlayStation, but those instances are few and far between. Xbox Game Pass is arguably better than PlayStation Now, but even that hasn’t brought droves of gamers over to Xbox.

Handhelds like those mentioned in the intro are popular since they allow us to play the best PC games on the go. Having a similar handheld that can play Xbox titles would certainly gain attention from gamers. Yes, you can play some Xbox games locally on Windows 11 systems like the ROG Ally and Legion Go, but people would be more impressed with a proper Xbox handheld to play their favorite Xbox games. And as Phil Spencer said, there would be better compatibility between an Xbox handheld and Xbox consoles.

Maybe an Xbox handheld wouldn’t give the brand an easy victory over its competitors, but it would get people talking (positively) about Xbox.

Give it an edge over PlayStation

A PlayStation Portal showing Marvel's Spider-Man 2

(Image credit: Future)

Sony released the PlayStation Portal late last year. While that system allows you to play the best PS5 games away from your television, it’s still a streaming device at the end of the day. You can read our full PlayStation Portal review to see why this system was a huge misstep, but suffice it to say that Xbox can use its competitor’s folly to gain some traction.

People still talk fondly about the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita. And as I’ve discussed, modern handhelds are thriving. With its own handheld, Xbox would have a device its main competitor doesn’t. Going back to my last point, this would go a long way to sparking renewed interest in Xbox. It would also make for awesome marketing akin to “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t.”

A potentially better alternative to Windows 11 handhelds

MSI Claw

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If you’ve read any of my Windows 11 handheld console reviews, then you know my biggest gripe has been with the operating system itself. I’m a lifelong Windows user and it continues being my preferred platform (sorry macOS), but for handhelds, Microsoft’s operating system just isn’t great.

Steam Deck, which is underpowered compared to the ROG Ally and Legion Go, still reigns supreme because its OS is expressly made for handhelds. Games are also optimized for the hardware, which hasn’t been the case so far with Windows 11 portables.

Ironically, the Microsoft-owned Xbox would do a better job of creating a UI and launcher. Want proof? Check out the Xbox’s UI, which I’d argue is easier to navigate than even the PS5’s. I don’t see why Xbox can’t make a version of the Xbox OS that works for handhelds given how Valve did the same with SteamOS. Phil Spencer said he wants a handheld to feel like an Xbox. Well, this is how you do it.

And we wouldn’t have to lose Windows compatibility either. For instance, Steam Deck can run Windows 11 (with some finagling) so it should be possible to run Microsoft’s operating system on an Xbox machine for those who want it. But if not, you could ignore that feature and just play the handheld as you would an Xbox. An Xbox console would give Windows 11 systems a run for their money.

Outlook

We don’t know when or if we’ll ever see an Xbox handheld. That said, the fact Phil Spencer is speaking about the possibility of such a device gives me hope we’ll see it sometime soon.

With the proliferation of handheld gaming consoles, now would be the best time for Xbox to impress us with a handheld to rival the myriad of Windows 11 portables — and give it something PlayStation doesn’t.

More from Tom's Guide

Category
Arrow
Arrow
Back to Game Consoles
Brand
Arrow
Storage Size
Arrow
Colour
Arrow
Screen Type
Arrow
Price
Arrow
Any Price
Showing 10 of 75 deals
Filters
Arrow
Load more deals
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.