Xbox handheld — 5 things I want to see in this potential system

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

Xbox hasn’t officially announced that it’s making a gaming handheld, but it wouldn’t be surprising if such a device eventually releases.

Xbox head Phil Spencer has expressed his admiration for Windows 11 handhelds like the Asus ROG Ally and Lenovo Legion Go. In recent months, he’s also spoken about what features he’d like to see on an Xbox handheld. Because of that, many folks (myself included) believe an Xbox handheld is inevitable.

Right now, Valve’s Steam Deck OLED is the handheld to beat. It’s user-friendly, powerful enough to run many of the best PC games, and has a robust gaming library. A potential Xbox handheld can also have these qualities. Would it be enough to topple Steam Deck? That’s unclear, but an Xbox handheld would have the elements in place to at least rival Valve’s machine — and perhaps make it the best Windows-based handheld.

Here are five things I want to see in a potential Xbox handheld.

The Xbox dashboard 

Xbox Game Pass screen on Xbox Series S running on 4K TV

(Image credit: Miguel Lagoa | Shutterstock)

Phil Spencer said that he wants the Xbox experience on a handheld. To make that happen, an Xbox handheld needs to use the Xbox user interface that folks on Xbox Series X/S (and PC Game Pass) are already familiar with. And I don’t mean a similar UI, but the same one that currently exists.

Speaking of UI, one of my biggest problems with Windows 11 handhelds is that the operating system doesn’t work well for that form factor. Even if an Xbox handheld is running on Windows, I don’t ever want to see the Windows 11 desktop unless I want to. Ideally, people should be able to turn on the Xbox handheld and instantly see the Xbox dashboard.

Playing games locally 

Starfield

Starfield running on the Xbox Series X. (Image credit: Bethesda)

You can play Xbox PC games via PC Game Pass on mobile devices like the best smartphones and best tablets. However, that’s through streaming from the cloud. While I’m not against streaming games, I want to play them locally on the device the way I can on Steam Deck and ROG Ally. 

The same goes for a potential Xbox handheld. Games need to run locally on the device.

PC games tend to run well on handheld consoles, especially games specifically optimized for Steam Deck. Xbox can also optimize games for its handheld to ensure they run great. Perhaps we won’t see games running at 60 frames per second, but even having them run at a locked 30 fps (like they tend to run on existing handhelds) would be good. Regardless, I want to play games locally on the device.

Powerful performance 

Asus ROG Ally vs Steam Deck vs AyaNeo 2S

An Xbox handheld needs power comparable to its competitors. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Of course, an Xbox handheld would need reasonably powerful components to run games locally.

Given the performance issues we’ve seen with the MSI Claw, I would advise against using an Intel Core Ultra CPU to power an Xbox handheld. The AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme chip powering the ROG Ally and Legion Go would be the best candidate at this time since it offers excellent gaming performance. An Xbox handheld could also utilize this processor’s eventual successor.

What about the Snapdragon X Elite chip? Qualcomm has boasted about the power and efficiency its upcoming processor will provide for the best laptops. We’ll soon know first-hand if these claims are true, but for the moment, it’s hard to say if the X Elite or X Plus could deliver the goods for gaming handhelds.

Modern form factor

Steam Deck OLED

An Xbox controller should have a form factor similar to devices like the Steam Deck (pictured above). (Image credit: Future)

The gaming handhelds I’ve tested have the same basic form factor — i.e. a modern game controller with a display in the middle. It would be smart if the controller portions of an Xbox handheld looked and felt like an Xbox Series X controller, with asymmetrical analog sticks, colorful face buttons and large trigger buttons.

The standard Xbox controller doesn’t have back paddles/buttons. But since the Steam Deck, ROG Ally and other handhelds have back buttons, the Xbox handheld should as well. The Xbox Elite controller also has back buttons so that’s even more of a reason for an Xbox handheld to incorporate them.

7-inch display 

Asus ROG Ally vs Steam Deck vs AyaNeo 2S

Many current handhelds have 7-inch displays. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Lenovo Legion Go and the upcoming MSI Claw 8 both feature 8-inch displays. Though I’m all for large displays, there are some drawbacks.

For starters, games running at 720p can look muddled on a bigger screen. An 8-inch display also means a bulkier handheld, which could be cumbersome to hold after long periods. Because of that, I think an Xbox handheld should have a 7-inch display.

A 7-inch screen is large enough to let you see things clearly in both 720p and 1080p resolution. That size also prevents the handheld from being too huge. Of course, a smaller screen could also help with battery life and performance. There’s a reason most handhelds have 7-inch displays. It’s basically the perfect screen size for the form factor.

Xbox handheld outlook

It’s unclear whether or not Microsoft will ever release an Xbox handheld. But considering how Phil Spencer, the man who runs Xbox, continues talking about such a device, I’m inclined to believe it’ll happen one day. With the proliferation of gaming handhelds in recent years, an Xbox handheld wouldn’t be unreasonable. And as I said in a previous article, such a device could help Xbox survive.

With so many new Xbox games due to arrive in 2025 (as seen during the Xbox Games Showcase), it’d be wise to drop an Xbox handheld soon. Then we’d see a true manifestation of the company’s “Play Anywhere” ethos.

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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.

  • SheddysGaming
    I agree with everything, really. I have googled "Xbox handheld" probably over 400 times in my lifetime. It's hard to say.

    And, after now owning a couple of handhelds including multiple steam decks and GPD devices, you said everything I'd say. I will say, though, I'm okay with it being a little anemic on horsepower, the deck is no powerhouse and it's lovely.

    But keep windows FAR AWAY from this thing. Please, Phil, for the love of all things gaming, don't let the overlords ruin this thing we've waited 10+ years for.
    Reply