MSI is the latest PC manufacturer to attempt to take on Valve’s Steam Deck with the Claw, a new Windows-based gaming handheld it’s announcing at CES. The Claw is powered by Intel’s new Meteor Lake Core Ultra processor announced last month and can be specced with “up to” an Intel Core Ultra 7 155H, according to MSI’s press release. At CES 2024, MSI tells us it plans to ship three models ranging from $699 to $799 when it arrives in the first half of the year — with the base tier shipping with an Core Ultra 5 and 512GB of storage.
Although Valve didn’t invent the handheld gaming PC form factor, its release of the Steam Deck in early 2022 has been followed by a wave of releases from major manufacturers. We’ve seen Asus release the ROG Ally, Lenovo came out with the Legion Go, and even Logitech got involved with the streaming-focused G Cloud.
MSI has a couple of different pitches for why its Claw is worth paying attention to. It’s equipped with a new processor from Intel, which supports Intel’s XeSS upscaling technology in compatible titles. MSI claims this processor allows the handheld to play “AAA titles effortlessly.” Then, there’s the 53Wh battery, which MSI claims is the largest in its class and offers two hours of battery life under full load as well as a cooling system with air vents that are a claimed 50 percent larger than its competitors.
Despite its name, which makes me think of any number of uncomfortable hand positions, MSI says that the Claw has been optimized for comfort over long gaming sessions. At 675g, it’s a tad heavier than the original Steam Deck and measures 294mm wide by 117mm tall and 21.2mm thick. MSI says it’s equipped with tactile buttons and Hall effect triggers, which, with any luck, should prove durable in the long run. It has Hall effect joysticks, too, to hopefully avoid any future drift.
The Claw has a seven-inch 120Hz IPS display with a resolution of 1080p and a typical brightness of 500 nits, which is similar to the screen you’ll find in the Asus ROG Ally, and MSI tells us it should feature variable refresh rate too. The screen sits between the resolutions of Valve’s 800p Steam Deck and the larger 1600p display in the Lenovo Legion Go, though it lacks the OLED display of the more recent Steam Deck revision.
Other specs include 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB of PCIe M.2 storage — the $799 model comes with that amount. On the top of the device, there’s a microSD slot for adding more storage capacity, a Thunderbolt 4 port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a power button equipped with a fingerprint sensor. The handheld also has macro buttons that you can record various functions to, and there’s RGB illumination around each of its thumbsticks — much like Asus’ ROG Ally.
For software, the Claw is running Windows 11 with MSI’s own MSI Center M software on top to offer shortcuts to your games and game libraries. As well as PC titles, MSI advertises that the Claw can run Android games via its App Player (though it’s worth mentioning that people have gotten similar emulators running on other Windows-based handhelds).
If the recent influx of gaming handhelds has taught us anything, it’s that the handheld gaming PC form factor is filled with endless tradeoffs between power, battery life, portability, specs, and of course, price. We’ll need to wait to find out whether MSI has found the right balance.