Every company and its mother seems to be putting out handheld gaming PCs these days, and Lenovo is next to the plate. The company has announced the Legion Go, its first Windows-powered gaming handheld, which will be available for purchase in October. It’s got an 8.8-inch QHD Plus screen, an AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme processor, and a 49.2Wh battery (which is bigger than those of the ROG Ally and the Steam Deck). Oh, and the controllers pop off, which is neat.
While Valve’s Steam Deck tends to be the first product that comes to mind when this category is discussed, the Legion Go seems more like a cross between the Nintendo Switch and Asus’ ROG Ally. For one, with models starting at $699, the Ally is clearly what Lenovo is trying to match on price. But it also, like the Ally, is running old-school Windows and has more controls (a touchpad, primarily) that are tailored toward operating that system.
With controllers attached, the Legion Go is about half a pound heavier than the ROG Ally (and a bit heavier than the Steam Deck). It is a noticeable difference when you pick the device up; it feels heavier. That didn’t particularly impact my gaming experience since I was largely using the device with the kickstand propping it up.
Nevertheless, I know this is something some potential customers will be unhappy about, particularly those who are buying a handheld for frequent travel. The case definitely feels bulkier than the one I carry my Switch around in.
The presumable upside of this extra bulk is battery life. Asus was very focused on keeping the Ally’s size and weight down, and it has a smaller battery than the Go does as a result. I can imagine that plenty of people might find sacrificing some portability for some extra longevity to be a very reasonable trade (especially given how unhappy many reviewers have been with the Ally’s battery life).
Unfortunately, Lenovo’s representatives wouldn’t give us a battery life estimate at the demo event, claiming they hadn’t had enough time to test for it, but assured me they would have one prior to the October launch. I mean, sure. Okay.
In terms of other specs, the screen has a 2560 x 1600 resolution and a 144Hz refresh rate. Inside, you get 16GB of LPDDR5X RAM and up to 1TB of storage. Ports include a 3.5mm audio combo jack, a USB-Type C (USB 4.0, DisplayPort 1.4, Power Delivery 3.0), and a microSD reader, as well as an additional USB Type-C (same specs as before) on the bottom.
I was only able to try a few games that were loaded on. PowerWash Simulator, Quake II, Evil West, and A Short Hike were among the selection of titles. They were running at 15W by default, which I was told is “probably” how the device will ship. Lenovo stressed in the demo area that the Legion we were playing with was not in its final form and that a bunch of things — particularly Lenovo’s launcher, which didn’t really work during my demo, and its in-game overlay, which is not operational yet — would be buttoned up before release (which, just as a reminder, is supposed to be in less than two months).
The gaming experience that I had was fine for the most part, though I’ve heard that other reviewers had trouble getting all of the titles to run. Popping the sides off was effortless once I did it a few times, and the 8.8-inch screen felt substantially bigger than the Switch’s 7-inch one. The controllers fit right into the little stand that comes with the model, and you do really feel like you’re using a joystick. I’d certainly take it over a joy-con (and the buttons are more comfortable to press).
The controls were all responsive throughout the various titles I tried, and gameplay itself was smooth without hangups or excessive fan noise. I did run into one big snag, however: many of the games I tried didn’t seem to know that they were running on a handheld. At multiple points in multiple games, I was told to press “Escape,” which is a key the Legion Go does not have. A Lenovo representative, after some tinkering, determined that what I needed to press was B. One game kept telling me to press B0 — I assume this is some kind of joystick key? — which I eventually figured out was A on the Legion Go. This happened both when the controllers were attached and when they were in joystick mode.
Needless to say, this is a big problem. Games should not be telling people to press the incorrect keys for things (or to press keys their device doesn’t even have). It’s great that this handheld can let you play mouse and keyboard titles (I mean, that’s kind of the point of these Windows things), but I don’t see how this device is possibly viable to sell if it’s not mapping that functionality to gamepad buttons correctly. You could, of course, just plug in a mouse and keyboard to fix some of these problems, but if you see yourself doing this too often, it’s probably worth coughing up a couple hundred extra bucks to just get yourself a solid gaming laptop (of which Asus has a great selection).
Some of the games I was playing seemed to think that they were running on a PC with a mouse and keyboard
This gets at what is currently my biggest open question about the Legion Go, which is the same concern I had about the ROG Ally prior to its launch: Windows. Will it be easy and intuitive to navigate with these controls?
It’s hard to know from my brief hands-on period. But it’s worth noting that this device is not running a version of Windows with a special system of gestures that has been optimized for a handheld gaming device; it is running the regular old operating system.
There’s no “desktop mode” for the controls like the Ally had, either; you’re just expected, I gather, to navigate the old-school Windows interface with the Legion’s touchpad or touchscreen. I didn’t have a problem doing this during my demo, but it did feel like a bit of a waste to be navigating on a teensy little trackpad when there were perfectly functional joysticks available (and I have pretty small fingers as well).
This is an obstacle that pretty much all of the Windows machines in this category need to overcome. “The biggest issue with Steam Deck competitors is that they run Windows,” my Verge colleague Sean Hollister wrote in a recent piece about the Ayaneo Kun, a similar but much more expensive device. “It’s a little counterintuitive (isn’t Windows where the games are?), but Windows is seriously unoptimized for a handheld gaming PC, trackpads or no.”
Even if you’re working hand in hand with Microsoft, this is a hard feat to pull off. Lenovo’s competitor Asus, for example, worked closely with Microsoft throughout the ROG Ally’s development to tailor Windows’s UI to the smaller form factor and create distinct controls for desktop use. Despite all this, the Ally controls have still displayed some issues with sensitivity, precision, and bindings, and we ran into a laundry list of situations in our initial testing process where buttons did not do quite what they were supposed to do.
Lenovo, by contrast, told me that Microsoft was not involved in the Legion Go’s development in any significant way. So I can only imagine that we may also see some glitches at launch here.
I think a lot of the outlook for this device will hinge on whether Lenovo is able to make its gadget play nice with Windows (and nail its launcher, which is still largely an unknown). I’m sure that’s not an easy task, and I don’t envy the engineers who have to get it done — but as we learned from the Ally just a few months ago, that degree of compatibility can absolutely make or break a gaming experience.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge