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The Legion Go looks like a Steam Deck killer — but it needs this one thing

 Lenovo Legion Go
Lenovo Legion Go

The Lenovo Legion Go could be the next best handheld gaming console. As I said in my Lenovo Legion Go hands-on preview, I was impressed by the machine’s large 8.8-inch display, detachable controllers and unique functions. The fact Legion Go is manufactured by Lenovo, which makes some of the best gaming laptops and best gaming PCs made this handheld that much more compelling.

The Legion Go has a chance to be a legitimate rival for the Steam Deck. It has a larger screen, a beefier processor, and greater compatibility with Windows 11 games. However, there’s one thing Lenovo’s machine needs to nail down before it can overthrow the Steam Deck and outdo the Asus ROG Ally.

A user-friendly game launcher

Steam Deck on desk
Steam Deck on desk

On paper, the Asus ROG Ally and AyaNeo 2S have better specs than the Steam Deck — as you can see in our Steam Deck vs Asus ROG Ally vs AyaNeo 2S face-off. Valve’s handheld wins out over its more powerful rivals for one main reason: a dedicated game launcher.

Though it wasn’t ready when I previewed the system, the Legion Go will have the Legion Space game launcher. Lenovo says the launcher is specifically designed for the handheld and lets you quickly access all your game platforms and stores, view installed games and purchase games through the Legion Game Store. All supported game launchers can be grouped together in Legion Space so you can dive directly into a game. You can also adjust settings like resolution, refresh rate, brightness and more via the Legion Space launcher.

Asus ROG Ally
Asus ROG Ally

If Legion Space is comparable to SteamOS on Steam Deck, then it should provide a console-like pick-up and play experience. The Asus ROG Ally and AyaNeo 2S have their own game launchers, but since they’re Windows 11 machines at their core, the launchers don’t always work as intended — sometimes forcing you to leave the launchers in order to boot up a game. That isn’t something you ever have to contend with on Steam Deck since it runs on SteamOS which is specifically designed to work with the handheld.

It’s hard to say how well (or poorly) Legion Space will function, but if the launcher can at least match the efficiency and user-friendliness of SteamOS, Lenovo’s handheld will have already surpassed its Windows 11-based competitors.

Game optimization

A game launcher on par with SteamOS is the primary feature I want to see for the Legion Go. However, there’s something else that would all but seal the deal for me: games that are optimized for the handheld.

One of the most disappointing things about the Asus ROG Ally is that it didn’t completely destroy the Steam Deck performance-wise despite having an APU that’s twice as powerful as the Steam Deck’s. This doesn’t bode well for the Legion Go since it also uses the same Ryzen 1 Extreme chip powering the ROG Ally.

Steam Deck-verified games typically run great on the system since they’ve been optimized for SteamOS and the Deck’s hardware. Though the Ally can certainly run Windows-compatible games, there’s yet no comparable optimization initiative in place. In our lab tests and my own qualitative testing, the ROG Ally sometimes struggled to achieve smooth, playable framerates at its native 1080p resolution — with games running much better at 720p.

Though resolution is a factor, I also think game optimization, or lack thereof, prevents games from running better on Windows 11-based handhelds than on the Steam Deck.

Outlook

The Steam Deck initiated a handheld arms race when it launched. While more powerful devices have hit the market, they haven’t been able to dethrone Valve’s machine because none feature a launcher with the same ease of use as SteamOS. If Legion Space lives up to the company’s promises, it would elevate it over other Windows 11 handhelds — and potentially make Lenovo’s handheld superior to the Steam Deck.

The Lenovo Legion Go launches sometime in October so it won’t be long until we see if Legion Space delivers the goods.

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