PC gaming handhelds should "feel like an Xbox" says Microsoft's Phil Spencer, but he's wrong – they could be something even better

Lenovo Legion Go
(Image credit: Lenovo)

It’s already common knowledge that Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s Xbox division, has been interested in the burgeoning PC gaming handheld market. But a recent interview with him during the Game Developers Conference (GDC 2024) revealed what exactly he wants from such a handheld from Microsoft.

According to the interview, which comes from Polygon, Spencer detailed his woes with trying to use the Lenovo Legion Go, one of the handhelds that use the Windows 11 OS, including the fact that cross-save isn’t available for Fallout 76 and that the dash doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the Xbox console’s version. In other words, as he told Polygon, “I want my Lenovo Legion Go to feel like an Xbox.”

While he does make a good point that features like cross-save and cross-play should be standard features on these handhelds since users are essentially still PC gaming, the biggest gripe I have is the misguided concept that a PC handheld needs to be a portable Xbox. That line of thinking is clearly coming from a place of bias, and one that’s not even in tune with the average gamer.

We can do better than Windows 11 OS

First, that’s not the niche that devices like the Steam Deck, Asus ROG Ally, Lenovo Legion Go, or the MSI Claw are filling. They’re meant to be PC gaming portables, meaning that they should appeal to all PC gamers and not just ones who also happen to like the Xbox Series X console.

There’s also the fact that a common complaint of devices like the ROG Ally and Legion Go is that the Windows OS isn’t customized to the system, unlike the Steam Deck’s nearly perfectly optimized interface. Windows 11 is clunky enough on laptops and desktops, let alone a handheld that’s not built to handle it. This leads to plenty of slowdown, complicated UI, and fine control problems - meaning that it takes longer to get to the games you need to start up.

And using the Xbox dash as a blueprint comes with its own set of issues, including the fact that the UI isn’t particularly seamless and features too many ads to boot. The answer isn’t to copy and paste a preexisting operating system but to instead create a brand new one that perfectly suits the handheld in question. Once again, much like the Steam Deck has already done and to great success.

If Spencer wants an Xbox portable so badly, the Xbox division should continue its interest in developing one in-house, rather than expecting other companies to create the ideal one for him. It’s clear what gamers want to see in a PC gaming handheld, and it’s something better than what Phil Spencer is dreaming up.

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Allisa James
Computing Staff Writer

Named by the CTA as a CES 2023 Media Trailblazer, Allisa is a Computing Staff Writer who covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, as well as reviews, hands-on previews, featured articles, and the latest deals and trends. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.