Every day it feels like there’s a new handheld gaming PC hitting the market. But instead of churning out yet another Windows-based rival for the Steam Deck, Lenovo is putting its spin on the category with the Legion Go. It combines top-notch performance with a huge OLED display and borrows some design traits from the Nintendo Switch. The result is a powerful though somewhat bulky $700 gaming machine that also offers some hidden tricks.
Design and display: An XL gaming handheld
Packing a 2,560 x 1,600 8.8-inch OLED display, the Legion Go has one of the largest, if not the largest screens on any gaming handheld today. But it’s not just big, because with a 144Hz refresh rate, it’s rather speedy and thanks to a peak brightness of around 500 nits, it’s pretty vibrant too. This makes the panel a great centerpiece for Lenovo’s handheld. The only thing it’s missing is full variable refresh rate support (VRR).
Flanking its display are a pair of controllers that can be detached just like with the Nintendo Switch. The two highlights are a built-in touchpad for smoothly mousing around Windows and Hall effect joysticks that are just a touch more responsive and accurate than on ASUS’ ROG Ally or Valve’s Steam Deck. Elsewhere, the Legion Go features an Xbox-style button layout complemented by four rear paddles and a kickstand so you can easily prop the system up when needed.
The whole package feels rather sturdy even when you factor in its removable controllers (though detaching them does take a little practice as they slide down and outwards instead of up like on the Switch). You even get two USB-C ports (both of which support USB 4), which is one than on its rivals, plus a microSD card slot for expandable storage. My two small gripes are that the touchpad doesn’t support haptics or the ability to press down on it. This means you have to perform more of a quick tap to simulate a traditional left click while not having an easy shortcut for right-clicking. I also wish the Legion Go had a fingerprint sensor like the ROG Ally, as that would make unlocking the device faster and easier.
But that’s not all, because on the bottom of the right controller, there’s a toggle that lets you activate FPS mode. When you flip this switch and then slot the controller into Lenovo’s bundled puck, it turns the controller into a vertical mouse, at which point you can play FPS games (hence the name of the switch) with even greater precision, assuming you’re into that kind of thing. However, for someone like me who isn’t a huge fan of shooters, I find this setup is better simply for navigating through Windows, especially for anyone planning to hook this up to an external monitor and keyboard and use it like a desktop. Lenovo even included a little wheel on the right controller so you can quickly scroll through docs and web pages.
The downside to Lenovo’s XL-sized design is that since it weighs 1.88 pounds and measures 11.76 inches across, the Legion Go is noticeably larger and bulkier than both the ROG Ally and the Steam Deck. That said, none of the current crop of gaming handhelds are what I’d call pocketable, so you’re still going to have to toss any of them in a separate bag for traveling. And to Lenovo’s credit, the Legion Go comes with a case that has a clever cutout that lets you snake in a power cord so you can charge it while it’s nestled safely inside. Meanwhile, the ROG Ally doesn’t come with at case at all.
Performance: Big power that needs some optimizing
The Legion Go is based on an AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme processor along with 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB of storage. This is the same chip and amount of memory as the top-spec ROG Ally, and as you’d expect performance is very similar and about as good as it gets among current handheld gaming PCs. You can play major AAA releases like Elden Ring and Starfield, though if you’re dead set on hitting 60 fps, you will need to fiddle around with graphics settings.
Like the ROG Ally, the Legion Go offers a range of preset performance modes (Quiet, Balanced and Performance) and a custom setting that allows users to select a TDP (thermal design power) ranging from 5 to 30 watts. The issue is that since the Legion Go was released more recently, Lenovo hasn’t had as much time as ASUS to refine its software and drivers. Unfortunately, this meant that when I tried to benchmark both systems at 25 watts, I ran into an issue where framerates on the Legion Go fell far short of expectations. When I reached out to Lenonvo, I was told this is a known bug with the current software build and should be addressed in an upcoming patch. Thankfully, after I installed some beta drivers and a BIOS update (which are expected to be officially released sometime in the coming weeks), framerates jumped back up to levels that matched the ROG Ally.
In Cyberpunk 2077 at 800p and medium settings with FSR set to Performance, at 15 watts the Legion Go hit 45 fps, essentially matching the ROG Ally’s 46 fps at the same power level. And when set to 25 watts, both systems remained close, with the Legion Go pulling ahead slightly with 74 fps versus 71 fps for the ASUS. Notably, Valve’s OLED Steam Deck beat both systems at 15 watts in Cyberpunk 2077, hitting 53 fps, though because it doesn’t have a higher power setting, it still falls short in terms of overall performance.
Software: barebones but functional
One of the big knocks against Windows-based handhelds is that Microsoft’s OS still feels clunky when you’re not playing games. This is still the case here, though Lenovo tries to address that with its Legion Space app, which serves as a one-stop shop for tweaking performance, customizing the system’s RGB lighting or quickly launching titles. It’s functional, but it also feels half-baked. Things like performance modes aren’t properly labeled, so there’s no clear indication that Performance mode on the Legion Go means a TDP of 20 watts instead of 25 like on the ROG Ally. And while the app makes it easy to see all of your installed games across various services like Steam, Epic and others, the tab for Android Games is simply a link to download the Amazon App Store. But the most annoying thing is if you want to buy games directly inside Legion Space, clicking the Game Store tab brings you to a page that kind of looks like Steam but is actually run by a different third-party retailer in Gamesplanet. Now, this isn’t a knock against Gamesplanet itself because the service does provide a legit way to buy new titles, but purchasing game keys and then needing to enter them in a separate app is kind of awkward and confusing.
One of the concerns with having big performance in a handheld is the impact that has on battery life. However, Lenovo has done its best to counteract that with a large 49.2Wh battery (versus 40Wh on the ROG Ally). The result is a system that lasts between an hour and a half to three hours depending on the game you’re playing and your power settings. At 15 watts, the Legion comes up short against the Steam Deck, which still reigns supreme in terms of efficiency with runtimes of over two hours. But when compared to the ASUS machine, the Legion Go typically lasts 30 to 45 minutes longer when playing the same title.
The Legion Go is an interesting take on a handheld gaming PC. With its kickstand and detachable controllers, it’s appropriated the adaptability that Nintendo introduced on the Switch. But Lenovo took things further with a built-in touchpad and a clever FPS mode that makes the system easier to use as a PC. And capping things off is a gorgeous 8.8-inch OLED display that makes the Legion Go’s potent performance shine.
On the flipside, its bulk feels like it’s pushing the definition of a handheld device. Any bigger and you might as well carry around a thin-and-light gaming laptop and a dedicated controller. And while Lenovo’s beta software addresses some of the performance hangups I ran into, the Legion Go isn’t going to reach its full potential until its software is properly optimized, which might not happen for another month or two.
In a lot of ways, the Legion Go is like a super-sized alternative to the ROG Ally. What it lacks in portability it more than makes up for in flexibility. Between its dual USB-C ports and FPS mode, I think it’s a better laptop replacement than the Ally, too. Granted, the Legion Go isn’t as affordable or long-lasting as either version of the Steam Deck, but it offers way more horsepower. So while some might find its size a bit excessive, that big, vibrant display is hard to say no to. I just hope Lenovo can polish off its software sooner rather than later.This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/lenovo-legion-go-review-the-xl-alternative-to-the-steam-deck-141522230.html?src=rss