Steam unexpectedly announced the Nintendo Switch Pro earlier this week, with its new and unexpected entry into the handheld gaming market - a gaming PC that'll fit in most medium-to-large-sized messenger bags or backpacks.
It's powered by SteamOS, and while it looks, from the photos, pretty chonky for a handheld device, it seems to be winning over popularity already. It's not a new concept, though, there's already a number of devices of the exact same form-factor and specification out there, such as the AYA NEO, GDP Win MAx or even Nvidia's Shield everyone has forgotten about, but perhaps the Steam brand will finally be the thing that pushes this form factor of PC into the mainstream?
Perhaps. With a Zen 2-based CPU and an RDNA 2 based integrated GPU, this thing may be good enough to push some pixels on the integrated 800p display. It'll roughly be as powerful as last-gen consoles, such as the Xbox One, but with one big pinch of salt - PC games are rarely as well optimised. So it's decidedly last-gen, in terms of raw performance, but for a handheld, it's pretty good. There are even promises of ray tracing and variable rate shading support, but I'll believe that when I see it.
What this thing isn't going to do, despite the optional dock and decent IO, is game anywhere close to a mid to high-end gaming PC or laptop, at least not at resolutions above 720p. Perhaps it's just me, but I am not sure what the use case for this device is unless you spend a lot of time travelling and need something to pass the time away while you rack up air miles or spend your evening in your local travel tavern.
But games such as Doom Eternal will run just fine at 720p, and it's only $50 more expensive than the new OLED Nintendo Switch that'll be releasing later this year. Could this device be the Switch Pro replacement that Nintendo fans were bitterly disappointed they didn't get? Perhaps, but you'll have a hard time getting your hands on one regardless.
Pre-orders are already backed up well into 2022, and as with everything, stock is being stemmed by the silicon supply shortage - so if you're looking to get into handheld gaming this year, The Nintendo Switch is already your only hope. For those who have got their pre-order in early, the device is coming in December of this year.
The popularity is there though - even with a $5 fee to reserve - Steam's pre-order website was overwhelmed almost immediately, and can only be reserved in the US, UK, Canada and the EU. It'll retail for $399 for the smallest 64GB version, with a hefty bump to $529 for the 256GB and $649 for the 512GB version - that's a lot of $ per GB right there - but no doubt helps to cover the lower cost of the entry-level version.
The entry-level also only has eMMC storage, while the expensive models have NVMe SSDs, meaning much better loading performance. There are more caveats to the device, too. It seems like the battery life won't be especially great, and will range from just 2 to 8 hours. You'll need to carry your charger around with you, then, which makes this a little unweidly. At what point do you just opt for a beefier gaming laptop?
A Game Gear for the 21st Century then? It certainly reminds me of one. It'll be interesting to see how the long-term popularity of this thing plays out over the next few years.