From Nintendo Switch discontinued in 2017, the gaming industry has pursued the dream of packing as many games as possible into a portable format. The Steam Deck (and its recent iterative update) come closest, but most other attempts have been facing huge problems. In the chaotic battle for third place, Lenovo’s Legion Go makes a compelling case.
On paper, the Lenovo Legion Go most closely resembles the Asus Rog Ally (3/10, WIRED Review). It’s like a Steam Deck with a bigger, better screen and more powerful innards. Unlike the Ally, the Legion Go makes a series of ambitious form factor changes to try to overcome the Achilles heel of all these handhelds: Windows.
The Windows problem
With the exception of the Switch (running a proprietary OS) and the Steam Deck (running Linux-based SteamOS), most gaming handhelds in this space run Windows. And Windows just isn’t nice to use on touchscreen portable devices that use controller-style inputs instead of a keyboard and mouse.
Lenovo did a better job than Asus of fixing some software issues. The two connected controllers each have a button that acts as shortcuts to the Legion Space app, which lets you launch games and open third-party game stores or adjust quick settings.
However, Lenovo’s implementation is confusing. Surprisingly, the right button opens a menu on a different side of the screen (left, right, left, right) each time you press it, switching between the launcher and settings overlays. So if you open the settings menu, close it and want to open it again, you need to press the button three times to open the launcher overlay, close it and SO open the settings overlay. It’s strange!
Fortunately, the Legion Go has one advantage: a trackpad on the right controller. Similar to the Steam Deck’s touchpads, this allows you to control a cursor using your thumb. It’s a godsend for clicking on tiny touch targets in the Windows interface or navigating menus that don’t really work with controller inputs as they should.
You’ll also need to use this trackpad a lot. Steam frequently seemed to launch in desktop mode rather than the controller-friendly Big Picture mode. Other times, a game would send me back to the Windows desktop. Once I found the Settings Overlay, changing some basic settings was simple enough, but no third-party app can completely solve the problems of running Windows on a device like this.
A bold takeover
Windows is frustrating, but Legion Go’s hardware is impressive. Unlike the Steam Deck or Rog Ally, the controllers are detachable (like the Nintendo Switch!) and charge wirelessly when connected. The left controller has a joystick, a D-pad, a few menu buttons, a bumper and a trigger at the top, as well as two additional programmable buttons on the back.
The right controller has additional features. In addition to the usual four gaming buttons and a control stick, there’s the touchpad. There is a typical right bumper and trigger, but also a third bumper along the flat right side. And then there are two more buttons, labeled M3 and Y3 along the back, which sit almost directly under my little finger. I often felt like I was pressing them accidentally. Just under the right trigger there is a scroll wheel.
The button layout is confusing but makes more sense once you try FPS mode. The controllers are designed for larger hands than the Switch’s Joy-Cons, but are still light enough to be comfortable to hold when playing detached.
This console has a gigantic IPS screen. 8.8 inches, 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution and up to 144Hz refresh rate. It’s overkill but feels luxurious. The back of the console also has a large kickstand, similar to that of the Switch OLED. It’s strong and sturdy and has a remarkably wide angle, allowing you to prop up the screen, play with detached controllers at a good distance, and see everything without straining your eyes.
Finally, I like that there are two USB-C ports, one on the top and one on the bottom. So whether you’re playing in portable mode or with the console placed on a table, you can always plug in a charger. Nintendo should take notes.
This FPS mode, but
The weirdest change Legion Go offers is what it calls FPS mode. With this control mode enabled, the left controller is held as usual and the right controller is placed in a small plastic disk (it attaches magnetically), positioning it like a vertical joystick. But he behaves like a mouse. Drag it across the desktop and your cursor/camera moves as it would with a standard mouse.
In this mode, all the confusing button positions I noted earlier suddenly make sense. The shoulder buttons are perfectly positioned for your trigger finger, the M3 and Y3 buttons that my little finger kept pressing by accident in handheld mode are directly under my thumb and are much easier to press individually. It’s sort of the best of both worlds. In my left hand I have a control stick in place of the more restrictive WASD keys, and in my right the precision of a mouse. He’s some kind of genius.