The portable gaming PC marketplace exploded in 2023, and 2024 looks to be no different.
After a year that brought us the ASUS ROG Ally, Lenovo Legion Go, and Steam Deck OLED, MSI is ready to enter the fray with the Claw. On paper and in practice, it’s very similar to its competitors. It’s got enough juice to run modern AAA games, a similar control scheme to something like the Steam Deck, and a nice display to make games really pop. It will launch in the first half of 2024, starting at $699.
MSI brought the Claw to CES 2024 and I got to (briefly) put my hands on it. As much as I love the Steam Deck, its use of SteamOS is a problem for people who have games in other online libraries. MSI went a different route, and if the company can work out a couple of kinks, this could be a viable alternative for those who don’t want to be locked into Steam.
MSI Claw: Specs
Two peas in a pod.
Credit: Kim Gedeon/Mashable
Before I get to my experience with the Claw, it’s worth taking some time to lay out what’s under the hood of this handheld bad boy:
There are a couple of points worth digging into here. First is the display, which one-ups the Steam Deck with 1080p resolution (as opposed to Steam Deck’s 800p) and a 120Hz refresh rate, beating the 90Hz rate on Valve’s handheld. Its Intel Meteor Lake processor is newer and theoretically more powerful than what’s in the Steam Deck, which is running on hardware that’s almost two years old at this point.
Like the ROG Ally and Legion Go, the Claw runs on Windows 11, as opposed to Valve’s choice to use the custom Linux-based SteamOS. This means the Claw is able to natively and easily run games from non-Steam libraries like Xbox Game Pass, Epic Games Store, and more. A Steam Deck can technically do that too, but you have to have some technical know-how and patience to pull it off.
Therein lies the best potential aspect of the Claw. The device can run in regular Windows 11 desktop mode if you want it to, but MSI built a simple and clean custom UI that brings all your different libraries together under one roof. It marries the simplicity of SteamOS with the functionality of Windows 11. To be clear, MSI isn’t a pioneer in this regard; the Legion Go, for example, had its own hub software with similar functionality, but the cluttered, ugly UI was enough of an impediment to stop me from using it entirely.
The Claw’s menu, on the other hand, is self-explanatory and seems worthwhile. I did have some troubles with finicky menu selection in certain spots, but MSI assured me the UI is still a work in progress. In particular, trying to force quit a game at the system level took more effort than I would’ve liked.
Last but not least, we brought a Steam Deck with us to the event and found that the two devices are nearly identical in weight. The spec sheet backs this up; MSI Claw comes in at 1.48 pounds and Steam Deck at 1.41 pounds.
MSI Claw hands-on
The fans seem to do their job.
Credit: Kim Gedeon/Mashable
As for how the device actually plays, my time with it was ever-so-brief but still illuminating enough.
Like its competitors, the Claw has two analog sticks, a D-pad, four shoulder buttons, and four face buttons. There are also two customizable macro buttons on the back. Unlike the Steam Deck, however, there are no touchpads to emulate mouse controls. There is a touch screen, but some people might prefer a touchpad. I don’t really care about that, but it’s worth pointing out.
I wasn’t able to get enough time with the Claw to do detailed performance analysis, and MSI didn’t have an onscreen frame rate counter for me to use like the Steam Deck does (though I was assured this is in the works). Judging by the eye test, Assassin’s Creed Mirage ran at a pretty stable 30FPS on low settings and looked excellent on the display. Sonic Superstars was even better, running at or close to 60FPS without much in the way of noticeable drops.
These are recent AAA releases (though maybe Superstars doesn’t qualify, even if it is a nice looking game), so seeing the Claw run them admirably was encouraging. MSI talked a big game about its proprietary cooling system that is supposed to keep the device from running hot, and sure enough, I didn’t notice any uncomfortable warmth in my time with it. A demo unit that had been running Mirage continuously for at least 20 minutes was a little warm, but well within acceptable parameters.
As for battery life, MSI says it has been able to run Forza Horizon 5 for two straight hours on a single charge. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but by the standards of portable gaming PCs, that’s pretty dang good. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until we have a review unit later this year to test that ourselves.
In all, MSI Claw could be another worthy entrant in the suddenly crowded portable PC landscape. Aside from maybe its newer processor, there isn’t anything about the hardware that screams must-have compared to a Steam Deck OLED just yet. But it’s great that there are so many options right now, and none of them are abjectly bad.