On the Road to a Microsoft Xbox Series Handheld Console

Can Microsoft develop the first portable Xbox game console? A lot of rumors have been going in this direction for many years, but the reason and the fact of the strategy put in place on the Xbox doesn’t have to go in this direction. We considered the possibilities.

With the success of the Nintendo Switch and the advent of cloud gaming, the fantasy of an Xbox portable console made by Microsoft has popped into many minds and has been the topic of noise in the corridor since the launch of generation 9 in 2020.

The brand’s most attentive fans have probably noticed the flashes sent out by some accustomed Microsoft journalists. We can already say that the company’s teams are thinking about a portable device that will go in this direction. However, between thinking about a product, announcing it and marketing it, there are clearly many steps to take. In other words, it is a device that will not see the light of day in the end. Plans can change as others have said.

While waiting for possible leaks that will allow us to better understand this project, let’s consider the different paths that Microsoft can pursue. One might also wonder if such a device makes sense in today’s Xbox strategy.

Native games or cloud gaming?

Before looking at the various assumptions, one last point to clarify. Now there are two main ways to think about a portable device capable of offering video games to consumers. You can create a device that is able to run native games and it requires convincing game developers to customize their titles for your machine in particular, there are often significant constraints on game performance or quality. in graphics. This is the path Nintendo has taken for the Switch or the Valve with the Steam Deck.

Valve Steam Deck Test (7)
Source: Anthony Wonner – Fandroid

The other way is cloud gaming. This makes it possible to deport the need for computing power to the service publisher’s servers, and therefore to facilitate the mobile device that is already content to read a video stream and send commands from the joystick. In principle, this greatly speeds up the catalog of games available on the device. The downside is that it requires a very good connection, wireless plus. Another problem: when you leave your house, you need a 4G or 5G connection to continue playing.

Note that nothing can prevent a console in the first hypothesis from accessing cloud gaming as well. Many games available on the Nintendo Switch are available thanks to cloud gaming (Hearts of the Kingdom and control for example, A Story of the Plague: Requiem soon), usually at the cost of a very low user experience.

We know the Xbox’s appetite for cloud gaming, so it’s an important question if we can imagine a portable console made by Microsoft.

Hypothesis 1: a portable Xbox Series S

Despite months and months of Xbox Series S dropsLockhart“, the arrival of the small Microsoft console next to the Xbox Series X was a nice surprise. This more compact console for a new generation product impressed us in our testing. As far as imagining a portable version of this console?

Microsoft Xbox Series S test franroid (3)
Source: Arnaud Gelineau – Fandroid

The idea is not stupid. This allows Microsoft to guarantee that all the Xbox Series S games we know of today will be compatible with this possible portable version. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to reach the state. In fact, the Xbox Series S consumes 80 to 85 watts and comes with a 165 watt power supply. We are far from the 20 watts used by the Steam Deck with the same kind of architecture.

To reduce this consumption, it is necessary to rely on the next generation of AMD components, but in this case, the architecture of the machine has changed and the compatibility of the games is no longer guaranteed simple. Same thing if we decide to reduce the display definition as the Xbox Series S is designed to go from 1080p to 4K.

Hypothesis 2: a dedicated portable console

Microsoft can also choose to make a new game console, regardless of the characteristics of the Xbox Series S and X. This option has the advantage of allowing Microsoft to design a customized product such as Steam Deck. from Valve, with controlled consumption. and computing power is limited to displaying games at 720 p (or closer). There, we can even imagine Microsoft using the next AMD Zen 4 and RDNA 3 architectures to improve efficiency and deliver something very convincing against Nintendo and Valve. Proximity restrictions on the Xbox Series S and X are no longer relevant in this scenario.

Xbox Series V
An imaginary Xbox portable console concept

However, the difficulty of this assumption lies in the constraints for video game creators. The number of versions to deploy in a game has increased over the previous generation. Now the cross-platform game can be released on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox One X, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, PC (Steam), Steam Deck, Xbox Cloud Gaming, Google Stadia, Epic Games Store, Android, iOS. For each of these versions, developers have to make customizations to the game.

It needs to form a virtuous circle: to be followed by developers, Microsoft needs to be successful in selling enough portable Xbox consoles. Otherwise, developers may simply decide not to ignore this machine, as was the case with the Wii U or PS Vita in their time.

Hypothesis 3: a console dedicated to cloud gaming

The idea can immediately come to mind by many gamers when considering a portable Xbox a console designed for cloud gaming. We removed the performance restrictions, because the games are not native to the machine, and to the adaptation of the game developers.

As explained above, the problem with this hypothesis is the limitations of such a machine. If it’s not 4G or 5g compatible, you won’t be able to play right away when you leave your house. It also means a mandatory Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription to use the device.

Hypothesis 4: a gaming laptop

This is a scenario that we rarely thought about, Microsoft offers a variety of PCs with the Surface family and we know that the same engineers are responsible for making the Xbox. One can imagine a Surface product for the first time being really aimed at an audience of gamers. Many Surface devices have previously integrated the Xbox Wireless protocol to easily connect an Xbox controller without using Bluetooth.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Gaming

In this scenario, Microsoft has the option of using the Xbox Series S architecture to create an ideal portable PC for video games without making a machine too much. Series S cost rationalization will limit the selling price. On the other hand, we will discuss this case with a Windows PC, which is no longer very common with the idea of ​​a portable console.

Are such ideas really part of the Xbox Everywhere strategy?

The Xbox Everywhere strategy that Microsoft has put in place is simple to understand. It’s about offering Xbox games on as many screens as possible, globally and to as many players as possible. If we take the definition of strategy, it’s something that games offer “devices you already own“.

Here we will talk about the elephant in the room. Should Microsoft really sell a portable console when any smartphone can already be a console with cloud gaming and a simple controller? Of course, the company can always add a bowstring to it with a new product, but that won’t allow it to find a new audience. It was smarter to offer Xbox Cloud Gaming the Steam Deck and still negotiate with Nintendo one day to put it on the Switch.

It’s only natural that this type of device was studied within Microsoft, and perhaps the company would be able to solve this equation to offer an interesting device. In our opinion, among the assumptions we have proposed, scenarios 2 and 4 are holding our attention, but we can’t imagine Microsoft starting this console generation. The Nintendo Switch creates emulators, but by offering Xbox games on consoles, PCs, mobiles and even directly on televisions, Microsoft doesn’t have to offer a dedicated portable console like the Switch.

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