The Handheld Gaming Console Market: Is It Booming or in a Glut?

January is apparently the month of the handheld gaming console, with the Razer Edge launching next week and multiple startups tossing their handhelds in the ring. We even got prototypes of a canceled Lenovo handheld. Are we seeing a handheld gaming boom or glut?

Lenovo’s Lost Handheld Gaming Console

Lenovo confirmed that it had developed a cloud gaming-focused handheld, only to cancel it in 2021. The Lenovo Legion Play’s similarities with Logitech’s $349 G Cloud is where it gets interesting.

  • Both have similar 7-inch, 1080p 60 Hz, 16:9 displays
  • Both use the Snapdragon 720G processor and 4GB of RAM
  • Both run Android 11 and nearly identical versions of Tencent’s game launcher
  • Very similar design, with the Legion Play having a larger battery and display out

That these designs are so similar suggests that Tencent is serious enough about the future of cloud gaming that it solicited competing designs from multiple manufacturers before settling on the Logitech G Cloud. When asked about the Legion Play, Lenovo did not confirm or deny, leaving open the possibility of further interest in handheld consoles. If we had to make an educated guess, however, the Legion Play was canceled in part because it would compete with Lenovo’s own smartphones, particularly its gaming-oriented Legion Duel 2.

What we said about the Razer Edge last year...

"Ultimately, Razer (and Logitech) will have to compellingly answer this question: Why should gamers buy a Razer Edge for $399 when they can spend $99 on a Kishi V2 to slap it on to their existing smartphone? "

Abxylute Lowers the (Price) Bar

The relatively unknown Abxylute is looking to put pricing pressure on cloud gaming players in the handheld gaming console space. In partnership with Tencent, the startup is launching a cloud-gaming handheld this quarter with a pre-order price of $199 (retail: around $250).

  • Display: 7 inch 16:9 inch screen at 60HZ
  • Processor: MediaTek MT8365
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Storage: 64GB
  • Battery: 5,200 mAh, 8 hours of gameplay
  • Weight: 410 grams

Cautiously Optimistic?

If Abxylute can deliver on its promised capabilities and price, it could be a gamechanger for the handheld gaming console market. Unlike the $349 Logitech G Cloud or $399 Razer Edge, $199 or $250 are low enough that the Abxylute won’t directly compete with smartphones and tablets. There is, however, reason to be cautious.
  • Is a startup with less resources and reduced economies of scale really going to offer comparable performance at a reduced price?
  • Details on the product and company are more scarce than one would hope this close to a product launch.

What’s the Future?

The common thread of Tencent, which appears to have a hand in multiple, ostensibly competing products, suggests that the future of cloud gaming may be most tied to the Asian market and its preference for mobile gaming. In the US and Europe, Tencent’s increasingly close ties with China's government are also liable to hurt more than help.While the handheld gaming console market and its growing product selection superficially looks healthy, there are reasons to think that we may be seeing a temporary glut, not a booming market.
  • Lenovo passed on a handheld, suggesting that the world's largest PC maker felt the margins or demand weren't sufficient
  • These handheld game consoles are increasingly similar in price and performance, to the point they may be cannibalizing sales
  • Many rely on cloud gaming, which is undergoing growing pains
    • Subscription costs are likely to rise given the cooling tech bubble and inherent challenges of making media streaming profitable
    • Truly mobile cloud gaming still requires more 5G investment from telecommunication providers
  • Steam Deck: Valve's handheld gaming PC is a tough competitor on both price and performance

Featured image courtesy of Abxylute