As Microsoft looks to open the door to a wider audience, now is the time for an Xbox handheld

Xbox Wireless Controller next to Steam Deck on woodgrain table
(Image credit: Future/ Phil Hayton)

As we continue to see growth in a new hardware segment for high-powered handhelds, Microsoft has an opportunity to court a new audience. In the wake of the company's Future of Xbox event, now feels like the right time for the world's first Xbox gaming handheld, with a device designed to deliver the full Xbox experience on the go.

First and foremost, with recent upcoming AMD APUs, there’s a chance we might be able to see a gaming handheld that matches the Xbox Series S’ performance profile in the near future. While the Series S is of course a more budget-oriented machine in the living room, the idea of having those same experiences natively in the palm of your hand is a compelling prospect. That’s including the potential of the full suite of the Xbox platform, some of which simply aren’t available on PC. Imagine being able to play Lost Odyssey, one of the Xbox 360’s greatest RPGs on the go, complete with features such as Quick Resume? Not to mention the ability to play upcoming multiplatform releases like Dragon’s Dogma 2 on the go.

X and then even smaller box

Phil Spencer

(Image credit: Microsoft)

It’s become clear that the future of the games industry will shift more and more into companies delivering their titles to as many platforms as possible. Recently, Sony’s CEO Hiroki Totoki announced that the company would “proactively” target multiplatform releases, and Xbox boss Phil Spencer addressed fans of the platform to reiterate Xbox’s plans to deliver their games to as many screens as possible. Crucially, Spencer stressed that it’s the company’s goal to grow the number of players that they can target with their games, as a means of ensuring growth for Xbox as a brand – while still stressing the importance of Xbox console hardware to their ecosystem.

While there are now many PC gaming handhelds on the market, for players considering the Steam Deck today a large part of its success is how SteamOS offers a far more console-like experience overall. As Microsoft endeavors to make Windows more palpable to the audiences looking for that sort of experience on PC, it’s not hard to see how a proper Xbox handheld might still fit in with the wider ecosystem.

It’s clear that Phil Spencer on some level understands this piece of the puzzle; that ease-of-use is an important selling point for a gaming handheld. Speaking to Windows Central last year,  Spencer went as far as to call Windows-based PC gaming handhelds an “extension” of his Xbox console, thanks to Xbox Play Anywhere and cross-save support. While in an interview with The Verge following the recent Xbox strategy update, he declined to confirm the existence of an Xbox handheld in the works – yet crucially, he did note that he considers the current state of Windows itself as one of the weak links for both the ASUS ROG Ally and other Windows-based PCs.

Asus ROG Ally playing high on life

(Image credit: Future)

For success, Microsoft would need to deliver a handheld specifically catered for gaming and not just another Windows-based machine. If Microsoft can offer a handheld fulfilling that promise, it would be yet another product that can help draw players to the larger Xbox ecosystem, much as the Steam Deck has continued to drive players to Valve’s storefront. For those that are already owners of an Xbox Series X, it might convince more and more players to buy their games digitally, too, which is something that reportedly Microsoft aims to do with an upcoming Xbox Series X revision.

While it does seem unlikely that Xbox would be able to steer players away from whatever Nintendo’s next console ends up looking like, it doesn’t have to directly compete with it, either. After all, if Microsoft could get Series S performance into a handheld, the same chip could be used for an even smaller refresh of the box many players already have sitting underneath their TV – no matter what it would be a win, either way.

As Microsoft looks towards the future with their hardware, it would feel remiss if they chose to ignore the possibility that a Series S handheld could provide. Even if the next generation is still years away, it would inject some excitement into the brand as they’ve had a tumultuous few months while offering a product I’m sure many players could be convinced to buy.

While there's no explicit Xbox handheld yet, you could always check out some of the best gaming handhelds in the meantime.

James Galizio

James Galizio has been writing about gaming and technology from LA since 2014, and has contributed to outlets such as RPG Site, Nintendo Insider and more with a special focus on PC gaming and Japanese RPGs. Graduating from the University of California, Irvine in 2021 with Bachelors in English he has covered events such as E3, Tokyo Game Show and more as he hopes to help shine a light on games both big and small. If he’s not writing about an upcoming or recently released RPG, you can probably find him playing Monster Hunter or some random game that might have recently been released in Japan.