Many people have been waiting for handheld gaming to climb to the next level of depth, gameplay, immersion, and all around experiences that are now available in the console and PC world. When there were rumors about a PS Vita 3000 with extra power, and rekindled with the reveal of the upcoming Nintendo Switch, many people wanted one particular experience on the go: Open-World Hit RPG, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
While people can be excited about playing Skyrim Special Edition on the Switch next year, the other side of the world has been hard at work to bring these kinds of experiences straight to the handheld community. Does the term Handheld PC sound interesting to you? Not a laptop, or Windows Tablet, but a laptop that can be held and used like a Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita. It is an idea, and now a reality.
There are many handhelds currently in the works to bring PC Gaming to handheld audiences, most of which are slated for release next year, like the Steam-based Smach Zero and the PGS Labs handheld. First to the show, however, is a device I’ve been watching very closely for a long time.
From creator Game Pad Digital that brought the Android world the GPD XD, here is my review of the first-ever handheld laptop, the GPD Win!
By design, the Win will heavily remind you of the New Nintendo 3DS. The clamshell design and even the positions of the triggers on the back are similar to how they are placed on Nintendo’s redesigned 3DS system. The GPD XD had a similar design as well, bringing in the clamshell to help protect the screen.
The top piece of the GPD Win is a 5.5” touch screen, responsive in the same way as if you’d taken a Windows 8/10 tablet and brought it down to that small size. The bottom is significantly busier, though. On the bottom, we basically have 2 sections. He top as the gamepad and the bottom has the keyboard. The gamepad has a D-Pad, two Analog Sticks, 4 face buttons, and a clickable switch that I’ll explain later on in the review.
The bottom has a full QUERTY keyboard along with a number pad-like set of keys that are used for game and PC functionality. That pad is where the Power Button, L3 and R3 buttons, Volume Controls, Xbox Button, Start and Select Buttons, and the Scroll Lock and Print Screen buttons are. As it sounds, it has a pretty complex and packed interface for you to work with.
Two final things about the hardware. The “top” of the device, where triggers are for the 3DS. There’s a lot to go through here. The top of this has four triggers, meant to emulate L1, L2, R1, and R2. In between the sets of triggers are some interfaces and ports. In here we have a USB-C port used for charging, an HDMI-C port used for video-out, a full USB 3.0 port for USB accessories, a Micro SD Card Slot, and an AUX port for headphones. This is packed as well. GPD was originally going to incorporate a full-sized HDMI port on here, but you can easily see why they opted for HDMI-C.
On the bottom/back is the most interesting part, though. There is a 3-setting switch that allows you to modify the device’s fan. If it’s too loud, you can turn it down to blow slowly and quietly, or turn it off altogether. While I don’t suggest you ever turn it off, you can if you want.
Finally, we get to the software side of the design. This device is marketed as a handheld Gaming Device, but in all technicalities, this is a Windows 10 laptop. When you boot it up, you go through Windows 10 activation and the interface is exactly that of a desktop computer with Windows 10 Home Edition.
The design, I think, is really neat to look at and they positioned a lot of things in very smart places. The L3/R3 off to the side is a bit odd during games, but I would give kudos to these developers simply for fitting so many interface options in this device.
While this is a Windows 10 machine, the functionality is geared towards it being a handheld gaming device, and that’s what we’re going to cover. To start things off, we’re gonna go over how the onboard gamepad fits into that. The onboard buttons are wired in to be recognized as an Xbox 360 controller in PC games. So, if you launch a game, it should automatically recognize and let you use the buttons in control schemes that would mirror those of the games’ console releases.
The way this works with the device is in that little switch you can see between the two analog sticks. That switches the “Mode” the device is in. If you switch it to Controller Mode, the gamepad buttons can be used as a controller. If you switch it to Mouse Mode, you’ll be able to control the mouse cursor on the screen with the Right Analog Stick and manage mouse clicks with two of the triggers. That’s a feature that I’ve found to be incredibly handy when not in a game.
As far as the rest of the functionality is concerned, you really just have to think of this as a miniaturized laptop. It can do anything a laptop can, except it’s smaller. You boot up to the Windows Login screen, navigate a desktop to open programs, you can connect to Wi-Fi and browse the web in Microsoft Edge, and the list goes on. It’s a PC that fits in your hands, and that’s something that’s important to remember.
Performance I’m putting into 2 sections to not have an overly long section for the unit’s performance. I’ve also got a lot to talk about in each area, so you don’t need me to showcase a fine example of Novel Syndrome in this review.
With hardware performance, we should talk about handling, heat, and battery life. With handling, the gamepad controls are very comfortable and easy to get accustomed to. Once you launch a game and start using the gamepad, it feels just like you’re using a handheld or controller, like a 3DS with more buttons. That is one thing they did that turned out nicely. Even the position of the triggers falls in very comfortably.
They keyboard is, too, but only at certain times. Fitting a QUERTY keyboard on a handheld device was just begging to fall into finger-cramp territory. Basic things like using the arrow keys and such are easy, but if you go into the console in Bethesda games and have to type, it’s not easy. I don’t have overly large hands and it works, but I’d be lying if I said it was a comfortable experience. The system could have definitely used a larger keyboard.
Finally, we have the screen. Using a 5.5” as an entire desktop isn’t easy. Windows 10 has features to help make things bigger, like Desktop icons, but really, no matter what setting you use, it’s not easy to navigate. Make text bigger and folders don’t display their full names. Leave it along and desktop icons are too small for some people to read. So, it all comes down to the fact that you really just have to get used to the display to use it comfortably.
Heat is another issue that is something you would have to wonder anyways with cramming an entire laptop into such a small form factor. The system has a built in fan and, with default settings, the system heats up a little bit. Nothing worth complaining about, but if you’re a computer person that wants the absolute best performance, then you should be worried about heat. Increasing the minimal heat caution value up higher will drastically improve game performance, but the device will get very hot very quickly. Gloves are advised, as that’s what I do and it warms up my leg real quick when I set it down to do something else.
The final thing on the hardware list is Power and Battery. First of all, you are going to want to know the battery life. From a 100% charge with Airplane Mode on and the Battery Saver power option in motion, you can expect around 5-6 hours of game time if you’re using emulation and around 3-4 hours if you’re playing PC games. This is also with the screen brightness all the way up at 100%, so if you brought that down, you might be able to get a little more time out of it.
Charging the unit is an issue, though. The GPD Win is probably the slowest device I own for charging. You could leave it at the Windows 10 desktop screen and it might charge 2% within 10 minutes of charging time. It uses a ton of power and is better off just left overnight if you want to get the thing charged up.
Now, let’s get onto what you really want to know: Game Performance. If you’ve been watching my YouTube Channel, I’ve been showing videos of the Win playing various PC and Emulator games. I’ve tested PC Games, a plethora of emulators, and streaming from an Xbox One console and the results are pleasing, considering this device only costs around $300. You won’t be getting brand new games to run well, but some experiences that are now on the go are quite nice.
As far as specs are concerned, the Win runs off Intel integrated graphics, the Z8700 CPU processor that bases around 1.6 Ghz, along with sporting 4 GB of Ram. It’s pretty basic for a PC, so there’s no big expectation for it to run every brand new game without issue.
In my tests, I found that emulation worked wonderfully as well as Xbox One Streaming. I’d be surprised if you found even a Nintendo Wii game you couldn’t emulated at 20-30 fps or higher. New Super Mario Bros Wii runs at a solid 60 fps and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess at a solid 30.
I tested a lot of PC games, from open-world Bethesda games to the JRPG-friendly Neptunia series. Games like Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim run pretty smooth. The Fallout games run around 35-45 fps throughout, while Skyrim has an average of about 30-35 fps, sometimes dropping down to the low 20s, but most of the time staying around 30. Tomb Raider: Underworld was also tested, which ran at a solid 30 fps. Most of the problematic games were newer games. Resident Evil 6 ran around 15 fps and Megadimension Neptunia VII ran around the same.
This basically comes down to a simple fact: The GPD Win can comfortably run games from the PS3/Xbox 360 era and back, while anything newer is on a game-to-game basis. Some newer games run decently and others run pretty poor, like Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster running at an average of 10 fps.
This comes at a price, though. As I said above, there is a significant performance increase if you adjust BIOS settings, and that is where these numbers came from. Skyrim occasionally boots and runs around 12-20 fps for me on normal settings, but runs at around 25-40 with the Bios set to increase performance. There is a video on YouTube that details how to increase performance by a channel called The Phawx, which I highly recommend anyone interested in this device subscribe to.
The GPD Win is the first of its kind, and for a first attempt at cramming a PC into a handheld form factor and making it work as a gaming handheld, it’s not half-bad. There are a lot of areas for improvement, from the heat and fan, charging speed, and the overall performance of newer games, but if you’re looking for games like Skyrim and Fallout 3 on the go, this will provide you the tools to have exactly that.