Rick Perez/CNN Underscored

Just a few years ago, the idea of playing high-fidelity computer games on something the size of a Nintendo Switch probably sounded absurd to some. But if the popularity of recent devices like the Valve Steam Deck and Asus ROG Ally have taught us anything, it’s that true handheld PC gaming doesn’t just work; it’s here to stay. With that said, it’s no surprise to see other PC heavyweights enter this exciting new arena — as Lenovo is this fall with the promising Legion Go.

Launching this October for $700, the Legion Go is a Windows 11-based handheld that has some unique advantages over the competition, including removable controllers and a special FPS mode that offers mouse-like precision when you’re playing your favorite shooters. But can it take on the likes of Valve and Asus? Here’s what I think after roughly an hour of slaying demons, knocking out ninjas and battling to hip-hop beats on Lenovo’s new high-powered handheld.

Gaming PC power meets Nintendo Switch convenience

Mike Andronico/CNN Underscored

Previous PC gaming handhelds have garnered plenty of Switch comparisons, but in terms of design, the Legion Go just might be the one that borrows the most liberally from Nintendo’s wildly popular console. Much like the Switch — and unlike the Steam Deck and ROG Ally — the Legion Go sports removable controllers on the sides as well as a kickstand on the back, making it easy to transform it from an all-in-one handheld into a versatile tabletop gaming station.

I was immediately struck by the Legion Go’s 8.8-inch quad-HD display, which is notably bigger and sharper than the 7-inch panels you’ll find on the Steam Deck and ROG Ally and packs a smooth 144Hz refresh rate for extra-fluid gaming. I had ample real estate for playing games and browsing the web comfortably, and everything I fired up — from the bloody hellscapes of Doom Eternal to the colorful anime action of Hi-Fi Rush — looked crisp and vibrant. The system’s speakers got plenty loud as well.

Mike Andronico/CNN Underscored

Of course, a portable gaming PC is useless if it can’t handle the latest games, and based on my brief hands-on time, the Legion Go should make for an excellent way to play your favorite Windows titles on the go. I didn’t get the chance to run any detailed benchmarks, but titles like Doom Eternal and Hi-Fi Rush ran smoothly at medium to high settings; somewhere between 30 frames per second (our minimum for playability) and an ideal 60 fps, if I were to eyeball it.

All this action is powered by an AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme processor with AMD RDNA graphics, which should put it roughly on par with the higher-end Asus ROG Ally and a bit ahead of the Steam Deck, at least on paper. We’ve found Valve’s handheld to do an excellent job optimizing titles for the Deck — there’s even a Steam certification program that lets you know how well a game will work — so I’m eager to see how all three devices compare in the wild. Perhaps even more critical for a device like this is battery life, which we’ve found to be pretty low on both competing handhelds when playing demanding games. Again, we’ll have to see how Lenovo stacks up here, but the company is at least promising that the Go can recharge up to 70% battery in 30 minutes.

Mike Andronico/CNN Underscored

The Legion Go also has a big advantage when it comes to ports, sporting two USB-C connections (the Deck and Ally only have one) as well as a microSD card slot for up to 2TB of extra storage and a headphone jack for wired audio. That extra USB-C port allows you to, say, connect a monitor and your favorite controller to your Legion Go at the same time, all without having to spring for an extra dock (like Valve’s Steam Deck Docking Station). I also have to give a shoutout to the Go’s included protective carrying case, which features an opening for the USB-C port that allows you to charge your handheld while it’s covered up.

Comfortable controls with one killer new feature

Mike Andronico/CNN Underscored

The Legion Go’s controls combine a familiar Xbox-like button layout with some of the Steam Deck’s best features, such as a trackpad for mouse-based games and programmable rear-facing buttons to keep your precious thumbs free during heated competitive matches. The buttons felt clicky, intuitive and reliable, whether I was carefully hopping platforms in Hi-Fi Rush or mashing away at pixelated ninjas in TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge. It’s a pretty beefy handheld — at 11.8 inches wide and just under 2 pounds, it’s comparable to the Steam Deck and bigger than the Ally and Switch — but I found it pretty comfortable to hold during my hands-on session. But this device really comes alive when you plop it on a table, snap the controllers off and fire up your favorite first-person shooter.

The Legion Go features a special FPS mode, which lets you place the right controller onto an included dock that effectively turns it into a mouse that you can glide around your desk. This results in an awesome hybrid gaming setup that gets you controller-like movement on the left side and mouse-level precision — a critical feature for serious shooter players — on the right. Running and gunning in Doom Eternal felt pretty smooth and precise in this mode, and it also came in handy when I simply felt like clicking around the web in Microsoft Edge. Combined with its handy kickstand, the Legion Go’s FPS mode could be just the thing to sway certain PC gamers away from Valve and Asus, and I’m very eager to spend more time testing it with my favorite shooters.

All the flexibility of a Windows computer

Mike Andronico/CNN Underscored

One of the most compelling things about the Legion Go is that, like the Asus ROG Ally, it’s running full Windows 11. That means you can easily download the top PC games from all your go-to storefronts, including Steam, the Epic Games Store, Xbox and EA Play, with a built-in Legion Space app that’s designed to tie them all together in a convenient one-stop hub. You can pair it with a mouse and keyboard for Surface-like productivity on the go or take things even further and hook up a monitor for a true desktop setup. Just like on the ROG Ally, you’ll get three free months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate out of the box, which is a great way to dive right into hot titles like Starfield on the road.

By contrast, the Steam Deck is built primarily for playing Steam games, with custom SteamOS software that has its own pros and cons. You’ll get a slick bespoke interface that makes browsing and playing Steam games as simple as using a Switch, and Valve’s Deck Verified program makes it clear which titles are optimized for on-the-go action. You can run Windows on the Steam Deck, but it takes a bit of technical know-how. So if your PC game collection is spread across marketplaces, something like the Legion Go may be more appealing to you.

The takeaway

Rick Perez/CNN Underscored

There’s never been a better time to own a high-end gaming handheld, whether you’re a devout PC gamer who wants to take their library on the go or you are looking for an affordable entry point into the vast world of computer games. The Lenovo Legion Go is shaping up to be one of the most compelling options yet in this growing category, offering true Switch-like versatility, dual USB-C ports for easy docking and charging and a standout FPS mode for devout Call of Duty and Fortnite players.

The Legion Go is set to launch in October and will be available from Lenovo as well as select major retailers like Best Buy and Micro Center. We’re looking forward to seeing how it holds up against the Steam Deck and ROG Ally throughout long hours of gaming (and maybe a bit of productivity) on the go, so stay tuned for our full review.