Steam Deck rival with power and few compromises

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    You probably recognize MSI for its renowned line of gaming laptops, including the Titan, Stealth, and Raider, but now, the company is jumping into a new vertical: handheld gaming. At CES 2024, the gaming brand announced the new MSI Claw, which is positioned to battle handhelds like the Steam Deck, Lenovo Legion Go, and ASUS ROG Ally. However, unlike those other handhelds, MSI has had the benefit of extra time to develop and refine its design. I went hands-on with the Claw at CES; let’s see if the dragon has awakened.

    What is the MSI Claw?

    MSI Claw 9

    Damien Wilde / Android Authority

    At first glance, the MSI Claw looks similar to most other gaming handhelds. It positions a vibrant display between two sets of controls, complete with a healthy dose of RGB lighting around the joysticks. Both hand grips are comfortably sculpted to fit into your hands, leaving your fingers in just the right positions for the four triggers and two rear buttons — the latter of which are mappable to extra controls.

    As for the display itself, MSI chose a 7-inch, Full HD panel with a 120Hz refresh rate, which feels like the sweet spot between quality and portability. It’s large enough to offer plenty of detail and immersion without being so large that it hurts your arms after just a few minutes of gaming. Beneath MSI’s shiny shell lies the latest from Intel, with either the company’s Core Ultra 5 or Core Ultra 7 chip and Arc Graphics.

    One of the strongest points of MSI’s traditional gaming laptops is their advanced cooling, which the company has scaled down to a portable form factor on the Claw. It packs Cooler Boost HyperFlow, which pairs two fans and two pipes to balance performance with cooling. You’ll also notice that nearly all of the Claw’s rear panel is ventilated, making it easier for the fans to breathe.

    The MSI Claw runs on Windows 11 Home or Windows 11 Pro, but we spent most of our time in the controller-friendly Center M interface. It offers the menus and controls you need without pushing you to use the touch screen or reach for a cursor — which is good because the MSI Claw doesn’t have a trackpad.

    MSI has also announced a few accessories that will accompany the Claw at launch, including a dock for additional ports and an external GPU for more robust graphical performance. We’ll add more information on both peripherals once we have it.

    MSI Claw impressions: Playing with fire (in a fun way)

    MSI Claw 4

    Damien Wilde / Android Authority

    The important consideration is how the MSI Claw competes against other gaming handhelds. Having spent some time with a Steam Deck and using the Legion Go regularly, I was looking for a few specifics heading into our hands-on session. I’m pretty happy to say that the MSI Claw feels excellent. It strikes a pretty good balance between size and weight, so it’s comfortable to hold for an extended period but isn’t so light that it feels flimsy.

    I spent the better part of an hour pushing the Claw through a few different titles, including the graphics-heavy Assassin’s Creed Mirage and the side-scrolling Sonic Superstars. Both ran smoothly throughout the demo, and I never felt like the Claw’s battery was draining away too quickly. I only noticed a little bit of stuttering when I unplugged the Claw from its power source, but even then, it picked back up to speed after a few seconds.

    Fortunately, the Claw’s layout is pretty much identical to that of most controllers, pairing staggered joysticks with a d-pad on the left and buttons on the right. I had no problems reaching any of the controls, and I probably could have held onto MSI’s ergonomic grips for the duration of the Claw’s battery life if we didn’t have other appointments to hurry off to.

    MSI has found the perfect balance between ergonomics and size, resulting in a Claw that you don’t really want to put down.

    While the Claw made a pretty good first impression, there are a few things that weren’t perfect and a few that we didn’t have enough hands-on time to measure. MSI boasts that the Claw has a class-leading 53Whr battery capacity, but we couldn’t get a great feel for how long that lasts. Returns likely depend on whether you’re streaming titles or downloading them to play natively, but MSI’s representatives suggested that the Claw should eclipse two hours of gameplay when unplugged.

    My other potential gripe with the Claw is that the left and right bumpers didn’t feel quite as “clicky” as I might have liked, but MSI was very upfront about the fact that we were testing engineering samples and that it will be making few changes by the time the Claw comes to market.

    Mentioning coming to market, MSI plans to launch the Claw in the first half of 2024, so you won’t have to wait long to get your talons on it. When it does launch, it will come in three configurations, each with 16GB of RAM onboard. As for the differences, the base model will arrive with Intel’s Ultra 5 processor for $699, the middle model will bump to the Intel Ultra 7 for $749, and the top-end configuration pairs Intel’s Ultra 7 with 1TB of onboard storage for $799.

    We’ll have to wait a little while to spend more time with the MSI Claw, but it already feels like a good enough handheld to put the pressure back on Valve and ASUS.

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