For years I sat at a desk near my Alienware Steam machine. It wasn’t used for anything, and I’m not sure if it worked, but it was a constant reminder that not every idea will work, no matter how good it turns out or how much the company supports it. That should be enough warning as to why I’ve been reluctant to put all my eggs in the SteamPal basket long before we officially know they exist – but I am, because truly You want to believe in the concept.
Valve is a surprisingly small company that loves to experiment. Wetting has produced some pretty amazing hardware – the valve indicator – as well as notable failures like the Steam Machine. You win a little and you lose a little. Valve has a proven track record of throwing projects against the wall and seeing if they stick.
What would make SteamPal successful, especially in a market where mobile games are arguably well covered by Nintendo? Earlier this week, Alan Dexter posted his opinion of Onexplayer, a Switch-like gaming laptop that received more than $1 million in funding within a few days of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.
“A great touch portable gaming machine to just pick up and play with,” Alan wrote in his Onexplayer review. “It seems to have a place for it in the PC gaming scene, and that should be considered a success, even if that version doesn’t exist yet.”
I took Onexplayer briefly for a test drive in Forza Horizon 4, and it really looks like a good proof of concept. The job is there, for the most part, but it does require quite a bit of polishing to use as a stray when you’re out and about on a Nintendo Switch.
“I really want to love Onexplayer.” Alan concludes. “It does a lot right. But it falls a little too short in the graphics department for my taste. It’s as if One-netbook thinks Intel’s hype for the Tiger Lake Xe graphics is too much. If we can get that fill of a rumored AMD Zen 3 And RDNA 2-powered APUs Rembrandt, I’d be more interested – although they won’t be due until the beginning of 2022, so I’ll have to wait for that.”
It’s not quite Rembrandt but SteamPal now Rumored to come packing AMD Van Gogh APU With Zen 2 CPU cores and RDNA 2 GPU. That’s still pretty speculative at this time, but Alan probably won’t wait long for something not far from the ideal.
There are many devices that are similar to Onexplayer as well: GPD Win 3, Aya Neo, Alienware Project UFO, Lenovo Lavi Mini, to name a few. Any of them might find the right formula to make portable and native PC gaming a reality. This means that the future of laptop gaming doesn’t just rest on Valve’s shoulders, and it shouldn’t be.
But Valve might be a good fit for manual concept testing on a larger scale. It is, after all, a company that is at least willing to split some of its millions on any new idea that elicits wrath at any moment.
It’s the company that makes you say “Who, Valve?” Whenever they announce something. And it will go one of two ways after that: Either you end up with, “This actually works surprisingly well” or more pessimistically “I can see what they were after…”
While those sentiments may conjure up images of Valve’s Skeletal VR hand-tracking, it’s actually Valve Index’s over-ear speakers that are a personal example of going back to a time when it went well for the company. Exceptionally good, actually. I initially thought VR headsets’ unique approach to built-in audio would make me yearn for a pair of headphones to immerse myself more in the action, however one on the Valve Index sold me out might be the best VR audio solution to date.
The Valve Index in its entirety is a statement piece for the company’s hardware aspirations and proof it can totally provide.
But Valve’s VR headset isn’t cheap, and even a Linux machine running an AMD APU can make your bank account cry if Valve wants to. But hey, someone is going to try to push gaming laptop into the mainstream, in terms of price and functionality, and it might just take the support of a big company like Valve to do that.
Perhaps the biggest question for gaming laptops is whether you really need a powerful gaming machine in your bulky pockets when you have a Nintendo Switch. But I suppose it just takes your favorite game to be a PC exclusive to win that battle. Plus, there’s the added benefit of having multi-year PC libraries available right away for many people, rather than a bespoke store with exorbitant price tags for repurchase. The value of that alone to current PC gamers would be huge.
Then you have to try to get PC gamers away from your laptop to a gaming machine specifically designed for this. I feel like this might be the hardest part of all, and it would take the most nitty-gritty in price, battery and performance.
Whether Valve will be a handheld PC to buy in a year or two, no one can say. We can’t even say for sure whether or not Valve will be manually launched during that time, Gabe Newell’s unofficial comments. But even the interest of a major player like him could be an adrenaline shot for the compact mobile market, and that should give avid gamers more hope of playing the best PC games away from the office.