When Valve announced the Steam Deck, I decided to skip the pre-order circus. My PC worked perfectly fine, I already have every current console, and the internet in New York City is actually good enough to make cloud gaming a reality. I simply couldn’t justify dropping hundreds on another gaming device. Even so, I’ve been second-guessing my choice. What if I could play Horizon Zero Dawn on the go without needing an internet connection? The possibilities had me feeling FOMO.
So I was thrilled to learn that Valve had competition in the form of the Onexplayer. Created by One-Notebook following a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised over $2 million, the device brings PC games to a dedicated handheld that’s more portable than a laptop. One-Notebook is following up on its initial device with the Onexplayer Mini, a smaller and less expensive model that seemed like it could be a good alternative for anyone who hasn’t been able to nab a Steam Deck.
Despite its impressive specs, the Onexplayer Mini still feels a bit experimental. My experience with the handheld yielded inconsistent results that made me question if portable PCs are really the solution gamers need yet.
Cynical gamers might be tempted to label the Onexplayer Mini a “knockoff,” but that’s not accurate. From a hardware perspective, it’s a well-designed machine for what it is. It’s a bulkier Nintendo Switch — I’m talking Game Gear thick — that’s loaded with PC parts.
It comes with an 11th generation Intel Core i7-1195G7 and an Iris Xe Graphics G7 96EUs, which aren’t exactly parts meant for gaming laptops. The battery only lasts for around two hours when running games, which isn’t great for those hoping to take it on a long subway ride. PC grade cooling fans help extend battery life and reduce lag, though.
The controller shell is well built, mostly taking its cues from Xbox. You’ve got a standard ABXY setup with triggers, bumpers, two sticks that smoothly pivot, and a proper D-pad. It’s a step above the Switch’s Joy-cons, though they can’t be detached from the console. The Mini also doesn’t feature a kickstand, unlike the standard Onexplayer model.
The whole thing is comically large and features a giant top vent that loudly blows air out like a train smokestack.
The whole thing is comically large and features a giant top vent that loudly blows air out like a train smokestack. It’s about two times as thick as a Switch, though it’s not as heavy as it may look — it’s actually lighter and smaller than the Steam Deck, which terrifies me. It’s a little less densely packed than Nintendo’s machine and it has comfortable hand grooves, rather than just being a big rectangle.
As for the screen, the Onexplayer Mini comes with a 7-inch 1920 x 1200 touch display that looks perfectly good (though every portable currently pales in comparison to my Switch OLED). Those strengths had me excited to load up some AAA games and see what the beast was capable of.
That’s where things got complicated.
First off, it’s important to understand that the Onexplayer doesn’t have any custom UI like a standard console. It is quite literally a Windows 11 computer stuffed inside a handheld. When I boot up the machine, I’m staring at a standard computer desktop. When I type, a mobile-friendly keyboard doesn’t pop up on screen. Instead, there’s a button on the device itself that brings up Microsoft’s standard on-screen keyboard, which is very small and hard to use here. Sometimes I’ll tap a button on-screen and it won’t respond, forcing me to restart the system. Some games I boot up assume I’m playing on a PC and prompt me to press keys to play.
The specs and build are impressive, but it does feel like a jury-rigged machine at times. I start to see that more and more as I begin downloading games and apps. When I try to download EA’s Origin app, I’m met with an internal error noting that I’m unable to install it. When I try to open Battlefield 2042, I get another error asking me to go to a website and update my Intel drivers. Doing so doesn’t get rid of the message, leaving me with ominous warnings that games may not be stable.
A disappointing result for such a promising device.
That’s the hitch with these portable gaming PCs. They may look like devices that you can just pick up and play on, but they require the maintenance of a PC. And doing that on a 7-inch screen with a tiny touch keyboard isn’t ideal (though it does have a USB 4.0 port if you want to connect PC peripherals).
After some fiddling, I managed to get Xbox Game Pass and Steam active on the machine. I decided to start intense and work my way down. Battlefield 2042 is first up, which is an immediate no-go. A stuttering frame rate makes it clear that the machine can’t quite hit that scale of AAA games. Frankly, Battlefield barely runs well on a PC right now anyway, so I’m willing to let it slide.
Next, I tried to boot up Halo Infinite. It takes me several tries of tapping with nothing happening, but I eventually get the app open. After an unusually long load, I’m tossed into a nightmare version of the menu where every texture on the screen is flicking in and out. I manage to load up a game of Bot Bootcamp and the entire game crashes before I can take a step.
Those were pipe dreams, admittedly, so I ratchet things down a little by downloading Burnout Paradise Remastered, something that can run on a Switch. At first, it seems like I found a sweet spot. I’m driving around a city and everything seems smooth … until the game completely freezes a few minutes in. Street Fighter V seems to work smoothly as well until I’m asked to enter a Fighter ID. The Windows keyboard won’t open, so I’m unable to play without hooking up an external keyboard.
With the possibility of running modern AAA games looking grim, I jumped down to the indie tier. I finally had success with Cyber Shadow, a retro throwback 2D platformer on Game Pass, and Art of Rally (though I had to bump its graphics settings down to medium). Great, though those are both available on Switch, so it’s not the high-powered spectacle I was hoping to see. I’m also able to easily screen share Inscryption to the device from Steam, though the bizarre default button mapping makes it too difficult to play.
That’s seven tests with only two true successes — a disappointing result for such a promising device.
The future of gaming?
My experience with the Onexplayer Mini left me wondering if the emerging “portable gaming PC” trend makes much sense at all. I couldn’t run Halo Infinite on it, but I can easily stream it to my phone via Microsoft’s cloud service. Most games that I actually could play on it can run on my Nintendo Switch, a cheaper console that’s less complicated. What can the Onexplayer do that the other devices I own can’t? I still don’t have a good answer.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a small investment either. The low-end 512GB model will cost players $1,259. For comparison, the Steam Deck’s comparable model costs $649.
I previously voiced skepticism for the Steam Deck back when it was a rumor, noting that it sounded like a piece of stopgap tech. Why drop hundreds on another new device when the cloud makes it possible to play Cyberpunk 2077 on a woefully outdated iPhone? The way technology is trending, gamers will soon need fewer devices, not more.
Still, I get where something like the Onexplayer Mini would be useful to a certain type of gamer. If you live in an area where there’s terrible internet infrastructure (like, you know, most of the United States), the idea of a proper portable PC that doesn’t require an online connection to play is appealing. In a perfect implementation, a machine like this could be an excellent luxury item for those who want to stay in the PC ecosystem but still play from anywhere.
I’m just not convinced the Onexplayer Mini is that device based on my tests and, frankly, I’m not sure the Steam Deck will be either. Simply cramming an OS into a gaming controller shell isn’t a terribly elegant solution, as evidenced here. It’s a technological Turducken. I imagine that later iterations of the tech will put more thought into user experience, mirroring the fast evolution of unwieldy VR headsets, but alternative tech like cloud gaming is moving just as quickly. Any company that wants to compete with the Switch will need to come to market fast, because the window won’t be open much longer.