Honestly, I haven’t paid this much attention in the past, and I wish I had. My friend and Vita Player Editor-in-Chief Simon Plumbe said to me numerous times that the Switch and even the Switch Lite are just not as comfortable to handle than the Vita. Too large. Too cumbersome. Enter the Steam Deck, a behemoth of a device. Sure, it has more power, but at the cost of barely being portable. So, let’s study this for a bit, shall we?
Obviously, the Game Boy isn’t the first nor the best handheld ever made. But it’s arguably the most famous. And despite its brick-like shape, it isn’t too bad to hold. The screen was terrible, but future iterations tried to address the ghosting issues. Honestly, it wasn’t too bad. The Game Boy Advance SP, on the other hand, gives me cramps. Which is a shame, as I have a very nice AGS-101 example that I like playing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on. But the edges are just too sharp.
One of the handhelds that I think got it super right in terms of ergonomics was the PSP. Oh, goodness, how I love the PSP. Mind you, I have small-ish hands, but the round nature of the PSP just made it such a comfort to hold after the sharpness of the GBA SP. The Vita, which was the PSP’s successor, had sharper lines, but it was still rather small (particularly for a non-foldable device). It was actually portable.
The market today is dominated by big devices. Even looking past the Steam Deck, companies like Ayn and AYA are making devices that make the Vita look like a keyring. But is bigger really better? The issue at hand (ha!) is that they’re not really that portable, or comfortable to hold.
The reason behind it all is, of course, power consumption. With bigger screens and hungry processors and GPUs, these new devices need big batteries. So the device needs to be big. And therein lies the issue, because honestly, they’re a literal pain to hold for long periods of time.
There’s some hope yet, though: ASUS has recently announced the Ally, their flagship handheld gaming PC with a bespoke AMD chip and a heavy focus on ergonomics. They even made a huge deal of showing the number of different iterations the body went through during the design phase, to ensure that it was comfortable to hold.
Now, this is a premium device. ASUS said it’ll cost “less than $1000” which to me, sounds like the base model with the less powerful CPU will be $999. So I won’t be buying it. And it’s not really a competitor to the Deck, which can be had for $400 (less than half the price of the base ROG Ally). But it’ll hopefully pressure device makers to focus more on ergonomics.
The Ally is smaller than the Deck, lighter and more powerful. So it’ll be interesting to see what trickles down to more affordable devices (if anything). In the meantime, please excuse me while I play some more The Walking Dead on my Vita. I’m old and my legs hurt, I don’t need hand cramps, too.