CES 2020: Hands-on with Alienware’s Concept UFO—a next-gen handheld gaming PC

CES 2020 began this week in Las Vegas, and while the convention isn’t primarily focused on gaming, Dell dropped some interesting gaming news.

Dell’s gaming brand Alienware is entering the gaming console space… sort of. The new tech, called Concept UFO, looks a lot like a console, but it’s really a gaming PC. 

After Dell’s press conference made the big reveal, the Dell Experience show floor allowed us to play some games on the new device. For roughly 10 minutes, I played an F1 racing game (I’m not sure which version) and Mortal Kombat 11. Having the time to play games on the Concept UFO answered a lot of questions after Dell made the on-stage reveal.

The UFO runs well, but not without issues

Concept UFO is, for all intents and purposes, a gaming PC. In other words, although it has controllers and is played as a handheld, it’s not technically a console. It has a desktop, browsers, you can download stuff, and the games I played were all run through Steam. It looks and feels like a Windows PC, and as far as I know, that’s what it is.

This also means that the UFO, although small, is not like Stadia. The games are played right there on the UFO hardware, they’re not streamed over an internet connection from a cloud server, so lag wasn’t really a problem. The best surprise, to me, was how well it performed in both MK11 and F1. Despite having a size similar to the Switch, it seemed like it was at least pushing 60 fps on its 10-inch display. Dell didn’t share its specs yet, as it’s still a concept product, but that’s what it felt like.

The issues came around when the UFO was plugged into an external monitor. Although it maintained its high framerate and crispy HD resolution, there was very painfully obvious graphical tearing and stuttering. I couldn’t confirm whether it was the display or the UFO itself, but even if it’s the UFO, I wouldn’t be worried. This product likely won’t be available for a long time, and Dell will likely use that time to iron out the kinks. To continue playing the game without getting a headache, though, I had to ask the Dell reps to unplug it from the display.

Feels better to gaming veterans

One thing I really enjoyed about the UFO was its size. As someone who’s spent way too much time over their lifetime playing games, trying to adjust to the Nintendo Switch’s very small controllers and Joycon remotes was a pain. I heard similar struggles from my friends, who are in similar situations. The UFO doesn’t have that problem.

The controllers are larger and meatier, and they feel like a more traditional game controller. My hands fit much better around them, and when you take them off of the main machine to use the device’s tabletop mode, they feel good as a combined standalone controller, too. It was a good experience, simply because it felt normal to me. I love my Switch, but that’s a big pet peeve of mine, and I’m glad the UFO didn’t make the same mistake.

Overall, it looks like a Switch and runs like a gaming PC. I doubt it’ll have the same graphical capabilities as a full-blown rig, but for now, it seems like the most powerful handheld I’ve ever used, despite maintaining a small form factor