The Verge

2022-10-18 03:41:10 By : Ms. Lucy Liu

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Logitech’s G Cloud Gaming Handheld is a heartbreaker. It’s a joy to game on: it’s much more comfortable to use than the Nintendo Switch, and when the conditions are right, it works like a dream.

With a good connection to a cloud gaming service, it often felt like I was using a portable Xbox, or had somehow crammed a $1,500 gaming PC into a tiny footprint. The rest of the time, it’s a mediocre Android tablet with a controller grafted on. It’s just not fun to use. Sure, it can access a huge library of Android games, but trying to play the likes of Fortnite or Genshin Impact on its sluggish hardware was an exercise in frustration. 

At $349.99, the G Cloud Gaming Handheld costs as much as a Nintendo Switch OLED and almost as much as a Steam Deck, both of which are still good gaming machines when the internet goes down. (Note: the G Cloud Gaming Handheld is $299.99 during its preorder phase, but the price will jump up by $50 on October 18th.)

These flaws wouldn’t disappear with a lower cost, but it’d at least be easier to recommend to more people, like the work-from-home crowd who’s always around Wi-Fi or those who already have a good gaming PC and want a comfy handheld to stream their games locally. It’s very good at that.

Logitech isn’t just competing with Nintendo, Valve, or the myriad other niche handheld makers, like Aya, OneXPlayer, or GPD; it’s competing with the phone or tablet you already own. This handheld’s marquee apps — Xbox Cloud Gaming and Nvidia GeForce Now — run on pretty much any Android or iOS device (in some cases, they’re progressive web apps — glorified webpages). It’s easy to then connect a controller that you may already own, like an Xbox controller, Backbone One, or a Razer Kishi V2, and start gaming. 

The G Cloud Gaming Handheld is a more comfortable and intuitive way to play cloud games than cobbling a controller and a smartphone together. But unless those words resonate deeply within you, I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to justify buying one.

Logitech isn’t just competing with Nintendo, Valve, or the myriad other niche handheld makers; it’s competing with the phone or tablet you already own

Cloud gaming and handheld consoles seem like a perfect match. Instead of ponying up thousands of dollars for a gaming PC or being constrained by the hardware that can fit in the handheld, you pay a subscription fee to offload the heavy lifting.

Relying on cloud services to hold up your platform is a trust fall, but Logitech’s platform-agnostic approach isn’t nearly as risky a bet as, say, the Google Stadia model. The cloud game services that Logitech is banking on are very good (as long as your Wi-Fi is, too), and they show no signs of winding down. Xbox Cloud Gaming is available to Game Pass Ultimate subscribers ($14.99 per month), and it comes with access to over 200 Xbox games, from AAA titles from Microsoft’s studios to buzzworthy indie games. Nvidia GeForce Now is less like Netflix and more like Movies Anywhere in that it collects many of the PC games you already own on Steam, Epic Games Store, or Ubisoft Connect (plus some free-to-play games) in one place. The base tier is free, though it limits you to one-hour-long 720p streaming sessions. The next tier is $9.99 / month and allows for four-hour sessions at 1080p / 60 frames per second, which match the specs of the G Cloud Gaming Handheld’s screen.

The Google Play Store gives the G Cloud Gaming Handheld even more ways to play PC games you already own. For instance, the Steam Link app, which is preinstalled, lets you stream games from your PC either locally or away from home as long as it’s on and running Steam. If your PC has an Nvidia GPU, I highly suggest trying out Moonlight, a free open-source app that provides a good-looking, shockingly responsive gaming experience. Both Steam Link and Moonlight can work over a local network, which requires good networking hardware (not fast internet speeds) to have an enjoyable session. 

Sadly, while you can use Sony’s PS Remote Play app to stream games from your PS4 or PS5, the app doesn’t recognize the G Cloud Gaming Handheld’s built-in controls. Touchscreen controls are the only option unless you tether a DualShock 4 or a DualSense via Bluetooth, which defeats the purpose of using this handheld instead of your phone.

The G Cloud Gaming Handheld looks a lot like a Nintendo Switch except that it has a D-pad on the left rather than four separate buttons, and its right ABXY buttons are arranged Xbox-style. There are clicky shoulder buttons and analog triggers that have a satisfying level of travel. Logitech did a great job with the layout, comfort, and design of the inputs. I only wish it were available in colors other than all white with spring yellow accents.

The home button and spring yellow G button require a little explanation. Pressing home will always take you directly to the handheld’s app selector, and holding it brings up a shade containing quick settings, like brightness and volume dials. The G button’s purpose is sometimes contextual. It makes perfect sense in the Xbox Cloud Gaming app, where pressing it will bring up the Xbox home interface to show what your friends are up to, to check achievements, or to quit a game. Pressing it within the GeForce Now interface takes me home, but it’s useless in-game during a cloud session.

Two tiny speaker slits flank the USB-C charging port and 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the console. Unsurprisingly, headphones sound better than these speakers. You can either use wired headphones, go the Bluetooth route, or insert a USB-C audio transmitter that some gaming headsets include these days. In case you were wondering, the USB-C port cannot deliver video; it’s limited to charging, data connection, or audio passthrough.

The G Cloud Gaming Handheld runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 720G — sans cellular capability. It’s a midrange chipset announced in 2020 that’s also found in the Samsung Galaxy A52 and a bunch of phones released outside of the US. It’s fast enough at launching apps, loading new pages in the Google Play Store, and running games that aren’t super resource-intensive, like Dead Cells. But most graphically intensive games run sluggishly. It can’t multitask, which is disappointing; every time you launch a new app, it asks you to close the one you were just using.

There’s 64GB of storage built in, and it supports microSD storage expansion. Battery life stands up to Logitech’s claims, lasting for a dozen or so hours of gaming per charge. Unlike the experience of using a handheld that’s actually running games off the hardware, it’s cool (albeit expected) to spend an hour in a game without taking a huge bite out of the battery life.

Its seven-inch display is the same size as the one on the Steam Deck and Switch OLED console, though Logitech’s IPS panel is obviously nowhere near as brilliant as an OLED. Even so, games look gorgeous in the right Wi-Fi conditions; small text is legible, and graphics don’t look too aliased. (Though, when streaming from the cloud, dark environments and objects are prone to visual gradation.) It was a good enough experience that I sometimes forgot that I was playing games hosted on remote servers, with only a handful of moments when fuzzy, distorted image quality ruined that illusion. Streamed video also looks great if you can handle the public embarrassment of holding the handheld in portrait mode to navigate Netflix and the like. Yes, it felt weird to watch Cyberpunk: Edgerunners on the subway while holding the console with two hands, but it worked.

The custom Android 11 interface is viable but nothing special. It organizes apps in horizontal tiles across the screen, with recent ones near the front. You can hit the options button located near the top right side of the handheld’s front side to create a permanent spot for a favorite app, which will be added beneath the scrolling tiles. There are just two color schemes and backgrounds offered by the software, each of which delivers a pretty strong gamer-y look. It’s pretty basic stuff. You’ll get the same set of default apps that come preinstalled on every Android device that supports Google Play (Gmail, Google Photos, Google Drive, etc.). 

Logitech’s efforts to hide the fact that you’re using an Android tablet don’t go far beyond the surface. For instance, it kicks you over to Google’s very plain settings interface for more in-depth options, which is jarring. Instead of letting you get notifications, the handheld vibrates, but it hides them in a setting along the top drawer of options called “Messages.” 

It’s two versions of Android behind

Given that it’s an Android device, it needs the latest updates to stay secure. As mentioned before, it’s two versions of Android behind, which is frustrating. What’s disconcerting is how outdated its security patches are. It has the June 5th, 2022, security update, though it’s lagging further behind with its Google Play system update from November 1st, 2021. Derek Perez, who handles communications for Logitech G, told The Verge that there will be a Day One patch that addresses this.

The G Cloud Gaming Handheld is designed to stream games from the cloud, but I couldn’t resist installing the Android version of Fortnite, one of the world’s most popular games, to see how it would run. It ended up taking an hour to launch into a round because it was so slow at applying an update. Once in-game, the graphics defaulted to medium settings, capped at 30 frames per second. It ran far worse than it does through the cloud with a mediocre Wi-Fi connection. Genshin Impact could at least run at a steady-ish 25 frames per second, but it was a subpar visual experience, too, and it didn’t recognize the handheld’s dedicated controls.

Gaming performance is significantly better while streaming from the cloud, but you’ll need a fairly strong and reliable 5GHz Wi-Fi connection. I mostly played the G Cloud Gaming Handheld at home about 10 feet away from a Google Nest Wifi router in line of sight. My internet connection greatly exceeds the requirements (226Mbps download, 23Mbps upload), though I still experienced occasional blips in the image quality. But for the most part, I had a great time. Xbox Cloud Gaming boots into games quickly, and it felt like I was playing a portable Xbox console.

Nvidia GeForce Now requires a download speed of at least 15Mbps to stream games with the free tier or 25Mbps for the 1080p / 60fps tier that costs $9.99 per month. Plus, you need low latency between you and the closest data center. (You can run a network test by making a free account and installing the app on any supported platform.) Microsoft says you can play games on Xbox Cloud Gaming with a 5GHz Wi-Fi connection of 7Mbps or higher. If you have a data cap, you should know that GeForce Now’s automatic quality streaming mode uses approximately 6GB of data per hour of gameplay.

Out of curiosity, I tried to play Slime Rancher 2 while the handheld was connected to my phone’s Wi-Fi hotspot, which itself was getting a strong 5G signal in lower Manhattan. The visual fidelity looked fantastic, though the latency was drastically worse than when I used my at-home Wi-Fi network. This might sound obvious, but you probably shouldn’t expect to play fast-paced games or multiplayer titles over a hotspot.

Even when internet conditions were perfect, the quirky inner workings of virtualized cloud game instances sometimes become exposed. Some PC games, like Cyberpunk 2077, will require you to button-press through a bunch of prelaunch windows. I’ve had Nvidia GeForce Now hang when it’s trying to boot a game from Steam. It spun up a virtual gaming PC running Steam Big Picture mode, but I had to tap the maximize button on a minimized window before I could proceed with the game. I don’t think these issues are unique to this handheld, but some people might get stuck in a troubleshooting rut there. With GeForce Now, things may not go perfectly some of the time. Launching games from Xbox Cloud Gaming was far less finicky. 

This handheld is limited in some unacceptable ways given its $350 cost. It suffers from weak hardware, and it’s not enjoyable to use unless you’re connected to Wi-Fi. But when the conditions are right, and with services as good as Xbox Cloud Gaming and GeForce Now, Logitech’s vision for a cloud gaming handheld makes sense. Fun games are still fun to play here, and its design improves on the comfort of the Switch. So long as you’re in an umbrella of good Wi-Fi, life with this gadget is pretty good. 

But as someone who loves playing games everywhere I go, whether I’m at home or riding on the train, I can’t accept Logitech’s handheld on its terms because it refuses to work on mine. $350 is just too much for a gadget with almost the same utility — and limitations — as a set-top streaming box.

Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

To use the G Cloud Gaming Handheld, you must agree to do the following:

It’s optional to sign in to your Google account during setup, but skipping it means you can’t download apps through the Google Play Store. If you sign in with your Google account, the following will be mandatory:

The following agreements are optional:

Final tally: six mandatory agreements and at least six optional agreements.

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