The Future of Handheld PC Gaming: An Interview with OneXPlayer

The Future of Handheld PC Gaming: An Interview with OneXPlayer

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It has been a whirlwind few months for the handheld PC market. What was once a niche product segment served by only a few competitors was thrown wide open when gaming giant Valve announced that it would be releasing its own handheld, the Steam Deck. But one of the companies that has been quietly honing its craft in this area for years is OneXPlayer, which recently released the OneXPlayer Mini, one of the smallest PC handhelds on the market. We had the opportunity to interview VP of OneXPlayer, Jason Zeng in an exclusive interview about the industry, the burgeoning PC handheld market and more.

The origins of OneXPlayer

Our strong R&D team has enabled us to put laptop components in handhelds one step ahead of the others, designing the device for better performance.

The origins of OneXPlayer as a company were with its parent company, a separate brand called One-Netbook, as Zeng describes. “We have many years of research and development and manufacturing experience in mini notebooks, and we have successfully launched our multi-generational mini business PC.” One Netbook is now in its fourth generation, with collaborations with brands such as Mobile Suit Gundam.

These devices cram a laptop’s specs into an impossibly small portable package, and Zeng notes that this may have given them an edge when looking to build a dedicated gaming brand. “Our strong R&D team has enabled us to put wearable components in handheld devices one step ahead, designing the device for better performance.”

Zeng further claims that OneXPlayer pioneered several technologies in this form factor, including ‘LPDDR4X high-frequency memory, 2.5K Ultra-HD IPS displays, PCIe SSD, WiFi6’ and more. This is due to the talent of their R&D team, who are able to efficiently cram these advanced components into an incredibly small size.

This solid foundation in the mini-notebook space facilitated the creation of their dedicated gaming handheld, which was also born from their community of users, who Zeng described as having ‘less and less opportunity to sit in front of the PC to enjoy the games, especially since they started working. This seems to be the main draw for customers of handheld PCs like OneXPlayer and Steam Deck, it’s an old market, which is money, and still wants the full PC experience on the go.

OneXPlayer2

The feel of the device is one of the most important factors when holding a full-fledged PC in your hands, and the team at OneXPlayer pays special attention to that as well. “We can boast OneXPlayer for its well-designed ergonomics,” commented Zeng, before continuing, “We did various tests, comparisons and optimization of the details from this point, such as the weight of the product, the touch of the material, the layout of the controls… ‘

Zeng states that some of his personal usage aligns with his own target market when we asked him what he uses his personal for. “Mostly for informal home games. I occasionally use the device as a workstation and take it with me on business trips.’ He recommended that you check out OneXPlayer Mini, which has the most powerful specs in the range while retaining portability.

A song of silicon and steel

OneXPlayer3

OneXPlayer has worked with both Intel and AMD for their range of products, but one important thing is changing in the market, “integrated” graphics are getting much better. AMD’s Rembrandt APUs offer excellent performance, and Intel has just launched its own discreet Arc Alchemist offering, which promises extra laptop performance.

Right now, if you were to try and buy a OneXPlayer device, you’d still be limited to having Intel Xe or Vega 8 graphics. This could be seen as a current weakness, as Valve’s Steam Deck is based on custom AMD silicon that manages to integrate RDNA2, as their latest generation Ryzen chips do.

Zeng is quick to address the lack of available SKUs with Rembrandt processors: “We’ve been in an innovative partnership with AMD for a long time. The AMD Ryzen 6000 is a processor with outstanding performance, and we plan to do more research and development around this processor in the future.’ Given that these Rembrandt CPUs are still extremely new, you can expect a healthy spec bump over time, and hopefully even better PC gaming performance, to boot.

But for those looking to integrate a discrete graphics card into a small form factor, you may need to look elsewhere in the short term. When we asked about the possibility of dedicated graphics cards, Zeng was quick to say that a dedicated card might not fit into a small console, but their ‘R&D team is working on exploring some select devices’. So you could potentially see a device that will try to pack a dedicated graphics card in OneXPlayer’s future, but the challenge of dealing with the thermal effect of using a dedicated graphics card in that form factor could be a big challenge.

The impact of Valve’s Steam Deck

Steam Deck battery life

It’s the specter of OneXPlayer, and the name faces stiff competition from the likes of mature brands like GPD, the increasingly elegant AYANEO, Valve and newcomers Anbernic. But they don’t seem phased by the incoming market saturation, as Jason Zeng comments: “Every product in the market has its own position, for us we can boast OneXPlayer for its well-designed ergonomics.” This statement is especially true if you compare how OneXplayer has contoured its control pads to ensure comfort for long gaming sessions.

But, even with a saturated market, Valve has swooped in and disrupted the market with its knowledge of software, hardware and a huge bag of cash to offset the relatively high entry fee that many will pass up. A competitor offering a product with similar specs and a dramatically cheaper price point, undercutting any competitor, has led to orders not being fulfilled until late 2022. But for Zeng, Valve has given the industry an opportunity.

I prefer to use the word “promoter” instead of “underbid” for the competition in the market, as all players within [PC] handheld consoles try to play to their strengths.

The OneXPlayer is by no means a cheap machine, with its cheapest SKU coming in at $999 USD, and the OneXPlayer Mini coming in at $1249. The rival Ayaneo is priced in a similar segment of the market and offers much of the same functionality. But Zeng comments that “OneXPlayer is priced at a reasonable point with its specs,” and that holds water, especially when you consider the form factor their devices are in, and how making a device smaller can often also make it more expensive.

However, the story never begins and ends with hardware, the prices must also take into account other additional operational costs such as after-sales support, which OneXPlayer actively wants to improve as the company matures.

Zeng continued to share his thoughts on Valve’s market-disrupting machine by giving his take on how Valve was able to achieve success with the device. “Steam Deck is a very influential product that has managed to leverage its accumulated assets and bring [the] public attention to the field of portable gaming. We sincerely congratulate Steam Deck on their achievements, and will continue to work on our competitive advantage.’

But that’s not the only influence the Steam Deck will have on pricing and market positioning for handhelds. Valve’s SteamOS has also shown that Windows may not be the default OS for many of these devices for much longer, thanks to thorough Proton support gaining momentum.

Of particular note is how the Proton developers actually improved performance in games like Elden Ring, which stresses the operating system against running something a little harder on the system like Windows 11. Zeng comments that the team has been “working on” shipping the OneXPlayer line of devices with a version of Linux or SteamOS in the future.

The future of handheld PC gaming

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We want to keep our existing strengths and we don’t have the plan for advanced handheld gaming devices now.

But the high-end handheld market isn’t the only one ripe for growth. Over the past two years, we’ve seen an increase in the proliferation of lower-end emulation-focused handhelds, such as the Miyoo Mini, which we recently reviewed. Companies that are prolific in the space, such as Anbernic, are scaling up their business to compete with the likes of OneXPlayer, so we put the question to Jason Zeng, who commented: ‘We want to keep our existing strengths and we have no plans for handheld gaming devices in lower end now.’

This seems like a wise decision, as the technology many of these devices are based on is a mile away from what OneXPlayer is good at, and moving from X86 optimization to ARM-based processor acquisition may present an additional challenge for a company already seen in traditional ‘PC’ development.

Right now, the future looks bright for OneXPlayer, which continues to actively develop innovative products in the handheld PC industry. With more eyes than ever on the product space thanks to the mainstream penetration of Steam Deck, OneXPlayer could benefit from reaping some of the benefits now that Valve’s unit is long sold out, with punters looking for alternatives and OneXPlayer being one of its chief competitors among them.

Handheld PC gaming has a long history of pushing the boundaries of what we can expect from silicon in a small form factor, and Zeng envisions a bright future for OneXPlayer, and the industry in general, where he sees a more diversified style and aesthetic. design’ for industry, as well as improving ease of use with operating systems, and increased performance as chips become more advanced.

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