The 5 Xbox handheld features that would make rumoured console an instabuy

If Xbox's handheld console is to be awesome I want these features

 Xbox Wireless Controller Black Friday deals
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Xbox looks an awful lot like it's working on a handheld gaming device – Phil Spencer, Microsoft Gaming's CEO, keeps cryptically liking posts on X about the topic. As if there weren't already enough rumours!

The market for handheld consoles has exploded in the last few years, disrupting what was a pretty serene period of domination by the Nintendo Switch. Now there are Steam Decks, PlayStation Portals and much more. 

So if (daresay when?) an Xbox handheld console appears, here are the five things I would want to see from it to make it stand out from the crowd and get me to instantly part with my cash...

1. Don't stick to the cloud

Logitech G Gaming handheld

(Image credit: Evan Blass / Twitter)

It's pretty clear, looking at the last few years of decision-making, that Xbox feels the future of gaming lies in the cloud. It's brought cloud streaming to Game Pass Ultimate and really emphasised how important it is to its strategy. 

However, there are very much two categories of gaming handheld out there already: those with on-board power; and those that stream over the internet. In the former category are massive success stories like the Switch and the Steam Deck, while the latter features more mixed efforts like the PlayStation Portal and Logitech G Cloud

You can absolutely do a cloud streaming handheld well, but what I really want is on-board processing that makes for no pixelation and no streaming artefacts, and the ability to play offline and truly remotely. C'mon, don't let me down, Microsoft!

2. Stretch to an OLED

Nintendo Switch OLED

(Image credit: Nintendo / Future)

Valve and Nintendo are just two of the handheld makers who have revised their hardware to offer an OLED option in the last few years, acknowledging how big an upgrade this display tech can be for portable play.

The difference between a solid OLED and even the best LCD screen, when you're playing a handheld, is striking – games look miles better, more vivid and full of contrast. Those trademark inky blacks are something you get used to very quickly. Just like I'll be disappointed if the Switch 2 launches with an LCD (as rumoured), I expect an OLED from Microsoft. 

This obviously will have an impact on pricing (which I'll get to later), but if it can send out an attractive OLED device, the new Xbox handheld will already be automatically ahead of some of the competition.

3. Give us more buttons

Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2

(Image credit: Xbox)

A good handheld doesn't just do the bare minimum, as is pretty clear from what I've outlined so far. That doesn't just mean power and display specs, though – it's also about the controls. 

While I wouldn't expect the Xbox handheld to go full "portable PC" and bring in trackpads or anything, I would like it to give us some extra back paddles. These are so useful for the slightly more uncomfortable grips that larger handhelds often require.

Microsoft already has these integrated on the software side thanks to its Elite controller series, and devices like the Nitro Deck have shown that even the Switch can benefit from a few extra paddles.

4. Don't break our banks

Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S on table with green background

(Image credit: Xbox / Future)

This will probably be one of the questions driving a lot of debate internally at Xbox – how expensive should this handheld be? It's an impossible question to answer easily because all of the demands I've made above would basically ensure that a fairly premium price tag is attached. 

Realistically, however, I would actually expect a cloud-based solution that doesn't cost too much, much like the PlayStation Portal, even if it won't necessarily be the most exciting option.

Still, regardless of which route, Xbox ensuring that its handheld feels like a genuinely affordable option compared to its consoles is essential. In particular, it needs to stand out compared to the option of cloud streaming through Game Pass on your phone.

5. Actually adapt the games


(Image credit: Obsidian Games)

Xbox has it's "every screen is an Xbox" mission now, but it can't fall into the pitfall of treating every screen identically and therefore making no tweaks to games for different setups.

Pentiment is a masterpiece, for example, but I don't want to squint to read its medieval fonts on a 7-inch display, and the same goes for spotting targets and shooting them in Halo: Infinite. If Microsoft is in charge of both the portable hardware and the software it runs, I hope it does a proper job of adapting the latter to fit the former properly.

It might be simple updates for first-party games, running on a good custom UI, but close attention needs to be paid to how legible and easy-to-use the handheld is, rather than just phoning it in and sticking the Xbox console UI on there without any changes.

Max Freeman-Mills

Max is a freelance writer with years of experience in tech and entertainment. He's also a gaming expert, both with the games themselves and in testing accessories and consoles, having flexed that expertise at Pocket-lint as a features editor. He has tested all manner of tech too, from headphones and speakers to apps and software.