An Xbox handheld is almost a certainty to come for the Steam Deck's crown

Microsoft drops the biggest hint yet that it's making an Xbox to hold in your hands

Steam Deck 2 concept
(Image credit: Carota Design / Yanko Design)
Quick Summary

Xbox boss Phil Spencer has been dropping hints about an Xbox handheld for some time now, and his latest comments make it clear a handheld console is coming.

The only question is when?

For some time now, Xbox gaming boss Phil Spencer has been dropping little hints that a handheld Xbox is in development. And now he's dropped a really big hint that also provides an insight into what Microsoft is thinking. The short version: don't expect an Xbox equivalent of the PlayStation Portal but something more like the Steam Deck concept shown in the image above.

Spencer was speaking on stage at the 2024 Xbox Games Showcase, where he was asked directly about the handheld rumours. "The future for us in hardware is pretty awesome," he said. "The work that the team is doing around different form factors, different ways to play, I'm incredibly excited about". He wouldn't be drawn further on specifics apart from one big one: when asked if an Xbox handheld would be a Portal-style cloud player or something more like the Steam Deck, he said "I think being able to play games locally is really important."

An Xbox handheld console is clearly coming

It's increasingly clear that the question isn't "is an Xbox handheld coming?" but "When is the Xbox handheld coming?" If anything, the surprise was that Microsoft didn't announce it at the event. Microsoft court documents leaked late last year detailed some of the firm's handheld plans, and instead of denying them Spencer said they were outdated.

Phil Spencer has spoken before about what he'd want from a handheld Xbox. Earlier this year he told Polygon that it needed to "feel like an Xbox" with all your games and saves. "U want to be able to boot into the Xbox app in a full screen, but in compact mode... I want it to feel like the dash of my Xbox when I turn on the television," he said, but "on those devices."

That makes it sound very much like a Windows-powered Steam Deck: while Windows will be the underlying OS, just like Linux is on the Steam Deck, what most gamers see is the gaming platform rather than the OS underneath it. And if it's Windows-powered then it should be able to run not just the Xbox platform, but rival games services too.

Microsoft is moving to more of a cross-platform gaming focus, and it has already promised that the next generation of Xbox will be "the biggest technical leap ever in a generation" with a focus not just on new games but on preserving backwards compatibility "for future generations of gamers to enjoy". If that involves a shift towards a more unified codebase for Xbox and PC games, that would benefit the hypothetical handheld as much as its next-gen super-powered sibling.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com).