Review: Lenovo Legion Go

posted by Jeff | Monday, November 20, 2023, 11:59 PM | comments: 0

I've been dissatisfied with my gaming situation much of this year, but I've wanted to play more because I feel like it balances out my free time endeavors. The current wave of games don't run on an Xbox One, I'd like to give my old Windows desktop to Simon, and there isn't a ton of stuff that runs on Apple ARM computers yet (but there are some). I was intrigued when the Steam Deck came out last year, and then the Asus ROG Ally this year. What really got my attention was Lenovo's Legion Go, because it has a bigger, higher resolution screen. The appeal of these, being mobile, is that they can play stuff on all of the platforms... Xbox, Steam and GOG. The Xbox side is particularly exciting because I have Game Pass Ultimate, and there are a whole lot of good games included with that. I also wondered if it could double as a "console" hooked up to my TV. That, as it turns out, is complicated.

Gaming on computers is always inconsistent. Consoles are a lot more straight forward. They're all the same, over years, so the game developers have one target to meet in terms of performance. On a computer, there are infinite combinations of CPU's and GPU's, and on laptops and mobile devices, throw in the variability around batteries, thermal management and power draw. Just as you can control photography exposure in three ways (aperture, shutter and film speed), gaming performance has three levers as well. Screen resolution (the number of dots on the screen), graphic rendering settings (these are always adjustable individually in-game, even though most people just use low, medium, high) and power (how fast and hot you can push the hardware).

There are some practical implications here. First off, you're dealing with an 8.8" screen, which is big by handheld gaming standards, but even a small laptop has a screen that's at least 50% larger. This guy can natively go up to 2560x1600, which is pretty high. On top of that, it has a refresh rate of up to 144Hz. Gamers are always trying to squeeze as high a rate as possible out of their machines, and the research about what human eyes/brains can actually see isn't entirely clear. The consensus seems to be as low as 30, but as high as 90 frames per second. In doing a bunch of benchmarking on the Go, I can see a difference between 40 and 50, but higher than 50, I stop seeing meaningful improvement. So the point is that even if you run this thing at 1920x1200, and you're getting 50fps, that's probably good enough. To make it even more interesting, some games support an upscaling algorithm in the hardware, where it renders at a lower resolution but then uses math to display it at a higher resolution. Again, on a screen this size, the results are better than good.

The quality settings just depend from one game to the next. An older game like Portal 2 you can crank up all of the settings at full resolution and still get 70fps on this thing, easily. But if I throw Forza Horizon 5 at it, 1920x1200 on low quality will get me around 54fps. The quality settings have to do with texture details, lighting effects and other things I don't entirely understand, but I do know that I don't see a huge difference on this 8.8" screen. Again, we're not pushing a 27" 4K monitor here. The "compromises" aren't compromises at all on a screen that size.

Then there's the battery life. More power results in better performance. On the "balanced" setting, I can pretty easily get two hours and change, and the performance is pretty good on most games if you're keeping resolution and quality down. The low power mode makes even old games choppy, so not recommended. The performance mode does some pretty great work, but it'll suck the battery dry in 90 minutes or less. It's easy enough to enable though, so when you're plugged in, why not? That's the only legitimate limitation, in my opinion, the time on battery. It's kind of par for the course for handheld PC's. In my 10 days with it, I've only been away from a plug (not to say I'm always plugged in) once, in the car, waiting to pick Simon up at school. It probably wouldn't be great on a long flight without being able to plug-in.

Does stuff generally work? Well, mostly. I scored the first Tomb Raider reboot on GOG awhile ago for a few bucks, and it looked completely remarkable, even at native resolution and medium quality. On the other hand, I couldn't get the old Prince of Persia to start, because it appears to not like the wide 16:10 resolution. The only Steam games I really own and want to play on a console format controller is Portal and Portal 2, and I ran through both. They also can run at full native resolution, high quality, and get ridiculous frame rates. Xbox Game Pass games mostly tend to work great, though you have to fiddle with the resolution and quality to find a spot you can work with. Frustratingly, the recent Jusant runs horribly and looks like 8-bit color, and there's no obvious reason why. It runs fine on my desktop, so that was disappointing.

As for connecting it to my TV, meh, it's not a great experience. Obviously trying to push 4K from this little machine is futile, but the bigger problem is that the mode shifting and what not is all intended to work on the internal screen. It gets super confused about what settings to use in any game, since you change the hardware on it. Using an external controller gets awkward in this case as well, because while you can disconnect the included controllers, a feature I'm not really interested in, you have to turn off the included ones to use an Xbox controller. Had to Google that one. You can also pop the right controller into a magnetic stand, flip a switch, and it becomes "FPS mode," and works like a mouse. Sort of. I think it's awkward and not something I would use. So the reality is that it's not ideal for using on a TV, and I'm better off just upgrading the Xbox for that use. Using an external Xbox controller is however pretty easy on a table, since the machine has a kickstand.

Overall, my intention was to be able to play games in places that do not monopolize the living room and its TV, and this delivers. Fiddling with settings is annoying, but not the end of the world. I've been playing the new Starfield and Dungeons 4, and they both run pretty well, as does the aforementioned Forza Horizons 5. I played through all of TR, and the Portals. I've played in my office, in bed, on the patio and in the car. I'm really enjoying it quite a bit. I've used it more in 10 days than I did total on the Nintendo Switch, probably. Lenovo did a good job with well thought out hardware and just the right amount of performance necessary for today's games (and excessive perf for old games).


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