The Lenovo Legion Go has an excellent display, a steady kickstand and feature-rich, versatile controls. However, it has a confusing and cluttered platform. If you can look past that, it’s brilliant for gaming and even more.
After the Nintendo Switch proved that users wanted to be able to take their gaming with them on more than just their mobile phones, handheld gaming devices got a new lease of life. This was largely thanks to a focus on power-efficient but game-friendly x86-based mobile processors from AMD.
The Steam Deck was first – it was well-built and optimised, but Linux-based and limited to select games in Steam’s own store. But it didn’t take long for other manufacturers to catch fire and start looking at handheld gaming PCs.
Asus released its Windows device, the ROG Ally, and now the Lenovo Legion Go is another competitor in the space. It is built on the same processor, AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme, has the same amount of memory and storage, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD, and more or less matches the ROG Ally in performance.
The AMD circuitry with Zen 4 architecture and RDNA 3 generation provides impressive graphics performance on PC titles, and I get the same passable frame rate and quality as I did when I tested the ROG Ally. I can run games like Starfield and Cyberpunk on medium graphics settings, between 30 and 60 FPS. These are low numbers for any performance-oriented gaming PC builder, but most of us may not want to pay as much for just the graphics card as we’re paying for an entire handheld PC here.
Many games require much less performance and run even better at 60 FPS or more, some all the way up to the screen’s maximum frequency of 144Hz. One downside is that the Legion Go doesn’t support Freesync. Lenovo claims that it shouldn’t be necessary with a screen as fast as this one, with a frame rate of 144Hz, but I seem to see a hint of it in some situations anyway. When I run the screen in 60Hz frequency mode and limit it to 60Hz, it becomes more noticeable. But is this a big problem? No, you shouldn’t expect perfection in such an affordable device.
Large and bold display
You could be forgiven for thinking that Lenovo had seen the ROG Ally and then crammed all the upgrades and solutions they could think of to not only build on Asus’s computer, but solve gaps where it was lacking. That’s not what happened of course – they’ve been developing in parallel, but since the Legion Go was released a few months later, it feels like a direct response to it.
The screen is larger, 8.8 inches versus 7, has a higher peak frequency, 144Hz versus 120, and higher resolution, 2,560 x 1,600 pixels where the ROG Ally has 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. It’s also a colourful display with a gamut close to the dci-p3 standard and a high brightness of up to 500 cd/m2. Even though black surfaces leak some background light at full brightness, it provides crisp contrast, especially if I dim the brightness to half, which is not a problem indoors.
The display is very sharp and beautiful to look at, and as long as AMD’s hardware keeps up, you get an exceptionally good flow. The display means its also great for non-gaming tasks, like watching videos. Plus, the larger surface area also provides better immersion in games. Should the full resolution be too much for the hardware to handle in heavy games, it’s easy to lower it to either 1,280 x 800 or 1,920 x 1200.
Controls like a Switch
The Lenovo Legion Go settings menu slides in from the side of the screen with the press of a special button. Here you can also control frame rate, and set other basic things for the device, such as sound volume, screen brightness, RGB light effects in the controls, and simple performance and fan control. You also get a quick check on battery levels for your computer and controls.
The controls are detachable (like on a Nintendo Switch) and communicate wirelessly with the centrepiece. This means you don’t have to hold up the entire Legion Go, which weighs almost 9Kg. Instead, you can place it on a table and sit with half a controller in each hand. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a central holder to attach them to, like there is for the Switch. Lenovo will have to work on that.
The controls, whether in place or loose, are functional and feel well-built. There’s the usual combination of two d-pad control sticks, trigger buttons on the top, control crosses and action buttons. They are all reasonably easy to reach and have good mechanical feedback. If I had one complaint, it is that a couple of the buttons on the top have a slightly oversensitive trigger, so I need to learn not to rest my fingers on them.
In addition to these, there are also two more buttons on each backside that can be manually mapped to optional functions in your games. Honestly, I avoid them – they’re so easily accessible on the back that I’m constantly pressing them by accident.
…and two types of mouse!
One thing that the Legion Legion Go boasts over the ROG Ally is mouse control. This is valuable for many non-gaming tasks, and for extra control and precision in certain games. ROG Ally solved that with an alternative mouse pointer mode for one of the d-pad sticks, but it’s a poor substitute for a true traditional mouse.
That’s what you get in the Legion Go. Partly with a mouse pad on the front of one of the controls, and partly with what Lenovo calls FPS Mode. The right control has an optical mouse sensor at the bottom, and a switch that activates that mode. It then becomes a regular wireless mouse, and can be placed in a special support and dragged across the table. On the side of the control are mouse buttons that work as normal right and left clicks, and you also have a scroll wheel with a centre button press.
It sounds good in theory, but in reality it’s not easy to use. The mouse is uncomfortable to grip with angular shapes, strange button placement and a joystick that uncomfortably pokes my palm.
With the right half as a mouse, I lose all other button controls on that side, and games think I’ve also connected a keyboard, so I have to painstakingly map the remaining buttons and controls to correspond to keyboard buttons, except for a few that are pre-configured.
That’s assuming the game you want to run has good support for it, which not all do. And even those that do, it’s not always easy. For example, I tested this in Starfield and discovered after half an hour of button reprogramming that I had run out of available things to press, and still forgot the jump button.
In addition, on a couple of occasions I found that loose controls lost contact with the main unit, so sometimes I had to interrupt a game session, reconnect and even restart the whole Legion Go for everything to start working properly again. Another problem with FPS Mode is that the left d-pad starts feeding WASD commands to the system. It works inside games, except that you don’t get the right analogue control there, but is very impractical in all other modes.
Mouse control is a good idea, but Lenovo needs to fine tune the implementation before it’s worth using. It will be much easier to simply connect a mouse and keyboard, and play that way instead. It seems to work quite stable.
Almost complete as a docked computer
The easiest way to connect devices is via Bluetooth, but if you’re like me, you may want to be able to use Legion Go as your full PC. A good computer is a good computer, and it would be a shame not to make full use of it. I recommend investing in a USB-C dock or a monitor with all that built in.
You have two USB-Cs, one on the top and one on the bottom. Both with the same USB 4 speed, power supply support and display port output. With a good docking station, it’s easy to plug in the screen, power and wired accessories. Then you minimise or close Lenovo’s Legion Space program to get a normal Windows desktop instead.
The only thing missing for full PC functionality is a webcam. I’m just as disappointed in this as in the ROG Ally. Surely they could have offered a simple one? After all, the cheapest laptop or tablet has it. But sure, even that can be docked and hung on your desktop screen.
All games in one place
Legion Space is an application that starts automatically when you launch the Legion Go, and provides a console-like interface to keep track of and launch installed games. They can come from most major PC game stores like Steam, Xbox, Epic Games and GOG. Lenovo also has its own game store built into the Legion Space, and you can freely add any other installed games or programmes to your library.
If you have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, a menu for its streaming game library is also integrated, and you get a three-month trial subscription to it as well. Finally, there’s a tab for Android games too, but it’s currently inactive with a “Coming Soon” message, so what will appear there in the future remains to be seen.
It’s the same confusing misery of jumping between different game stores and different interfaces to buy, install games and get them neatly into the library menu in Legion Space so that you can then neatly and smoothly launch them. It may also require separate launchers and add-ons to start, requiring their own login and popping up with messages and requirements for security codes, account linking, cloud seeding of save files and much more.
This is nothing that a Windows gamer isn’t already frustratingly aware of, but it adds an extra layer of clutter and annoyance to trying to manage in handheld console format on a cramped little screen. Then the mouse pad actually helps some, but far from enough. That’s another reason to dock the Legion Go – then you can configure everything the way you want it first, and even fine-tune individual games and then go back to handheld console mode.
Price and Verdict
The Lenovo Legion Go starts from £699/$699. It’s available from Lenovo, Amazon and Currys in the UK, and Lenovo, Walmart and Best Buy in the US.
Like the ROG Ally, the Legion Go has an impressive build and it’s remarkable that it costs as little as it does. It’s a full-fledged mini PC with the capacity for both productivity and budget gaming that you can also play on while lying on the couch, or for gaming sessions on the go. That said, these are short sessions, as the battery won’t last more than a couple of hours.
Lenovo raises the bar a bit from what the ROG Ally delivers, with a better screen and very versatile controls, but that leads to frustration and headaches as much as opportunities. A lot of user feedback and interface updates are needed before it’s perfected, and I think Lenovo could have done more of that internally first before releasing this console. Not all of the hardware is top notch either – I’m not impressed with the relatively weak sound, for example.
Finally, I am once again asking computer manufacturers and AMD to go all-in on the Ryzen Z1 Extreme, and release more compact computers with this brilliant processor. Not necessarily handheld consoles, but small gaming laptops at a good price could really stir the pot.
This review has been translated and localised from M3 – you can read the original here.
Product Name: Lenovo Legion Go 83E1000KMX Tested: November 2023 Manufacturer: Lenovo Processor: AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme, 8 pcs Zen 4 cores up to 5.1 GHz Graphics: AMD Radeon Graphics 12CU, 2.7 GHz Memory: 16GB lpddr5 Storage: 512GB ssd, micro sd slot Display: 8.8 inch glossy ips, 2560 x 1600 pixels, 144 Hz, multitouch Webcam: No Connections: 2pcs usb-c 4 with displayport, 3.5 mm headset Wireless: Wifi 6e, Bluetooth 5.2 Operating system: Windows 11 Home Other: Removable gamepad controls, optical mouse, mouse pad, fold-out stand, carrying case Noise level: 0-37 dBa Battery life: 40 Wh, approx. 1 hour 20 min game (full brightness), approx. 7 hours 30 min passive (low brightness) Size: 29.9 x 13.1 x 2-4.1 cm Weight: 865 grams