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Alienware UFO vs. Nintendo Switch: Can a handheld PC challenge Nintendo?

The beloved Nintendo Switch took a unique approach to console gaming and hasn’t had much competition since its launch in 2017. At CES 2020, Alienware announced the UFO, a gaming PC that takes a similar approach to portable gaming. You can access all your Steam games in your hands.

The UFO is just a concept, so we don’t have specifics about the device, nor do we know when it will actually launch. Still, we know enough to guess how the UFO will stack up against the Switch.

Design

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The UFO clearly takes inspiration from the Switch. It’s a portable system that’s meant for playing on the go — whether that’s on the bus, on a plane, or even just lounging on a couch. However, the look and feel of these systems couldn’t be more different.

The UFO is a tried-and-true Alienware PC, featuring its iconic black-and-white color scheme and rings of glowing lights. Its 8-inch screen is much larger than the Switch’s 6.2-inch screen, with slightly thinner bezels surrounding it.

Meanwhile, the Switch’s simple black finish feels a bit more conservative, with just a dash of color from the Joy-Con controllers. The UFO stands out.

Nintendo Switch with Rocket League
Ahmad Mohammed/Unsplash

The Nintendo Switch was the pioneer in this form factor, effectively bridging the gap between handheld and home console. Its smaller size makes it more portable than the UFO, and it feels a bit lighter too.

But the real magic with both the UFO and the Switch is seamlessly going from a small-screen, portable experience to a large-screen one. Both have kickstands and removable controllers, but the Switch has something the UFO lacks. A dock.

The way the Switch locks into its dock is what makes the system so convenient. No cables to fuss with. No messing with your television or monitor.

The UFO includes a single USB-C port up top for connection. That’s great for those with new monitors, but if you want to connect to an older display or a television, you’ll need a dongle.

Performance and features

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Both the Switch and the UFO feature removable controllers on either side of the tablet, but the Switch’s are more versatile. The Joy-Cons be used on their own as controllers, while the UFO’s require the center puck to be functional.

Fortunately, when you do attach the sides of the UFO’s controller together, it’s a comfortable and familiar way to game. As I remarked in my Alienware UFO hands-on review, it feels more reminiscent of an Xbox gamepad than a Switch controller. That’s a good thing.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

We don’t know a lot about the UFO’s performance. But from what we’ve seen so far, it’s fair to say that it probably has more power at its disposal than the Switch. In our time with the device at CES 2020, games like Mortal Kombat and F1 2019 played smoothly. Clearly, whatever undisclosed hardware Dell is using has some muscle.

The UFO’s fans did become loud, however, while the Switch is rarely audible. Thermals may prove more of a problem for the Alienware UFO than for Nintendo’s less powerful Switch.

What games can you play?

The Alienware UFO is a portable Windows gaming PC. You can even pair a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and use it like a desktop if you want.

That means it can access your entire library of Steam games. You can be playing Rainbow Six: Siege on your PC at home, then hop on a bus and pick up right where you left off on your UFO. Well. If you have internet (there’s no word on a UFO with 4G or 5G connectivity).

Image used with permission by copyright holder

That’s always been the strength of the Switch. Of course, the Switch features a huge selection of first-party games and other titles that fans love and aren’t available on PC.

Either way, the UFO isn’t another platform you have to invest in. For PC gamers who’ve already spent a lot of money on Steam games, that’s great news.

The Switch has a challenger, but how much will it cost?

There are questions surrounding the UFO, ranging from performance to battery life. But the price is the biggest concern. With the Switch at $299 and the Switch Lite at $199, the UFO has a serious hurdle to overcome. Dell hasn’t revealed the price of the UFO, but it says it wants to be competitive.

Obviously, the Switch is the only of the two you can buy right now. That might be true for quite some time, as the Alienware UFO is only a concept.

Follow our live blog for more CES news and announcements.

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Luke Larsen
Luke Larsen is the Senior editor of computing, managing all content covering laptops, monitors, PC hardware, Macs, and more.
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