As luxury items go, fans of video games don’t have it much better than a reinforced suitcase that sports a built-in HD screen. Redmond, Wash.-based company GAEMS has built its business around selling “Personal Gaming Environments,” for taking your console play experience with you on the go. Its flagship “Vanguard” case is the product of a relatively recent redesign, and it’s appropriately sized now to fit both current-gen and last-gen machines from Microsoft and Sony.
Let’s start with the exterior. Credit the Vanguard’s sturdy design to its hard plastic shell. It’s surprisingly sleek for such a bulky carrying case, with a large company logo embossed in the center that immediately catches the eye. While it makes for a pleasing form factor, some might not want such an overt advertisement for their $350 case that contains $400 or more worth of electronics. Less an issue for extended travel, but something to consider for those hoping to cart the Vanguard along in public transit settings.
No unnecessary components weigh it down – but it’s hardly lightweight.
Weight is an issue for shorter trips. The case on its own is a relatively svelte 11.5 pounds, but drop in a console, controller, power cord/brick, and other miscellany and you’re looking at close to 20 pounds. An included shoulder strap helps keep the heft managed (the sling is sold separately on the smaller Sentry case). This is one of those common sense things that the user should be aware of: The case is well-designed and spare – no unnecessary components weigh it down – but it’s hardly lightweight.
On the inside you’ve got a 19-inch 1080i matte LED screen that supports a wide 170-degree viewing angle. An included inches-long HDMI cable provides easy connection to your machine of choice – it doesn’t even necessarily have to be a video game console, just something that supports HDMI – without any excess cord. The HDMI port is located at the bottom of the screen, along with a powerful pair of stereo speakers and two stereo output jacks to accommodate two sets of headphones for multiplayer games.
The monitor’s picture is sharp and the size is just right for the distance most will play their games from. It’s the speakers that really impress though. The relatively unassuming size of the Vanguard might raise up bad memories of tinny laptop speakers, but the pair fitted into the GAEMS case pump out some serious volume. What’s more, even at higher decibel levels – an included remote control makes changing the volume easy – the sound never starts to distort. There’s a lot of power in this relatively tiny box.
The case interior is spacious enough to fit a PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, or Xbox One, complete with one or two controllers and any necessary cords. Bear in mind, you’ll need two outlets handy to get the whole thing set up: One for the console and another (included) for the monitor. There’s nothing elegant about the plug-in solution; simply drape the cords over the side of the case and run them to the nearest outlet.
The bulky Xbox One feels the most cramped inside the case, spilling just over the sides of the padded mat that the consoles are meant to sit on. This leaves tighter-than-normal storage availability on either side of the machine, but it’s still enough to comfortably fit two controllers (with some creative cord wrapping) plus the additional bits. The PS4, a significantly smaller machine, fares much better. It fits on the padded mat perfectly. Velcro straps secure whichever machine you use in place, and they’re just long enough to accommodate even the Xbox One.
There’s a lot of power in this relatively tiny box’s stereo speakers.
There are a couple of problems with the design. This first one might be an issue with our review case specifically, but it can be difficult to wrestle a closed, packed Vanguard open. The lid sticks a bit, and it requires some effort to access the case innards. Especially since there’s nothing to really grip elsewhere to serve as a counterweight. Yes, you want to be able to tightly shut the case that contains a very expensive piece of gear, but you don’t want to risk flip the whole thing end over end every time you try to open it.
The bigger issue with the Vanguard are the clasps that hold it shut. While nearly everything about the case is well-designed, the flimsy, plastic clasps represent a lone black mark. They feel as if they could snap off with only the slightest pressure and, worse, they don’t sit flush with the Vanguard even when closed. More than once during our review we walked through a tight space with the shoulder-slung case and the clasp popped open after it caught on something. This is a real problem. You can buy third-party mini-locks (the sort one might use for a suitcase), but really, the clasps ought to be better designed.
Overall, GAEMS’ Vanguard case is a real winner, provided you’re willing to pony up $350 for a suitcase that doubles as both a carrying case for your console and a self-contained gaming environment. The subpar locking clasp is the only significant shortcoming in an otherwise exceptional package. Not everyone wants to plug in their PlayStation or Xbox on the go, but for those that do the Vanguard is a unique solution.
- Sharp 19-inch LED screen
- Impressive sound from the system’s stereo speakers
- Very effectively pares down console gaming to its lightest-weight basics
- Subpar clasps don’t sit flush with the case and pop up too easily with incidental contact
- A little showier than an expensive case meant to house an expensive machine should be