Dell’s new Concept UFO puts PC gaming on a Nintendo Switch like device
CES may be flooded with new tech coming out soon, but it’s also a place for companies to show off new things that may (or may not) become a reality in the future. Dell’s doing just that within its Alienware gaming family with a new concept device dubbed Concept UFO, a handheld gaming console that looks quite similar to the Nintendo Switch but is built for full-fledged portable PC gaming.
We should preface the rest of this article by saying that this is exactly what its name suggests: a concept. While we got a few minutes to mess around with working models of Concept UFO ahead of CES, Dell currently does not have concrete plans to bring Concept UFO to market. Most questions about specs or detailed capabilities were promptly deflected as well, so the details we know about the inner workings of the device are limited.
However, unlike many other concepts I’ve tested in the past, Concept UFO was quite impressive because it actually worked. It’s a rectangular handheld gaming console with an eight-inch display and removable controllers on both ends. Working models I saw all ran Windows and were able to render playable games in handheld mode; docked mode, in which the console was connected to an external display and its controllers were detached; and another portable mode in which the controllers were detached but connected by a center “bridge.”
Due to the inclusion of such a large display, Concept UFO is noticeably larger than a Nintendo Switch and feels bulkier, too. Dell did not provide exact dimensions, so we cannot say exactly how much larger it is than a Switch. Regardless, that still makes Concept UFO more portable than most 15- or 17-inch gaming laptops.
The device was comfortable to hold in my hand, and that’s mostly attributed to the ergonomics of the controllers. The joysticks, buttons, and D-pad don’t have as much variation in placement as they do on the Switch’s Joy-Cons, and that makes them a bit easier to use for a newbie when connected to the main console.
Dell also had a narrow bridge that was used to join both controllers together into one larger controller when detached from the console. Since the device is larger than a Nintendo Switch, those with larger hands may not feel the need to use the controllers with the bridge to get a comfortable grip. However, there will be some who simply prefer playing this way rather than in handheld mode. In addition to being docked and connected to a TV or a monitor, the device can be played upright, with the controllers detached, using the integrated kickstand on the console’s back. The kickstand actually expands the entire width of the main console, giving it a larger surface area and making it more stable than the thin kickstand on the Nintendo Switch.
In terms of gameplay, the few minutes I got to spend playing Mortal Kombat 11 on Concept UFO seemed promising. While playing the locally stored game, I experienced no latency or lag while fighting or during loading sequences, although the back of the machine was noticeably warm while I played. Dell didn’t tell me exactly what the gameplay’s resolution was, but it appeared to be at about 720p, which is roughly the same quality as if you were to play Mortal Kombat 11’s port on the Nintendo Switch. However, a Dell representative did say via email that it is “exploring” resolutions up to 1200p, with their main focus being to strike the right balance between a small screen, intimate gameplay experience, power consumption, and battery life.
Dell wouldn’t disclose things like the processor, memory, or storage in the Concept UFO that I got to try out, but it’s safe to say that the device would need to be running on fairly powerful specs to be able to produce smooth gameplay like I experienced, as well as to do so while docked to a larger, higher-resolution display. So far, component companies like Intel and Nvidia haven’t been able to shrink down the CPUs, GPUs, and SoCs that would be necessary to produce PC-level gameplay like this on such a portable device (certainly not without major size, battery, and thermal-management compromises).
But Dell had to have gotten the internals to power the working Concept UFO models from somewhere because Dell isn’t in the business of making its own SoCs—we’re hoping Dell will reveal more about Concept UFO’s internals, especially if the plan is to eventually bring the device to market. One thing that is not a mystery, though, is the harsh reality that a device like Concept UFO would likely be quite expensive if it were to become available for customers to purchase.
Concept UFO wasn’t the only early technology Dell showed off: Concept Duet is a dual-screen device that looks like the company connected two laptop screens with one hinge, and Concept Ori is a tablet-sized device with a foldable screen that looks similar to Lenovo’s newly announced ThinkPad X1 Fold. I spent even less time with these concepts than I did with Concept UFO, so it’s hard to say anything definitive about them (and even harder still as Dell wouldn’t provide any spec details about them).
Overall, Concept Duet seemed like the device of the two that would be more likely to hit the market eventually and the device that more users would actually use. While Concept Ori is more portable purely because it’s a much smaller device, its foldable screen wasn’t much different from other foldable screens I’ve seen on devices like the Galaxy Fold and other yet-to-be-released tech. But Dell is simply following trend—foldable screens are en-vogue right now, but they have yet to prove their value, and more importantly, their advantage over typical smartphone and laptop screens.