- At CES 2020,Dell showed off the Alienware Concept UFO, a portable gaming system that resembles the Nintendo Switch.
- While the Concept UFO has many of the Switch’s hallmark features, like detachable controllers and the ability to be plugged into a bigger screen, it also differs from Nintendo’s system in many ways.
- Dell’s concept is a full-blown Windows PC packaged in a gaming tablet. It’s also noticeably larger than the Nintendo Switch and has a few other important differences.
- The concept is another sign that the industry is moving away from the idea that mobile and at-home gaming must be two separate experiences.
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Alienware, the Dell-owned gaming PC maker, is typically known for its line of laptops and desktops, but at the CES tech conference in Las Vegas this week, it unveiled a different type of device: a concept gaming tablet that looks an awful lot like the Nintendo Switch.
Like Nintendo’s hit console, Alienware’s Concept UFO consists of a tablet with two controller pieces that snap on to either side of the device. There’s also a kickstand for propping up the tablet when you’re not playing it in handheld mode, much like the Switch. And like Nintendo’s console, it’s designed to be used in a variety of ways.
Attach the controllers to the tablet’s body, and you’ve got a portable gaming device. Take the controllers off and attach them to a bridge accessory, and you can play with a traditional controller, using the tablet as a display. Since it’s a Windows PC, you can also plug the tablet into a monitor or TV and play using the controller or a mouse and keyboard. That also means you’ll be able to access your PC gaming library on the device.
It’s certainly a form factor that was pioneered by Nintendo and seems to be heavily inspired by the Switch. But Dell’s Alienware has found a few ways to make the device feel like its own.
The Concept UFO, however, is just that: a concept. That means there’s no telling whether this will result in an actual product available for sale. But for a concept, it does feel very polished and almost exactly like a finished product.
I had the chance to spend a few minutes with the Alienware Concept UFO at CES. Though it bears a lot of resemblance to the Switch, I was surprised at how different it felt. Here’s a closer look at what it was like to try it.
One of the biggest differences between Alienware’s UFO and the Switch is in their size and weight.
The Alienware UFO has an 8-inch screen, making it roughly the size of an iPad Mini. It’s a lot larger than the Nintendo Switch, which has a 6.2-inch display that’s about the same size as a smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S10 or iPhone 11.
Its display is also sharper than the Switch’s, since it has a 1900 x 1200 resolution, while Nintendo’s tablet has a 1280 x 720 resolution.
Dell wouldn’t share how much the UFO weighs, but it feels noticeably heftier than the Nintendo Switch, which is less than a pound.
While having that larger display means there’s a lot of screen real estate for playing games, I could also imagine it feeling cumbersome to hold for long periods. The Alienware UFO’s bigger size could also make it more challenging to play in cramped spaces, like on a subway train.
During my brief time using the Concept UFO, which runs on a 10th-generation Intel processor, gameplay felt smooth, without any stutter or lag.
The Alienware UFO is also full of design flourishes that make it feel distinct.
The Alienware Concept UFO’s design may be what drew comparisons to the Switch in the first place, but there are plenty of details that give it an aesthetic that’s unmistakably Alienware.
The sides of the tablet are slightly angled, so it very vaguely resembles a trapezoid.
The grooves around the joysticks also light up, much like the coloured backlights on Alienware’s keyboards.
The kickstand on the back of the tablet is also much larger than the Nintendo Switch’s, and it opens downward like a trapdoor, giving it a bit more stability than the Switch in tabletop mode.
The Alienware’s detachable controllers also differ from the Switch’s Joy-Cons in an important way: You can’t use them independently
Each Nintendo Joy-Con attachment functions as its own controller, but that’s not the case for the Alienware Concept UFO. When removed from the display, the controllers must be attached to the bridge accessory to work, since it includes the battery that powers the controllers.
What I did appreciate about the controller attachments, however, is how easily they snapped into place. The Concept UFO’s controllers magnetically attach to the sides of the tablet, making them easy to attach and detach without any fiddling around.
And perhaps most importantly, the Alienware Concept UFO is an actual Windows PC, meaning you can use it just like a regular computer when you’re not gaming.
The Concept UFO is a full-blown Windows PC, giving it a slew of uses beyond gaming – such as working in an app like Microsoft Office, browsing the web, or streaming video.
The Switch’s usability is somewhat limited beyond playing games. There are some apps available, such as Hulu and YouTube, but it lacks other widely used services like Netflix.
The Alienware UFO and the Nintendo Switch have several similarities and differences, but they both indicate where the gaming industry is headed.
Alienware’s Concept UFO is yet another sign that the industry is shifting toward an approach that more closely blends portable and at-home console gaming, no longer requiring that they be two separate things.
The Switch popularised that idea when it launched in 2017, and since then some of the industry’s biggest players have been investing in ways to let players experience games on whatever screen they want – the one stowed away in a backpack, or the one sitting in a living room.
Tech giants like Microsoft and Google are hoping to achieve this by beaming games from the cloud to your devices, while Nintendo and Alienware are clearly looking at new portable form factors that can be docked to larger screens. The approach may be different, but in some ways, the goal is the same.