ONE-NETBOOK's ONEXPLAYER is a premium, handheld console; essentially a high-end PC squeezed into an ergonomic, sleek portable gaming device.
Technology is always advancing and while we may not always be able to predict what the next big technological advancement, or refinement, is, there is always a rather simple pattern. The new technology appears at a premium, accessible to the wealthiest or the military; it becomes more accessible and third parties adapt, bundle, or attempt to replicate it; then somebody comes along and makes it all smaller.
However, we've never previously had crowdfunding to the scale that we've had it now, and it's allowed creators like ONE-NETBOOK to get to the finish line without going in front of a board of investors. Instead, they took it to the public, who lapped it up. The ONEXPLAYER was funded in about 15minutes when it reached Indiegogo earlier in the year, with the campaign closing out at just under £1.5m.
That does show, of course. While portable, the ONEXPLAYER is 11" wide at its widest point, just over 5" tall, and roughly four centimetres deep on the shoulders. Compare that to 9.5", 4" and 3cm on the Nintendo Switch - the device this will most certainly be held up against - and it's quite a hefty beast.
To be perfectly honest with you though, it outshines the Nintendo Switch in almost every category, and it does that because it pulls on each of the strengths of the various Windows 10 powered devices out there. It's like a Windows tablet, but it's much more powerful. It's like a Windows laptop, but it's much more portable (even with the optional keyboard). It's like a Windows PC, but it's actually portable and features a touch screen. The ONEXPLAYER is a chimera, a hybrid of a tablet, laptop and PC, dressed up as a portable console.
Despite its visual appearance being closer to Nintendo's offerings, the controller layout is closest to the Xbox Wireless Controller, with the face buttons, joined d-pad and shoulders being closer to that than other contemporaries. Notably, where the Xbox has the right analogue stick and d-pad tucked in, more central to the controller, the ONEXPLAYER's inputs are close to parallel to those above them on the face.
Perhaps most notable for me though is that the entire monitor is a touchscreen. This is great. Touchscreens are brilliant, and this means that I can play grand strategy games and real-time strategy games with immediate input. There's something more dynamic feeling about a touchscreen input than a mouse & keyboard input when it comes to those games; especially the kind I really like, the ones stacked with menus and filters. Of course, being that the device comes equipped with USB ports, there's no reason why you can't plug extra peripherals in.
It's also equipped with a kickstand, so you can sit further back from it when watching movies, or if using a Bluetooth controller to play. It's also useful if you opt-in for the extra keyboard for the device, which mounts onto the bottom of the unit and can fold up over the screen to cover it for when it's not in use.
These include a turbo button, which pushes the device to perform a bit better. When running games like The Witcher 3, Forza Horizon or Grid (2019) this is clearly felt, although you do start seeing the battery drain down a bit quicker as a result.
Cleverly, though, there's also a keyboard button. This will instantly pull up the Windows on-screen keyboard and also put it away. However, something I didn't know (as I didn't run through full set-up, and the prototype version we received didn't have instructions) was that you could hold the button to switch the left analogue stick into a mouse replacement. That's incredibly clever and incredibly welcome.
But then, there's also rumble.
As somebody who mostly plays games on mobile and PC, I was caught off-guard by the old-fashioned rumble that's built into the ONEXPLAYER. It was reminiscent of the early Xbox rumble, not quite as crude as with the Nintendo 64 or Playstation 2, but definitely a little bit jarring and... frankly... a bit louder than needed. Combine that with the fans, which do a great job of keeping the console cool, but can get quite loud, and you'll find yourself leaning toward using earphones while gaming.
I ran, natively on the device, The Witcher 3, GTA5, GRID (2019) and Rainbow Six Siege with little-to-no problems on average settings. Ramp it up and there was some slowdown, however, when you're dealing with an 8.4, 2.5k resolution screen that you're holding at arm's length, there's - in my opinion - very little need to push settings up to maximum. Maybe that's my background in indie and mobile games speaking, though.
There's something to be said about devices where the screen is held directly in your hands, especially so when the controls are right there with it. It's almost hypnotic and feels much more absorbing than cramming a controller into a PC.
The ONEXPLAYER gave me an opportunity to boot up a few old favourites, and dive back into my Steam library for a few hours. I played games like Switch Cars, Spelunky 2, Rogue Legacy and Dead Cells, each require quick reactions and responsive inputs. The device really delivered here. I vastly preferred playing Dead Cells here rather than its Nintendo Switch counterpart, where I really struggled with the inputs.
It's a powerful console, and definitely the most powerful handheld console out there, but it could lean into a few more learnings that we've seen in the mobile space, notably, if there was an option to put a Sim Card into it so that you could get a 5G connection, then it would really complete the hybrid nature of the device.
With the Windows 10 OS comes a stack of pros and cons. When I received the prototype it had been used elsewhere, it was full of relics of the previous user, install directories, uninstalled drivers, and a lot of relic software. New owners wouldn't experience this as their first impression, but it did make it incredibly obvious that despite its outward appearance, Windows 10 is still an OS that is trying to cater to too many audiences at once which means that there are lots of cracks where things can go wrong.
A bespoke OS isn't the solution here, but a tight, custom-set-up and an optional resource/cleaner software (like Huawei's early Honor management suite) could keep the Aging/Updating OS Management closer to the simple, almost background update loops of most consoles and phones.
The elephant in the room though is the price point. If you don't dabble in computer construction - and we're in an age there where few need to - then dropping £1000 on a device that's as powerful, compact and utilitarian as this isn't actually outlandish, if you have the finances. I know people who have spent more on gaming laptops with lower specs, If you do find yourself with that kind of money laying around and you're looking for a high spec gaming PC dressed as a handheld console, with solid features and a lot of modern functionality then you don't need to look any further.
Find out more about the next wave of ONEXPLAYER consoles on the official Indiegogo page.