CES may be inundated with new technology coming soon, but it’s also a place for businesses to show off new things that may (or may not) become a reality in the future. Dell is doing just that within its Alienware gaming family with a new concept device called Concept UFO, a handheld game console that looks a lot like the Nintendo Switch, but is built for full-fledged portable PC gaming.
We must preface the rest of this article by saying that this is exactly what the name suggests: a concept. While we have a few minutes to fiddle with working models of Concept UFO ahead of CES, Dell currently has no concrete plans to bring Concept UFO to market. Most questions about specs or detailed capabilities were also quickly distracted, so the details we know about the device’s inner workings are limited.
However, unlike many other concepts I’ve tested in the past, Concept UFO was quite impressive because it actually worked. It is a rectangular portable game console with an 8-inch screen and removable controllers at both ends. Working models I saw that they all ran on Windows and were able to render playable games in handheld mode; docked mode, in which the console was connected to an external display and the controllers were disconnected; and another portable mode in which the controllers were detached but connected by a central “bridge”.
The inclusion of such a large screen makes Concept UFO noticeably larger than a Nintendo Switch and also feels bulkier. Dell hasn’t given exact dimensions, so we can’t say exactly how much bigger 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 in the hand and that is mainly due 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 for a novice to use when plugged into the main console.
Dell also had a narrow bridge that was used to merge both controllers into one larger controller when detached from the console. Since the device is bigger than a Nintendo Switch, people with bigger hands may not feel the need to use the controllers with the bridge to get a comfortable grip. However, there will be those who simply prefer to play this way rather than handheld mode. In addition to docking and connecting to a TV or monitor, the unit can also be played upright, with the controllers detached, using the integrated kickstand on the back of the console. The stand actually extends the entire width of the main console, giving it a larger surface area and being more stable than the thin stand on the Nintendo Switch.
As for gameplay, the few minutes I have to play Mortal Kombat 11 on Concept UFO looked promising. While playing the locally saved game, I didn’t experience any latency or lag during combat or while loading sequences, although the back of the machine was noticeably warm during gameplay. Dell didn’t tell me exactly what the resolution of the gameplay was, but it seemed to be around 720p, which is about the same quality as if you were playing Mortal Kombat 11‘s port on the Nintendo Switch. However, a Dell representative said via email that it is “exploring” resolutions up to 1200p, with the main goal being to strike the right balance between small screen size, intimate gameplay experience, power consumption and battery life.
Dell wouldn’t reveal things like the processor, memory, or storage in the Concept UFO that I got to try, but it’s safe to say that the device would need to run on fairly powerful specs to be able to produce smooth gameplay like I experienced, and did, while paired with a larger screen with a higher resolution. Until now, component companies like Intel and Nvidia have failed to shrink the CPUs, GPUs, and SoCs that would be needed to produce PC-level gameplay like this on such a portable device (certainly not without big size, battery, and thermal management compromises).
But Dell must have gotten the internals to power the working Concept UFO models, as Dell isn’t making its own SoCs – we hope 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 no mystery, however, is the harsh reality that a device like Concept UFO would probably be quite expensive if it became available for customers to buy.
Concept UFO wasn’t the only early technology Dell showed off: Concept Duet is a dual-display device that looks like the company has connected two laptop displays with one hinge, and Concept Ori is a tablet-sized device with a foldable display that looks the same to Lenovo’s newly announced ThinkPad X1 Fold. I’ve spent even less time on these concepts than I did on Concept UFO, so it’s hard to say anything definitive about them (and even harder because Dell wouldn’t give specific details about them).
Overall, Concept Duet seemed like the device of the two that would probably eventually hit the market and the device that more users would actually use. While Concept Ori is more portable purely because it’s a much smaller device, the foldable screen wasn’t much different from other foldable screens I’ve seen on devices like the Galaxy Fold and other upcoming tech. But Dell is just following the trend: foldable screens are en-fashion right now, but they have yet to prove their worth, and more importantly, their advantage over typical smartphone and laptop displays.
List image by Valentina Palladino