The MSI Claw is a disgrace

No one should buy an MSI Claw. Technically, it’s not broken: the first 7-inch Intel Core Ultra handheld gaming PC doesn’t crash regularly or anything like that. But the Claw lags so far behind the competition that it’s effectively dead on arrival.

In almost every way, the $750 MSI Claw feels like an inferior clone of the Asus ROG Ally – except it costs more, not less! You can get a much better experience while saving hundreds of dollars if you opt for a Steam Deck OLED instead.

I’ve been looking for a silver lining for weeks. Ultimately, I only found three small ways the Claw improves the competition.

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I didn’t start my MSI Claw journey by running benchmarks. My expectations were already at rock bottom, so I started with a simpler test: making the Claw my daily driver for the not particularly intensive games I was already playing on other handhelds. I booted up the PC port of Studio Ghibli Ni No Kuni, Dave the diverAnd Fallout New Vegas – a game that is almost 14 years old.

They all ran smoothly on a $549 Steam Deck OLED. Not one ran smoothly on the $749 MSI Claw. They stuttered or stuttered even when the system told me they were hitting 60 fps or higher and despite a variable refresh rate screen from 48-120 Hz that should have smoothed things out. The Claw also dropped frames if the Deck remained stable and yielded fewer frames initially.

That’s why I started some more repeatable benchmarks. How bad does the Intel Core Ultra 155H really compare to its competitors? Here’s a closer look:

Tested at 720p low, save Dirt rally at 720p ultra, taking advantage of each handheld’s different power modes.

In case your jaw hasn’t hit the floor yet, let me break it down for you: the cheaper Steam Deck OLED almost completely wiped the floor with the MSI Claw in power And performance.

The Claw, set to maximum power and plugged into a wall for a turbo boost, ran some games slower than my Steam Deck on battery power alone. Can you imagine having to pay two hundred dollars more to play games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 45 fps instead of 60 — and only when plugged in?

Against Windows gaming handhelds, the Claw fared no better: the competing Asus ROG Ally and Lenovo Legion Go offered somewhere between 10 percent more performance and about double performance depends on game and power mode.

The functional quick access menu is one of the few bright spots of the handheld.

There was one bright spot: Recurring, one of the most intensive PC titles I’ve tried, actually ran better on the Claw than on the Deck of Ally. But not good enough to be playable… and when I sat down to play for an hour each Shadow of the Tomb Raider And Cyberpunk 2077I didn’t find them playable either. Both are playable on the Steam Deck, ROG Ally and Lenovo Legion Go at identical (low) settings, so the Claw has no excuse for a choppy mess.

I even fired up 3DMark Time Spy and Fire Strike to see if MSI might have accidentally sent me a lemon, but no: my Claw scored slightly higher than MSI’s own internal benchmark. And yes, I ran these benchmarks on the recent Intel graphics driver that was supposed to deliver major improvements, not the one the Claw originally shipped with.

One USB-C port and micro SD slot, next to the fingerprint reader power button.

In any case, the Claw does not seem to have worse battery life than Windows colleagues. MSI gave it a 53 watt-hour battery pack, slightly larger than Legion Go and noticeably larger than Ally, and I saw about the same 1.5 hours of battery life Shadow of the Tomb Raider for a fee. I have 2 hours and 25 minutes Fallout New Vegas and achieved a maximum running time of 4 hours and 19 minutes Balatro, one of the least demanding games I’ve played on a handheld to date. (My first run lasted 3.25 hours; I got an extra hour by putting the system in Super Battery mode and aggressively dimming the screen.)

But compared to the Steam Deck OLED, which can easily last twice as long Balatro and has Lara Croft plundering graves for over two hours, that’s not great – and I have no idea how MSI can justify in its marketing campaign that the Claw “lasts 50 percent longer” than the average handheld.

The backs of the ROG Ally and the MSI Claw show differences and similarities.

It is worth noting that MSI did I’ve paid quite a bit of attention to the UX of the Claw. Although the hardware might be Look like a cheap Batman edition of Asus’ ROG Ally, with the exact same button layout and most of the same curves, it could feel a little better in the hands. I appreciate the larger grips, the larger face buttons, and the Hall effect joysticks and triggers for longer life. Like the Ally, the Claw has some of the best speakers on a gaming handheld, here complemented by surprisingly good Nahimic virtual surround sound that provided delightful echoes around me when I failed to dig through tombs.

I wish MSI hadn’t adopted a stiffer but sloppier D-pad or added so many unnecessary spikes to the air vents – they’ve repeatedly stopped me from finding the charging port in a dark bedroom. The Claw’s rumble also feels awful. At least MSI lets you disable it!

But the main thing I want to disable is Windows.

The fronts of the ROG Ally and MSI Claw show almost identical curves and layouts.

It’s been almost a full year since Asus released the ROG Ally and over two years since the Steam Deck, but Microsoft hasn’t done anything meaningful to make its operating system friendlier to a gamepad-operated screen. I could practically copy and paste my criticism from the ROG Ally review: I ran into the exact same issues when calling up virtual keyboards and playing games – things that mostly just work on a Steam Deck despite and/or because of the Linux -substantiation.

And I encountered very similar sleep issues to those I saw on the Lenovo Legion Go: I just can’t trust this portable phone not to wake itself up if I put it down or drop it in a bag. Only here it’s a little worse, as the MSI Center utility tends to hang when I wake up from sleep, sometimes disabling my gamepad’s controls until I restart it.

MSI Center M, the company’s quick-start software.

While MSI Center also buries important features like remappable controls, I like that it includes launchers for every major PC gaming platform, and comes with plenty of handy Quick Access shortcuts that work right out of the box (like a switch that allows RGB lights off), and is relatively spicy. The Deck, Ally, and Legion Go all had buggier and slower interfaces at launch.

Nowadays, however, they’re all much more complete and all allow you to install native updates – while the Claw still expects you to navigate to MSI’s website and download key components manually or wait for Windows Update to deliver the goods.

The MSI Claw vs. the Steam Deck. They are about the same thickness, although the Deck’s joysticks are larger and there is more grip underneath.

The MSI Claw is not the worst portable gaming PC I’ve ever touched. Years ago I played with some that didn’t even deserve a review, handhelds that were so poorly thought out and so narrowly marketed that I didn’t feel the need to warn you. But stores like Best Buy have the MSI Claw on sale, and in the current crop of competing handhelds, it’s the worst purchase of all.

Photography by Sean Hollister / The Verge

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