When considering which x86 handheld to game with, you must choose between the Windows operating system or the Steam Deck’s operating system, as those are the limited options available. However, Playtron could throw a wrench into the mix with its own Linux-based OS.

Challenging the Status Quo

Steam Deck OLED with Steam Deck LCD - 1

Steam Deck OLED with Steam Deck LCD

On one hand, Windows is not a great experience on handheld devices. On the other, SteamOS runs pretty great but doesn’t offer quite the same level of flexibility as Windows. Before you grab your pitchforks, let me explain. 

If you relegate your gaming library to the confines of Steam, then you really don’t have much to worry about. But, this immediately flips as soon as you want to try and install GOG or the Epic Games Store. Not to mention the hoops you jump through just to be able to use Xbox Game Pass or PlayStation Plus.

Bazzite installed on the Legion Go

Bazzite installed on the Legion Go

None of that is a problem on the Windows side of things, as your handheld is essentially a portable mini PC with attached controllers. It’s one of the reasons why projects exist that try to bring Windows to the Steam Deck. Even then, the overall experience just isn’t very enjoyable, leading to things like Bazzite or ChimeraOS.

That’s one aspect that makes Playtron so interesting, as the company claims it is “compatible with every game store.” Not only that, but, PlaytronOS is also said to support “many devices” on “day 1.” I question whether Playtron can really improve upon SteamOS’s shortcomings. However, the company is either hiring or working with developers from ChimeraOS, Box64, and Heroic Games Launcher in order to achieve its goals.

There Are Dragons Ahead

Ban calls this the “Dongle Tower.”

On paper, all of that sounds fantastic and is pretty much exactly what we want from SteamOS. Playtron also confirms that it’s working with Ayaneo and plans to deliver a PlaytronOS-powered handheld before the end of 2024. I’m also skeptical here, simply because of what we recently saw happen with the Ayaneo Next Lite and HoloISO. But I digress. 

It seems that PlaytronOS is still in its infancy, and the company is set to release a “public alpha in the next 60 days.” This serves two purposes: onboarding developers and eliminating bugs early in the process.

I’m also nervous about getting excited about the prospect of Playtron, only to have it turn into a cash grab. Whether it’s from ads showing up in menus, or a subscription to unlock certain functionalities. Playtron has already raised $10 million in funding, and those investors are hoping for a big return. 

Circling back to the usability aspect, Playtron confirms there won’t be a desktop mode for you to interact with. I call that a mistake, as the versatility offered by Windows and SteamOS is just too good. It’s almost like Playtron wants to release an operating system with training wheels that you can’t take off.

Microsoft and Valve Are to Blame

There are a couple of things that keep me from getting more excited about the potential of Playtron. I don’t really care about whether the company releases its own handheld to compete directly with the Steam Deck. What I do care about is what will happen when “the other shoe drops.”

Valve could *finally* release SteamOS 3.0 and essentially stop Playtron dead in its tracks before it even gets off the ground. We are unlikely to encounter this scenario since we have no clue about the details of the platform’s next major release. 

If SteamOS 3.0 alleviates even some of the headache when it comes to working with other game launchers, that’s already a big blow to PlaytronOS. Supposedly, Valve is even working with handheld makers to bring SteamOS to more devices besides just the Steam Deck. Nothing has come to fruition yet, but that could also change at practically any minute.

Another Player Enters

The bigger problem is that if it weren’t for the flaws in Windows and SteamOS, Playtron would never exist. There are already alternative operating systems that you can install on pretty much anything. If you break something or simply want to go back, you already have the luxury to do so. The same can’t be said about an Ayaneo handheld running PlaytronOS. 

Of course, the community could come in and “save the day” with something different, but isn’t that the point of Playtron to begin with? It’s leaving me in a weird state of excitement and being extremely cautious.

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