Lenovo Legion Go Review Hypertext Header - Copy

Lenovo Legion Go (SA release) review: Swing for the fences

Near the end of last year certain countries got their hands on the latest competitor in the handheld gaming PC race in the form of the Legion Go from Lenovo – an ambitious take on this emerging market that is very much a maximalist in the field.

South Africans needed to be patient for a few months when, out of nowhere, the handheld released in March locally with little fanfare. We have now had our hands on a review sample for just over two weeks and we can report back on the experience, especially after those few months have gone into important software updates and fine-tuning from Lenovo.

The Legion Go arrives in an unassuming black box containing the Legion Go, a carrying case and a USB Type-C charger. Look inside the carrying case and there is an extra piece of plastic that is used for the FPS Mode, but more on that later.

First impressions of the Legion Go are very positive with great craftsmanship all around. The handheld feels extremely sturdy in the hands which is of course a result of solid construction but also of the Legion Go’s considerable heft at 854 grams. This heavyweight status in the handheld space is due to the Legion Go’s two big selling points: its large screen (an 8.8 inch offering at 2560X1600 with a 144Hz refresh rate) and the Legion TrueStrike Controllers which are detachable a la the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons.

This weight makes the included carrying case all the more welcome and it is also of high quality with a fabric exterior and hard foam interior. You can tell that lots of care was put into this case and we especially love the opening at the bottom where you can plug in a cable and charge the Legion Go even when it’s in the case. This opening has a self-closing flap so the case remains dust-free when that port isn’t in use.

We would have really loved to see a screen protector in the box or, better yet, one that was pre-applied.

This little extra goes a long way towards keeping new devices safe and it is even more important in markets like South Africa where accessories may be harder to come by. For a few extra Cents manufacturers could cut down on complaints and boost customer satisfaction so we’re really not sure why it’s not a standard practice.

Also a small inconvenience is the fact that our early review sample came with an American charger so, in this review, we won’t be able to comment on charging performance. Thankfully the Legion Go chargers over USB Type-C through not one but two ports – one at the bottom and one at the top. This is another real win for the ubiquity of USB Type-C as we already have several high-wattage Type-C options to use instead.

A representative for Lenovo tells us that local customers will, of course, get a charger that works the South Africa plugs, so that won’t be a concern for most, though it’s still nice to know that you can charge your Legion Go with a charger you may already have.

The setup process is not great here but that isn’t the fault of Lenovo but instead of Windows. The pre-packaged Windows 11 is a real slog to set up but, once it’s all done, we can take a look at what’s inside and a very pleasant surprise in the form of the Legion Space software.

As a quick aside from those who may be unfamiliar with the handheld gaming space: this market of products needs some software from the manufacturer to act as a buffer between you and Windows. This is because the Windows environment isn’t really made for handhelds so the software needs to help with certain aspects like proper controller input, updates and shortcuts. For example, if you’re in a game and it crashes and locks up your handheld, how do you access Task Manager? Legion Space is the answer and it can be accessed in two ways.

The dedicated button on the left opens up Legion Space proper where you manage all your games, regardless of the store you bought them from or what launcher you use. The Xbox app, Epic, Ubisoft Connect, Steam, GOG, Rockstar and Giants are all included here. You can also manage cloud gaming services buy games directly from Gamesplanet, browse your library of installed titles, access a wide array of settings and, interestingly, there’s even a dedicated spot for Android games, but accessing it right now takes you to a “coming soon” page.

Those settings are well-featured and we particularly love the ability to update just about everything on this one screen. Windows updates, BIOS updates, hardware and driver updates and more are all quickly handled through Legion Space.

On the right controller is another Legion Space quick access button but instead of bringing up the full software it gives you a smaller selection of the options menu. This is intended for use when you’re using other programmes and especially while you’re in a game. Through this you can make big changes in just one or two button presses, changes like screen resolution and refresh rate, the power usage profile, fan speed, Windows’ own Power Mode, performance readings, keyboard shortcuts like the aforementioned Task Manager and more.

The Lenovo Legion Go in the carry case. Notice the convenient charging port in the bottom left corner.

These kinds of custom software solutions make or break handheld gaming PCs and we have to admit that we really have very little to complain about with Legion Space. It does everything we need it to do, it’s fast and the quick access while in games is a lifesaver.

The only real problem we had is that the right-hand quick access is a bit hit or miss. Very often the quick access menu just refused to appear, appeared after a long time, was extremely buggy or had some other problem. It can be extremely frustrating to have such vital controls that are not 100 percent reliable so keep that in mind.

But now with all the software up to date and familiarization with the platform, we can get to gaming where we continued to be impressed. The Legion Go is packing an AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme, 16GB of 7500Mhz LPDDR5X RAM and 512GB of M.2 2242 PCIe 4.0×4 NVMe storage. 1TB storage options are available overseas but the local 512GB offering isn’t too much of a hassle considering the fact that the MicroSD card reader supports up to 2TB of additional storage.

The included storage is extremely fast, however, and you will be booting into Windows and into games in just a few seconds. Once you’re in the game you can, like all PC platforms, tweak the settings to match your performance goals. Combine this with the quick access options in Legion Space and you can fine-tune your game for a balance of performance and battery life that suits you.

Once you’re done with that you can get a proper feel of the physical controls. The Legion Go has an XY/AB face button layout and asymmetrical thumbsticks that are reminiscent of Xbox controllers. There are many more input options too with a small touchpad under the right thumbstick and a variety of customisable buttons around the back.

The tactile and usability experience is a bit mixed here, but we do say that with the caveat that it will entirely depend on how you like to game, your hand size, reaction to the weight of the device and other factors.

On the good end of the scale are the face and shoulder buttons / triggers which all feel and work rather well. Somewhere in the middle are the thumbsticks which should have been bigger given the large size of the overall package, and not great is the unresponsive D-pad and the touchpad that we never really found a use for.

We can’t help but feel like the thumbsticks were shrunken down to accommodate that touchpad, making it even more of a baffling decision. The Legion Go already has a touchscreen and the FPS Mode so another way to use a mouse pointer really isn’t welcome.

Once you’re actually in a game, you should be having a great time. We played a few titles during our short review period but most of our time was spent in 2017’s Middle-earth: Shadow of War as we’ve been playing through our backlogs. This AAA title from seven years ago we mostly played through on the low in-game settings pre-set with a screen resolution of 1920X1200 and a 60Hz refresh rate, combined with the Legion Space and Windows performance modes, as well as the smart fan curve.

The Legion Go gave us a very solid 60 FPS experience through our hours of play even when things got hectic on screen and there were dozens of orcs trying to kill us with fire, poison and other effects that would usually bog down the framerate.

Our only hiccups were weird ones that were not due to power or performance, but seemed to be errors in the software chain. For example, we once dropped to below 10 percent battery at which point the Legion Go cut the performance to unplayable levels and the game stayed that way even when we plugged in the power. Other times we played at full performance even as the battery dipped below 10 percent, so these problems are inconsistent.

Because each game is going to be different, let’s look at some synthetic numbers. For this testing we set everything to performance mode, as we did for gaming, but also gave the Legion Go the best possible chance with the full-speed fan option that is very audible and not at all suitable for playing with other people in the room.

The tinny up-firing speakers even have a hard time competing with this so it’s best to stick with the smart fan curve during gaming, but feel free to experiment as you can make custom fan curves.

For this testing, we looked at on-battery performance as well as on-charger performance. While we couldn’t use the official charger for the Legion Go, we had a similar 65W adapter from a laptop on hand so the results should be relatively universal.

On battery

  • Time Spy benchmark score: 2 993,
  • Time Spy graphics score: 2 707,
  • Time Spy CPU score: 7 486,
  • Cinebench 2024 CPU multi-core: 648,
  • Cinebench 2024 CPU single-core: 83.

On charger

  • Time Spy benchmark score: 3 178,
  • Time Spy graphics score: 2 867,
  • Time Spy CPU score: 8 279,
  • Cinebench 2024 CPU multi-core: 684,
  • Cinebench 2024 CPU single-core: 80.
The Lenovo Legion Go in FPS Mode. The right controller needs to be seated in the magnetic dock and a switch needs to be flipped to activate this mode.

While the on-charger performance is mostly better the difference isn’t too large to be felt substantially during gameplay, but your mileage may vary given the huge amount of variables here and the specific drivers you’re using. Hopefully, things can only improve as the Legion Go – and handheld gaming PCs as a whole – become more mature.

We also did a synthetic benchmark of our own creation for the 49.2WHr battery. We kept the same settings for the other benchmarks and played YouTube videos on loop with fullscreen, full brightness and maximum speaker volume.

Under these conditions the Legion Go managed just shy of three hours.

In real world use we got around 95 minutes of solid gameplay in the aforementioned Shadow of War but again, when looking at these numbers, there are always ways to trade performance for increased battery life, so consider these the worst-case scenarios.

This review is already way too long but it’s a testament to just how much the Legion Go accomplishes that we’re still talking about it. Let’s speed through the rest and get to the conclusion.

The FPS Mode and Detachable Mode (basically tabletop mode) for the Legion Go are usable but we can’t see many people using them too often. It’s a party trick that you may get some use out of now and again, but the real magic of detaching the controllers is turning the device into a high power tablet that we got a lot of use out of for everyday tasks. The buttons on the side of the right controller, used for FPS Mode, are a real annoyance when trying to use the Legion Go as a regular handheld, however.

The screen is great and games were very presentable even when we needed to cut down the quality to get more FPS or battery life. We simply have no idea why Lenovo went with such as high resolution and refresh rate combination when the only titles that could possibly achieve them would be classic games or low-requirement emulators. It makes even less sense when you consider that most streaming services cap the quality at 720p on desktop and since the Legion Go uses regular desktop Windows, that is what you will be stuck with.

The heat and fan noise were very surprising, in a good way. Even when lots of heat was being kicked out and the fan needed to get a bit noisy, both were very manageable and you will never feel any of that heat when using the controllers normally.

Okay, the last stop before the conclusion is the discussion about price, which is a bit all over the place right now. In South Africa, most stores have the Legion Go in stock for R15 999, except for Takealot which claims that the regular price is R16 999 and they have graciously brought the price down to R16 459.

That is a lot of money in a vacuum with the state of the world as is but it is relatively comparable to the local pricing of the Z1 Extreme version of the ASUS ROG Ally and the various Steam Deck variants, though both could be picked up on decent sales over the years.

That being said we really feel like you get the most bang for your buck from the Lenovo Legion Go. As mentioned the ability to turn into a tablet is a great bit of versatility and, while FPS Mode isn’t for us, it is a decent stand-in for a mouse if you don’t have one on hand. The Legion Go can also be used more like a laptop if you don’t mind packing in some wireless accessories – it does this better than the competitors thanks to the fact that you can detach the controllers making it more streamline.

We enjoyed our time with the Legion Go and we were definitely sad to pack it up and send it back to the manufacturer. We have to applaud Lenovo for taking so many risks and packing in so many features, even if some of them didn’t pan out. If you’re looking for the specific features this special handheld has to offer, it may be worth jumping in. For everyone else, keep an eye on Lenovo as future iterations could be gamechangers.



About Author


Related News