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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

GPD Win 4 Review

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The handheld gaming revolution has arrived for PC gamers, and there are more options than ever to choose from to get your gaming fix on the go. The GPD Win 4 makes for an especially interesting choice, with its PS Vita-like design and hidden slide-out keyboard. It feels more like a true pocket PC than any handheld we’ve tested so far, and is on the more affordable side at $799 – though that's more expensive than the newer, and more powerful, Asus ROG Ally – but has a handful of drawbacks that force you to weigh what really matters most in your personal gaming experience.

GPD Win 4 – Design and Features

If the GPD Win 4 looks familiar, it should. The design is strikingly similar to 2012’s PlayStation Vita. Everything from the shape to the look of the buttons feels like a callback, though Vita owners will notice that it’s a bit bigger in every dimension. GPD has also gone with offset joysticks instead of the classic Sony side-by-side. As a day one Vita diehard, the GPD Win 4 is inspired and I’m here for it.

GPD Win 4 – Photos

But, of course, the Win 4 isn’t a PlayStation Vita. It’s a full-fledged gaming PC and has the performance chops to prove it. Inside its small yet chunky shell (I measured it at 8.7 x 3.6 x 1.1 inches), it features a Ryzen 7 6800U processor, 16GB of DDR5 memory, and up to 1TB of NVMe storage. It’s a similar arrangement to the Ayaneo Air Plus or even the Ayaneo 2 with less room to upgrade (there’s no 32GB memory option). It’s a powerful, proven combination for running modern games at medium to high settings.

It also comes with a full, bloat-free Windows 11 installation (excluding the configuration app). While SteamOS has major benefits for ease of use with the Steam Deck, the fact that it runs on Linux can create problems for game compatibility. Here, every game or app that works on your normal Windows gaming PC will work. That means instant compatibility with decades of PC games and a much easier ability to use the GPD Win 4 as an actual computer. With a proper docking station, monitor, and peripherals, you could use it as your daily computer, replacing the need for a bulky tower.

Since it’s essentially a laptop in handheld form, there’s a lot more that it needs to accomplish with that control set. Its 6-inch screen slides upward to reveal a full keyboard. The keys are completely flat, and I’m not convinced it’s actually better than the touch keyboard that comes baked into Windows 11, but it’s a nice alternative if you’d rather have tactile physical keys for typing.

Since it has a built-in keyboard, more of the remaining controls can be dedicated to mouse movement and navigation. Using a switch on the left side of the console, you can swap between Mouse Mode and Controller Mode. In Mouse Mode, the right joystick controls the cursor and the face buttons act like arrows while the D-pad turns into a navigation cluster for quickly paging up and down. The bumpers become left and right click. Surprisingly, there’s even a tiny clickable trackpad just below the right joystick that works great for quickly positioning your cursor (less so for fine movements and clicking icons). Touch control is another option and is usually the more natural choice unless you need that extra precision.

While it looks like a cross between a PS Vita and a Nintendo Switch, it feels much more like an actual PC.


While it looks like a cross between a PS Vita and a Nintendo Switch, it feels much more like an actual PC thanks to these additions. Because it has a built-in mouse and keyboard, it even feels closer to a laptop than the Ayaneo line-up, which also uses Windows 11. It hits a middle-ground few other handhelds do outside of GPD’s own catalog.

The layout, in broad strokes, is similar to an Xbox controller. The face buttons are on the smaller side but are tactile and easy to press accurately. The D-pad is the same, and though I prefer split directionals, it’s accurate and works well even with demanding fighting games. The bumpers are clicky like mouse buttons and the analog triggers have enough throw to feel good and work well in racing games and shooters. Start, Select, and Menu are positioned along the button of its face, as well as a fingerprint reader below the D-pad so you can use Windows Hello for logging in. There are also two programmable buttons on the rear of each grip for games and Windows shortcuts.

The Win 4 has a relatively generous assortment of inputs and outputs. A pair of USB Type-C ports are placed on the top and bottom. Both can be used for charging, but the top port uses the new USB4 standard for eGPU support. There’s also a full-size USB Type-A port on the top for connecting a hub or peripherals, a power button, volume rocker, and headphone jack. On the left, there’s also a high-speed microSD slot that supports cards up to 160 MB/s.

As a gaming handheld, its layout, features, and inputs are all solid, though it’s here that we begin to see some of its trade-offs compared to the Ayaneo Air and Air Plus. The joysticks, for example, are about a millimeter higher than the Ayaneo Air Pro and have a modicum more throw, the triggers a little less. The bigger difference is that the Win 4 uses mechanical ALPS encoders instead of magnetic Hall Effect sensors. They feel fine (most controlled use similar encoders) but the Ayaneo Air’s are noticeably smoother and don’t risk stick drift like the GPD’s do.

The screen you’ll be playing on is nice and bright at 400-nits, about the same as a typical gaming laptop. It offers crisp visuals with a 1920 x 1080 native resolution, though you’ll likely want to set games to 720p for the best performance. It supports both 60Hz and 45 Hz refresh rates, which is great for eliminating screen tearing on games you can’t quite push to 60 fps. I desperately miss the OLED screen of the Ayaneo Air. The IPS panel looks good but blacks have a tendency to look grey thanks to the global backlight.

The speakers get surprisingly loud. They outperform just about any budget gaming laptop I’ve heard in sheer volume. Clarity is another matter. Beyond 60%, there is some noticeable distortion that makes it hard to hear small details in games and music. They’ll work fine for gaming and taking in the odd YouTube video at lower volumes, though for the best experience, I still recommend turning to headphones.

GPD Win 4 – Software

Configuring the GPD Win 4 is done using GPD’s MotionAssist software. It’s very much a “love it or hate it” application. It’s lightweight but barebones and not explained at all. Launching the software brings up a small window broken into tabs for TDP (the power going to the processor), setting up and testing gyro controls, hotkeys, and general device settings. Coming from the AyaSpace app and the rich UI of the Steam Deck, this app is functional but feels woefully outdated.

You’ll need to learn it regardless, because it’s where you dial in performance, motion controls, and assign hotkeys for your most used commands. There are seven TDP settings ranging from five watts to 28 watts and they can be one-click activated. Increasing the power improves performance but decreases battery life, so you’ll spend a lot of time with the app, finding the perfect balance for the games you’re playing.

GPD Win 4 – Battery Life

The Win 4 features a 45.6 watt-hour battery, which is more than both the Steam Deck and Ayaneo Air but a hair behind the Air Plus. Battery life on handheld gaming PCs is about more than capacity, however, and can vary based upon the games you’re playing and the TDP you have the system set at. Lower TDPs will last longer, higher TDPs much less.

The system will typically last about two hours when playing modern games at medium settings.


In my testing, at a median 15 watt TDP, the system will typically last about two hours when playing modern games at medium settings. Raising that to the full 28 watt TDP and the battery life drops to closer to a single hour, so you’ll want to keep the charging brick on hand. Less demanding games can be played at lower power settings, however, and extend the system’s playtime. Either way, I wouldn’t count on more than a couple hours without the charger unless you’re playing easy-to-run retro games or indies.

GPD Win 4 – Performance

The GPD Win 4 is running the same chip as other proven handheld gaming PCs, so it should come as no surprise that it has gaming chops. It’s amazing to me that only a few short years ago, integrated graphics chips relegated you to low settings and middling frame rates. But just like the Ayaneo 2 before it (reviewed here), the GPD Win 4 proves that those expectations are officially a thing of the past.

To compare handhelds to one another, we put them through the same roster of tests as a traditional gaming laptop. All games are set to Ultra settings and FSR is turned on Balanced mode where available. I also set the TDP to its highest setting, which in this case is 28 watts.

The GPD Win 4 delivers impressive results for its small size across the board. These are visually impressive games all set to their highest settings and only two of them failed to hit 30 fps – all without having a dedicated GPU. Dropping settings or turning FSR onto Performance or Ultra Performance mode can raise them even further. For games that struggle to get there, setting the console to 45 Hz and enabling V-Sync is an effective solution to ensure smooth gameplay, even if you’re not hitting the coveted 60 fps mark.

For this review, I compared it against the Ayaneo 2 since it’s running the same Ryzen 6800U processor, as well as the Steam Deck. If you’re worried about the price difference being unfair, don’t be. The Ayaneo 2 also comes in a GEEK version that begins at $849 with almost identical performance. I also included data from our review of the Steam Deck, though our roster of games has been updated quite a bit since then, so there are some gaps in the data.

The GPD Win 4 is usually slightly higher in fps than the Ayaneo 2. Much of the difference is due to the lower resolution of the Win 4, but it’s also thanks to the effective cooling solution GPD has developed to keep thermal throttling at bay. The console is thick, but that depth allows for better cooling and less fan noise. It’s louder than a Nintendo Switch but much quieter than your average gaming laptop.

For the best performance, gaming at 720p is the clear choice. On such a small screen, the drop in resolution isn’t as noticeable as a gaming laptop and provides a big boost to in-game fps. While you’ll still want to play it by ear and adjust to match your taste (the story of all handheld gaming PCs), it’s possible to pull some great performance from this little machine.

Unlike a traditional gaming PC where you can set a preset and forget about it, the GPD Win 4 thrives when you adjust individual settings and balance visuals with frame rates. In the above chart, you can see the settings I used at 28 watts. Even very demanding games, like Dead Island 2, are playable if you’re willing to adjust settings and use performance enhancers like Fidelity FX Super Resolution.

Ergonomically, GPD has done a good job of making the Win 4 easy to hold and play. Its smaller design could easily feel cramped but the joysticks and face buttons all felt well-positioned and easy to access with only the D-pad feeling like a reach. The slightly reduced trigger depth compared to the Ayaneo 2 and Air isn’t noticeable. The smoothness of the joysticks is, but they still feel good to use.

The screen looks good most of the time, but when scenes get dark, its contrast really suffers. The global backlight has a real tendency to wash out blacks and make them look gray, and it’s regularly distracting. The panel is generally very nice, with good peak brightness and rich colors, but an OLED panel would really have put this over the top.

The keyboard, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s routinely useful. Having a dedicated keyboard makes navigating Windows faster and easier. There’s no need for shortcut keys to minimize a game when you can literally Alt+Tab to another window. It’s wide enough that using two thumbs is difficult, however, and goodness help you if you need to Alt+F4, since you’ll need three fingers to do it (Alt, Fn, and 4). The presence of a physical keyboard also means the Windows Touch Keyboard won’t automatically come up when you tap a text field, so you’ll need to enable the Notification Center icon or bind it to a hotkey.

Overall, though, GPD has done a pretty stellar job. The keyboard might be a pain to use at times, but I’m happy it’s there, and both the ergonomics and performance are a good value for the money.

Verdict

The question is whether it’s worth choosing the GPD Win 4 when there are so many good options to choose from. At $799, it has value on its side, but only if you remove the Steam Deck from the running. There is no beating the Deck in price, but the GPD Win 4 beats it in performance and portability. Compared against the Ayaneo 2, Geek, and Air Plus, things get more complicated. All four machines use the same Ryzen 7 6800U, run on Windows 11, and offer similar performance. The Win 4, however, is the smallest of the group and the only one to feature a built-in mouse and keyboard. They make it feel much more like a tiny laptop than a handheld that also happens to be a PC. It’s a fine but meaningful difference in how the Win 4 feels to use. Its performance is very good and its small Vita-like form factor makes it easy to carry with you on the go. Given how close it is to the competition, however, whether or not it’s the best choice for you really depends on how much you value the unique qualities it brings to the table.

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