If you love the Nintendo Switch form factor but need a lot more versatility, then the Android-powered Pimax Portal could be the handheld you’re looking for.
The Pimax Portal comes in three varieties: Portal (128 GB), Portal (256 GB) and the Portal QLED (256 GB), which is the version I tested. There are subtle differences beyond the storage capacity. Namely, the screen type used, device colour and additional ports. Broadly, however, they will all do the same thing – play virtually any game in stunning 4k quality.
The Portal Design and Build
The design of the Pimax Portal is sleek, modern, and reminiscent of a Nintendo Switch, which is a very good design. The Portal, however, has an incredible 5.5-inch 4k screen with a good brightness level, and the bezels aren’t too bad. The controllers snap onto the left and right-hand side using incredibly strong magnets with a satisfying snap. You can also snap them together as a sort-of mini-controller. I can’t fault this device’s build quality; it feels incredibly premium.
The joysticks have a nice LED light ring around them. The buttons feel nice to use, and I didn’t have an issue with the ‘D-pad’ design, as I know others have. On the top edge, you have the Micro-HDMI port, the power button, and the storage expansion tray. A pair of speakers and a single USB-C port for charging is on the bottom of the device. At the back of the console, you’ll see the fan and the variety of cameras needed for VR tracking.
Overall, the device feels good and isn’t too heavy to hold. The coating also doesn’t attract as many fingerprints as anticipated, which is a nice touch.
Functionality and UI
The UI works decently and resembles the Switch with cubes along a side-scrolling row of recently installed apps. What you also get, however, is a full Android folder/file management system which is great when downloading from your browser to keep things organised. I ran into a minor issue re-maximising a minimised screen, but I was often able to resolve this. Similarly, swiping occasionally didn’t register, but I suspect all of this will be fixed in later software updates. The device is easy to navigate, easy to add software to and easy to use. Everything is where you expect, and the level of control you have within settings is impressive.
With the inclusion of a Micro-HDMI port on the QLED model, it also acts as a portable screen which some people will find useful.
Gaming on Pimax Portal
Gaming on this 5.5-inch, 4k screen is a joy. Images are bright and crisp and, with up to 120hz refresh rate, incredibly smooth. Combined with the Qualcomm processor and GPU and this little handheld is a powerhouse. I was worried that the controllers, being Bluetooth, would have input lag, but this wasn’t the case at all. Similarly, you can snap off the magnetic controllers and use the touchscreen too. I didn’t notice any unresponsiveness from the screen either.
There are several ways you can play games on this device. Firstly, as it’s running Android, you can access the Play Store and all the wonderful mobile games. As expected, these ran with no issues and were installed seamlessly. Games loaded quickly, and gameplay worked well with controllers where the game supported it and the touchscreen when it didn’t.
The next option available to you (and if you have these services) is you can the Pimax Portal as a cloud gaming machine. I tested this using Xbox’s Game Pass Ultimate and was pleasantly surprised at how well the Pimax handled the software. With decent connectivity, gaming on the go was a dream, and there’s something mind-blowing about loading up Forza Horizon 5, HALO or any other AAA game from Game Pass on a device the size of Nintendo Switch.
The device also supports VR gaming, but as the VR accessories weren’t provided for review, I haven’t been able to test this feature. Still, if it works as advertised, it’s a fantastic addition to an already impressive device.
The final area where this device shines is with emulators. I could boot up plenty of retro Wii, GameCube and PlayStation games without problems (once I’d worked out how the emulator worked!). The Pimax Portal handled everything perfectly. I experienced no performance issues, no overheating, and the battery had a decent lifespan of just under three hours for high-performance games.
One Hidden Talent
On the back of the Pimax Portal, you’ll notice five cameras. This is because the device is also able to support VR gaming. The company are currently developing the head strap to slot it into and the controller grips, but this is a phenomenal addition to an already impressive handheld console. While I couldn’t test this feature, the details Pimax have revealed look exciting.
They have based the strap on the VR headsets in their range, the Crystal and Crystal 8k, and once slotted, the Portal will be able to use the cameras for 6DoF tracking. The detachable controllers will fit into tracking ring adapters, and you’ll have a seamless VR experience. While there is an additional centre camera, MR is not yet supported, so the first generation of the strap won’t utilise this camera. Still, it’s exciting to think what Pimax can update later via software and version two of the strap.
Portal Isn’t Perfect
The Pimax Portal, while fantastic, isn’t perfect. There are a few bugs in the software that can be marginally frustrating, like swipes not quite working as they should, but these don’t put me off using the device, and I am sure that software updates will be ironed out over time.
I do dislike the lack of dedicated volume buttons, which feels like an oversight not to include on a device like this, but there is a workaround to stop you from having to go into the system settings every time you want to turn the volume up or down. You can hold the FN button on the right controller and then use the buttons on the top of the left-hand controller to turn the volume up and down. It’s a little clunky, but it does work.
The Portal could benefit from a dedicated kickstand (like the Switch) when you want to disconnect the controllers and use them in hand. But I’m sure a case will be made soon enough by someone.
What’s In the Box
- * Portal Handheld
- * Magnetic Controller(L)
- * Magnetic Controller(R)
- * USB Type-C Cable
- * Quick Guide
Pimax Portal Technical Specification
|Model||QLED Version (8+256) Handheld Game Console (8GB+256GB) QLED Version|
|SKU||Console 8+256G+QLED MiniLED+DTS sound effect (Black)|
|Joystick LED||LED Light|
|Processor||Qualcomm® SnapDragon™ XR2|
|GPU||Qualcomm® Adreno™ 650|
|Game Mode: Up to 587MHz Energy Saving Mode: Up to 587MHz High-Performance Mode: Up to 855MHz|
|Wireless||BT5.1 / 2.4GHz 5GHz 6GHz （Wifi 6E）|
|Audio||VR audio / DTS|
|Display||5.46″ LCD / 4K 2160*3840|
|Refresh Rate||up to 120Hz|
|Colour Gamut||110% NTSC(QD)|
|Battery||4000mAh (Non-detachable battery)|
|Rapid Charge||Qualcomm QC, up to 18W|
|I/O Connections||Bottom Type-C(USB3.1 & DP OUT)|
|Micro HDMI||Support MicroHDMI cable & WiGig Wireless Streaming(Optional)|
Final Thoughts on the Pimax Portal
This device is honestly astonishing. It’s incredibly well-built, and despite some minor annoyances, it works perfectly. Lightweight and robust, the Pimax Portal is fantastic for on-the-go gaming, and with the ability to use emulators, Android gaming and cloud-based services, it is incredibly versatile. It’s easy to recommend this device to anyone because it offers something for everyone with some great future potential.
Pimax Portal can be purchased from the Pimax website here, where you can also learn more about it.
Pimax Portal is priced from $369 for the base model, from $399 for the increased storage model and from $549 for the QLED model.
Pimax Portal unit provided for review.