Dell Alienware Concept UFO Is The Nintendo Switch Killer PC Gamers Want
Dell’s Alienware gaming products division stole the spotlight for many tech enthusiasts at this year’s CES 2020 show in Las Vegas, with its Concept UFO handheld PC gaming device. The product is currently just a prototype of a device that Dell-Alienware could launch some day, so there was no committed ship date given, nor pricing details of any kind. However, judging by the reception the Dell gaming device received, my gut tells me the company could be having some intense internal go-to-market discussions, once all the buzz of CES 2020 is over. I had a chance to sit down with Ed Boyd, Senior Vice President of Dell’s Experience Design Group for a quick chat about Concept UFO, how it came to be and where it could go in the future. Ed has been with Dell for over 12 years and previously spent 11 years with Nike and another 5 with Sony in similar roles. So when it comes to industrial design leadership, I consider Ed a bit of a renaissance man.
Ed noted that Concept UFO is the culmination of a multi-year design effort that took the company through many iterations. One Dell designer apparently mocked up literally 50 of the designs in fact, in an effort to conceive its initial form. The product ultimately combines obvious ergonomic similarities to the Nintendo Switch but also significant departures as well, with Dell’s Legend design signature that adorns other laptops, desktops and peripherals products in the company’s Alienware PC gaming lineup. Ed explained that even the simplest of features, like thumbstick positioning and button actuation on the detachable side controllers, were challenging to get right in terms of comfort, usability and durability. Further, detaching its controllers from the 8-inch display head of the device and attaching them to the bridge, marrying them into a very familiar console controller design, took lot of forethought and engineering as well. Though Nintendo’s Switch Joy-Con Grip is similar, Dell’s implementation has a very satisfying snap-in action, with a battery on board and Bluetooth connectivity. It’s more than just a hunk of co-joining plastic like the Switch’s Joy-Con Grip. Another more subtle design choice was the thoughtful inclusion of a kickstand on the back of the device, allowing users to prop it on a desk or their lap with the controllers attached or detached.
But what obviously sets Concept UFO apart from Nintendo’s wildly successful mini console is the fact that Concept UFO is a fully configured and capable Windows 10 PC. It can run any game in your Steam other other PC game library and is a decidedly more open platform as a result, with a much wider, diverse set of games and even use case scenarios that users can enjoy. As Kevin Turchin, Director, Engineering Technologist in the Office of the CTO at Dell explained to me in a hands-on demo of the device, Concept UFO packs a mobile processing platform on board that’s actually more powerful than the average notebook on the market today. Dell wasn’t disclosing what’s under the hood of Concept UFO, but with the level of performance to be offered by next-gen Intel or AMD mobile platform solutions, you can quickly get an idea of expected performance levels.
On its 8-inch display, resolution was currently targeted at 1200p, and at High image quality settings I observed what looked like 30 – 50 fps frame rates in a number of triple-A game titles like Mortal Kombat 11 and F1 2019. In addition, since Concept UFO is a full PC, you can connect it to a larger external display, as well as keyboard and mouse via USB-C. There’s no question, Concept UFO is a well thought-out product and, as I explained to Kevin, looks currently very refined for a product “concept” that you can’t actually buy.
And so it’s no surprise I guess that, since Dell unveiled the Alienware Concept UFO on January 6th, I’ve been flooded with two simple questions: when can I buy this thing and how much? Unfortunately, these are questions that Dell executives currently can’t respond to, as there is no current time frame for release. In addition, it seems obvious that the company is polling potential consumers with its CES 2020 sneak peek of this device, to gauge interest and determine what the market will bear in terms of price point. Well, my Dell friends, I can tell you interest is off the proverbial hook for this thing. Whether its at our site at HotHardware.com, on YouTube or other venues, the virtually unanimous consensus is “bring it!”
In closing, I have a side observation that comes to mind. In the PC space, the level of innovation and refinement, the Windows ecosystem and various OEMs are bringing to the market these days, is both exciting and encouraging.
Have you seen Dell’s most recent XPS 13 with its near-bezel-less, 4-sided InfinityEdge display, Intel 10th Gen Ice Lake processor and carbon fiber or spun glass construction? Just stop, this is getting ridiculous; this may just be the perfect 13-inch laptop. And Dell’s Ed Boyd tells me the company is going way off rails for its next evolution of the XPS design signature. Between cutting-edge devices like Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold, to Dell’s Alienware Concept UFO and the stunning new 2020 XPS 13 laptop, the #PCMasterRace continues to dominate with real innovation.