Microsoft just made every Steam Deck clone a little bit better

Windows 11 Compact Mode
Pictured: Windows 11 Compact Mode
// Microsoft is getting its hands dirty in the war against the Steam Deck.
Fergus Halliday
Nov 30, 2023
Icon Time To Read2 min read

Published on November 29, 2023

Microsoft is dipping its toes into the conversation around the Steam Deck and its growing roster of rivals with a new update for the Xbox app on Windows.

Devices like the ROG Ally and the Lenovo Legion Go have their individual strengths, they all share a weakness in that none can offer the seamless end-to-end gaming experience of Valve's handheld. The one player in the gaming space that can change that is Microsoft since it sits in the unique position of being able to change and improve the operating system that powers all of these handheld PCs.

Microsoft is said to have been internally testing a more compact version of Windows for a while now. There's no word on whether or if that'll ever make its way to consumers, but in the meantime, the company is looking to roll out a trimmed-down take on the Xbox app for Windows PCs. The new Compact mode layout ditches a full-size sidebar in favour of a drawer of icons.

The pitch here is that Compact mode will offer a more intuitive user experience on Windows devices with smaller screens like the Ayaneo, ROG Ally and Legion Go.

In a blog post announcing the feature, Microsoft's senior product manager for Xbox experiences Dominique Gordon said that the company would be partnering with ASUS and other manufacturers to ensure that Compact mode is enabled by default on handheld devices.

"We’ll continue to focus on updates to deliver a great Xbox app experience for Windows handheld screens," she said.

Compact mode won't solve every software-related pain point for devices like the ones mentioned above but it's a solid start. More than that, it's a possible sign that Microsoft may have its own ambitions for the category.

A Compact mode for the Xbox app might be an easy win for the Windows ecosystem, but the idea that it could be the first step towards Microsoft stepping into the game with its own take on the Steam Deck isn't as crazy as it once was.

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Fergus Halliday
Written by
Fergus Halliday
Fergus Halliday is a journalist and editor for He’s written about technology, telecommunications, gaming and more for over a decade. He got his start writing in high school and began his full-time career as the Editor of PC World Australia. Fergus has made the MCV 30 Under 30 list, been a finalist for seven categories at the IT Journalism Awards and won Most Controversial Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards. He has been published in Gizmodo, Kotaku, GamesHub, Press Start, Screen Rant, Superjump, Nestegg and more.

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