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E3 2019: SMACH Z Handheld PC Console – Hands-On
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E3 2019: SMACH Z Handheld PC Console – Hands-On

We go hands on with a gaming PC that attempts to redefine portable gaming for more discerning tastes.

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PC gaming exploded over the last few years, and while the renaissance has settled from its peak this is still a great time to be part of the master race. We’re seeing more of this segment at E3 and this year is no different, with a few standouts.

Enter the SMACH Z handheld console. That’s right, this is a gaming PC that attempts to redefine portable gaming for more discerning tastes. The people at the E3 booth were adamant about harnessing the raw power of a large desktop PC and condensing it for current AAA titles. Apparently, after three years of development and a lot of hurdles involving build development and Kickstarter woes their project is finally close to becoming consumer reality.

It’s an interesting prospect that has some real chops to it. Key specifications include an AMD Ryzen embedded V1605B SoC with integrated Vega VII-based Radeon graphics, DDR4-2400MHz SODIMM memory, NVMe M.2 SSD and Windows 10 or Linux OS support. Other technical features are more typical such as a 6-inch FHD (1920×1080) touchscreen, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth 4.0, and connectivity in the form of USB Type-C, Type-A, micro USB, a microSD slot, and a DisplayPort 1.2. With everything here, you can essentially transform the SMACH Z into a legitimate home PC, with the ability to hook up a separate keyboard and mouse or compatible monitor for big screen use.

My time with the SMACH Z was brief but I got a good idea of where this handheld stands against a mainstream desktop. First off, this is just a PC that happens to fit halfway in your pocket at 1.3 pounds and just over six hours of battery life from a full charge. On feel alone the Smach is wide, but not unwieldly either. The rear incorporates molded grips with fixed trigger paddles that can be mapped to in-game controller shortcut or mouse button in desktop mode. The most obvious additions are the twin haptic touch pads that acted as both virtual joysticks and main face buttons, I was told that precision input is 1:1 and they did work, if maybe a little too sensitive for my clumsy hands.

The most important aspect is that games have the potential to run decently with quality presets taken into consideration. DOOM served as the middle benchmark title that does more thanks to its flexible Vulkan API, and it does a decent job with an observed 37fps. Monster Hunter World on the other hand left a lot to be desired as I fought various dragons at a stuttering average of 21fps, while Rocket League kept pace at a consistent 60fps. I was only able to play whatever demo units Smach had on hand, so I didn’t have enough time or opportunity to jump into the game settings.

The original concept of the SMACH Z began as a crowdfunded pitch, and prices start at $699 but you can load this handheld all the way to a 256GB SSD and 16GB of memory for $1,199. Not the cheapest option but you can upgrade the processor motherboard yourself if you can tinker with a screwdriver. In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and see if this promising alternative is more than just smoke and mirrors when this finally (and hopefully) releases by the end of this year.

About the Author: Herman Exum