The holiday gaming season has brought us two cutting-edge handheld gaming devices. In one corner, we have the upstart Legion Go, Lenovo’s powerful entry into the handheld market. In the other? The undisputed champion of on-the-go PC gaming: Valve’s fully revamped Steam Deck OLED, bringing exciting hardware updates along with a beautiful new screen.
Both devices were designed with repair in mind. But which will take home the fixability crown?
Before we ring the starting bell, we need to disclose that we provide repairability solutions to both Valve and Lenovo. That’s handled by a separate team. Our editorial team ordered our own Legion Go. We did get a production version of the new Steam Deck from Valve a tad early but we also ordered our own Deck to check against the version we received.
With disclosures out of the way, we’re ready to rumble! It’s time for round one of our handheld heavyweight bout: Screens.
Valve’s new Steam Deck comes out of the box swinging with a bright 7.4” inch OLED screen. Each pixel in an OLED screen individually illuminates, where LCD spreads rely on an LED backlight. That gives OLED screens all sorts of benefits—darker blacks, higher contrast ratios, more uniform brightness and shorter response times—that lead to a better picture quality and a better gaming experience.
Steam Deck OLED
Repair, disassembly, and troubleshooting information for the Steam Deck OLED, a 2023 refresh of the popular handheld gaming console made by Valve. Released on November 16, 2023. Identified by model number 1030.View Device
One thing we like about Valve’s incorporation of this new screen is that they kept the same overall frame shape as the older LCD Deck. That means your aftermarket add-ons will fit on the OLED version like a (boxing) glove, though internal changes—more on those later—mean that the screen is not backwards compatible.
What the Legion Go’s Quad-HD LCD screen lacks in color punch, it makes up for in size and precision. The screen comes in at 8.8 inches and features a higher resolution: 2560×1600 compared to the OLED Deck’s 1280×800 display.
Mike Tyson famously said that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. For handhelds, the same holds true for a cracked screen. So how do our contenders respond when they need a replacement?
First: the Legion Go. A little heat and some spudger work and the glue comes away easily enough. Then using our trusty suction cup…crack! We flexed the panel and frame a tad too much, shattering the screen.
That’s not a knock on the design, and if you’re replacing a cracked screen, a few extra spiderwebs won’t matter. But do take note—the LCD on the Legion Go has very little support underneath it. Approach your screen replacement with care.
Replacing the Steam Deck’s OLED is much the same process. Heat, spudger, suction cup. There’s a bit more stability in the middle of this screen, meaning it survived our powerful (and sometimes clumsy) mitts.
One round in, and it’s a pretty even fight: Both manufacturers were ready for that shot to the kisser. Let’s take a look at the controllers next.
It’s removable! It’s a mouse! It’s the Legion Go’s innovative new controller!
Before we talk repairability, let’s check out the sweet new controllers on the Legion Go.
Lenovo Legion Go
Repair information for the Legion Go, a handheld gaming console made by Lenovo, released on October 31, 2023.View Device
Lenovo took a page out of Nintendo’s book by making the two controllers removable from the screen. But the Legion Go goes even further. The right controller functions as a mouse, bringing handheld gamers even closer to the PC experience.
The most hardcore gamers are probably asking: is it optical or laser? Which tech is superior is a topic of much debate in the community.
Both technologies emit light which reflects off of your mousepad back to a CMOS sensor. The sensor captures those reflections, which your mouse analyzes to determine if you’re moving your cursor left or right, up or down.
The difference between the two types of mice lies in the type of light that is emitted. Optical mice use infrared LED lights to illuminate the surface, while laser mice—you guessed it—shoot lasers at your mouse pad. Lasers are far more powerful than LED lights, meaning that they can penetrate glossier surfaces and provide CMOS sensors with a more detailed reflection.
That increased detail, theoretically, leads to greater accuracy—which might lead you to think that a laser mouse is better for gaming. But it also leads to a phenomenon called acceleration, where you move your mouse faster than the sensor can keep up with. Your mouse gets overwhelmed with the amount of information and makes your cursor shake or jump across the screen. No gamer wants that.
So laser mouse or bust? Again, the answer is not so simple. Optical mice can also have acceleration problems. Ultimately, it comes down to DPI and polling rate specifications, as well as the compatibility of the surface that you use your mouse on.
Lenovo’s spec sheet for the Legion Go doesn’t go into any detail about the mouse. But here’s what we can confirm: our Legion Go’s mouse is optical. A look under our microscope found an IR emitter mounted next to the CMOS sensor on our Legion Go’s controller.
But what about drift?
Mouse or no mouse, both the Legion Go and the Steam Deck OLED have joysticks. And joystick drift has been a persistent limp for gamers across platforms. If you want to understand why this happens, we wrote a deep dive explaining the issue in our PS5 DualSense controller teardown.
TL;DR – most thumbsticks are built using a potentiometer, which runs electric current through resistive film laid on a circular track. A wiper slides across that film measuring the voltage output, which is directly proportional to the position of the thumbstick, and translates stick movement into gameplay movement.
We’ve found that drift is usually caused by the wiper’s gradual abrasion of the resistive film. If you play a lot, the components will eventually wear out. We’ve heard it can be as soon as four months after purchase if you play for 2 hours a day.
It appears that both Valve and Lenovo took this into account in their designs, although they each solved the problem in a different way.
Lenovo took an entirely different approach to fighting off drift. The Legion Go uses Hall effect sensors—not necessarily the latest, but in our opinion the greatest—in thumbstick technology. Using a phenomenon first discovered in 1879 by American physicist Edwin Hall, these controllers use magnetism rather than physical contact to manipulate electric current.
The Hall effect may not be a miracle (apologies to our Juggalo community members), but its impact on longevity is miraculous. Hall sensors remove the scraping parts, eliminating the point of failure that led to joystick drift.
We love the repairable design of the Steam Deck OLED’s thumbsticks. The longevity of the Legion Go’s Hall sensor sticks is also great (though making them more easily accessible would be handy for cleaning and post-drop fixes). Another dead heat between two strong contenders.
One consumable that innovation hasn’t yet solved? Lithium-ion batteries.
With 49.2 and 50 WHr batteries, the Legion Go and Steam Deck OLED’s power units put them squarely in the same weight class. And with similar capacity comes similar battery life.
Early reviews indicate that, out of the box, both Lenovo and Valve’s devices will offer you a few hours of uninterrupted gameplay on a full charge—an improvement over the 90 minute battery life in Valve’s Steam Deck LCD. But heavy users will continue to see a lot of charge cycles. That, inevitably, means battery replacement.
How difficult will that be when the time comes?
The Legion Go comes out of its corner sluggishly in this round. You need to remove a plastic bracket and then bob and weave your way through a slew of antenna and speaker cables just to get to the battery. Popping these back in place can be an annoying and delicate task.
Meanwhile, the Steam Deck OLED comes out swinging. Just pop off the back cover, disconnect an interconnect cable running between the daughterboards, and bang! You’ve got the battery.
But accessing the batteries is only half the battle. How easy is it to actually remove them?
Here, the Legion Go is the pound for pound champ. With a couple pops of the glove—erm, pull tab—the power unit is out from its housing.
Steam Deck OLED takes a hit for using glue, although significantly less than the previous LCD version. For safety reasons, we drained the battery first (and recommend you do the same). Then it took some heating, wedging, prying—maybe a bit of cursing the inventors of this kind of adhesive—to finally remove the power unit.
Both devices land some punches, but the Lenovo Legion Go wins the round thanks to its pull-tab adhesives. Valve should take note when it hits the gym in preparation for its next design.
Lightning round: Other repairability considerations
We saw a lot of other things we liked—and didn’t like—while tearing down these two devices.
One thing that is noticeable from the get go is the type of screws the two device-makers use. Lenovo scores points for using Phillips #1 screws throughout the Legion Go. The Steam Deck OLED uses T6 Torx screws. Both are perfectly fine choices in our book, and we include both in all our toolkits.
As you might expect from the first iteration of a device, the Legion Go suffers from too much internal complexity. Component and cable placement throughout the handheld make it cumbersome to access a number of different components.
Valve has been a trendsetter by designing their devices with DIY repair in mind, and the Steam Deck OLED is no different. The screw pillars are now embedded with metal thread, reducing the likelihood of stripping when compared to the previous plastic threads.
The bumper buttons were moved from the button daughterboards—parts you can’t buy new—to the thumbstick modules. That’s a relief for the butterfingered among us (definitely not this writer) who are afraid a dropped device could put them out of commission.
Valve also moved the interconnect cable out from underneath the mainboard, where it was easy to pinch and cut when reinstalling the heat shield. Now it’s far more accessible.
Both devices fall short of our ideal with their soldered on USB-C ports and microSD slots. While this does save some space, these ports are exposed to mechanical wear and will eventually fail.
Who’s our repairability champion?
Let’s be clear: it’s a great time to be a repair-minded mobile gamer. Both the Legion Go and Steam Deck OLED are designed for gamers to take apart and repair with relative ease.
As important as design is the availability of manuals telling you how to fix your device and the parts required to make those repairs. That’s why it’s a significant part of our scoring system. Lenovo has published a service manual for the Legion Go, and we’ll be writing guides for the Steam Deck OLED as a part of our partnership with Valve.
We’ll also be selling OEM parts for the Steam Deck OLED. That gives Valve’s handheld the advantage—for now. Should Lenovo commit to selling OEM parts through any channel, as they generally do for their laptops, we would be excited to update their score based on the improvement.
To the judges! The Steam Deck OLED scores a 9/10—a jump from the original LCD model’s 7/10. They can thank their incremental repairability improvements—and we will too!—for that.
The Legion Go comes up just shy at 8/10, though Lenovo could tie things back up by selling spare parts. It was a hard-fought battle, with the real winner being gamers across the country.