Hardware Review: Up-Switch Orion Gaming Monitor

7 Sep 2022

What is it that we all want from our gaming handhelds? Long battery life? Comfortable to hold in our hands? All of our favorite games available on the go? Nah, it’s all about that big screen life, baby! Gone are the days of the big brick Game Boy with a screen the size of your thumb nail, now we can play games on the run and actually see them!

Alright, that’s some extreme hyperbole, but screen size is a major consideration for many in gaming handhelds. They’ve come a long way, with systems like the Switch and Steam Deck sporting screens larger than many entire retro gaming handhelds. And as many of us who grew up in the tiny-screen age begin to…well, age…bigger screens can do a lot to help our frail old eyeballs.

But is there a point that this chase for size can be taken too far? Well, leave it to the company Up-Switch to push the limits and try to find out. Their portable gaming monitor, the Orion, is an 11.6 inch IPS screen intended to really blow up the display of the Nintendo Switch. But, once the screen reaches this size, can it really be considered “portable” anymore?

Lacking in Power

Right out of the box, the Orion is…well, it’s a screen. A screen with a rather sizeable bezel, as well as built in Joycon rails on each side. There’s also a bit of extra bulk on the backside of it, with a protrusion that opens up to allow you to slot your Switch directly into the screen itself. Also, oddly, a pair of velcro straps that aren’t immediately apparent as to what they’re used for.

Also included in the box are some attachable Joycon grip pieces, some screws to attach said pieces, and a little metal dog tag-looking keychain intended to be a screwdriver. While the grip pieces were easy to spot in the packaging, the screws and “screwdriver” were somewhat unintuitively hidden in the packaging. In fact, whilst reading through the Orion’s instructions, I had to go back into what I thought was an empty box multiple times to search through and find these pieces.

Swinging open the back “chamber” you’ll find a space just the perfect size to house a standard Switch system, plugged into a USB-C port on the bottom. There’s also a little plastic piece near the port with an arrow on it. When I saw this piece, my mind immediately thought “this must have to be removed!”

Don’t make that mistake. This plastic piece is present to assist in removing the Switch console itself after it’s been plugged in. Luckily I didn’t rip this piece off in my blind attempt to remove it.

After attaching the Joycon grips, slotting in my Switch’s Joycons, and then plugging the Switch itself into the Orion, I picked the completed system up…and was completely stunned by how heavy this thing is. The empty Orion itself is super light and easy to carry, but once you add the combined weight of an entire gaming console (even one as small as the Switch), it quickly becomes cumbersome to use.

But, no matter. I honestly don’t really take portable systems out of my apartment anyways. So I kicked back on my couch, pressed the power button, and…nothing. The Orion wouldn’t turn on. And after a look back at the system’s instructions, I became immensely confused, whilst learning why the system has the aforementioned velcro straps on the back at the same time.

Vision Dulled

As it turns out, the Orion system does not have a built in battery. In fact, it isn’t really a “system” at all – it’s literally just a screen. External power is required to use it, provided by a USB-C plug on the side of the screen.

The instructions for the Orion give two options for using it. The first is to plug it into a wall (preferably using the official Switch power adapter, according to Up-Switch), but this entirely defeats the purpose of the system being portable. The other option is to use an external battery pack, which is what the velcro straps are intended for – to strap your battery pack to the back of the Orion.

Luckily I still had an Anker battery pack lying around, so I charged it up and attached it to the Orion, creating an utter monstrosity of a “portable” system. Of course, this adds more weight, too.

Once I had everything running, I took the screen through it’s paces playing various games currently on my Switch. I can report that, well, the Orion is a screen alright. It’s not a bad screen either…but it definitely doesn’t seem light a high end one.

In terms of responsiveness, the Orion handles surprisingly well. I tested a number of rhythm games on it, and did not notice any major lag introduced by the display – a major issue that can be present on HD monitors, even some extreme high-end ones. It certainly helps that the screen defaults to a “game mode” setting out of the package, and there’s likely little reason one would want to change it out of this mode.

My main hang up is that the display just really isn’t all that great to look at. Colors are a bit more muted compared to the Switch’s built-in screen. Brightness and contrast can not be adjusted while in the Orion’s aforementioned “game mode,” so if you want a better picture, you’re going to be sacrificing response time. Really, aside from brightness, contrast, and color temperature, there’s no other adjustment options for this screen.

On the plus side, the Orion’s screen has little to no glare. I brought the system with me to work a few times to play during down time, which (by the nature of my day job) occurs while sitting in my car. I had exactly zero problem playing any games on the Orion in my car with the bright midday sun streaming in.

Unfortunately, this system is just not comfortable to play at all in portable mode. I’ve mentioned it multiple times, but it really needs reiterating: a fully loaded Orion system is heavy. Unless you have something to hold it against while playing, you’re likely to get a bit of a wrist workout holding this thing up while playing at the same time. The attachable Joycon grips do help a bit, but due to the weight, I wouldn’t call said grips “optional” in any way. There’s no way in hell I’d be able to comfortably hold this thing up on with just the Joycons alone.

One potential issue that didn’t even pop up in my mind initially arose after playing a graphically intensive game for about an hour on the Orion: heat buildup. The Switch is already an incredibly compact system, and can generate notable heat when playing more intense games. Locking up the system in a plastic shell just compounds that – my Switch was notably hot after removing it from the Orion after a longer session.

Lastly, when it comes to use with the Switch, I’d occasionally have the problem of the Orion not actually detecting my Switch in the system. It’d be fully charged, plugged in, and ready, but the Orion would tell me that there’s no signal. The only way I found to fix this was to unplug and replug in my battery pack.

Hard to Resolve

Outside of the screen itself, the Orion does include a pair of built-in stereo speakers. While they do sound notably better than the Switch’s, Up-Switch made the wildly confusing decision to have these speakers face the back of the screen, away from the user. So while they sound better, they’re also very muted while playing any game, so I’d recommend sticking to headphones.

The system also comes with an HDMI In port, so that it can be used as a general monitor for anything you’d like to plug in to it. Up-Switch promotes usage particularly with the PS5 and Xbox systems, though I don’t know why anyone will be dragging out their massive PlayStation 5 to hook it up to this 11.6 inch monitor…one that isn’t even 1080p.

Yes, this is something I discovered when I used the HDMI port to attach the Orion to my PC. I set the Orion up as a third monitor for the hell of it, and checkout out what Windows detected it as. According to the display settings, the resolution of the Orion is 1366×768…a step-up from the Switch’s 720p handheld resolution, but a bit of an unusual resolution for gaming. So whilst the screen will work well with the Switch, advertising usage of it with modern 4K consoles is baffling at best.

However, the Orion does perform wonderfully as a complimentary third monitor in my PC setup. While I was let down by the system in nearly every way as a gaming peripheral, it’s been doing great as a dedicated Discord monitor.

Weight of Confusion

After a month of putting the Orion to use, I remain baffled by its very existence. The Switch already has a decently sized screen, although I could see some reasons for wanting a bigger one. If you’re wanting to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe splitscreen on the go, perhaps. But there’s a much easier and more compact solution to that – just bring the dock that originally came with the console with you.

But if you’re not going to be near any screen you could plug the dock into, the Orion still isn’t an ideal solution either. Using it requires external power or a battery pack, both of which severely hamper its portability.

If you’re looking to buy it as a monitor for your home consoles (maybe the TV you already have for them is broken?), the weird resolution doesn’t allow your current gen (or, hell, even last gen) consoles to really shine. If you’re looking for another monitor for your PC, you can find a much higher quality one for much cheaper, considering the Orion is selling for $299.99 at the time of writing.

Outside of those that absolutely insist on big screen Switch titles on the go, convenience be damned, I just can’t see much of a market for this product. Perhaps if Up-Switch releases a new model in the future with a built-in battery, then I might see a reason to dive in. As the product in my hands goes, though, I just don’t see a reason to own it.

~ Final Score: 5/10 ~

Review unit provided by Up-Switch. Images taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Up-Switch.