MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review – Paying More For Less

The MSI Claw is a new gaming handheld which is something I have found myself saying quite a lot these days. Since the Steam Deck, it seems every PC brand wants to get on board with their own version. At the moment, the market is quite saturated. From the ROG Ally to the Legion Go. Let’s not even mention the dozens of Chinese models on the market. Of which, are actually quite impressive.

Watch the MSI Claw review below:

The difference with the MSI Claw, however, is the brand has partnered with Intel to include an Arc GPU inside the unit. This is a first for Intel and hopefully, it pays off. The unit also goes by the name “MSI Claw A1M” which refers to the inclusion of the A1M Hall Effect joysticks. These sticks don’t use the traditional method of movement and are so-called drift-free.

Although, the MSI Claw isn’t the first device to use these sticks. Both the Legion Go and the Ayaneo pack them. Still, it is great value for consumers anyway.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

The model in this review is the MSI Claw Ultra 7 version. So the highest tier variant you can get your hands on. I don’t want to spend too much time giving you an overview on the product. Instead, let’s talk about the design, test the device out and see how it stacks up against other models on the market.

MSI Claw Design

Given that this isn’t the first PC handled on the market, the MSI Claw’s design is familiar. It features an all-black plastic shell with various buttons all over the place. The front includes the two-joystick design with Mystic Light RGB around the rim. The sticks themselves feel pretty amazing. They are smooth and snap back into place without issue.

I don’t entirely enjoy the nub itself though. There’s barely any concave on the stick. Only a slight, and I mean very slight indent for your thumb. This surface isn’t rubber either but instead a matte plastic material. The rubber is situated on the outside rim of the stick instead. It works, don’t get me wrong. But if you’re used to a traditional rubber stick, this isn’t as grippy and I found my finger sliding down off the surface quite often.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

There’s also the standard layout of buttons here too. You’ll find the ABXY buttons and on the other end, a D-pad. The front is also home to a view button and MSI Centre M hotkey on the left of the display and a menu button and quick setting hotkey on the right of the display.

Speaking of the display itself, this 7-inch touchscreen is a full HD 1920 x 1080 display with 120Hz refresh rate. It is an IPS panel and looks like an IPS panel. MSI says it has a 500-nit peak brightness. I measured 470 nits which is good for a handheld of this size. It doesn’t support HDR for gaming.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

One of the biggest questions regarding the display was whether it packs VRR or not. The good news here is that it does. There’s VRR on this 120Hz display and you can toggle this in the Windows settings or the VESA Adaptive Sync settings in the Intel Graphics app.

The coating on the display is quite reflective but manageable. If you play on the Ally or even the Switch, this will be a similar experience.

You’ll also find the speakers on the front of the unit too. They are quite punchy for a handheld. MSI has included Nahimic on the unit which lets you toggle various sound profiles depending on what you’re doing. Everything sounded pretty impressive coming from the device. On the max loudness, you could even feel the sound vibrating the unit itself. It makes everything you do so much more enjoyable.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

If you don’t want to use the speakers, there is an audio jack combo port on the top of the unit. This is found alongside the volume buttons, a USB-C charging port, which is powered by the 65W adapter. Next to that, you’ll find the MicroSD slot and a power button.

The back is then home to the trigger buttons which feel great to use. The LT and RT triggers are especially comfortable. They feature a slightly concaved tip and a click sound that appears when you let go of the trigger. The sound seemingly comes from the button tapping back against the LB and RB buttons above it.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

Then there are two macro keys at the back. They are also great to press. They have this strange off-pyramid shape to them which lets you press them in from either the left or the right-hand side. So if you’re holding the unit firmly and your middle finger is on the grip, you can quickly press it outwards to trigger the button. If you’re resting your finger on the outer side, you can then press it inwards to do the same thing. A small detail but smart on MSI’s part.

Of course, it won’t be fair to not discuss all the vents across the back of this unit and there are a lot of them. Not only does air shoot out the top of the MSI Claw but the back is covered in airvents too. However, only a portion of these vents are actually used. There are two fans on the back. One on the left and one on the right situated next to the triggers. You can clearly see these fans under a light. The rest of the metal mesh is sealed. So don’t think this device is just one giant dust collector because the actual air vents are a fraction of the back.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

When it comes to comfort, the MSI Claw is likely the most comfortable portable I have used. It is slightly larger than the ROG Ally and a lot larger than the Nintendo Switch. But the real comfort comes from its handheld grips. The concaved shoulder let me place the inner of my middle finger into the groove and it just felt right.

The unit just sat on my hand and I never felt any strain whatsoever even hours into gaming. I have large hands with really long fingers and this device feels like it was made for me. I wish my other portables were this easy on my hands. The PlayStation Portal, for example, feels like there’s no grip or resting place for your fingers at all. The MSI Claw, on the other hand, has been formed around your hand.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

I am sure you can tell already that I do enjoy the general design of the MSI Claw. Although I wish there was an OLED here instead, the unit includes everything you’ll look for in a portable. But its comfort is especially a standout for me.

MSI Claw Performance

We then go into the performance and usability of the unit and it is a hit and miss at times. The MSI Claw uses a custom-skinned MSI Centre overlay to function which means there’s an app running on top of Windows and you can launch games and change settings on the fly. However, it isn’t great. This system overlay definitely needs work.

The experience is cumbersome. Right from the start, I was met with wonky menus that didn’t work. The keyboard would often refuse to pop up when I needed it. When it appeared, I would have to type something using the most minuscule touch keyboard I have seen. I also had an issue where the Wi-Fi password kept telling me it was incorrect. Meanwhile, I checked it countless times and it wasn’t. However, I then entered the password in the Windows settings and it worked. The MSI Centre just refused to authenticate. I think perhaps the API between the Windows settings and the MSI overlay simply doesn’t work properly.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

The overlay is easy to get around. But it doesn’t help that things don’t work properly. Launching a game, for example, would work using the buttons on the unit but then I would have to touch the screen to force the Steam client to register I was accessing the app. When playing games, the device then would think I was using a mouse and keyboard even after turning on GamePad mode countless times.

What does work just fine are the tweaks to the power modes and other settings. Changing the screen brightness and power profiles, for example, did register correctly. The issues just seem to stem from when the MSI Centre M needs to talk to Windows. There’s an obvious disconnect here.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

Of course, these issues can be fixed with updates and MSI says they are going to constantly improve the experience for its users. We did see a similar event with the ROG Ally which also had various UI issues. ASUS also had to release a major update to increase the system’s performance.

Speaking of a performance update. MSI says the company is planning on patching the device with various performance tweaks in the coming weeks. This is supposedly going to increase the performance of the Intel Arc GPU. So the tests you see today might change as they patch the device but don’t expect anything drastic.

I would not look at these tests as the final performance on this unit. I don’t think that would be fair. ASUS had a similar issue with the ROG Ally where I had to redo my entire benchmark list after the company patched the device with an update to boost the performance. We saw tests increase by up to 30%. Will the Claw get the same boost? It is not possible due to the specs of the ARC GPU but some tweaking will enhance performance.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

With that being said, I ran some tests across Cyberpunk 2077, Returnal and Dying Light 2. I ran these tests across various power modes including the plugged-in max TGP which is 40W on this unit.

I also ran tests on the 20W portable mode on battery. I also ran them across 720p and 1080p. Keep in mind that all these tests were with Intel XeSS enabled and set to Performance with the game quality varied depending on the game. I tried to stick to “low” settings most of the time as this is likely where you’ll start your game from and slowly bump up the graphics as you try to balance performance and visuals.

The tests show that this built-in Intel Core Ultra 7 definitely has its work cut out for it when it comes to matching the other competition on the market. At the device’s current state, without these so-called “Intel updates”, the chip performs at about three-quarters the capacity of the AMD Z1 Extreme at the higher power profile.

So essentially, you would have to bypass the Intel GPU’s power use and increase it to 60W in order to match the same performance on the AMD Z1 Extreme running at 30W. I don’t think firmware updates will fix this issue. MSI might be able to get a bit more juice from this chipset and boost it by 15% max but already on paper, the Intel Arc GPU is statistically weaker than the AMD Z1 Extreme. You would need to physically add performance to the chip which, of course, can’t be done.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

When MSI announced the Claw we already knew the performance would not be up to par with the devices already on the market. So these tests don’t come as a surprise. This also means the MSI Claw might have a tough time competing with other handhelds. While I do enjoy the build quality and how comfortable the unit is, performance is the first thing you’ll look at so you need to keep in mind how far this unit can go.

Overall, I do enjoy the MSI Claw for what it is. The comfort is the best I have experienced in the market and the added Hall Effect joysticks make a big difference. The battery life is just okay. Using it in the handheld mode without it plugged into an outlet lasted about an hour and twenty minutes while using the device in its “Balanced Mode” which keeps the wattage at roughly 25W.

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

If you max out the performance, you’ll going to get under an hour. At times, perhaps 45 minutes. None of these portable gaming devices include impressive batteries so this pretty much lines up with other models too.

The MSI Claw, however, is a tough recommendation considering this unit costs more than the ROG Ally and Steam Deck and performs at 30% less efficiency. If perhaps this unit was cheaper it would be a great option for entry-level portable gamers but at this price tag, why would anyone go for it?

MSI Claw A1IM Ultra 7 155H Review

In South Africa, the unit is launching at the highest price tag for the Ultra 5 model. Which means the Ultra 7 model is going to be even more expensive. Even then, that version won’t be able to match the ROG Ally or Steam Deck. To make matters worse, there’s no real selling advantage on the MSI Claw which will perhaps push you towards the unit. If it offered a catch, maybe but this is another gaming handheld device that is trying to offer the same experience as other gaming handheld devices. But only you’re paying more for less. It is a tough one.

Perhaps Intel will be able to squeeze a bit more performance out of the Claw in the future. Who knows.

The MSI Claw is now up for pre-order in South Africa starting at R17999. You can find out more about the pre-order program here.

MSI Claw

Summary

The MSI Claw is an overall weak PC portable gaming handheld device in comparison to its competition on the market. Considering it costs more, it is a tough sell. To make matters worse, the device features no standout tech that sets it above the rest.

Overall
7/10
7/10
Marco is the owner and founder of GLITCHED. South Africa’s largest gaming and pop culture website. GLITCHED quickly established itself with tech and gaming enthusiasts with on-point opinions, quick coverage of breaking events and unbiased reviews across its website, social platforms, and YouTube channel.

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