Steam Deck review: Expect an experimental gaming experience

Steam Deck review: Expect an experimental gaming experience

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider moving  connected  a Steam Deck.

“The Steam Deck feels similar a archetypal draught that volition beryllium rapidly improved upon.”


  • Tons of power flexibility
  • Excellent specs
  • Fantastic speakers
  • Clean Steam interface
  • Low price


  • Awkward design
  • Weak artillery life
  • Inconsistent crippled compatibility
  • Finnicky Linux browser

Valve’s Steam Deck is an workout successful anticipation setting. If you’re buying 1 hoping it’ll beryllium the be-all and end-all of video crippled devices, you’re going to beryllium disappointed. It’s not going to regenerate your PC oregon Nintendo Switch, nor does Valve mean for it to. And if you’re imagining a aboriginal wherever you’ll beryllium capable to download immoderate caller merchandise and seamlessly instrumentality it connected the go, support dreaming.

While it’s undoubtedly an awesome portable gaming device, it’s important to retrieve that the Steam Deck is precise overmuch an experimental one, too. It’s different effort to springiness players unlimited state successful a oversea of competing ideas that scope from gaming tablets to cloud services to conceptual location servers. Valve does what it does champion present (no, not make video games) to make a almighty portion of hardware, but the Steam Deck is an alternate imaginativeness of the future, not an inherently amended one.

When the Steam Deck is functioning astatine highest performance, it’s a revelatory instrumentality that feels similar it could wholly disrupt the gaming hardware cycle arsenic we cognize it. At the aforesaid time, it’s precise evident that this is simply a archetypal draught that leaves plentifulness of country for improvement. Between questionable plan choices, inconsistent bundle compatibility, and a anemic artillery that dampens its eventual selling point, the Steam Deck is much of a spark than a full-blown revolution.

Carry that weight

Before diving into each the awesome specs, it’s important to get thing precise basal retired of the way: Holding a Steam Deck is akin to lifting a feline by its armpits.

The archetypal happening you’ll announcement erstwhile you unbox the instrumentality is that it’s a giant. Let’s usage the Nintendo Switch OLED for comparison. The Steam Deck is conscionable implicit 2 inches longer than that device, coming successful astatine 11.7 inches. It’s tallness is simply a spot much comparable astatine 4.6 inches, but those fewer other inches are noticeable. I tin comfortably prime up my Switch with 1 manus wrapped astir its edges, but I person to spell full-on claw instrumentality mode to scoop up the Steam Deck successful the aforesaid way.

A Steam Deck placed adjacent  to a Switch OLED.

Naturally, that means that the Steam Deck is heavier, too, but it’s not rather the workout you mightiness expect erstwhile you archetypal spot it. Despite weighing successful astatine 1.47 pounds (versus the Switch OLED’s 0.93 pounds), my contiguous thought upon picking it up wasn’t “oh no.”

What makes it a small awkward to hold, though, is however it sits successful your hands. Since each of its buttons are pushed to the precise apical of the device, that means there’s a batch of console unsupported by your grip. That’s wherever my feline analogy comes in. The bottommost fractional of the instrumentality ends up dangling erstwhile I play similar dormant tummy weight. With the Switch, the bottommost corners of the instrumentality extremity up resting successful my palms, making it casual to clasp up for agelong periods of time. With the Steam Deck, I often recovered myself resting it connected my knees oregon a table conscionable to instrumentality immoderate strain disconnected myself.

I got utilized to it eventually, but I wouldn’t spell arsenic acold arsenic to usage the connection comfortable.

Granted, determination are a fewer notable comfortableness considerations here. The rounded grips connected each broadside are a earthy acceptable successful my hands, which is surely a quality from the Switch’s pancake design. Even so, it’s a instrumentality you’re going to request to larn to enactment with. I got utilized to it eventually, but I wouldn’t spell arsenic acold arsenic to usage the connection comfortable.

Bells and whistles

When it comes to controls, the Steam Deck packs a batch of options in. It has a modular ABXY power setup with a trigger and bumper connected each side, a brace of start/menu buttons, a D-pad, and 2 sticks. That’s a reasonably basal setup, though fastener placement and size presents immoderate challenges. It’s not conscionable that everything is pushed up to the precise apical of the device; it’s that it tin beryllium hard to really scope buttons.

The Steam Deck's ABXY buttons shown up   close.

The bumpers are the worst offenders. If I’m playing a crippled that requires maine to property some a bumper and trigger routinely, I’m abruptly doing a juggling enactment arsenic I displacement my grip connected the controller. In my astir comfy resting position, I can’t scope the bumpers without changing my grip to thing that feels little stable. The tiny paper buttons besides consciousness a spot retired of scope astatine the precise top, and it doesn’t assistance that I person to wedge my thumbs down the sticks to get to them.

Luckily, the Steam Deck does person a large reply to those issues: Four mappable backmost buttons. It’s an awesome summation that allows maine to flip the triggers and cardinal D-pad functions onto buttons that are overmuch easier to access, which is simply a necessity successful games similar Elden Ring. The lone annoyance determination is that there’s nary systemwide mapping option. It has to beryllium done connected an idiosyncratic crippled level each time, which is simply a hassle considering I conscionable privation to usage it for bumpers consistently.

The backmost  buttons connected  a Steam Deck shown up   close.

While determination are quirks with the basal controls, it’s the extras that truly marque the Steam Deck basal out. Each broadside has a trackpad, which I’ve recovered amazingly utile arsenic a rodent replacement. The instrumentality supports gyroscopic controls, and portion I don’t cognize however galore games volition usage them, they worked perfectly good successful Aperture Job Simulator.

Though what I admit astir of each is that it supports interaction controls. When I loaded up Dicey Dungeons and realized I could pat connected my representation and propulsion my dice without touching a button, I realized that determination are immoderate PC games I’m going to play connected this instrumentality exclusively from present on.

The beast incarnate

While it’s awkward connected the outside, it rather virtually is the wrong that counts here. The Steam Deck is simply a existent powerhouse for what it is, which is what makes it truthful breathtaking successful spite of its quirks. That’s acknowledgment to its RDNA 2 GPU and AMD Zen 2 CPU, the aforesaid tech that’s utilized successful the PS5 and Xbox Series X. It’s not arsenic almighty arsenic those consoles, with the cut-down spot performing person to the powerfulness of a PS4, but it’s awesome each the same.

Elden Ring moving  connected  a Steam Deck.

When I booted up Nier: Automata expecting it to struggle, I was stunned to find that it ran arsenic creaseless arsenic food (graphically speaking — I’ll get to the hitch later) astatine a accordant 60 frames per 2nd 9fps). I blindly started downloading random games from my room conscionable to spot what would hap and was routinely impressed with everything from the indie to AAA level. Shadow of the Tomb Raider deed a 52 fpsaverage successful its benchmark test. Even Elden Ring managed to enactment good enough. Sure, its framework complaint fluctuated betwixt 30 and 45, but I could get connected an airplane time and play a marque caller crippled that’s disposable connected today’s astir almighty consoles with small friction.

That’s the powerfulness of the Steam Deck successful action. While the Nintendo Switch’s wow origin has worn disconnected successful caller years arsenic its hardware ages, it’s unthinkable that I tin instrumentality overmuch bigger games connected the spell with the Steam Deck. And that doesn’t necessitate a wireless transportation similar a unreality gaming work would, either. I played Red Dead Redemption 2 underground connected the subway. If you had told maine that would beryllium imaginable adjacent 2 years ago, I would person laughed successful your face.

The Steam Deck is simply a existent powerhouse for what it is, which is what makes it truthful breathtaking successful spite of its quirks.

I’m possibly astir amazed by however fantastic the Steam Deck’s speakers are. Usually, onboard speakers connected devices similar this are obligatory, but weak. That’s not the lawsuit here. When I loaded up Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, 1 of the champion games I tried connected it, I was shocked to perceive its binaural audio effect travel done perfectly. I could intelligibly perceive voices whispering from each broadside of the instrumentality arsenic if I had connected a large brace of headphones. It’s 1 of galore moments that genuinely blew maine distant during testing.

The 60 Hz LCD surface gets the occupation done, though I’m a small spoiled by the Switch OLED astatine this point. The Steam Deck’s surface is noticeably little vibrant by comparison, which took maine disconnected defender the archetypal clip I utilized it. It does fare beauteous good successful agleam sunlight, which is simply a necessity for portability potential.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider moving  connected  a Steam Deck.

The tech rabbit spread goes adjacent deeper. Users tin acceptable its GPU to a fixed clock, alteration FSR scaling, alteration a afloat show overview connected immoderate game, and truthful overmuch more. Options similar that are what marque the Steam Deck basal retired implicit thing similar a Switch. It brings the nitty-gritty customization of a PC to a gaming handheld, which thing other connected the marketplace tin truly lucifer close present — particularly astatine specified a debased terms point.

Here’s the rub

I teased a rub, truthful present it is: Software compatibility is an implicit gamble. Valve uses a verification system, which tells you which games that you ain volition astir assuredly enactment connected the Steam Deck without tweaks. When I archetypal turned connected the device, I had astir 180 games successful my library. About 35 of them were successful the verified tab.

That doesn’t mean each different crippled won’t work. On the contrary, galore conscionable haven’t been tested by Valve yet and enactment without a hitch. Steam has a “playable” marker ,too, denoting that a crippled volition enactment with immoderate quirks. For the aforementioned Dicey Dungeons, each that meant was that the rodent showed up connected screen. Otherwise, it’s a cleanable experience.

Your acquisition with it is going to wholly beryllium connected your Steam library.

But investigating showed that the instrumentality tin beryllium unpredictable. Destiny 2 won’t motorboat astatine each due to the fact that its anti-cheat bundle isn’t compatible with the Steam Deck. Nier: Automata whitethorn person looked incredible, but nary of its euphony would play and the crippled would automatically skip done each dialogue. While I could tally Elden Ring easily, the overmuch little almighty Splitgate is borderline unplayable connected the device, with fuzzy visuals and missing textures (even successful its offline tutorial). Red Dead Redemption 2 froze during its benchmark test, forcing maine to powerfulness it disconnected entirely. None of these games are verified, caput you, but that’s what to expect if you rotation the dice.

This is the inherent situation successful reviewing a instrumentality arsenic experimental arsenic this. I could prime 20 games astatine random and each of them could enactment amazingly well, starring maine to judge this is simply a reliable system. Conversely, I could download 20 games that person bizarre compatibility issues that would marque maine consciousness similar I’d wasted a batch of money. Your acquisition with it is going to wholly beryllium connected your Steam library.

Splitgate's tutorial runs connected  a Steam Deck.

All of that is earlier adjacent getting into the device’s weak artillery life, which adds much complications to the mix. Valve says the artillery should past anyplace betwixt 2 and 8 hours. Unless you’re playing immoderate miniscule indies, you’re usually going to beryllium connected the shorter broadside of that spectrum. Elden Ring drained the artillery truthful accelerated that I went from a 10% artillery informing to dormant successful minutes (I didn’t adjacent person clip to plug it successful earlier it went black). If you person an hourlong commute to work, you’ll request to support a charger astatine your office, due to the fact that there’s nary warrant it’ll past the travel determination an back.

It’s worthy noting that this isn’t similar a PC insofar arsenic you won’t beryllium capable to upgrade its parts down the line. What you’re getting present is what you’ll beryllium locked to until Valve makes a caller one. If a caller merchandise similar Elden Ring is already having occupation delivering a accordant framework rate, however does a caller crippled that releases 1 twelvemonth from present fare? You could reason that the aforesaid would beryllium existent of a laptop, but the Steam Deck is simply a small much unpredictable since it’s an wholly caller instrumentality with its ain compatibility barriers.

That’s wherefore anticipation mounting is important here. You person to spell into this expecting that immoderate of your favourite games aren’t going to enactment good connected it. Valve whitethorn accidental that you tin instrumentality your full Steam room connected the go, but that’s not going to beryllium the case. Even with that successful mind, it’s perfectly thrilling erstwhile games bash afloat function, adjacent if they’re smaller titles that could tally connected a Switch. I was capable to bargain Vampire Survivors connected the instrumentality itself and instrumentality it connected the subway, adjacent though it’s a PC-exclusive crippled astatine the moment. There are precise fewer ways for maine to bash that, which makes the Steam Deck consciousness revolutionary erstwhile moving astatine its best.

Work successful progress

If it’s not already wide by now, the Steam Deck is simply a enactment successful progress. That’s particularly evident erstwhile getting into immoderate of the device’s UI, which is simply a mixed bag. On the affirmative side, the default Steam interface is amended than the modular presumption disposable connected PC. It’s overmuch easier to browse your library, the store, friends list, and download progress. The console’s Steam fastener streamlines each of it successful ways I privation I had connected desktop.

What gets analyzable is the system’s Linux browser. Theoretically, it’s a almighty instrumentality that could fto you download games beyond your Steam library, including emulators. It’s not casual to usage currently, though. Part of that is conscionable due to the fact that Linux tin look alien if you’ve been raised connected Windows, but determination are immoderate quirks beyond that.

The Steam Deck yet reminds maine of putting connected an aboriginal VR headset successful the mid-2010s.

When I click connected a substance box, the keyboard doesn’t ever populate connected screen. I’m expected to beryllium capable to bring it up astatine immoderate clip by pressing the Steam fastener and X astatine the aforesaid time, but it doesn’t ever work. I would besides routinely effort to exit backmost to the modular Steam view, lone for Linux to archer maine an app that wasn’t unfastened was blocking it. I had to powerfulness down the instrumentality connected a fewer occasions due to the fact that I conscionable couldn’t fig retired however to get retired otherwise. If you privation to play with it, bring a rodent and keyboard.

Some of that volition surely beryllium fixed implicit time, though I deliberation an upgraded exemplary could bash a batch much to marque the instrumentality easier to use. The Onexplayer Mini, for instance, includes a fastener that automatically calls the Windows keyboard up astatine immoderate time. It besides includes a USB-A larboard and 2 USB-C ports, which marque it casual to plug immoderate instrumentality in, whereas Steam Deck lone has a USB-C larboard that’s utilized for charging (though it’s Bluetooth-ready, which mitigates the deficiency of wired options).

The Steam Deck's UI appears connected  the console's screen.

The Steam Deck yet reminds maine of putting connected an aboriginal VR headset successful the mid-2010s. I retrieve throwing connected a gigantic Vive astir 2014 and being incredibly impressed by the experience. But I besides walked retired knowing that the tech would germinate fast, making maine skeptical astir investing. Anyone who waited for the overmuch cleaner Meta Quest 2 didn’t truly miss much.

The Steam Deck is going to beryllium a akin benignant of experience. For aboriginal adopters, it’s going to beryllium a revelatory game-changer. But if you’re already connected a years-long hold list, don’t consciousness excessively overmuch FOMO. The aboriginal you bargain a instrumentality similar this, whether it’s this mentation of the Steam Deck oregon a copycat, the amended it’s going to be.

Our take

There’s a batch I could knock the Steam Deck for. It has an awkward design, unspeakable artillery life, unpredictable bundle compatibility, a quirky Linux browser, and overmuch more. Even with each those issues, I inactive find myself thrilled that it exists. This is simply a almighty gaming instrumentality that’s simply unmatched by thing other connected the market. The information that it tin tally Elden Ring, a marque caller AAA merchandise that couldn’t tally connected my PC, speaks to its wide worth arsenic a portable device. Valve has a batch of tweaking to bash if it wants this to person an assemblage beyond the techie crowd, but the hardware seems susceptible capable to grip the agelong travel ahead.

Is determination a amended alternative?

Frankly, no, but determination volition beryllium eventually. The Steam Deck blows its eclectic aboriginal contention away, though it’s an imperfect archetypal draught overall.

How agelong volition it last?

I find it hard to judge that Valve won’t merchandise a amended exemplary successful a fewer years. Still, the Steam Deck has immoderate awesome specs that should marque it perfectly usable until then.

Should you bargain it?

Yes. If you play a ton of PC games and conscionable privation other mobility, nary different instrumentality is going to fto you instrumentality your games connected the spell this freely. Just cognize that you’re going to beryllium moving with an experimental, sometimes unpredictable device.

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