Steam Deck Review: Embrace an Innovative Gaming Experience

Valve’s Steam Deck offers an exciting journey into the future of gaming. However, it’s important to set realistic expectations. If you’re looking for a device to replace your PC or Nintendo Switch, you’ll be disappointed. Valve never intended for the Steam Deck to serve as a direct replacement. It’s an experimental device, aiming to provide players with unparalleled freedom in the ever-evolving gaming landscape. Valve, known for its hardware prowess, delivers a powerful piece of equipment with the Steam Deck, but it represents an alternative vision for the future, not necessarily a superior one.

Carry that Weight

Before diving into the impressive specifications, let’s address the elephant in the room: the size and weight of the Steam Deck. Holding the device feels like lifting a cat by its armpits. It’s undeniably larger than the Nintendo Switch OLED, measuring 11.7 inches in length and 4.6 inches in height. While it may be heavier at 1.47 pounds compared to the Switch OLED’s 0.93 pounds, it’s not as cumbersome as one might expect.

However, the design does pose challenges in terms of ergonomics. With all the buttons pushed to the top, there’s a considerable amount of the device unsupported by your grip. This can lead to a somewhat uncomfortable holding experience. Nonetheless, with time, you’ll grow accustomed to it.

A Steam Deck sits next to a Switch OLED.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

Bells and Whistles

The Steam Deck offers a comprehensive set of controls. It features a standard ABXY setup, triggers, bumpers, a D-pad, and two sticks. However, the placement and size of these buttons present some challenges, making them hard to reach and potentially affecting stability during gameplay.

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To combat these issues, the Steam Deck introduces four mappable back buttons, a remarkable addition that allows you to customize your gaming experience. Assigning functions to these buttons proves especially useful in games like Elden Ring. However, note that the absence of a systemwide mapping option can be a hassle when consistency is desired.

The Steam Deck's ABXY buttons shown up close.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

The Steam Deck also offers additional features that enhance the gaming experience. The presence of trackpads on each side functions as an effective mouse replacement and supports gyroscopic controls. Moreover, touch controls prove invaluable, as seen in games like Dicey Dungeons, where tapping the screen replaces the need for physical buttons.

The Beast Incarnate

The true power of the Steam Deck lies within its internal components. Sporting an RDNA 2 GPU and AMD Zen 2 CPU, the same technology found in the PS5 and Xbox Series X, the Steam Deck delivers impressive performance. While not as powerful as those consoles, it still performs exceptionally well, rivaling the capabilities of the PS4.

Elden Ring running on a Steam Deck.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

The Steam Deck provides a seamless gaming experience, even with demanding titles like Nier: Automata and Elden Ring. These games run smoothly, allowing you to enjoy AAA experiences on the go. The built-in speakers prove surprisingly impressive, offering excellent audio quality. Additionally, the 60 Hz LCD screen, while not as vibrant as the Switch OLED, performs well under bright sunlight.

Customization options further elevate the Steam Deck’s appeal. You can adjust the GPU clock, enable FSR scaling, and access detailed performance overviews. These features set the Steam Deck apart, bringing PC-level customization to a handheld gaming device at an affordable price point.

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Here’s the Rub

Software compatibility with the Steam Deck can be a gamble. Valve employs a verification system to identify games guaranteed to work seamlessly on the device. However, many unverified games function well without issues, while others encounter unexpected compatibility problems.

Splitgate's tutorial runs on a Steam Deck.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

Battery life is another consideration. Valve states that the battery lasts between two and eight hours, leaning toward the shorter end for more demanding games. Engaging in an hour-long commute without access to a charger may result in the battery dying mid-trip.

It’s worth noting that the Steam Deck’s hardware is not upgradeable, meaning you’re locked into its capabilities until Valve introduces a new model. This raises concerns about future game releases and whether they will run smoothly. Additionally, the device’s Linux-based browser presents usability challenges, although future updates may address these issues.

When considering the Steam Deck, it’s crucial to temper expectations. While some favorite games may not work flawlessly, the device offers moments of pure gaming bliss when everything aligns perfectly. It opens doors to playing PC-exclusive games on the go, showcasing its potential as a revolutionary gaming device.

Work in Progress

The Steam Deck is an ambitious work in progress. The device’s user interface, although an improvement over standard PC views, still has room for refinement. Navigating the built-in Linux browser can be challenging, and improvements are needed to enhance usability.

The Steam Deck's UI appears on screen.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

While Valve will likely release a better model in the future, the current Steam Deck offers impressive specifications that ensure usability. However, expect a learning curve when working with the device’s interface. Other competitors may emerge, but for now, the Steam Deck remains unmatched.

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Our Take

Despite its flaws, the Steam Deck is a device worth celebrating. Its unique capabilities and portability make it a must-have for avid PC gamers seeking extra mobility. Embrace its experimental nature, knowing that unpredictability comes with the territory.

Is there a better alternative? Currently, no. Although imperfect, the Steam Deck outshines its competitors. However, future iterations will likely offer even greater improvements.

How long will it last? While Valve may release an upgraded version down the line, the current Steam Deck’s impressive specifications will keep it relevant for the foreseeable future.

Should you buy it? Absolutely! If you’re a PC gamer eager for on-the-go gaming freedom, the Steam Deck is the perfect device. Just remember that it’s an experimental platform, which brings occasional unpredictability.

OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

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