The Steam Deck officially launched in February 2022 with pre-orders still backed up through Q4 of this year. It has sat at the top Steam sales for many weeks, proving to be a relatively quiet success story thus far. Valve has also been posting news updates regularly, often citing requests and adjustments to their new handheld hardware.
As a new Steam Deck owner, I toyed around with it for a couple of weeks, filled with curiosity. It is so similar and yet so different to the Nintendo Switch, and I’m here to share my findings. Please note that I purchased the 64 GB version. Valve also sells 256 GB and 512 GB versions which have NVMe SSD.
Steam Deck Structure and Specs
The first thing I noticed about the Steam Deck was its heft. This chonky boy is about a foot long and shy of 1.5 pounds. While I initially had issues with the weight, I had to remind myself of the processing power the Steam Deck provides:
- CPU: Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
- GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz (up to 1.6 TFlops FP32)
- APU power: 4-15W
- RAM: 16 GB LPDDR5
Storage, based on each model:
- 64 GB eMMC
- 256 GB NVMe SSD
- 512 GB high-speed NVMe SSD
The Steam Deck has a 7 inch touch screen, D-pad, two thumb sticks, two track pads, ABXY buttons, 5 R/L buttons, and other ancillary buttons and inputs. One button to the lower left-hand side is aptly called the “STEAM” button, which summons your application menu. The sides fit comfortably in each hand; however, the weight does influence how I play–resting my hands on a table or other platform rather than holding it up.
There is also HD haptics and bluetooth capability. It also has a headphone jack and slot for a MicroSD card, which I promptly purchased as 64GB barely held a handful of small, indie games. There is no HDMI or USB port.
When you power the Steam Deck, you are greeted with the blinking logo and then promptly transported to the Steam home page. As a newbie, the Steam button was a life saver for locating the store and my library. What I appreciate about this device is that each game is tagged with its compatibility notes for the Deck. Many games are already labeled as a “great experience”, while others are simply “playable”. Details are provided to any such limitations. I’ve noticed most playable games with limitations call out mouse and keyboard icons or text size. I would say that most are negligible; however, some games truly are not currently ideal for the Steam Deck. For example, the text in Gauntlet is so small, I could barely read the UI.
Yet still, there are a plethora of games with an “unknown” status. I’ve learned that it is up to the player to decide for him or herself whether to purchase and play those titles. For example, Moolander is not verified as compatible to the Steam Deck; however, the demo thus far has been running fine.
For the most part, the Steam Deck appears to be user friendly for existing PC gamers that wish to play on the go. For console gamers thinking it would behave similarly to the Nintendo Switch…not so much. The only thing that those two really have in common is its portability. The virtual keyboard was a personal struggle for me at first, and the touchscreen was not the most elegant way to type. After a week, I got used to the haptic track pad, and now that’s my preferred way to type.
Searching and purchasing games on the Steam Deck are seamless, as expected. I’ve played indie and AAA titles, and so far, the Steam Deck performs. Monster Hunter Rise is gorgeous! I’ve not experienced severe frame rate dips or other janky issues; however, my primary struggle was in co-op game play. I’ve attempted to play online co-op with A Way Out and Gauntlet. Both times, my screen froze on my end while the audio continued. I also noticed with I hopped into my partner’s game (or vice versa), we would only see one username for both players. This is not to say the entire multi-player experience is not up to snuff, but I believe it is more game-specifc.
The battery life on the Steam Deck varies depending on the gaming demand. Overall, it is consistent with the specs provided–two to eight hours. While I have not played more than an hour or so at a time, the Deck has lived through several play sessions. Honestly, what concerns me more than battery life during gameplay is the fan. Fair warning, it is loud and sounds like it would take off into the sky.
Because I am a Game Pass subscriber, I attempted to get Cloud Gaming on the Steam Deck. It is possible, but it was extremely challenging and not for the faint of heart. The current round-about way in installing this feature requires you to enter Desktop Mode, download Microsoft Edge, and enter a string of commands. Check out my article on how to get your Game Pass account onto the Steam Deck!
The Steam Deck is an ambitious device built on the premise of performance and convenience–“portability meets power”, and I believe Valve delivered. While far from perfect and a little chucky for my taste, it is a solid entry into the marketplace, and I’m genuinely curious to see where it lands amongst its console competitors.
I also credit Valve for regularly providing updates for the Steam Deck, proving to us that they strive to improve based on feedback. No one should expect a company’s first generation device to work perfectly, and they seem to have their eyes and ears wide open.
One barrier I see for most gamers is the price. The 64 GB is $399, the 256GB is $529, and the 512 GB is $649 USD. Keep in mind that the targeted population likely has at least one console or decent gaming PC, and unless it is the Nintendo Switch, current gen systems all have a expensive price tag. I’m unsure if gamers at this time are willing and able to drop greater than $400 on a handheld gaming device, especially when I hear many people dump on the 64 GB. The only reason why I selected the 64 GB was because I could not afford the others. Of course I want the faster download, larger capacity, and anti-glare etched glass, but after a PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and a Switch Pro, I just don’t have $529 for another gaming platform. $399 was already cutting it close.
Overall, I am glad I bought the Steam Deck. I foresee streamlining in the future, and while I feel the uptake will be slow, it will also be steady. Valve has created a solid foundation with the vision and understanding on how to make their product better. I can only hope affordability would be worked on to increase accessibility as the Steam Deck is a welcome gateway “drug” for console gamers who wish to dabble in the PC gaming experience but can’t pony up for a gaming PC.
Stephanie, aka the Madpharmacist, is a pharmacist by day and award-winning author at night! She is a copy editor for the Boss Rush website, co-host of the Boss Rush Podcast, and a regular contributor for After Dark, Standard Definition (Disney), and the EXP Cast. If that isn’t enough, Stephanie also writes for Another Zelda Podcast. She is an avid gamer when she finds the time–with Zelda, Ghost of Tsushima, and indie games as her go-tos.
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Featured Image: Steam