Steam Deck Review: PC Gaming in Your Palm, at Long Last
It kind of looks like a nintendo switch, its definitely not a nintendo switch but, more importantly, im going to tell you whether or not you should buy one Music. Now the steam deck is easily the most buzzworthy piece of new gaming hardware this year so far, and i have to say as a device its very hard to review, because the platform is still evolving. Ive spent the past two weeks with the pre release version of the steam deck and even during that time, theres been a lot of software changes uh that affect how the device works and how you interface with your steam library. Now, as pc gamers youre, probably used to this doing some tweaking doing some troubleshooting figuring out how to get things to work, the way you want them to and thats all part of the steam deck experience. I think my big takeaway is, if youre the kind of person who hopped online and pre ordered the steam deck last year during the very short window. When it was available to pre order, then youre probably going to be largely impressed and maybe a little irritated if youre, the kind of person whos looking for something thats kind of a cool casual pick up and play handheld device like a nintendo switch and you dont Have to worry about anything. This is probably not for you taking the openness and scope and scale of pc gaming and putting it in a handheld package.
Thats been kind of a holy grail for hardware makers. For a long time, i can go all the way back to 2013 and razer had something called the edge. That was a gaming windows tablet with add on controller style panels on the side and weve seen other prototypes over the years at ces a couple years ago. A few companies that handheld gaming prototypes that didnt really go anywhere, the steam deck is kind of like those except for its actually here, and it actually works. However, this is not a windows handheld gaming device. It runs steam os which steam originally came up with for steam boxes, which were simple small form factor gaming, pcs that were intended to be an alternative to having a windows based gaming pc. Now the original problem with steam os was that it ran linux versions of games in your steam library, so the game in your steam library had to have a linux version of it, which some did, but many did not in the version on the steam deck theres. A helper app basically called proton that works kind of like how rosetta works for max when its trying to take an app that was written for an intel mac and run it on an m1 mac. So you can take any windows based steam games and see if theyll run in a lot of cases, they do, even if they dont, have an explicit linux version, and that makes the entire thing a lot easier to just pick up and pick games out of your Library and install, and some of them are verified by valve, which means theyre going to work really well uh and some of them are the kind of we think theyre sort of going to work.
We have some people who say they work theres, some questions about it, but most of the games i ran into just had a question mark and that just meant they didnt have enough information. Yet, to make a call about whether or not this was a good for steam deck game. So when i was testing the steam deck, i installed some of the verified games that i knew would work. Well, i installed a bunch of the exclamation point games that some gamer said worked well and maybe need some tweaks and some workarounds to get to. You know work perfectly and i installed a whole bunch of the question mark games, some of which worked fine and some of which didnt. I got one of my favorite recent games inscription to run, but i had to go into the properties for the game and find a checkbox for forcing compatibility. But then i got that to run i couldnt get halo infinite to run. That seems like one youd really want to play on this by the time the steam deck launches im, hoping theres, more comprehensive information for a much larger set of games in the steam library Music. Now the steam deck comes in three iterations, its all the same hardware, but inside you can get a 64 gig storage version, thats 3.99 theres a 256 for 529 and theres, a 512 gigabyte version for 650 that middle one, the 256 is the one i think most People would probably be interested in decent amount of storage, decent price, the 64 gig version youre just not going to have enough room for any games.
Frankly, i ran out of room almost immediately on the 256 version. I added another 256 as a micro sd card, because theres a micro, sd card slot and you can just put in a card there and get a ton of extra storage. I filled that second, one up immediately, so im already deleting and reinstalling games and swapping them out, because, frankly, a lot of games take 80 100 gigs of space. These days, uh youre gon na eat up that 256 very quickly and the 64.. I dont even know how you get started with that now youre looking at the device – and you might say yeah, it does seem kind of like a nintendo switch, obviously bigger and thicker. With a lot of buttons on it, so when i first took the steam deck – and i showed it to my very game – savvy 10 year old, his first comment was: it looks old and i can see that this has kind of a first generation hardware. Look its big its chunky, its kind of heavy, but there is a lot of stuff packed inside this uh box. So you know that makes sense. Youve got uh traditional two analog sticks here: youve got the four face: buttons youve got a directional pad, youve got uh. Basically, the start and select menu buttons, uh, whatever they call them on whatever kind of controller youre used to using uh. There are two touch pads which are really interesting, one on the left, one on the right and they both have some level of haptics below them.
So you can get some feedback through there theres a couple of menu buttons that i found a little confusing theres a steam button over here. That brings up one subset of menus and then theres a quick launch button over here. That brings up a whole different set of sub menus, so whether something goes in this side of it or that side of it seems a little arbitrary to me and, of course around the back. Youve got triggers and bumpers thats pretty standard, but also got four little paddle controllers right under where your fingers are going to be. You can use those paddles and assign specific key presses to them. You can say like if i need to access the the i key in a pc game to get to my inventory. I can just map that to one of those back panels or something similar Music. Now the screen is a seven inch touch screen display. If you get the most expensive version, the 512 version uh its got some anti glare etching on the glass kind of like some high end. Imac stew, and i think one of the apple monitors has the same thing as an option. I dont have that hair ive. Just had the regular glare version, but its fine inside the steam jack youve got an amd apu. That means its the cpu and the gpu together its actually very similar conceptually to whats in the playstation 5 and the xbox series x, both of which use amd chips that are again conceptually the same, although more powerful in those cases.
In most ways. That said, i was able to run a lot of brand new games on the steam deck at 60 frames per second and reasonably medium to high detail levels. One of the reasons im able to do that is frankly the resolution on this guy. The screen resolution is 1280×800 uh on a game console in your living room, maybe even on your gaming laptop youre, trying to push 4k resolution theres really a lot you can get away with by knocking things down to 1280×800 on the seven inch screen it looked fine. I was able to actually output this to a bigger monitor screen. I could also hook up a keyboard and mouse via bluetooth, and i was actually able to play some games just regular keyboard and mouse on a monitor style but thats, where you really see that low resolution. When you blow it up, it becomes more obvious and no matter what you can tell this thing is working because the fans are usually cranking pretty loud and theres, a really steady stream of frankly, pretty hot air blowing out from the front here: Music, theres, no random Fan noise for you, so i tried a whole bunch of games for my steam library. Some of them worked fine, some of them didnt work. Some of them worked, but the controls were just way too wonky translating keyboard and mouse controls onto gamepad style controls and some of them worked after i did some behind the scenes tweaking, for instance, i was able to play horizon zero dawn, uh, god of war shadow.
The tomb raider – these are all very mainstream games that have very nice steam versions, horizon zero dawn and shadow of the tomb raider both have benchmarks built in that actually ran. So i was able to try some different detail settings and run those benchmarks over and over again to see what kind of frame rates we got in horizon. Zero dawn again were running at 1280 by 800 resolution lower detail settings. I got 48 frames per second at higher detail. Settings got 33 frames per second, but a lot of the games. I ran frankly hit in the 50s and 60s pretty easily and if you go into the side menu using the three dot menu button on the right side of the steam deck, you can turn on an on screen overlay. That shows you frame rate and how much power its using and what the cpu and gpu are doing. Theres actually different levels. You can have a bigger one with more detail, a smaller one with less detail. It covers up a nice chunk of the screen, but if you want to check how the performance is doing in any particular game at any particular set of settings, you can turn that on and look at it and then go back and turn it off Music. Now, of course, a big question youre going to ask is about battery life. I think valve had said something like four hours for some games, maybe a little more for other games.
Okay, i went and played one of the games that i thought actually came off. The best on this steam deck, i just randomly, pulled up no mans sky, which i dont think i really played much since it first came out years ago, always seemed sort of tedious to me, but frankly, it was right at home. In this handheld format, it was actually great, and i loaded up the game and i played it from the battery – was 100 to literally it shut down, because the battery ran out of power, and that was about two hours. It also took me using the included charger about two hours to go from zero percent up to 100 of the battery it charges through regular usbc. You can, you know, use your macbook charger on it. If you wanted to now youre, not stuck just in the steam interface, you can actually go to the desktop mode, which is basically a linux, desktop. You kind of have to know what youre doing there, but the firefox is built in. I was able to download and install chrome right away and doing that i could run our regular video streaming battery test the same one that we use on laptops and tablets and with the same brightness and volume settings i actually got it to run for seven hours. Just streaming video, so the battery life is very variable: youre playing an intense game, youre gon na get two hours youre.
Just watching video youre gon na get seven hours. I eventually got the gog. The good old game store to run was able to install and play at least a couple of older games from that and uh. I think once this steam deck is in wider release. Youre gon na see a lot of people figuring out how to get different games, not just steam games running on there, and even if its a a windows game, not a linux game. The same proton emulation software is going to help you out there and try to run those games Music, its interesting using this. Unlike a nintendo switch theres, no kickstand in the back, i think valve is going to sell it sold separately stand, but i kept trying to hook up a keyboard and mouse to it or just look at it and it kept falling over. So i actually went and i made a stand. I found a set of plans for an ipad stand. I think, and i tweaked them and i measured the thickness of the steam deck and i made my own stand. I made one out of wood on a laser cutter, made a couple of tweaks and then made the final version out of uh, lucite and uh. You can see that here and im gon na put the files up on thingiverse and ill link to it. If you want to download it and make your own, if you have a laser cutter, most interesting to me, was probably taking games that are clearly not intended for an xbox style controller games that are keyboard and mouse only and getting them to run thats.
Something valve tried to solve for with the steam controller from many years ago, where it had two touch pads built into something that looked like a regular game controller. So here you have the touch pads again. I tried pathfinder wrath of the righteous, which is a very traditional computer role, playing game keyboard and mouse. Only and frankly, the controls mapped pretty well. I was able to use the touchpad fairly easily. The text on the screen is still going to be small youre. Thinking of a game thats really intended for a 15 or 17 inch screen, i did the same thing for gloomhaven, which is the pc game: adaptation of the gigantic tabletop board game again, keyboard and mouse game uh also worked really well on the steam deck. I was pleasantly surprised by that, so part of the fun of playing with the steam deck for the last couple weeks is discovering what worked, what didnt work? What workarounds i can come up with which games are being added to the compatibility list? What games didnt work? Last week, but are working this week, so i find all that fascinating and i think you will too, if youre into that sort of troubleshooting and tweaking the best analogy i can think of, is i liken the steam deck to something like the first generation of modern Consumer vr the oculus rift the htc vive. Technically these were consumer products. You could go out and buy, but they required a certain adventurous spirit where you knew it just wasnt going to be turn it on plug and play youre going.
You knew there was going to be a learning curve and you were going to have to figure stuff out, as you went, and for a lot of people thats part of the fun.