Valve’s latest hardware release is trickling out to those that preordered nearly a year ago, and luckily we’ve got our hands on one. While handheld PCs are nothing new, the Steam Deck rises above the rest with consumer-friendly design, a wide range of software capabilities, and the force of the Steam catalog to back it up.
Valve Steam Deck hands-on review
If you’re familiar with the PC gaming space, you already know the barrier to entry can be a decent chunk of change compared to a console. The Steam Deck is a great step in closing that gap. While $400 could get you a decent graphics card, if you go the portable route, you can start gaming without ever having to choose Intel or AMD. The Steam Deck is available in three different storage capacities:
- 64GB for $399.00
- 256GB for $529.00
- 512GB for $649.00
All of these options come with a carrying case, the 256GB and 512GB versions come with a faster NVMe SSD, and the 512GB version comes with an anti-glare etched screen. If you’re worried about storage, there’s a MicroSD card slot to expand as necessary, which I highly suggest if you’re going for the 64GB option.
The Steam Deck includes a 7-inch 1280×800 resolution screen that maxes at 60Hz, so slightly bigger than the original Nintendo Switch if you’re coming from that. Speaking of, we are still waiting for the Steam Deck Dock which just got delayed, but should allow for fullscreen TV gaming without the use of a USB-C hub. If you’d rather play on an Xbox or PlayStation 5 controller, I’d suggest picking up a base to prop it up in the meantime.
Hardware is at the forefront
Valve put a lot of care into the design of this product, and it shows. The ergonomic grips are perfect for the four back paddles that you can map controls to, similar to the Xbox Elite Controller. In addition, the gyro controls add a new dimension of aiming, and one of the best quality of life features is the inclusion of capacitive touch sensors on the joysticks, so when your thumbs leave them, it turns off the gyro controls. When you combine gyro controls and the ability to map the four face buttons to the back paddles, you get max control in first person shooters, action RPGs, and more.
Power of the Proton engine
Just because it’s a handheld, doesn’t mean they compromised running AAA games on it. While it may not be able to get everything running at 60fps, the Steam Deck certainly holds its own. Dropping the FPS to 40 will get you more battery life and better performance.
When you boot up the Steam Deck, you’ll be greeted by SteamOS, which should be familiar to anyone that has used Steam Big Picture mode before. You can easily switch to a full Linux desktop and utilize the PC features. The two trackpads are a nice touch for this mode, and while I won’t be using them for gaming anytime soon, they work better here than they did on the Steam Controller. Through Linux feel free to install other launchers, like the Epic Games Launcher, and take advantage of even more of your PC library.
Not without issues
Valve compromised very little on the Steam Deck, but there are some noticeable faults, including the fact that load times and battery life can be rough, they’re still getting compatibility up to speed through the proton engine, and it doesn’t download updates or games in sleep mode, but some of these can be fixed in later updates. Another small issue is with the build quality. I noticed the plastic squeaking and deforming when I press down the power button, but it does not seem to cause any issues.
While I don’t believe the Steam Deck is a Nintendo Switch killer like some are claiming, the entry price for decent PC gaming just got a whole lot lower. This is perfect for someone who does not want to drop upwards of a thousand dollars on a gaming rig, but wants the extensive catalog that Steam (and others) offer. Valve’s quality shines through in not only their games, but hardware like the Valve Index, and the Steam Deck is no exception.
As of July 2022, pre-orders are estimated to arrive in October 2022 or later. Luckily Valve has been communicating with the community often, including shipping and production improvements and quality of life updates that users have asked for.
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