The fact that we had seen every photo and video of the Steam Deck on the internet had done nothing to prepare us for actually seeing it. It’s a behemoth, and it’s significantly larger than we had anticipated, especially when compared to a Nintendo Switch on the same table. This is the equivalent of a full-sized desktop computer for videogame handhelds. It’s both tall and wide at the same time. It feels surprisingly natural in the hands, on the other hand. By just looking at it you can feel the 1.47-pound weight of the system, but it’s fairly evenly distributed across both sides of the system’s components. If you’ve been doing the majority of your handheld gaming on a Nintendo Switch recently, you’ll notice a significant difference. Even though the Steam Deck is significantly heavier, it is worth it for its capabilities. While Valve’s product designer acknowledged that there were some visual similarities between the two devices, the company maintains that its device is distinct in that it is aimed at PC gamers rather than console gamers. Now, an image has surfaced showing how the two appear side by side, with particular emphasis on the size differences between them.
Much has been written about the placement of the buttons, directional pad, and joysticks on the Xbox 360 controller on the internet. We are pleased to report that, after about two hours of playing with the system, this does not appear to be a significant issue. Despite the fact that it’s not the layout that I’m accustomed to after years of playing with both Microsoft and Sony’s controllers, as well as handhelds such as the Switch, we didn’t find making any unexpected mistakes as a result of the button and control positioning.
Having said that, the touchpads are located beneath both sticks and may require some getting used to. Using the touchpad in first-person shooters like Doom Eternal and Halo 4 required us to reach a little further than we were used to, over the sticks, to get to the ABXY buttons, which was a little uncomfortable.
The triggers and bumpers were comfortable to use, and the buttons were satisfyingly clicky and responsive. Despite the fact that the device has four mappable buttons on the back, those didn’t seem to function properly during our testing. The only thing that took some getting used to was the weight, which I got used to pretty quickly.
DISPLAY AND INTERFACE
There’s no getting around the fact that the anti-glare screen is more pleasant and it has been reserved for 512GB version of the Steam Deck. Of course, it just so happened to have them both next to one another.
For those who are already familiar with Valve’s Steam desktop launcher, and especially for those who are already familiar with Steam’s Big Picture mode, the new version of SteamOS will be straightforward. The game draws attention to your library by displaying large images of the games you own in your library. This makes it simple to simply click on a game (or touch it) and jump into it.
The software on the unit we tested was the least-finished component, though it was able to navigate through the settings, see where each game was stored (on the SSD or SD card), change Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings, and change the default controller profile.
Even though there’s still more work to be done here, we believe that when it’s finished, it will be intuitive, especially if you’re used to using Steam as a gaming platform.
It’s possible that there are some SteamOS tricks hidden on the Steam Deck as well. For example, when games first started up, they had to load and optimize shaders, which took time. However, when a game is running on SteamOS, it may recognize that it is running on a Steam Deck and perform the necessary actions in the background before you even launch the game, as it already knows what hardware is being used.
GAMING ON STEAM DECK
When you first start playing with the Steam Deck, one of the first things to do was to unplug the device from the wall. It had been charged, and unlike gaming laptops, it does not draw any additional power when the unit is plugged in. This results in a more consistent experience, and the thermal design has been optimized to accommodate this. It’s probably best to just sit back and relax.
The Steam Deck is powered by an AMD APU, which features a Zen 2 CPU with four CPU cores and eight threads, as well as GPU power from eight RDNA 2 compute units. It has a total of 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM. With three storage options available, the $399 base model has 64GB eMMB (PCIe Gen 2 x1), the $529 midrange configuration has a 256GB NVMe SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4), and the top-of-the-line, $649 configuration has a 512GB SSD (PCIe Gen 3 x4).
The performance you get out of Steam Deck will be heavily influenced by the games you choose to play and the settings you choose to use for them. As soon as I started playing Stardew Valley, the indie farming role-playing game, it ran as smoothly on Steam Deck as it did anywhere else I’d ever played it before.
Although the Steam Deck boasts the ability to play virtually any game, more specifically games that are PC compatible, there is one advantage the Switch has over Valve’s device, and that is the ability to play Nintendo games, which the Steam Deck does not have. With the Switch OLED set to launch a couple of months before the Deck, Nintendo may be able to maintain its hold on a segment of the market that other game companies simply do not have. However, based on the promises made by Valve, their entry into the handheld gaming market could effectively bridge the gap between PC gaming and the mobile market. Only time will tell whether Valve will be able to compete in this market after spending so much of its time concentrating on the home PC.