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Valve Steam Deck Handheld Console Full Review

The Valve Steam Deck, Teased it a little while ago. It turns out there's a lot of hype around this and now that I've been using it for a bit, I can clearly see that there is not a lot of people that I would actually recommend this to. But for those people, they're gonna have a lot of fun with it.

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So, the Steam Deck is a $399 handheld gaming console with a screen surrounded by non-removable controls, with basically a mini PC inside. If you haven't heard about it, it can kind of be difficult to understand what a Steam Deck is. I guess the natural reaction is, "Oh, it's like a Nintendo Switch on steroids." But it really is a lot more than that. Now, Valve isn't exactly known for making a ton of great hardware. We know Steam, of course, and they make some games, but they have made some less successful hardware projects. Like they made the Steam Controller, which was eventually discontinued. And the Steam Link, which was also discontinued. And let's not even get started on Steam Machines. And it's not even clear at this point how long the Steam Deck will last, but I'm rooting for it.

So, the challenge for the Steam Deck is this is meant to be able to play any of the games in your Steam library, wherever you want, which is an amazing goal. But the problem is a lot of these games all are designed with different controller mechanics in mind. Some of them are for mouse and keyboard. Some of them are for a controller. Some of them are just a keyboard. Some of them are hybrids, what are ever you want. And so the Steam Deck is trying to let you play as many of those games as possible by adapting to them.

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Now, I don't know what kind of gamer you are, but for me, personally, I get really heavy into one, maybe two games at a time, and then I play them a ton until I'm sick of them and then I move on. Some other people have a bunch of games in rotation. For either person though, basically, I don't think you're gonna be able to be quite as good at the game as you were on PC, but that's often outweighed by how fun it is to be able to play this game in all these new places that you could never play before.

So, let me just say, ergonomically I think the Steam Deck is pretty great. It's much, much bigger than a Switch, but it's still impressively light. It's 688 grams. Basically, it's like 1 1/2 times the Switch. It's made of all plastic here but there is not much flexion at all. No creaking. The thing feels very well built. And then there's just tons of controls.


So, first of all, it's a glass touchscreen up front, seven-inch diagonal, 1280 by 800, 60 Hz IPS display.

Then there's A, B, X, Y buttons.

There's a D-pad.

There's two thumbsticks with this nice texture.

There's also two touchpads with haptic feedback.

There is a menu button top right and a view button top left.

The Steam button, that brings up the Steam menu on the bottom left.

And the quick settings button on the bottom right, that gives you things like battery life and frame rate limits, and brightness, et cetera.

Then there's four shoulder buttons on the top, R1, R2 and L1, L2.

And there's four more assignable grip buttons around the back. So, R4, R5 and L4, L5 and they're all pretty well laid out.

I mean, those back buttons sit comfortably where your fingers usually sit, the grip is nicely curved. It feels natural to hold. The speakers, of course, are upfront facing you. And then up top is the volume buttons, a headphone jack for some headphones, and a USB-C port for charging. But then at the bottom is a microSD card slot, which is surprisingly important.

See, the $399 is the baseline version and that will get you 64 gigs, the lowest amount of storage and that also is the slowest storage. If you go ahead and just check your Steam library real quick, there's a pretty good chance you'll find at least one game that's more than 64 gigs. So, the256 gig version I had was $529, and then there is a 1/2 terabyte 649 version coming later, which apparently also has a nano-etched display. But, yeah, I only have two games that I'm playing on my Steam library right now. One is called "Dirt Rally," it's about 40 gigs, and the other is "NBA 2K22," and it's 117 gigs. And so I don't really have much room for any other games. But the nice thing is, like I said, there's that microSD card slot, which just pops in and out like normal like that. And you can just add a terabyte of extra storage. And impressively and thankfully, that actually will give you totally normal performance playing games off of that card. So, I would recommend saving a little bit and getting one of these too.

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But yeah, once I got the Steam Deck really all I wanted to do was just play some games. So, I got my two good games going and immediately was playing them in places. I had never played those games before. Typically, I have to sit in the one room where the gaming PC and monitor and keyboard and everything is set up, but I was playing "Dirt Rally" sitting on a couch or just in random other rooms. This could easily extend out anywhere. The back of a car or on a flight, the waiting room at a doctor's office, I don't know. Basically anywhere where you can catch a spare hour or two, you can play a game.

Now, there is a tiny bit of latency that you can sort of mentally calibrate for. Again, this goes back to me saying you're not gonna be as good in the game as you would be on a PC. But I was able to get used to it enough to make it enjoyable. And I think that's where focusing on the numbers on paper will get you kind of lost. It runs a custom AMD APU. It has 16 gigs of RAM. You might be tempted as a gamer to say, "Oh, well, what if it had 90 Hz or 120 Hz display? "Or focusing on faster storage to reduce the latency "a little would've been nice." But the battery life, The battery life, it's rated for two to eight hours. And I'll just say, you'll definitely get closer to two a lot more often than you'll get close to eight. So, 60 Hz is fine. 1280 by 800 on a seven-inch display is fine. And the controllers and ergonomics are really good, they're comfy.


The other game that I mentioned I play a lot, "NBA 2K," works great. Again, you gotta take a few games to calibrate for the slight delay between moving the controls and then the actual player moving, even if you're not playing online. Like it's most noticeable when shooting free throws or really any type of shooting where that's timing-related. But once you get the hang of that, it's fun. I mean, I've literally never played "NBA 2K" anywhere other than on my couch with the PlayStation in front of me, or on a gaming computer in the studio. So, I was out here sitting on a random couch with no TV in the room, playing "2K" on a flight, playing "2K" anywhere away from the normal setup is so new. It just felt like unlocking a level of fun that I couldn't access before

But here's the X factor. These games that I've been playing worked really well on the Steam Deck because those controls are already mapped great, because those are games that are typically played with controllers. I mean, you could get a wheel for "Dirt." But those are games that are already mapped great. So, you'll notice, if you try to go into the menus in "2K" or something with a different part of the Deck like the touchscreen or the touchpads, yeah, those things don't really work very well.

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They've tried to map it, but it's pretty bad. It's inconsistent. It's imprecise. You'd never use them. But at least the controls that are supposed to work do, that's why it's in the Great on Deck section in the Steam Store. They had to make a specific section for games whose controls map over perfectly. But there's a lot of games whose controls don't map over well or have unknown compatibility, where it's really a tossup. And there are games in the Steam Store that are just straight-up unsupported on Steam Deck and they won't work.

So, anytime you search the store, you can leave "verified games only," which works really well. Or you can risk it a little and include games that are playable but not perfect, and that'll just be up to you.

As of right now, "Apex Legends," "PUBG," "Destiny 2," "Fall Guys," and a bunch of others are completely incompatible with the Steam Deck. So, in that sense, it's pretty rough. But this isn't really meant to be looked at like a Switch on steroids. This really is much more of a full-on computer shrunken down to be more portable. So, the hard carry case that it comes with, I really like it, I think it's very good. The fans and the exhaust fan at the top are pretty much constantly working. It takes like five minutes of gaming before it's spitting out hot air. And the 45-watt charger that it comes with, you pretty much have to take it everywhere if you wanna game for more than about three hours. But the reward for dealing with all of these trade-offs is being able to play these games in all sorts of places that you've probably never been able to play these games before. And that's the fun of it.

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So, even though they're ergonomically similar and it's tempting to compare this to a Nintendo Switch, they're not even in the same category at all. And they're for completely different audiences too. The Steam Deck already has a pretty hardcore community that's mapping the controls to various new games. This thing has gotten a ton of software updates from Valve since I first got it. Bug fixes, extra features, experimental stuff. There's people out here plugging it into a monitor and a keyboard and a mouse and it'll happily run Linux like a straight-up portable PC. And apparently, if you take it apart there's enough room inside for a whole AirTag. So, instead of waiting for a lost and found feature to be added, you can just do that. But probably my favorite is my white Steam Deck.

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So, the Steam Deck is fun. Even if I'm not the biggest gamer in the world, just being able to take these couple new games to new places and play them in places I would never ordinarily be able to, that's the fun of it. If you want that experience then you should try to get a Steam Deck, but there's not a lot of people in that group. But if you are, yeah, check it out. Even if half the games don't work yet. Thanks for reading and do check out our other posts as well.

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