Review – Steam Deck

It was a long wait, but worth it. I reserved my Steam Deck something like six months ago, and finally got the notification to complete the purchase at the beginning of the month. It is a rather nice piece of hardware. Both graphics and CPU are sufficient to play plenty of modern games at 1280×800. The battery life is pretty good for a portable device with 3d graphics and decent CPU. I was going through about 10% battery per 30 minutes, giving a total battery life of about 5 hours per charge. Charging is done via a USB-C connection.

That is the first point to make: it is not a 1080p display. This may be a bit of a surprise to people who are used to gaming on their phone at 1080p, but the graphics do not disappoint. Some games are too difficult to play at this resolution (most of my strategy games require too much screen real estate to play well at such a low resolution), but there are plenty of good ones to keep me going. Stellaris, for example, is surprisingly playable at lower resolutions, and the community control map works very well.

Funnily enough, I ditched the Steam Controller I bought when I first picked up a Steam Link. I found the mouse controls too finicky to use well. However, I am back to the Steam Controller, because that’s what the Deck uses. I’ve gotten reasonably proficient with the mouse, and I don’t find that it’s particularly prohibitive in deciding what to play.

A nice touch on the Deck is can boot into Desktop mode, giving you a KDE shell on the underlying Linux OS. Most people won’t use this, but there’s plenty who will find this appealing.

I guess the final point to make is that because it is a Linux-based device, it won’t run all your games. Windows games are run using Proton, a collection of Windows libraries ported to Linux. The Steam Store now has Steam Deck compatibility notes for all titles (though not all have been tested yet, and have a compatibility rating of “Unknown”). Many titles are “verified”, meaning that they are ideal games to play on the Deck in terms of control scheme and hardware requirements, as well as considering the lower resolution. Most titles will not be “verified”, but upon reading the notes, you can decide to install it anyway.

Common concerns include: small text, requirement to invoke on-screen keyboard, no official control scheme. Most of these concerns are trivial: there’s a magnifier available, the on-screen keyboard is easily invoked, and there are many good community control schemes. It’s worth going through your library to see what works.

Overall, I was skeptical of the lower resolution, but I have found many titles that run well under this constraint. I had some cooling issues during a recent heat wave, but since the heat wave has subsided, I’ve had no further issues. The Deck is maybe a little larger than I would have expected, but it’s still a good size for a handheld device. It’s very usable, and it’s seen some use since I’ve gotten it. I’d definitely recommend it at the current price; it’s hard to see how it could be much cheaper and still make Valve any money.


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