Hardware Review: Steam Deck

  • Publish Date: February 25, 2022
  • Comments: ↓ 2 user comments

What is it?

Steam Deck
Steam Deck
$399 / $529 / $649
Available from February 25, 2022
at Steam

Think of it as a pricey Nintendo Switch that plays PC games. Valve's first handheld gaming device (which is actually a full handheld computer that runs on a customized version of Linux called SteamOS) allows owners to play most* PC games available in their Steam libraries on the go.

Despite the device's hefty dimensions (it's nearly a foot long, making it far bigger than the Switch and previous handheld gaming devices), there's no physical keyboard, but the Deck does have two built-in thumbsticks, a pair of touchpads, and a handful of buttons alongside a seven-inch display which runs at a resolution of 1200x800 pixels and 60Hz. (The specs mean that you'll likely be running most games at 720p and 30fps, which is similar to the original Switch but inferior to the newer OLED model.) Valve claims that the Deck's battery should provide at least seven hours of gaming on a single charge, though reviewers report much shorter battery life in real-world testing of certain graphically demanding titles.

* Which games does it play? To check the compatibility of your current library, sign into your Steam account and access the Steam Deck compatibility page. (Note that Valve is continuing to test and verify games on the new device, and many products have not yet been verified.) In addition, non-Steam PC games—including those from the competing Epic Games Store—will also be playable on the Deck if they are compatible with the specs, though you may need to install a special launcher (or Microsoft Windows) on your Deck.

The Steam Deck is available at three price points:

  • The basic $399 model comes with 64GB of memory
  • The mid-tier $529 model comes with more (256GB) and faster memory, as well as a carrying case
  • The high-end $649 model—currently the most popular version—comes with even more (512GB) and faster memory as well as an anti-glare screen

Note that while today (February 25) is the official release date, only reviewers have their hands on the devices so far. Today is actually the day that Steam notifies the first batch of reservation holders (to request shipping and payment information), and those devices won't be shipped out until Monday (February 28) at the earliest. Anyone attempting to reserve a Steam Deck for the first time today likely won't receive the device until sometime after June 30th.

In addition, a separately priced docking station (with peripheral and external monitor ports) will not be available at launch but is expected to debut sometime this spring.

What are critics saying about the Steam Deck?

Below are reviews of the Steam Deck from a variety of professional sources. (Click on any publication name to read the full review.) Scores (converted to our 0-100 scale) are listed only if one has been assigned by the publication itself; otherwise, we have grouped the reviews into rough categories, from most to least positive.

Great Extremely positive reviews

90

Gamereactor UK

Overall, the Steam Deck's operational consistency is a technological marvel in some cases, even if it's hard for a casual user to simply pick it up, and play games at a consistent rate without the want or need to tweak each title to a particular graphical liking. ... There is no doubt that this is the most powerful and versatile handheld we have got our hands on.

90

Games Radar

Steam Deck is everything Valve promised, a handheld with all the potential of a PC and a huge library of games ready to go. Owning it is a game-changer and reviewing it is a nightmare. That's good news for the real customers though because it's a testament to the energy and effort Valve is putting into getting all the bugs and glitches smoothed out before it ever reaches your hands. ... The highest compliment I can give it is that if I hadn't pre-ordered one before this testing, I would do now, and we might even have to become a two Steam Deck household because I'm not going to want to share.

 

PCMag

[Review in progress; will be updated in the future] It didn’t take long for the Steam Deck to conjure the same magic I’ve felt from the Nintendo Switch since 2017. Playing big games on small screens just feels awesome. ... Despite being in its earliest stages, Steam Deck is already the most compelling mainstream hardware Valve has ever made, and the most exciting non-Nintendo handheld since people stopped pretending the PlayStation Vita had a future.

90

TechRadar

The Steam Deck is a brilliant gaming device that should appeal to PC gamers looking for a way to play their games while on the go, but who don’t fancy a gaming laptop. For console gamers who want a polished, straightforward experience, knock half a star off our score, but don’t discount the Steam Deck either.

90

Trusted Reviews

The Steam Deck is a more powerful alternative to the Nintendo Switch, capable of playing virtually any PC game on the go. Performance is excellent for a portable, with SteamOS offering a console-like experience, while still retaining all the versatility of a PC. Battery life isn't great when playing demanding games, but the Steam Deck remains the absolute best option for portable PC gaming.

 

VentureBeat

Valve Software has delivered a cutting-edge handheld PC with mind-blowing specs at an even more mind-blowing price. And in that context, this is a tiny gaming powerhouse that is going to change the way I play games forever.

90

Windows Central

Valve's bold venture into the portable gaming space has made a stellar first impression. Despite Steam Deck's aggressive form factor, I can't shower enough praise on the solid gamepad and exceptional focus on ergonomic design. I was also consistently surprised by the performance this hardware could deliver, even with more demanding titles. After years of waiting, a product has finally realized my dream of playing Dark Souls 3 on a handheld device at 60FPS. ... However, will more casual audiences looking to dip their toes into the PC-like gaming space be willing to swallow the substantial price tag? I think it's safe to say that the Steam Deck isn't for everyone, but for the audience of players hopeful in its promises, there's a lot to love.

Positive Mostly positive reviews

 

Bloomberg

The machine is surprisingly comfortable despite its heft. It has a solid array of controls, including back buttons, and pretty much everything is customizable. And while portable gaming may not be as pivotal in an era where many office workers have limited or eliminated their commutes, the Steam Deck is ideal for those of us who have small children and need to be constantly moving. ... [But it] is flawed in some ways. The battery life is wildly inconsistent. ... Folks who want to simply pop in a game and play may be disappointed that sometimes things don’t work as intended.

 

CNET

If you're the type of PC gamer who jumped online to preorder the Steam Deck during its short first-wave delivery window, you'll be mostly impressed… and occasionally frustrated. But if you're expecting a gaming experience with the same casual pick-up-and-play ease of a Nintendo Switch, this isn't the device you're looking for.

 

Digital Foundry

There are still plenty of rough edges and in terms of the full Steam library compatibility the system needs, that's still much to do. ... When it works, however, it's a marvel. ... From a hardware perspective, this handheld has genuinely exceeded expectations.

81

Engadget

The Steam Deck isn’t a mobile device to take on your everyday commute; it’s a Steam library extender, opening up new places to play around the house. I wouldn’t recommend the Steam Deck as an introduction to PC gaming, but for millions of existing Steam users, it’s worth the price of entry, even if you just play a few times a month, two hours at a time.

67

Game Informer

The Steam Deck is an impressive piece of tech, offering solid gaming performance for a growing library of Steam titles, with an impressive display and user experience. Punishingly low battery life, minor ergonomic issues, and dicey compatibility with many Steam games give pause, but Valve’s experiment transports many games into the portable realm with laudable success. [Their grade: B–]

 

GameSpot

With cutting-edge hardware, thoughtfully designed ergonomics, a satisfying controller layout, and a software layer that simplifies PC gaming, the Steam Deck makes it a breeze to link to your Steam account and get started with your library on the go. Better yet, it comes in at a reasonable price, starting at $400 and reaching only $650 for its highest-tier model--essentially half the price of its closest competitors. While that alone is impressive, it's in how well the Steam Deck performs that it becomes clear that it doesn't have much competition at all. ... The Steam Deck is not a replacement for desktop gaming, however. Its hardware is impressive but is specifically built to support the native screen on the device, struggling with anything much higher in terms of resolution. It's also not going to replicate your exact gaming experiences on the go, with some titles requiring numerous visual concessions to get running at acceptable frame rates, albeit with more striking results given the small screen's forgiveness of less than stellar finer details.

 

GeekWire

On its own, it’s a comfortable-if-flawed gaming device with a lot of good to great games, but its price and its desktop options really push it over the edge here. You may not need a Steam Deck, but you probably know a college student or newbie gamer who could use one.

 

Gizmodo

[Review in progress; will be updated in the future] Even after spending several weeks with the device, it still feels as if I’ve only scratched the surface of its potential. For now, much of that potential is untapped. Most of your favorite games won’t run properly—or at all—and the software is still very much a work in progress, but despite what might sound like deal-breaking issues, what Valve has achieved is undeniably impressive. So impressive that this once-skeptic is a full believer.

 

IGN

[Review in progress; will be updated in the future] The Steam Deck is a well-built piece of hardware that feels good to hold and play on. When you’re playing a Valve-approved game it's actually incredible to get this kind of performance out of a device so small and compact, even if the battery can be gone in a flash if you’re not careful. But on the eve of its official launch, it isn't the smooth user experience I had hoped it would be.

80

Mashable

I think it's important for any prospective Steam Deck buyer to acknowledge up front that this is a work-in-progress. With the things it can do, the results that are delivered generally eclipse anything else that's available in mobile gaming right now. But there's so much more this thing could do, given time and attention from people inside and outside of Valve. If you're looking for Switch levels of approachability with Steam Deck, you might want to skip the launch and see how things develop.

85

PC Gamer

Right now it's a handheld gaming system first and foremost, and it does that so well it's almost comical how much cheaper it is than other handheld PCs, which tend to cost around $1,000. It doesn't even make sense to call them competitors. The Steam Deck is in a class of its own.

 

Polygon

Yes, for a moment, the Steam Deck appeared to be everything I’d dreamt of. But as you’ve probably guessed, the more I test the Steam Deck, the more games I find that don’t quite work. How and why a game doesn’t work can be unpredictable and unclear. ... I enjoyed the Steam Deck most when I treated it like a powerful Nintendo Switch instead of a hybrid portable PC. ... It feels incredible.

 

Rock Paper Shotgun

The software, screen and battery life may disappoint anyone expecting another top-end Valve hardware masterclass to follow their Index virtual reality headset. But the Steam Deck is more accessible, more affordable, and far more useful to have on a train. ... The experience of using a Steam Deck is satisfying, exciting, and largely unique.

 

Stuff

[Review in progress; will be updated in the future] We’ve had a great time with the Steam Deck so far. It’s far from the most portable handheld gaming device you can take on the road, but you soon forget about those slightly off-putting dimensions when you’re playing Hitman 3 on the toilet. ... We want to spend some more time with the Deck before making a decision on a rating, but we already think it’s an extremely exciting addition to the gaming landscape, for both PC players who want a bit more freedom in where they play, and those who consider the Steam Deck an affordable entry point into PC gaming.

80

Tom's Hardware

The Steam Deck is an expertly crafted exercise in compromise. Despite its lack of traditional PC power, it is probably the most interesting computer I've used in years. ... There's a certain intimacy to playing games on the Steam Deck, the same way there is on the Nintendo Switch. Sure, I can play games on my rig hooked up to a monitor or a TV. But sometimes, I'm just more comfortable curled up on the couch under a blanket with a cup of tea in reach. That flexibility has encouraged me to play some games I might not have tried otherwise.

 

TouchArcade

The Steam Deck hardware is great, and it’s a very cool and powerful gadget, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot if the software that runs on it isn’t also up to snuff. This is why I think SteamOS is the real essence of the Steam Deck. And I’m not saying that because it’s perfect or bug-free, and in fact it still has a ton of rough edges. But the very concept of the device relies on the SteamOS experience, and I think even in its rough around the edges state it delivers the vision that Valve has for PC gaming. ... The Steam Deck is an absolute joy and a real game changer when it comes to gaming on the go. No it won’t replace the ability to quickly pull your phone out and kill a few minutes of dead time throughout your day, but it absolutely will change things like long plane rides or the ability to kick back on the couch and game without tying up the TV.

 

VG247

Valve's Steam Deck, a handheld gaming PC that's basically a mid-tier gaming laptop in an outsized version of the Nintendo Switch form factor, is a technical marvel. It's difficult to believe that it works - and it doesn't always - but when it does, it's truly incredible. ... There’s going to be a lot of work to get this hardware to that optimal point with a critical mass of verified games, but when it works, it’s a powerful proposition that genuinely might open up PC gaming and PC exclusives to a wider audience who don’t want a gaming laptop or a hefty desktop.

 

Vice

At times, it’s clunky and requires a level of tweaking that feels odd on a handheld, but mostly, it feels like magic. That magic comes with caveats: the (hot) fan runs loudly and constantly, even when idling; the battery life is all over the place and rarely lasts more than a few hours on games that are modestly taxing to the hardware; it’s large and awkward to hold. But time and time again, it accomplished a simple but complicated task: play games wherever I want, whenever I want. It suggests a world that broadens the definition of a “PC gamer,” making it less about how much you overspent on a GPU and more about PC gaming’s other biggest benefit: freedom.

86

WCCFTECH

Valve's next major hardware project is a portable powerhouse that can handle the majority of what you can throw at it, although it might take some tweaks here and there to get that true PC experience. For all but a small sliver of the Steam back catalog, there will be some tweaks or setup necessary to make each game shine.

Mixed Mixed/so-so reviews

 
Ars Technica

The Steam Deck ... sometimes feels like the most impressive portable gaming system ever made. But it's also not finished. ... When the Steam Deck works as intended, it's easily the best Nintendo Switch-like PC on the market. ... But the software side of the Deck is currently rough. The Deck's bugs, quirks, and outright failures stand in stark contrast to the Switch. In too many situations where the Nintendo Switch "just works," you may find yourself saying to the Deck, "Just work, please!" ... You have to be a specific kind of patient PC gamer to enjoy Deck in its current state. If you're not, wait for its software side to match the value of its price-to-performance ratio.

 

Launcher / Washington Post

Valve’s first handheld ably does what Steam users hoped it would do: It brings relatively high-end PC games to a small(er) screen. If you’ve always wanted a PC gaming experience that’s less finicky and more portable than what you’d get out of a laptop or desktop, the Steam Deck is among the best options on the block — a very solid first draft of a device that will almost certainly become significantly better over the course of multiple software and, eventually, hardware updates. But for now, there are some pretty big catches.

 
Shack News

Steam Deck is not a comfortable handheld gaming device to use for extended periods of time. ... There is so much potential in this kind of device, but it is just not all on display at the time of this review. ... While there are elements of brilliant innovation in Steam Deck, this handheld gaming PC faces some serious headwinds that may be difficult to overcome in its current state.

65

The Verge

Both of these things are true: First, I’m having more fun with the Steam Deck than any gadget I’ve tested in years. Second, the Steam Deck is a mess. It’s rushed, unfinished, buggy, and unstable. If Valve sold the console I’ve been playing at Best Buy or GameStop, people would return it in droves.

50

Wired

Some of my fears when I first heard about the gadget were validated—it's bulky, and the layout of the controls isn't very ergonomic, attributes you don't really want in a handheld console. It also feels like Valve could've used a few more weeks (months?) to polish the software experience. ... It's tough recommending the Steam Deck in its current state just yet—especially if you’re not a hardcore gamer, have visual accessibility issues, or are worried about straining your hands and don’t want to spend extra cash on a separate controller. There is a lot to love, but it feels very much like an early-access game.

Poor Negative reviews

(none)

 

Comments (2)

  • Faxthtax  

    "Not available for reservation in your country" Well **** you Valve..

  • agenbolaole303  

    i think steam deck can't compete with nintendo switch which is different segment and market, if you want to play high resolution i think console game still the best in graphic, i know portable can't compete with console game. if you want to play best graphic console still the best and more comfy to play.

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