After having lived with it for two whole months, I can report that the Steam Deck isn’t only a great gaming machine, but it’s also a pretty good portable computer. While it’s not a GPD WIN Max, it provides a great way to spend your breaks in between bursts of productivity during the work day (if your work allows for that). While I was hesitant at first in deciding on purchasing it, along with upgrades and accessories, I certainly don’t regret going ahead with it.
The Steam Deck came into public consciousness after earlier experiments by Valve like the first Steam Link, the Steam Controller, and Half-Life: Alyx. On one hand, people are still pissed with Valve for not making more games, especially a true Half-LIfe 3. On the other hand, it’s good to see that they’re a bit more deliberate with their experiments than Google.
Here I review the Steam Deck as a handheld gaming console first and foremost. If I needed a computer that I could take with me, I’d get a laptop — and I did. My Steam Deck has made me play more games and helps me better segregate play from work, the latter of which is what I really use my desktop for. Having that more defined physical distinction instead of just alt-tabbing between the two on the same device has been a game-changer for me.
Take note that the name can be easily confused with the Elgato Stream Deck, the customizable macro keypad by the prominent streaming-focused brand now owned by Corsair. I happen to own one as well, albeit the old one, and I may make content about that as well if I can be bothered.
NOTE: This is a full gadget review based on my needs and preferences. Your needs and preferences may be different, so this review may or may not have the information you’re looking for. Reader discretion is advised.
The Steam Deck looks and feels pretty good, although it’s also pretty big. The physical design that Valve ended up with is the best they could come up with using the current tech in order to make it playable with the most number of games in Steam as possible.
The first impression I got from its physical design was that it looked big for its form factor. Upon receiving it, I knew it wouldn’t fit in the bag I usually go out with. That compelled me to go bag shopping, and I realized that the usual form factor of bag I prefer to use on casual outings won’t accommodate the Steam Deck, even without its original case.
I can see that a lot of the design decisions in the final product is focused on making the Steam Deck maximize its role as a handheld console by providing as many features as possible while still somewhat staying within the technical parameters of a “handheld”. It’s chunky, but it’s still technically a handheld. There were a lot of things Valve did not want to compromise on.
The one thing I can see that wasn’t considered had been aesthetic variety. To be fair, since it’s the first fully released iteration of this groundbreaking product, they weren’t going to prioritize whether customers get to choose between different colors and designs. I don’t think they were able to anticipate at first how quickly and massively third parties would come in to provide that variety, but Valve certainly did not make them feel unwelcome.
Screen and Speakers
The video and audio are really good for a handheld, with a 7-inch IPS screen at 1280×800 display resolution and two front-facing speakers just below the controls on both sides of the screen. If you think that’s a weird display resolution, do take note that it would’ve been not that beneficial to have a 1080p screen on such a small screen unless you have compound eyes.
But instead of just going for a 720p screen, they went with a 16:10 aspect ratio that a lot of people have been advocating as it provides more screen real estate without compromising the benefits of a widescreen format.
That does mean it won’t look exactly right for a lot of games, but the Steam Deck does switch to 720p if a game doesn’t support the 16:10 aspect ratio. Not only is that plenty for a smaller screen, but it also helps games run better. It also helps that you can adjust refresh rate and frame rate limit through quick settings to fine-tune it and even lower them to save on battery life.
As for audio, I appreciate the speakers being front-facing since having them placed on the bottom like a smartphone would’ve been a big minus for this device, even if that meant it would’ve been a bit smaller — even small enough to fit my bag. They’re far from bookshelf speakers, but they’re plenty loud and crisp enough to let you enjoy games in your bedroom during your off-time or annoy fellow passengers in the train if you don’t care about muting or plugging in headphones (a common occurrence here in the Philippines).
If you want to use your gaming headsets, audiophile headphones, or Chifi IEMs for even more immersion, then you can plug them into the 3.5mm audio jack, the existence of which shows that Valve is a thoughtful company that doesn’t try to do pretentious things like certain fruit-themed companies tend to do.
Control Layout and Ergonomics
Valve opted for a layout similar to PlayStation controllers with the left analog stick on the bottom instead of the top like with Xbox controllers. As someone who is more used to PlayStation controllers, I do appreciate this design choice. However, it’s not going to be a hard shift for gamers who prefer Xbox controllers since the Steam Deck has been made wide enough to not have the analog sticks be way on the bottom, so it doesn’t require much ulnar deviation to use them.
Their choice to add back buttons was fairly brave as it shows how confident they are at how the device would fit most people’s hands. It must be said that it takes a good amount of pressure to press the buttons, so you need to squeeze quite a bit to do so. Therefore, they’re meant for whenever you can be “more involved” and not just lazily hold onto the Steam Deck, as how most people would presumably use it most of the time at their leisure.
However, their choice to use analog sticks with potentiometers instead of hall effect sensors is a bit of a disappointment. They did make them easy enough to replace, but the fact that the Steam Deck will have to be opened up and
Even without a protective shell, the unit itself feels pretty sturdy. While it’s not something that can withstand significant impact when dropped or thrown, it certainly feels like something that will withstand years of use. As long as it’s used and not abused, the build quality is more than adequate, given both its use case and feature set.
The most vulnerable parts of the Steam Deck are the analog sticks. Without buying any other accessories, the best way for you to protect them is to put the Steam Deck in the included case before putting it into your bag, but the case itself makes the whole package even bulkier. Unless you have a big backpack with you, it may make bringing your Steam Deck with you a chore.
Various companies have come out with protective shells and analog stick protectors, like the Linus Tech Tips Store’s Sticklocks. I wouldn’t call the analog sticks a design flaw, but they’re worth thinking about when you’re looking to bring your Steam Deck out with you for on-the-go gaming. If you want to protect every part of it, including the shoulder buttons and triggers, then you’d want a protective cover or just suck it up and use the included case.
I’ll run down the Steam Deck’s features that I know of and explain which ones I found most fun and useful and which ones are either not that good or yet for me to find a use.
SteamOS and Proton
You turn it on and you’re greeted by SteamOS 3.0, a Linux distro based on Arch Linux with the KDE Plasma 5 desktop environment. It starts inside Steam in gaming mode, then goes to KDE Plasma 5 in desktop mode. That lends this device a good deal of versatility, letting you switch between a gaming console and a desktop computer easily. If you don’t like Linux, then you can actually install Windows if you wish, and you can even dual boot between operating systems.
Or you can be a poser and keep pointing out that you use Arch Linux.
With that said, the Steam Deck is a handheld gaming console first and foremost. Think of it as a bigger Nintendo Switch for PC games with more features. Mind you, the one thing the Nintendo Switch has over the Steam Deck is an OLED screen, which perhaps a future iteration of the Steam Deck will hopefully include. Aside from that, whatever you can do with the Nintendo Switch can be done with the Steam Deck — even emulating Switch games.
As Proton gets more updates, more games will become compatible with not only Linux, but also the Steam Deck. If you’re the type to go all Windows, then you can just install Windows on it and play your “trial version” games from providers like “Feminine Monarch” and “Physically Capable Female” (if you know, you know).
If you wish to stick with SteamOS, you then have to deal with Proton — a must for Linux gaming. Proton is a compatibility layer that allows Windows games to run on Linux. It was developed by Valve (figures) in cooperation with CodeWeavers, and ProtonDB is the website that compiles games and their level of compatibility with both Linux and the Steam Deck.
This is how you get a list of games that are “Great on Steam Deck” from Steam. You can install whatever game you wish, but some games either show up in a janky display resolution, just show a blank screen, don’t register controls, or don’t even run at all.
- If a game runs well on Steam, it’ll have a green check mark. ✅
- If it runs somewhat well or needs some work, it’ll have a yellow icon. ????
- If it’s still unverified, it’ll have a gray question mark. ❔
- If it doesn’t run at all, it’ll have a no symbol. ????
After a while, you should be familiar enough with what kind of games are compatible with the Steam Deck and which ones that are in the yellow may be playable for you.
A lot more games will be playable once you connect a keyboard and mouse, either through a hub via USB-C or wirelessly via Bluetooth. I find myself not being able to play FTL: Faster Than Light adequately with the trackpads alone, while I can play Civilization VI just fine with them.
I know I can also tap on things with the touch screen, but I’m not yet comfortable with smudging the screen on a regular basis, even if I have a screen protector on. It’s a mind goblin, I admit.
The Steam Deck alone has a directional pad, 2 analog sticks, 2 trackpads, 4 face buttons, 2 shoulder buttons, 2 triggers, 4 back buttons, and start and select buttons. There’s also a Steam button for calling up the Steam main menu, as well as a Quick Access button for quick settings.
I’ve seen some people who complain about the trackpads and how they only serve to add more bulk to the Steam Deck. In my eyes, these people are heathens and should stick to the Nintendo Switch if they care about portability that much. The trackpads make a ton more games playable on the Steam Deck — not just compatible, but actually playable.
It has only been two months, but I’ve been playing genres that may not be fun without mouse controls such as CRPGs like Shadowrun Returns and Baldur’s Gate, as well as strategy games like Civilization VI. In fact, this is definitely my dedicated Civilization VI machine as I may no longer have reason to play that game on my desktop computer.
Yes, I can take one more turn since I’m already in bed. I just have to put it to sleep when I’m about to fall asleep.
Upgradability and Repairability
If you do need to mod, upgrade, or repair it, the Steam Deck is actually pretty easy to open up and disassemble. It just has small Phillips screws holding the back and the heat shield in place; not security Torx bits or glue that you’d expect in many mobile devices.
Just make sure that you take your microSD card out first before opening it up as there have been reports of users breaking their microSD cards in half when they forgot or neglected to do so beforehand.
I ordered my Steam Deck along with a 2TB m.2 NVMe SSD in 2230 form factor and a 1TB SanDisk Ultra microSDXC card at the same time. I intended to upgrade my Steam Deck as soon as I got it, which is why I just bought a 64GB version.
On that note, I understand that not everyone has the same level of technical proficiency and confidence, which is why the 256GB and 512GB versions exist.
The upgrading process was pretty easy for me, having to remove only eight screws without much prying and pulling. If this were an Apple product, I would’ve already been forced to use a heat gun and a suction cup at the first approach.
The m.2 SSD is inserted in a heat shield to protect the storage from heat coming out of surrounding components, like the nearby charging chip that has been somewhat controversial for its positioning. Once the SSD is installed, you can put everything back on easily.
You can go to the iFixIt website and find instructions on how to open up, upgrade storage, and perform various repairs on your Steam Deck.
After upgrading the hardware, you’ll have to install the software. The process of installing SteamOS in the new SSD is well-documented and not difficult at all. If you can root or jailbreak your phone, you can do stuff like modify the BIOS and install SteamOS easily enough.
There have been reports of the Steam Deck’s internal components being quite repairable by anyone who’s handy with a soldering iron. While that does mean that most people without affinity with electronics may be out of luck, that actually means you should be able to easily find third party repair services that can service your Steam Deck.
That’s if you haven’t voided your warranty yet, which you may have done by upgrading your SSD by yourself in the first place. Then again, life is just full of trade-offs like that.
If you really want to go full ham, then you can actually Dremel a square hole on the shell over the processor and fit a heatsink and/or fan. Adding that thermal solution will enable your Steam Deck to play the most graphically demanding games without burning itself to a crisp. But if you’re still intending to use this on the go, then you’ll have the fingers on your right hand precariously close to hot metal.
I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with the thermal solution it comes with. Not only is it adequate, but it also gives off a weirdly pleasant smell.
Third Party Software
I installed two different software in my Steam Deck to enhance its functionality. The first one is the most important, which is Decky. It’s a loader for plugins, which lets you add more features to your Steam Deck like the following:
- Decky Recorder lets you record your gameplay directly in your Steam Deck without needing a capture device, and it yields smooth video with pretty good quality.
- DeckMTP lets you plug your Steam Deck via USB to your PC and browse it like an external drive. This is useful since without it, transferring files to the device can be a bit difficult.
- HLTB for Deck adds information from HowLongToBeat.com onto each game in your Steam Library, thus letting you know how long it takes to beat that game.
- ProtonDB Badges adds more compatibility information for each game, thus letting you know whether it has Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze compatibility; or if it’s still pending or totally incompatible.
I also installed CryoUtilities, which allows me to tweak advanced settings to further improve the Steam Deck’s performance. It has an auto-tweak feature to do it for you with the most optimal settings the developers know of, then it gives you instructions on what to tweak in the BIOS to enable those tweaks before rebooting the device.
Suffice to say that these plugins are best for users who are comfortable with tweaking. If you’re the sort who upgraded the storage with a third party SSD (like myself), then you’d want to look into these third party software for making your Steam Deck even better.
Third Party Accessories
The great thing with the Steam Deck being so popular is that everyone and their grandmother is selling third party accessories for this handheld console. Skins are a given, and I have mine with a Sinanju skin because I’m Zeon scum. But it goes beyond just aesthetic enhancements as you can get a lot of stuff now that can make the Steam Deck more functional and convenient.
The first thing you’ll likely need to add to your Steam Deck is a kickstand. You can choose between a stick-on kickstand or a full-on protective case with a kickstand, which will allow you to make it stand without having to rely on your bag or a stack of books.
You can also have a power bank holder instead, letting you extend your battery life and have your power bank double as a kickstand as well. But if you want a more full-featured solution, then you can get a dock designed for the Steam Deck. Various brands (a lot of them Chinese) now sell docking stations for pretty cheap, or even just a USB-C hub with ethernet port, HDMI output, and multiple USB ports.
My tip for you is to get a hub or dock with power delivery, otherwise you’ll still be limited by the Steam Deck’s battery. Don’t make the same mistake I made.
I bought my 64GB Steam Deck from Gamextreme for around ₱24,000, a 2TB m.2 NVMe SSD in 2230 form factor for just over ₱11,500, 1TB SanDisk Ultra microSDXC card for ₱4,900, Sinanju vinyl skin from TechBeast PH for ₱750, protective case with kickstand and detachable front shell for under ₱750, UGREEN dock for ₱2,900, and tempered glass screen protector for ₱180. Take note that these prices are from the time I bought them and include promo discounts.
All of that comes to a total of around ₱45,000 for a Steam Deck with 3TB of total storage, fairly solid protection, and a rad skin fit for Zeon scum like myself. I also bought an enclosure for the 64GB m.2 SSD that came with the unit to turn it into a USB flash drive, which is a nice bonus.
The Steam Deck has its rivals as the category had been a fairly established niche before this product’s full release, thanks to online buzz from videos by LinusTechTips on brands like AYANEO. However, when it comes to bang for the buck, nothing will ever beat the Steam Deck unless someone is able to replicate this level of price-to-performance by sourcing quality components that have even less overhead while also packing as many features, if not more.
With the recent announcement of ASUS’s crack at it, I don’t think any other brand will be able to even begin to approach that level of value anytime soon. Competitors will have to come in by offering improvements in other aspects like portability, features, and performance at a significantly higher premium compared to the Steam Deck.
The main reason why it’s not a perfect 10 is because it did give me one problem, which is that I can’t fit it in my everyday bag. If I want to take my Steam Deck out, I’ll have to bring either my laptop bag or my backpack, both of which I only use if I intend to take loads of other stuff with me and not just the Steam Deck. Aside from that one issue with portability, everything else with the Steam Deck is nothing short of amazing. The only thing I found to be inferior at is as a substitute for a mobile stream encoder for IRL streams, like the YoloBox. It can actually stream with OBS in desktop mode, but I can't jam it into my bag while streaming because the USB-C connection can loosen at any time without supervision. That’s a very niche use case that was a result of a late night experiment, and it’s not worth docking points for. While it may exhibit some thermal and battery issues when playing AAA games at the highest possible graphics settings, it can still do its very best with them. Most users are likely to play less demanding titles in this device anyway, which it’s certainly brilliant for. The Steam Deck is great for games like Vampire Survivors, Civilization VI, Stardew Valley, and so on. If you’re tired of holding onto it, you can connect a controller or keyboard and mouse to it and keep playing, although you may want to buy a case with a kickstand to do that and not just perch it against a stack of books. You can buy a dock and plug it into a TV and treat it like a full-sized console. It's like Valve saw the Nintendo Switch and went, "What can we do to improve on that?" They did a wonderful job in answering that question.
The main reason why it’s not a perfect 10 is because it did give me one problem, which is that I can’t fit it in my everyday bag. If I want to take my Steam Deck out, I’ll have to bring either my laptop bag or my backpack, both of which I only use if I intend to take loads of other stuff with me and not just the Steam Deck.
Aside from that one issue with portability, everything else with the Steam Deck is nothing short of amazing. The only thing I found to be inferior at is as a substitute for a mobile stream encoder for IRL streams, like the YoloBox. It can actually stream with OBS in desktop mode, but I can't jam it into my bag while streaming because the USB-C connection can loosen at any time without supervision. That’s a very niche use case that was a result of a late night experiment, and it’s not worth docking points for.
While it may exhibit some thermal and battery issues when playing AAA games at the highest possible graphics settings, it can still do its very best with them. Most users are likely to play less demanding titles in this device anyway, which it’s certainly brilliant for. The Steam Deck is great for games like Vampire Survivors, Civilization VI, Stardew Valley, and so on.
If you’re tired of holding onto it, you can connect a controller or keyboard and mouse to it and keep playing, although you may want to buy a case with a kickstand to do that and not just perch it against a stack of books. You can buy a dock and plug it into a TV and treat it like a full-sized console. It's like Valve saw the Nintendo Switch and went, "What can we do to improve on that?" They did a wonderful job in answering that question.
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