The Steam Deck is a hybrid game console that has been touted as the Nintendo Switch for adults. It can be used as a handheld console or a tabletop console when connected to a monitor similar to Switch. However, its main selling point is simple: it is designed and marketed to play the full Steam game library which includes PC games for Windows.
American video game developer Valve Corporation is behind this device. It marks another attempt to enter the specific hardware segment of the video game market. Note that the company released a series of small form factor gaming devices called the Steam Machine in November 2015 but it did not sell well and Valve had to pull the plug in 2018.
The main issue with Steam Machine was the poor adoption of Linux by both game developers and gamers. The lack of Linux game availability spelled its death. Nevertheless, officially released on the market in February 2022, the Steam Deck used the Linux-based Proton compatibility layer to allow running of Windows-based games and applications.
Pros of Steam Deck: Main Selling Points, Capabilities, and Reasons Why You Should Buy
Note that the device runs SteamOS which is a Linux distribution and a modified Arch Linux operating system developed by Valve. Using the Linux-based Proton compatibility layer built in the operating system, it can readily run Windows applications without modifications as if they are apps native to the SteamOS.
The initial reaction following the announcement of this device was generally positive. Game developers noted that the market success of the Steam Deck would allow gamers to take with them their favorite game titles wherever they decide to play. The device has also been seen by some as a new product category geared toward more hardcore gamers.
Hopes have been high considering the large library of game titles available for Windows and the fact that PC remains the most popular and dominant platform for video gaming. Adding to this is the fact that the Steam library also has a huge library of game titles. Most of these titles are readily compatible to run on Steam Deck,
To understand and appreciate this game console better, the following are the pros or advantages of this game console:
• Powerful and Dedicated Hardware: One of the major advantages of Steam Deck compared with other handheld game consoles such as the Nintendo Switch is its internals. It is powered by a 4-core and 8-threaded Zen 2 CPU clocked at 3.5 GHz, an AMD RDNA 2 integrated GPU clocked at 1 to 1.6 GHz, and a 16GB of onboard memory. The aforementioned specs make this device at par with Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
• Clean and Smooth User Interface: Another selling point of this device is the impressive out-of-the-box experience it provides. The interface of SteamOS is straightforward and intuitive. Navigating through the operating system does not require extensive reading of the user manual. The overall look and feel are similar to the user interfaces of dedicated game consoles such as Xbox and Nintendo Switch.
• Multiple Inputs and Controls: Navigating through the interface can also be a breeze. Playing games is also more flexible than other handheld game consoles. The Steam Deck takes advantage of its multiple inputs and buttons for control such as a direction pad, and two small joy sticks and two touchpad areas located in the left and right portion of the device. Furthermore, the display is also a capacitive touch screen. For gaming, it covers the basics with the inclusion of relevant buttons on common areas.
• Massive But Comfortable Form Factor: Another key advantage of the Steam Deck is its form factor. It is massive with a dimension of 11.7 in × 4.6 in × 1.9 in and a weight of 1.475 lbs. This device cannot be considered similar to portable handheld game consoles such as the Nintendo Switch Lite and Android smartphones or iPhones. It is actually more massive than the original and OLED models of the Nintendo Switch. However, its solid built quality makes it sturdy and the entire design makes it an ergonomic handheld console that is comfortable to hold. The massive weight is immaterial.
• Large Touchscreen Display: Similar to the Switch OLED, it has a large display panel that measures 7 inches diagonally. However, instead of an OLED display, it is based on an IPS LCD technology. This should not be the problem because the screen is considerably bright and crisp with accurate color reproduction. It supports 1080p resolution at 60Hz refresh rate but docking the device supports 4K resolution output at 120Hz refresh rate or 8K resolution at 60Hz refresh rate.
• Expansive Library of Game Titles: Of course, it is important to reiterate the available game titles because this is a major advantage of the Steam Deck. Remember that it can play a lot of games from the Steam library, as well as game titles developed for Windows. This gives the device an edge over other handheld game consoles and even popular tabletop consoles such as the PlayStation and Xbox.
Cons of Steam Deck: Notable Issues, Limitations, and Reasons Why You Should Not Buy
The Steam Deck is fundamentally a mobile PC designed and built for PC gaming. The idea behind this device is to allow users play high-end games that are reserved for personal computers or tabletop consoles. Remember that its biggest selling point is its expansive game library that includes titles from the Steam library and the Windows operating system.
However, the fact that it is a portable gaming PC comes with notable issues and limitations. A small device can only do so much, especially when it comes to battery life and hardware performance. A key disadvantage of the Steam Deck is that it can never perform as well as a dedicated desktop gaming PC or even a gaming laptop.
To understand this further, take note of the more specific cons or disadvantages of this game console:
• Notable Compatibility Issues: The Steam library of games is expansive. Adding to this is the fact that Windows has a lot of game titles as well. However, not all games are playable. Some games from the Steam library would not run. The same is true for Windows-based games. Gamers can use third-party workarounds such as third-party launchers and compatibility tools but these too come with their fair share of compatibility issues. Note that the aforesaid is a key issue and major disadvantage of Steam Deck as of the moment. Valve is expected to address these issues and game developers will probably optimize their game titles for the device in the future.
• Uninspiring Battery Performance: Another notable disadvantage of the Steam Deck is its battery. The device comes with a 40-watt-hour lithium-ion battery. Valve claims that it can last between 7 to 8 hours of light use cases such as playing streaming games or 2D games that consume fewer resources or browsing the web. The company also claims that it can last around 5 to 6 hours when playing game titles with above-average resource requirements. However, the battery can last around 2 to 3 hours or even less when playing action-packed titles running at higher graphics settings.
• Notable Software Quirks: Remember that it cannot play some of the titles in the Steam library and it requires using the Proton compatibility layer or third-party tool to play other Windows-based games. This is a notable limitation of this game console. Most PC gamers might be already familiar with tweaking and exploring workarounds to improve their gaming experience. However, for those who are used to tabletop consoles such as the Xbox or PlayStation, the overall experience with both the device and its software is as not polished and straightforward.
• Relatively On The Pricier Side: When compared with the Nintendo Switch, including the Switch OLED model, another drawback of this device is its price. The 64GB base model retails for USD 399.00. Note that the 64GB Switch OLED retails for USD 349.99 and the original 32GB Switch is priced at USD 299.00. The PlayStation 4 retails for around USD 299.00 for the 1TB model while the PlayStation 5 is priced at USD 399.00. However, the fact remains that the deck is still considerably affordable when compared with gaming laptops and desktop computers.
Conclusions: Reiterating the Strengths and Limitations or Pros and Cons of Steam Deck
The hardware specifications of the Steam Deck outclass the hardware specifications of the Nintendo Switch, especially the original Switch and the OLED model. Remember that it is a portable gaming PC that promises to provide gamers with a high-quality and more immersive video gaming experience comparable to tabletop game consoles.
Nevertheless, the reasons for buying this game console revolve around the benefits of having a Steam library, preference for game titles developed for the Windows operating system, those who are not too keen on using a dedicated gaming laptop for portable or on-the-go PC gaming experience, and high-performance portable gaming.
There are also major reasons not to buy the Steam Deck. For starters, this console is not at par with actual PC gaming. It still has key hardware limitations that can affect the experience of competitive gamers. Furthermore, its battery performance might be a deal-breaker. People should not expect to have long battery life while playing intense games on this device.