It’s 2023, and handheld gaming consoles are returning to the mainstream market. While the Nintendo Switch paved the way for modern titles, it was actually the Steam Deck that allowed gamers to enjoy AAA titles on the go. Back when everyone did their Steam Deck review at the launch, it was highly praised for being the only handheld console that allowed you to play PC games on the go. However, now with the launch of the ASUS ROG Ally, the Steam Deck is facing stronger competition.
Compared to the Ally, the Steam Deck does have relatively older hardware and a locked software system. The ROG Ally has a wider games library, and in most cases can do everything the Steam Deck does, and then some. On the other hand, the Deck has a stronger community and plenty of mods available too. Add to that, it still has the price factor going for it, amongst other unique features.
This begs the question – is the Steam Deck still worth buying in 2023? Does Valve still make a case for the Steam Deck? Let’s find out in our in-depth review of the Valve Steam Deck.
Steam Deck Specifications
|Processor||Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz|
|GPU||8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz|
|RAM||16 GB LPDDR5 5500 MT/s|
|Storage||64 GB eMMC (PCIe Gen 2 x1)|
|256 GB NVMe SSD|
|512 GB high-speed NVMe SSD|
|Expandable Storage||microSD UHS-I card – supports SD, SDXC and SDHC|
|Display||7-inch IPS LCD Display|
|Resolution||1280 x 800px (16:10 aspect ratio)|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 5.0 + Dual-band Wi-Fi|
|Speakers||Stereo with embedded DSP|
|Charging||45W USB Type-C PD3.0 power supply|
|Dimensions||298mm x 117mm x 49mm|
Steam Deck Review: Design
In terms of design, the Steam Deck has a familiar yet unique look to it. It, of course, follows the standard design of having a screen sandwiched between controls on either side. However, the slight curves bundled with the matte black finish give the Deck a sleek and modern look.
The Steam Deck is made up of high-quality plastic and weighs about 1.5 pounds. However, holding it in two hands, you don’t find it that heavy. Even for long gaming sessions, the Steam Deck feels comfortable to hold. Valve has done a commendable job at the weight distribution for this thing.
For added comfort, the Deck also has smooth, rounded edges. However, for added grips, you might want to use a grip tape or a protective case. A case will definitely add more weight to the handheld though, so keep that in mind.
In terms of connectivity, the Steam Deck comes with a single USB-C port, coupled with a microSD card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The microSD card is great for expanding storage with ease, though it’s limited to just UHS-I.
Additionally, a single USB-C port feels quite limiting. It essentially makes investing in the Steam Deck Dock a necessity, especially if you plan on using wired peripherals or external storage with the Steam Deck while charging it.
Steam Deck Review: Controls
The Steam Deck has a controller layout quite similar to the Xbox-style controllers, except for the analog sticks in a parallel position. There’s the D-Pad, along with a touchpad on either side of the console.
You also get to use two shoulder buttons on each side, along with two grip buttons on the rear side. The back panel does get a bit sweaty and ends up attracting a lot of fingerprints. However, the good part is that you never have to face it. Additionally, the Steam Deck also gets the added advantage of a 6-axis gyro sensor.
For what it’s worth, the controls on the Steam Deck are as good as it gets. Everything is within reach, and the feedback is great for all the triggers. The programmable shoulder buttons bring a lot to the table, allowing you to have custom actions for each game you want.
Of course, if you still want better control over things, you can always pair a Bluetooth Controller with the Steam Deck. That ability comes in super handy when docking the Deck and displaying content on a bigger screen. However, for most folks, I’d argue that the on-body controls are more than enough.
Steam Deck Review: Display
The Steam Deck comes equipped with a 7-inch 60Hz touchscreen display with a 1280 x 800 resolution. Although it’s not Full HD, that isn’t really an issue for this screen size. It’s roughly 215ppi, and there’s hardly any pixelation when playing games. I won’t go as far as to say that everything looks crisp. For instance, if there’s a lot of text on the screen, it can look slightly smudgy, but that’s not a deal breaker by any means.
The panel itself is an IPS panel with wide viewing angles and accurate colors. Of course, it’s not as good as something like the Nintendo Switch OLED. But even so, the IPS panel works well for all sorts of entertainment needs, be it gaming or just watching a movie on the Steam Deck.
Then there’s the factor of it being a touchscreen. Since SteamOS is well optimized for a touchscreen panel, interacting with elements inside this panel is fairly easy. The only downside that I think of with this panel is the lack of a higher refresh rate panel. Even a 90Hz panel would have been better than the standard 60Hz display on this thing.
Steam Deck Review: Software and Game Library
One of the biggest talking points of the Steam Deck is the software experience. The console runs off of SteamOS, which is a custom Linux distro. When using SteamOS, the Steam Deck isn’t a Windows PC. It’s a Linux-based gaming PC, which you can use for playing games designed for Windows. And that’s the key here — it functions like an emulator for Windows PC games.
As is the case with most emulators, some games work flawlessly, others have slight bugs, and some just don’t launch at all. Now you can format the drive and install Windows on it to fix that. But personally, I wouldn’t go ahead with it, since Steam OS in itself is fairly nice to use.
SteamOS offers an interface that feels console-like, which means that everything is easy to access. You have a quick view of your entire games library, and it’s super easy to tweak settings as well. Speaking of games, you can directly install the game you want from the Steam Store, and Valve makes it quite clear which games are compatible with your console.
Add to that, you can also make use of Remote Play to enjoy any AAA title in your library from anywhere, as long as you have good internet connectivity.
Apart from all that, SteamOS also offers the option to use the Steam Deck as a portable mini PC. Switching over to the Desktop Mode makes the Deck like any other Linux PC. You can install custom apps on it, even connect peripherals to it using a Steam Deck dock, and turn it into a proper desktop.
Last but not least, Valve has been pushing out updates consistently for the Steam Deck. They’ve ensured that all the minor bugs are squashed, and more games are added to the compatibility list. So I wouldn’t call Steam Deck to be old, but instead, mature.
That being said, SteamOS does have certain limitations. One of the most prominent issues is that there are plenty of titles out there which make use of anti-cheat software, which don’t currently support Linux. As a result, even if the Steam Deck has hardware capable of running the game itself, the anti-cheat software just won’t install, and you can’t play that game.
This is especially common amongst multiplayer titles like Valorant or Destiny 2. The good news is that there are also titles like Apex Legends where the developers have patched their game to work on the Steam Deck.
Steam Deck Review: Performance
Now moving on to the performance, the Deck makes use of a custom AMD APU. The CPU is a 4-core/8-thread processor based on the Zen 2 architecture, coupled with an RDNA 2 GPU. In terms of power, the configs caps out at 15W of TDP. Our unit here comes equipped with a 256 GB NVMe SSD.
Thanks to its slightly better HD display of 800p resolution, the hardware has enough power to run AAA titles at a stable framerate. Of course, you’d have to turn down the settings to Low in most games, but the overall gameplay is quite smooth, as far as gaming is concerned.
Of course, a major reason for good frames is AMD’s FSR technology that’s embedded inside SteamOS. With the help of spatial upscaling, you can get better performance from titles, while slightly compromising on the quality. And truth be told, on a 7-inch display, the drop in quality is hardly noticeable.
Another thing worth highlighting is the fact that AMD recently announced FSR3, which will be coming to older graphics cards as well. As such, you can expect stable performance from future titles as well. So as far as performance is concerned, the Steam Deck is pretty good today and should remain good for the next couple of years too.
Steam Deck Review: Battery Life and Charging
One of the biggest issues with the Steam Deck is the battery life. The Steam Deck comes equipped with a 40Wh battery. Valve claims that you can get anywhere between 2-8 hours of gameplay from this, depending upon the title and settings you’re playing at.
In our testing, we were able to get about 110 minutes of gameplay from the Steam Deck on average. However, with the 30fps lock enabled from the Performance Overlay settings, we did notice a sizeable jump in terms of battery life. It’s possible to get a little over 200 hours of gameplay from this handheld console.
This isn’t great if you’re traveling, but still pretty good, especially when compared to the ROG Ally. Additionally, while the boosted numbers are great, not every title looks good with a 30fps lock. A better solution would be to invest in a power bank for your Steam Deck.
Thanks to its support for 45W USB-C PD charging, you can juice it up from 0 to 80% in under 100 minutes. That way, you can still enjoy gaming on the go, without having to compromise on the quality.
Steam Deck Review: Still Good?
So, the big question. Is the Steam Deck still a worthy option in 2023? In a word – yes. The longer answer: While it’s not perfect by any means, it still brings plenty to the table. The handheld console is still powerful enough to run most modern games at high settings.
Add to that, it can double up as a PC if desired. The dual touchpads are an underappreciated feature, which makes navigation so much easier. And despite its shortcomings, SteamOS is extremely reliable and stable. Something that can’t be said for its major competitor.
Officially, the Steam Deck is only available on Valve’s own website, at a starting price of $399. However, we wouldn’t recommend that, since the eMMC storage just isn’t fast enough, especially for modern titles. The 256GB variant that we have ourselves seems the best choice, offering ample space for your titles and then some. The thing to note next is the availability.
What We Like
What We Don’t Like
While you can buy it from Valve directly, you can also buy the Steam Deck from Amazon from reputable sellers, which charge a premium to deliver the handheld to you on a priority basis. Regardless of wherever you decide to buy it from, the Steam Deck still remains one of the best handheld gaming consoles out there.
Last updated on 13 September, 2023
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