The Valve Steam Deck is now available, well, technically. The first units are shipping in the coming days, and reviews are out. You might feel more inclined to order one after reading the generally positive reviews, but don’t get your hopes up. The shipping queue is going to stretch into the middle of the year.
Valve’s new handheld benefits from its x86 architecture, which opens up a huge library of games. However, is no lightweight at 1.47 pounds — it makes the Switch look positively tiny by comparison. The AMD hardware is sufficient for desktop-class games like God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Dark Souls III. All those titles are certified to work on the Steam Deck, but reviewers say most recent games run just fine with some tweaks to settings and controls. If you’re playing something a little less demanding, like the also Deck-verified hit Hades, you can just turn down the performance to roughly double the battery life.
The Steam Deck is not the first device that attempts to bring PC gaming to a handheld, but most reviews agree that it’s the best one so far. Valve paid a lot of attention to the experience, allowing the Steam Deck to compensate for some of its unavoidable shortcomings. For example, the battery life is middling, to say the least. Reviews claim you’ll get under two hours of gameplay with the hardware maxed, but it only takes a few taps to adjust the CPU clock and frame rate. Doing that can also reduce fan noise, which is an almost omnipresent annoyance while gaming on the Deck. If your battery is running low, no problem. You can just use the Steam OS suspend function to freeze everything in place while you recharge. When you do juice up, you can use a standard high-wattage USB-C charger.
Steam OS on the Deck has some clever features to make the handheld gaming experience less frustrating, but the software is still far from “done.” This was one of the primary negatives cited by The Verge, which gave the Steam Deck a 6.5/10. PC Gamer was more kind with an 85/100, praising the customization and interface while complaining about the weight. PCMag says the Steam Deck is “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.”
It’s big. Really big. Definitely has that first-gen look. Here it is compared to a Nintendo Switch. pic.twitter.com/YrRkIMlroA
— Dan Ackerman (@danackerman) February 25, 2022
People like the Steam Deck, sure, but it’s expensive and limited. It looks and feels like a clunky first-gen device, but the core experience works. The Steam Deck makes your PC games more portable than they’ve ever been — unless you count cloud gaming. Microsoft, Amazon, and others are going all-in with streaming games from a server to devices, which doesn’t require all this heavy, battery-draining hardware. However, you need ultra-fast connectivity that’s still hard to come by.
If a beefy gamer-friendly handheld is more your speed, you can register your interest in buying a Steam Deck now. Valve’s current timeline calls for new orders to begin shipping sometime after Q2 2022.