I love portable gaming devices. I think I’ve almost always had one since finding a GameGear under the Christmas tree when I was a kid (plus a Marlboro fanny pack to hold it and all my games). So, when I made the jump to primarily playing games on PC several years back, I eventually felt compelled to find a way to play on a handheld.
It’s been a long, often painful, journey.
The Switch was okay for a while until I realized how much I was spending by buying all of my games twice. So I started looking for ways to use my Steam account on portable devices. I started by installing Steam Link on my phone and getting a Razer Kishi. I liked that okay, too, until the stream quality plummeted down to nothing and never got any better, no matter what I tried. I decided then that I should invest in a dedicated device to play games. I decided to go with the GPD Win 2. It was a pretty decent solution to the problem… but it had its share of issues and some of them were bad enough that I couldn’t wait to get rid of it. Still, it was close to what I wanted, but not quite exactly what I wanted.
So that’s why I started uncontrollably salivating the moment the Steam Deck was announced. It seemed like it had it all: it was a machine dedicated to playing the Steam games I already owned; it has every type of input I want (except a true keyboard), including buttons on the rear; and it promised to make playing games intended for any type of control scheme easy to play on a single device. It looked like it was my dream machine.
But now I’ve had some time to experience the Steam Deck for myself. The question is: has this machine made all of my dreams come true? Or was I wrong to ignore the critical think pieces from naysayers that popped up in my YouTube feed? Come along with me as I parse my thoughts and come to a concrete conclusion about my time with Valve’s new machine! (…It’s a list. I wrote a pros and cons list.)
- The performance is much better than I expected it to be. I’m playing The Outer Worlds on high settings because it was chugging a little on ultra, but it’s impressive, nonetheless.
- I’d heard from early reviews that the fan was loud, and I got pretty concerned… but there was no reason to worry. I’m coming from a GPD Win 2 whose fan sounds like the unceasing screams of the damned, so the Steam Deck’s fan is nearly silent in comparison.
- The face buttons, d-pad, and joysticks are all snappy and clicky and feel great to use.
- The sleep function works well, though it does seem to need a moment to collect itself when it first wakes up. I mean, I’m no ray of sunshine in the morning, so I get it.
- The variety of input options is sure to accommodate almost any person’s control preferences.
- I love the inclusion of a system settings button. I haven’t messed with it much but just knowing that I’m able to tinker with them to make games work better makes me happy.
The Bad (or, stuff that could eventually be fixed):
- The cursor moves up to the tabs after deleting a screenshot, making managing screenshots kind of aggravating. I take way more screenshots than any sane person should so this one irks me pretty badly.
- There is no option to make the rear buttons work on the home screen. I use them almost all of the time so I’d like to see that become an option.
- I have been bumping the touchpads a lot when moving from the joysticks to the buttons below and it causes chaos in the games I’ve played so far. I need to see if there is a way to disable them or something.
- Many, many, many of my games are either not compatible with Steam OS/Proton at this time or haven’t been verified yet. I’m sure this will change with future updates, but it’s hard not to be a little disappointed.
The Ugly (or, stuff that can’t be fixed without releasing a new model or supplemental hardware):
- The paddles are hard kind of stiff and hard to press. Hopefully they’ll loosen up over time (or my ring and pinky fingers get really muscular) but, for now, I’m accidently pressing the shoulder buttons as I try to squeeze the paddles. No bueno.
- The Steam and options buttons are positioned so far away from the main controls that they are cumbersome to press. As someone who takes an embarrassing number of screenshots, this is particularly irritating to me. I also find that pressing the Start and Select buttons feels unnatural – I wish they were on the other sides of the joysticks (i.e., closer to the screen).
- The body of the Steam Deck seems to be made from the same cheap-feeling plastic that the Steam Controller and HTC Vive controllers were made of. I don’t know if it’s actually cheap plastic, I’m just not a huge fan of how it feels.
I guess it’s time for my 100% decisive conclusion about the Steam Deck:
I really like it. Like, I really, really like it. It’s exactly what I was hoping for and more. I know I have a long list of negatives up above, but none of them are enough to shake my excitement for this new device. Most of the cons I mentioned are able to be fixed, whether that is by me or by Valve. I believe the future is bright for the Steam Deck.
However, I would not recommend it for everyone. Anyone who prefers playing with a mouse and keyboard setup will probably not feel at home with it. People who are used to the walled gardens of the major consoles might not be as comfortable with this as they would be with a Switch. It also sounds as if someone who prefers to use Windows as their OS will be disappointed since installing Windows apparently hinders of a lot of the Steam Deck’s features (performance, touchpads, etc.) Honestly, I’m not entirely sure who the intended audience for this is. (Well, aside from me, specifically. It’s pretty unlikely that they built this thing just for me, though. There must be other weirdos out there, I just haven’t met them.) In short, folks who aren’t interested in PC gaming to begin with might not find the Steam Deck to be close enough to a console to work for them and folks who aren’t interested in console gaming might find it to be too close to a console gift their tastes.
Me, though? I’m going to keep playing and looking forward to what the Steam Deck has in store in the future.