The Steam Deck is everything Valve claimed it would be: a portable with all the power of a PC and a large library of ready-to-play games. It's a game-changer to own it, and evaluating it is a nightmare. That's wonderful news for genuine consumers, because it shows how much time and work Valve is investing into ironing out all the problems and issues before the game enters your hands.

Steam Deck Review

It's not an exaggeration to say that in the short time we've had early access to the machine - the middle tier, 256GB version - upgrades have arrived every couple of days, smoothing out a kink in the software here and there. Games are being tested and validated using a new mechanism designed just to rate their feasibility on a Steam Deck, although the majority of the untested ones we tried functioned. Half of this evaluation might be out of date by the time the Steam Decks start arriving in the hands of those lucky first customers - Valve believes this could be as early as February 28. What we can tell you is how it feels in your hands and how it feels to sit with it for hours, engrossed in your favourite PC game, and if you should get on board and join the long line for one of the three Steam Deck versions.

Design & Hardware

The 256GB model included a charging cord as well as a large case. The Steam Deck feels large at first, but not uncomfortable. Despite the 200g or so difference, my brain hardly notices the difference when I switch between my Nintendo Switch OLED and the Steam Deck. It simply seems like a well-balanced machine, comfy for hours of sofa or coach play, though I wouldn't advocate dropping it on your face when playing it in bed. When it's your teeth, that 1.5 pound of plastic feels different.

If you're used to an Xbox controller or a PS5 Dualsense, the arrangement of the controls takes some getting used to, but your thumbs rapidly acclimate to the higher, broader location of the thumbsticks and buttons. The trackpads are a good, accurate alternative to using a cursor with thumbsticks for simulation and point-and-click games. They're responsive without being jittery. While the haptic feedback isn't as good as what you'd get with a PS5 Dualsense, it does offer important moments in games a great, rewarding sensation.

The 7-inch screen, which has a 1280 x 800p resolution and a 60Hz refresh rate, appears clean and bright, but there were definitely some moments in Dying Light 2's darker moments when playing indoors on a sunny day required a lot of squinting. It makes you realise that many games ask you to set the in-game brightness when you first start them up, presuming you'll only be playing on one sort of screen, and that others don't allow you to change it later. I could adjust the brightness of the Steam Deck screen, but it wasn't enough - which is why I'm delighted I pre-ordered the one with the anti-glare screen.

On the top of the Deck, there's a USB-C port for peripherals, power, ethernet, and an external display. However, there is only one, so if you want to put in a controller and a charger, you'll need to invest in a USB-C hub with power. And, while battery life varies based on a variety of things such as the game you're playing, the settings, the FPS, and so on, you'll want to have the charger handy. The battery life is rated at two to eight hours by Valve, but the internet has discovered ways to reduce it to 90 minutes by playing games with uncapped framerates and VSync off. 

I found that I could play Dying Light 2 for several hours with the battery lasting longer than the time I had free to play, but I always had to charge it overnight for the next day's gaming, or have my charger available for lengthy days of fiddling and testing. My Switch is now my travel partner for the five-hour trips home, but I intend to make it the Steam Deck in the future. Yes, it consumes a lot of power at times, but it charges rapidly, and there are lots of high-capacity USB-C power banks from trustworthy manufacturers like Anker that should help me prolong my playtime.

The possibility to enjoy all of the diversity and craziness that the world of PC games has to offer without being attached to a desk or having a laptop burning red scars into my thighs was what drew me to the Steam Deck, and that rung true during the review process. With mini-PCs and lighter laptops, PC gaming has undoubtedly grown more portable over the years, but this is the first time it truly seems like something you can access anywhere and at any time. Away from the desk, which has become as much about work as play at home as a result of the pandemic, I had more time to revisit old games, get lost in new ones I hadn't had time for before, or even wander into the kitchen to cook dinner while continuing to play the game I had started earlier on my PC.


Valve is committed to ensuring that you get the most out of your Steam Deck with the least amount of effort. While we didn't get to see it, when the handheld reaches customers, there will be an Aperture Labs-themed mini-game to teach you around the device - think of what they did with VR Lab. There's a 'Great on Deck' area in the Steam Store on Deck featuring Valve-approved games like NBA 2K22, Hitman 3, Risk of Rain, and another one called Great on Deck in your Steam Library UI that especially spotlights titles you already own. Valve is basically putting up huge neon signs pointing to anything it thinks would work.

To mention a few of the 98 Great on Deck titles I already possess, I have God of War, Unpacking, Sable, Deathloop, and Hades in my collection. There's also an icon-based traffic signal system for quick reference. Green indicates that it is verified, yellow indicates that it is playable, a question mark indicates that it has not been tested, and a stop sign indicates that it is now unusable. I tried a number of untested games, old indies I'd been meaning to play and suddenly had the sofa time to do so, with no problems. Valve is playing as many games as it can, with a specific focus on those that Valve knows consumers who pre-ordered a Steam Deck would enjoy.

I didn't feel limited by the 256GB of onboard storage (which can be expanded with a separate memory card) when it came to the games I could download. God of War is 64GB, Elden Ring is 47GB, and Dying Light 2 is 44GB. Updates used 80GB, but the mystery "Other" category consumed only 13GB. Indie games like Lake and Scarlet Hollow are roughly 2GB in size, so there's plenty of room for little, significant moments. You'll need more storage if you're playing a new AAA blockbuster every day of the week, but I think most gamers will find they have plenty of room to breathe.

Obviously, without strong stimulants and a time machine, I wouldn't be able to test every game on Steam, but I was surprised at how many random, untested games I was able to try without difficulty. Dying Light 2 played well, and owing to cloud save, I was able to travel from my desk to my Steam Deck with ease. Thanks to the trackpad, point-and-click adventure games like Detective Di: The Silk Rose Murders were a delight to play, and my guilty pleasure, hidden object games, were no problem at all despite the smaller screen.

The games that didn't work were difficult to foresee - and may have been solved by the time you read this. One was Destiny 2, which wouldn't even start, and the other was Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot: The First Cases, which appeared to be locked in some kind of visual purgatory. 

Even if they ran, some games just didn't seem right. Model Maker, a simulation game, was a pain to play using a trackpad instead of a mouse, trying to put little pieces together. There's a difference between utilising buttons and a trackpad to move objects in 3D space and the configuration of fingers compared to a mouse that I couldn't obtain any precision with. Sure, it was playable, but it wasn't enjoyable.

Mode for the Desktop

It's simple to enter desktop mode, but it's not so simple to use once you're there. Simply go to the Steam Deck menu and choose Power. From there, you may choose to enter it. The on-screen keyboard is now unavailable, and while the trackpad acts as a mouse, typing anything into the Firefox browser necessitates the use of a keyboard. This might be rectified by the time you type into your Steam Deck, but it's still a nuisance. Furthermore, for children who have grown up with Windows PCs and Macs, Linux may appear intimidating at first.

Once you get the hang of it, you can stream Netflix on the Steam Deck as you would on any other PC - I had to upgrade the Steam Deck's current version of Firefox first - explore Linux programmes, and get a sense of all the strange and wild things people will do with this portable powerhouse. On 2022, there are a number of emulators available in the Linux software market, allowing you to continue living the SNES life on the go. If you're a Bill Gates fan, you can install the Windows operating system, or you can just scroll around Twitter until your battery dies.

One thing to notice, and maybe predictably given that this is a Steam machine, is that other launchers, such as the Epic Games Store on Steam Deck, are now unavailable. Epic exclusively offers downloads on Windows and Mac computers. There are open source launchers for Linux, such as Heroic Games Launcher, that let you to play Epic Games on that platform, but after more inquiry, I became concerned when the instructions contained language like "Yarn and Node.js" and placing the software on a review unit. Epic will almost probably consider a simpler alternative for Steam Deck owners in the future, but for now, it's just for the bright and courageous.

The fact that it's so easy to get to and unfettered by blocks and obstacles will give creative gamers and nerds a whole new playground. I think for the majority of users, desktop mode will be something they only use once in a while, for a quick Google search or stuck in an airport and desperate for some Love is Blind, but the fact that it's so easy to get to and unfettered by blocks and obstacles will give creative gamers and nerds a whole new playground. I'm not sure I'll ever use it again, but I'm curious to see what the more technically savvy accomplish with it.

Is It Worth It To Buy The Steam Deck?

Getting a head start on the Steam Deck was a treat, and it served as a reminder of why consoles, which are ready to play right out of the box and require no technical knowledge, remain a popular choice for gamers. After accidently bricking my new portable PC with an update it didn't have room for, I dug out an old keyboard and USB-C adaptor, continuous upgrades, and at least one terrified email to Valve's wonderfully patient tech support. 

The good news is that by the time your pre-order comes, most of these issues and flaws will be little more than old war tales from early testers. Updates have been nearly daily, with each one resolving a previous issue and bringing the Steam Deck closer to being a gaming need. Knowing Valve, it'll be tweaked for months, if not years.

To put things in perspective, I play PC games all the time, but I'm not the kind to open one up and rummage through its guts. I'm happy to add a mod to a favourite game and can troubleshoot most software difficulties, but I'm not creating code. I enjoy playing major AAA games on a console in front of a big TV, and my Switch is simply an Animal Crossing machine. I'll WASD if you force me, but I prefer a gamepad. I think I'm in a good situation for the Steam Deck since I have a large library of Steam games, so I'm already involved in the ecosystem, and I'm not the type to get worked up over running games at lower settings for the convenience of playing them away from a desk. 

When it comes to large, AAA titles, I'll still go for PS5 or PC, but Steam Deck will become my go-to for anything else. The biggest praise I can pay it is that if I hadn't already pre-ordered one before this testing, I would now, and we may have to become a two-Steam Deck home since I won't want to share it.