Steam Deck Review

I've been chasing the idea of portable PC gaming for years, longer than there have been companies out there trying to make today's new high-powered handhelds. From trying to play Wolfenstein 3D on a 386 laptop with a terrible LCD screen in the 90s, to using a Dell laptop back in 2003 and playing FPS games in a university cafĂ©, to finally getting my hands on the GPD Win - the first Windows-based gaming handheld - up through GPD Win 2 and the OneXPlayer, I've been chasing this dream for years. 

Unfortunately, the majority of this time and effort has resulted in massive compromises and eventual disappointment. The Steam Deck does involve compromises as well, which I'll detail in this lengthy review, but I'm happy to say that so far, I'm actually highly impressed with it. Many will say it's an unfinished product due to what it can play, but my perspective is that the goals of the Steam Deck couldn't possibly have been accomplished in a single hardware release but also couldn't have been done separately either. Is it worth going on this journey with Valve? Let's discover that.

The History

Valve Software is mostly known for making good games a long time ago and a great downloadable games service today, and not for their hardware - which admittedly was usually a solution in search of a problem. Nearly 7 years ago they released the Steam Link and Steam Controller, two pieces of hardware that were competent, but they were niche products that didn't catch on widely. And the Steam Machine project died mostly before it even launched, likely because it required partnering with PC manufacturers who looked at a Linux gaming OS as a risk, liability, and a betrayal of their partnerships with Microsoft. That's a long story, but we will talk about the OS that was developed for it, as that lives on in a much more mature form here in the Steam Deck.

None of those efforts were a real success for Valve, but they have had a solid run with their high-end VR headset the Steam Index, and in July 2021, after spending two years watching the GPD Win 3, AYA Neo, and OneXPlayer devices generate plenty of buzz and sales, Valve decided it was the right time to stop prototyping and start the work of releasing a PC gaming handheld. Of course, Valve employees have gone on the record explaining they had been developing the Deck for years, with numerous prototypes and ideas scrapped along the way before getting to the current version.

The many prototypes that led to the final version.

What You Get

At $399, the base-level Steam Deck comes with a rather anemic 64GB of internal storage via an eMMC module that's faster than an SD card but slower than modern SSDs, and that is just enough for the OS itself and some of the data files SteamOS needs to run games. The idea is that users store their games on a microSD card up to 1TB in size, and Steam just loads them from there (I should point out that all models can expand storage via the microSD slot). Then there's the $529 model which replaces the eMMC storage with a 256GB PCIe SSD for faster load times and room for a good number of games (or, yes, one Call of Duty). 

Finally, the $649 model comes with 512GB of storage, a carrying case made of nicer materials, some silly keyboard skins and digital assets, and possibly most interestingly, an etched glass screen that reduces the sharpness of reflections. Unlike with pretty much any other company selling a range of PC gaming handhelds, in the Steam Deck, the CPU and GPU power are the same across all models - more on what that is later. Oh yeah, and all Steam Deck models come with a 45w USB-C wall charger with 5 foot cable (non-detachable), and a rather thick semi-hard storage case. 

As far as the price goes, a handheld that goes for $649 or even that lower price of $399 sounds like a lot - it's more expensive than any handheld made by Sony or Nintendo, even the $349 newer OLED model of the Switch. But all models of the Deck are cheaper than any PC gaming handheld released in the last three years or so, and oh yeah, it will perform noticeably better than most of them most of the time. 

Considering the price and the hardware, Valve seems to be building these machines either at cost or possibly even at a loss - and it's probably the latter considering Valve boss Gabe Newell said in an interview that the pricing they chose was "painful". But this is what it takes to bring PC gaming handhelds properly to the mainstream, although it does seem that the hype and sales generated have proven that Valve might've been able to charge more and would've been fine. 

AYA and AYN - two (separate) Chinese companies - have since announced new, cheaper PC gaming handhelds that start in the $200-and-up range, up to $700ish, and a bit higher too, but it should be pointed out the controls will be more cramped and less comfortable, some of the screens will be smaller, and the processing power will start well below what's in the current Steam Deck, ranging up to matching it. These companies are now having to compete with the Deck's price and performance and they may actually get within striking distance - it remains to be seen whether they will. 

Size and Screen

The Deck supplies all of the usual Xbox-style controls, including nice full-size clickable sticks, D-pad, face buttons, L1/R1 bumpers and analog triggers with a good amount of travel on them. Four buttons also line the back, giving players that are used to "elite" controllers on consoles a way to add new bindings, although initially these are unbound. A couple of system buttons allow players to bring up the OS menus for the system and for tweaking performance, volume buttons and a power button sit along the top next to a USB-C charge port, and the microSD card slot on the bottom rounds things out.

The Steam Deck has a 7", 1280x800 screen - which right off the bat sounds low compared to, say, any half-decent phone made in the last decade. But Valve intends for the Deck to play modern, top-tier PC games, and if it's going to do that at playable speeds, it will need lower resolution and detail settings to get there. Still, the Steam Deck is sizable for a 7" screen device - it's bigger than you probably expect, especially if you're imagining a phone with a 6" screen and then thinking it's a bit bigger than that. The Deck absolutely dwarfs any phone, even those big, new foldable ones from Samsung. It's nowhere even near pocketable.

The Steam Deck is larger than the full-size
OneXPlayer despite having a smaller screen.

Even more, when you put the Deck into the case Valve ships it with, it'll take up as much room overall in your backpack as even a 15" laptop. Yeah, it might be half as tall, but it's just as wide and more than twice as thick while in the case. (The Deck in its case does fit in a full-sized glove compartment or center console in many cars, however, unlike a laptop.) And you're gonna wanna keep it in the case, because unlike with a laptop, the Deck doesn't have a clamshell design so the glass screen is unprotected. Sure, you could buy a screen protector for the Deck off of Amazon for under $10 and put it on, but if you wind up getting the 512GB model, then that defeats the point of getting the etched glass screen with reduced glare, as those reflections will return in full force with a glossy protector. 

Controls and I/O

The overall shape of the Deck is reminiscent of the original Nintendo Switch but with controller "handles" (note: not detachable here at all) that are each about twice as wide as the Switch's Joycons. It makes the Deck much wider than most handhelds, and it will seem excessively bulky at first glance. Once I got it in my hands, however, I realized that this space is not wasted as in addition to all the normal gamepad controls, Valve also packed in large, front-facing stereo speakers and haptic touchpads on each side, a kind of modernization of the Steam Controller's circular trackpads, and everything is spaced out nicely and seems easy to reach for hands of most sizes.


I have to admit that the Deck is ugly, but it certainly proves to be comfortable to hold, especially with its thick grips on the back for your fingers to wrap around. The unorthodox placement of the gamepad controls (D-pad and face buttons next to the sticks? Instead of above or below like basically everything else?) will become second nature before long and it does feel comfortable, especially compared to the hand-cramping Nintendo Switch. 

I might have preferred it if Valve left off the touch pads and used an analog stick for controlling a mouse, because then we could get a console that's closer to the width of other PC handhelds like the AYA Neo or OneXPlayer. The touchpads are better for controlling a mouse cursor though, that's for sure, but I imagine most gamers won't be using them much, because mouse-only games are certainly better here than on other handhelds, but they're still not really the Deck's strength. 

Going Outside

The Steam Deck allows players to bring their PC gaming out into the outside world. Like with most devices that don't have a very bright OLED screen, you can't really get away with using the Steam Deck out in direct, bright sunlight, but if you're in the shade, or in a car or on a plane or bus, or maybe it's just an overcast day - yeah, you can actually use it. Sometimes some dark sequences in games, like a Skyrim dungeon or something, are going to be a challenge when out in any appreciable amount of sunlight, so just keep that in mind. 

Plays Well with Others

Even if you're not leaving the house, it's still usually not annoying to other people if you game near them with the Deck either - the device is large, but it still fits between your elbows fairly well, and if you're on a couch or in bed, it's not as unwieldy as a full-size mouse and keyboard or gaming laptop on your lap. The fan can get a little bit noisy in a quiet room, but I don't find it too bad - mileage may vary, however.

SteamOS

I found myself very nervous when Valve announced that the Steam Deck would not be running Windows, but would instead run an updated version of their SteamOS that seemed to send PC makers running for the hills when it was a part of the Steam Machine project. SteamOS is a customized version of Arch Linux that includes a compatibility layer called Proton to allow it to play Windows games - not through emulation but instead something that translates any calls to the Windows OS over to Linux. 

In my trepidation I imagined lots of futzing with command lines, breaking my SteamOS install because I typoed some command trying to get some game to work, tons of performance issues, hundreds of major games failing to even start, and more. What's interesting is that a little bit of all of those things actually came true with SteamOS, but it's vastly less than I expected and Valve has been working at breakneck speeds to improve things and allow the community to come with some fairly slick workarounds for common problems. And yes, even on this very blog I had expressed plenty of skepticism about things that actually turned out better than expected - other than the delays and very slow shipping of the Deck - more on that later. 

The OS and interface itself of the main SteamOS "gaming mode" is wonderful, as it supplies kind of a customized version of the TV-oriented Steam Big Picture mode where you can do most of the things you can do directly in Steam. That includes being able to chat with friends, participate in the community sections, buy games, and of course play them - online or offline, running on the Deck or streamed off of a gaming PC like the Steam Link did. 

But it's once you get in a game running directly on the Deck that things get interesting. By pressing the right menu button while in-game, players have the ability to pull up performance metrics and battery life (in hours/minutes left), and make general or specific tweaks to games to customize a balance between detail, frame rate, and battery usage. If you love tinkering with games and wish you could get a slick console-like handheld experience that also lets you tweak things to how you like them, the Steam Deck is right up your alley.

Bugs, Support, Resolutions

Simply put, the Steam Deck is an insanely ambitious project, encompassing hardware that is more powerful than its price would suggest, an entire operating system that is the best attempt yet at realizing a decades-long dream of breaking Windows' hold on PC gaming, and then bridging all of that, also developing software packages that still attempts to make thousands of games written for Windows work seamlessly within it. I did find issues and bugs and they were annoying, but I can forgive them due to the high level of ambition.

Here are some examples - when in Desktop mode, bringing up the keyboard would sometimes not activate the trackpads for the keyboard, forcing me to tap on the screen to cancel keyboard usage. When running Forza Horizon 5, changing some in-game options would cause the game plus the entire system to crawl to nearly a complete halt with no recourse other than having to hold the power button down to force a shutdown. Other annoyances have popped up that at this point, I've already forgotten about so they couldn't have been that terrible. 

Otherwise, new updates that come out every week or two improve compatibility and fix bugs with the main gaming interface, desktop mode, and individual games, but at the same time, Valve doesn't seem to offer much in the way of allowing players to manually report game problems or even assist with Steam's compatibility ratings for each game. I did get a survey after playing one game to ask if I agree with its compatibility rating on the Deck, but it was just the one game. 

So while the Steam Deck is an amazing overall feat of engineering and you can get support tickets opened for hardware and warranty issues, game compatibility is a perpetual work in progress. This is something anyone thinking of getting a Deck for playing a backlog built over the last decade needs to be aware of. 

For example, any request or demand for something software-based that isn't a widespread issue for everyone - like if you opened a ticket to say "this game I want to play doesn't run (or run right) on the Deck" - that's not going to result in a Valve employee fixing that game as part of closure for that support request. The list of things to fix is already hundreds- or thousands-long, prioritized, and there just aren't enough people working on the Deck's software to make fixing games part of resolving support requests. 

What if I just want to play games? 

One of the things I have to mention is that with all of the talk in this review about tweaking, repairing, and tinkering with the Steam Deck, none of that is actually necessary to get access to thousands of games immediately. Right out of the box, it serves as a device you can boot up and just play games on too. Within five minutes from powering on, I had connected to my wifi, logged into my Steam account, and started downloading already-bought games from my Library. The Deck's UI has a "Great on Deck" section to limit it down to stuff that works smoothly and easily, so while Valve doesn't stop you from trying unproven games or even from downloading and trying to start games that they already confirmed definitely don't work, it is also easy to stay on the beaten path too.

The ease of play is a big deal to me and for some PC gamers it may not seem like much, but there have always been barriers to entry in PC gaming that console and handheld companies worked hard to avoid. And while many of us lifelong PC gamers consider it a bit of a badge of honor to plan, budget out, and build our own gaming PC, install an OS, tweak everything on and game on - which I still do to this day on several PCs my family uses - the kind of ease of access Deck offers is a great change. 

Thinking back, and I'm not entirely sure here, but this might be the first PC that runs any kind of game launcher on startup, which after 20 years of Steam, seems pretty wild to me. Flat out, Steam Deck offers the fastest and simplest experience we have ever been able to get for just buying a PC and getting up and running with playing games on it. That absolutely is worth something. 

Game Compatibility 

So we got that out of the way; now, let's talk about what you can play on the Deck and what happens when you find a game that you want to play but is not verified. Valve has certified over 3000 Steam games as playable on the platform as of this writing, with new ones popping up every week. That said, they're not moving to certify them that much faster than the rate that games are being added to Steam at this point, so it doesn't look like Valve will be covering anywhere near the entire Steam catalog of over 50,000 games anytime soon. 

The Deck absolutely dwarfs the PS Vita.

Obviously the "Great on Deck" and green-checkmark Verified games are all going to run fine, but the moment you walk off that beaten path and look to run other games - even within Steam itself - you could run into trouble. Remember that Valve certifies games that are already on its platform, but doesn't prevent you from trying anything else, making it friendly for those willing to tinker and experiment at the cost of the experience of those who expect a polished experience with strong guardrails. As a result, as you go back through the extensive Steam catalog of years of games, many of which are somewhat or mostly obscure, you'll see some games showing as verified incompatible, while many more games show an "unverified" status, meaning no official testing has been recorded yet. 

Plus, new games often don't come out with a verification at all; the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge game came out while I was reviewing this and the game works absolutely perfectly, but it still as of this writing shows as Unverified - and it may for weeks to come, or even longer. Like this game, in my experience many untested games actually work just fine, while others may range from having weird glitches to crashing at certain spots, or sometimes it's something simple like requiring you to pop up a keyboard or a mouse cursor to type something in or click on something. Unfortunately, unless you plan to look up various fan-made websites that are trying to augment the official list, there's no way to know until you try and experiment for yourself.

What this all means is that even if you are a good little boy or girl and stay within Steam but try to start up an unverified game - and you progress into it somewhat and only then do you run up against an issue that prevents further progress - then there is no recourse, no real way to demand or even kindly request that Valve improve compatibility on that particular game. And the time spent could be considered completely wasted until compatibility is improved on that game - if it ever is. 

Performance

Cyberpunk 2077. On a handheld at 60fps. And most importantly, without waiting for some iffy Nintendo Switch port.

Yes, it's doable - I did this by lowering the game's detail settings below even the "Steam Deck" preset that Cyberpunk 2077 gives you when it detects the Deck, I disabled the 30fps cap the game assumed I wanted, and turned on AMD FSR, a technology that runs the game at a lower resolution then uses a fancy upscaler to bring it back up. That may sound complicated, but doing this only took a few minutes in the settings menus for Cyberpunk and on the Deck itself, and the game played at 60fps pretty often or only a bit below that most of the rest of the time. And while I'm familiar with Cyberpunk, it was the first game I tried on the Deck, so I was fumbling my way through that portion.

Sure, the detail in this game is set as low as it can go and the frame rate isn't always 60, but many of the PC gaming devices released by GPD, OneNetbook, and AYA struggle to maintain even 35fps in this game with similar settings - and those devices cost hundreds more. Overall, on a smaller screen held a foot from one's face, I found the experience to be acceptable. 

I won't go into a full benchmark suite, but here are some further examples. Once I enabled the AMD FSR option system-wide, the PC port of Elden Ring, which seems to be particularly rough on older or slower hardware, runs at medium detail comfortably at 30fps or a bit more. Forza Horizon 5 cruises along at just under 60fps even after upping some detail levels from the Low setting (although going straight to the Medium preset results in roughly 50fps gameplay), while games like Far Cry 6ControlStar Wars Squadrons, and plenty more all run perfectly fine at somewhere north of 30fps, and some will get to 60 without even that much tweaking. And of course older games often work well too, provided they aren't otherwise incompatible with the Deck.

Even some games that Steam says are incompatible with the Deck for performance reasons - Lawn Mowing Simulator, for example - actually run fine at about 35fps once we go into the Performance tab on the Deck to use FSR for upscaling. As far as I could see, the game runs perfectly. So mileage most certainly varies here, and while it's easy as a PC gamer to say that 60fps should be the minimum for everything, if you can't get that, I find it's better settle for something north of 30 if it's a game I really want to play portably. And keep in mind that in other games, 30fps seems to be considered acceptable by Steam's compatibility people. 

Overall, everything I've tried that actually ran, I was able to get to what I thought was an acceptable speed just with in-game settings and the Deck's performance settings. Oh and if you're wondering, running games from the SD card slot was generally just fine in that basically every PC game today is still written in a way that accommodates for hard drive-based transfer speeds. Yes, even newer games do this. In the future, when studios start to build games entirely around those fast SSD transfer times, well, the SD card may not fare so well. We'll have to see how that goes.  

Other Stores and Anti-cheat Games

I mentioned that Valve doesn't stop unverified games from being attempted, but going even further, they don't even prevent games from competing stores being run on the Deck - the idea of "jailbreaking" this platform is completely unnecessary. With that said, getting games that come from other digital stores to run is not supported officially and can be a hassle (not that Valve ever promised support for this), and some won't work outright. 

And yes, the dreaded command line is going to be needed for some of the most involved tweaks the community has come up with, although many things that were rather complicated a couple months back are now doable with one installed package and only a few steps, so I expect this to keep improving. With at most some simple steps, you can play games from Epic Games Store, Origin, or GOG on here, although just as with Steam itself, not everything runs perfectly, and a lot of times if you have something specific or obscure, you'll often just have to try it for yourself and see. Sometimes people can help you get a specific non-Steam game running, but don't expect this stuff to just magically work. Valve has opened up a lot to tinkerers, but the only games Valve are actually promising to run are the verified ones inside of Steam itself. 

Any online games with anti-cheat modules do deep OS-level system checks to detect and prevent cheat software, and they will absolutely trip on SteamOS unless they know what to look for. These won't play or likely even start unless the developers cooperate with Valve (and this goes for games within Steam too), which has happened at least couple of times already so we know it can be done. Apex Legends is one such example. Still, don't count on any game with anti-cheat software - which includes many MMOs - to just run. Do your research before you commit, and keep in mind that some games are just flat-out incompatible with the Deck for a range of reasons, including simply that the Proton software layer that makes the Deck compatible with Windows-based games hasn't had any attention dedicated to that particular game.

Using Desktop Mode

I find it amusing that I've gotten this far without mentioning that the Steam Deck is a PC running an AMD APU, but here we are. It's a custom CPU made by AMD with their Zen 2 CPU cores paired with their recent RDNA2 graphics, sort of a weird combo of last-gen Ryzen 4000 mobile CPUs and the graphics that are built into the next-gen Ryzen 6000 mobile CPUs, all supercharged with 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM, which runs faster than we get in most of today's laptops or small PCs using lower-power CPUs.

For the purposes of general computing, this is a PC with a rather usable Arch Linux-based GUI that you can go back and forth between within seconds from the main Steam GUI (no reboot required), and it includes a basic "store" with free apps like browsers, internet tools, email clients and the like that you can do one-click installs from. This Desktop Mode as SteamOS calls it is vaguely Windows-like but just foreign enough that you'll be reminded of the environment you're in often.

The Steam Deck paired with the official dock,
unfortunately delayed for the time being by Valve.

The USB-C port allows you to essentially convert this into a desktop replacement PC when you plug in a USB-C hub (sold separately but expect to pay $15-$70 on Amazon depending on brand, ports, and features) so that you can use ethernet, HDMI with 4K output, your normal charger to keep the Deck powered, a keyboard & mouse, USB thumb drives, some combination of that or possibly all at once depending on what ports your hub has. Just keep in mind USB-C isn't magic - it has bandwidth limitations that you could run into.

The Deck has a low-power CPU, but it's not a slow or bad experience, really - this machine includes the same basic functionality of  today's "mini" PCs with CPU power that matches or exceeds most of them. It might seem silly, but you could actually run a Steam Deck as your primary PC if you stick to light to medium usage.  

Windows

Yes, you can install Windows on the Deck if you really want to. You'll want to read some documentation on it to understand the process, get some drivers (which Valve does provide) ready, and prep a thumbdrive with Windows 10 or 11 on it - both are apparently supported. And you will have to blow away your SteamOS install unless you bust out a partition manager like GParted, and you can optionally get really crazy with it and find tutorials to set up a dual boot to swap between Windows and SteamOS once you install the new system - but you'll probably want to have a somewhat sizable SSD in there before you begin. Personally, I had snagged a 1TB 2230 NVMe drive off of eBay a few months back in anticipation of this, watched a tutorial on swapping in the new drive, and did the dual-boot install with Windows 10.

When you install Windows on the Deck, you'll get an experience that isn't exactly the best - the right touchpad does work as a mouse and you can enable an on-screen keyboard to use along with the touch screen, but I haven't yet found a good way to make good use of the sticks and buttons in anything but Steam and any games launched from it. 

What I found interesting is that Windows also won't actually run many games substantially smoother than SteamOS does. Early benchmarking showed that SteamOS trades blows with Windows on games running faster or slower, and my own benchmarks generally backed this up. Some stuff is a bit faster, some is slower, and for the most part it's not enough to eyeball and needs a benchmark tool to measure. To me, the bigger reason to use Windows on the Deck would be to run games or other software that is incompatible with SteamOS and Proton. 

Either way, the process of installing Windows on the Deck and getting everything running right is not a way to make gaming on the Steam Deck simpler - instead, it kind of makes things more complicated. I know some folks (I was one for a while) insisted they'd immediately blow away the SteamOS install and switch to Windows in order to avoid headaches, but initiating and managing a Windows install on the Deck didn't really accomplish that. I'm sure at one point I'll find a game or situation where it makes sense to have done it but for now, having Windows on here doesn't feel strictly necessary.

Emulation

As you can expect, due to the implications of copyright infringement, Valve themselves don't give players an easy method to emulate older machines and consoles - but as with everything else, they also don't block it. Now, the Deck has the CPU power to emulate classic games from the dawn of gaming all the way up through the PS2, PSP, 3DS, Dreamcast, and GameCube/Wii fairly comfortably with only a few exceptions at the high end. PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, and anything released after 2010 are going to be iffy at best or at least until emulators for those systems are improved, although surprisingly, emulation of the Nintendo Switch is actually quite good with many games running at full speed. 

You can add the emulation platform Retroarch to the Deck a couple of different ways, but it will take a lot of work to get into the file system everything you need to run those old games and Retroarch isn't really optimized for the Deck out of the box.

Setting this up by hand would be a nightmare on its own, but there's a site called Emudeck that offers a script to build a whole setup. Still, it can get complicated quickly and will ask you to remember things to do later then leaves you without those directions when you actually need them, and just generally is a pretty ambitious work already, but still could use more work. Still, I was able to get a setup going that dumped thousands of games into separate Steam collections (really not a fan of this) and also put them into their own interface within a retrogame front end called EmulationStation (much preferred, and still can be launched from SteamOS) and after doing some "scraping" within it, I had screenshots and even gameplay videos I could refer to when browsing through games. 

Build Quality, Repairability, and Durability

Tech YouTubers like Gamer's Nexus and JerryRigEverything have already run videos disassembling the Deck and assessing the quality of materials in building it, overall durability, and the ability to repair it, and the Deck got generally high marks all around. 

It may seem silly at first to consider what happens when a brand new device breaks or needs new parts, but I've found that it can matter quite a lot. My experience is that the PC handhelds from Chinese companies are prone to break, and warranty support with them is spotty at absolute best. I won't go into excruciating detail, but of the 4 PC gaming handhelds I own, every one of them has broken in some way. I expect the Deck to as well at some point and if it does, I'll have support and easy access to parts - the situation with my Chinese handhelds is far worse.

With the Deck, Valve has promised that in addition to proper US-based warranty support, they also partnered with iFixit to sell replacement parts too, with additional parts covering nearly the entire machine (including even motherboard/CPU replacements eventually) on the way later this year. It's a massive difference compared to the other PC handheld companies, all of whom are in China and who generally don't offer great support - although I do have high hopes for AYN who have been really good supporting my Android-based Odin handheld so far. 

Overall, the Deck is not going to be as durable as devices like our mobile phones, simply due to the larger size, price, and the nature of having to actively vent heat out, ensuring there will never be any form of waterproofing. Admittedly, after seeing the Deck survive JerryRigEverything's famous "bend test", I'm pretty confident that accidentally sitting on my Steam Deck won't break it, but I am certainly not going to test that on purpose. 

Stick Drift

Every console manufacturer has come under scrutiny recently for using analog sticks that suffer from "drift" - i.e. they don't center correctly anymore and otherwise are susceptible to becoming less accurate within a year's worth of normal usage. The Steam Deck's sticks may become susceptible to this too (although I haven't seen any issues so far), and unlike with most consoles, this is especially important since here we can't just run out and buy a new controller to fix an analog stick problem like we could with a PS5, Xbox, or the full-size Nintendo Switch. 

To that end, Valve has made sure the sticks can be relatively easily replaced by opening the console, carefully swapping out the sticks using a screwdriver (no soldering needed) and putting it back together. The aforementioned iFixit store has replacements, although it seems that nearly very has been out of stock for a while on there. 

Battery Life

The simple fact here is that like most PC gaming devices, the Steam Deck with its 40Wh battery is not going to deliver stellar battery life. You might get five hours or more when running 2D games or maybe old stuff from the 80s and early 90s, but if you push the Deck and have it run modern PC games at full bore with wifi connected and full screen brightness, it offers generally just short of two hours of battery life. Adjusting settings either in-game or in the Steam performance tab - or limit the frame rate to 30fps, or even less for some turn-based stuff or adventure games - can also help substantially. 

This means that if you want long gaming sessions with modern games, you'll need to keep your charger handy. Luckily, the charger that the Deck ships with actually fits into an elastic-covered storage pocket on the outside rear of the case, so it should be reasonable to keep it nearby most of the time. And helpfully, if you turn on Steam's own built-in performance monitor, it gives you an estimation of how much time is left (down to hours and minutes) based on current usage and how much juice is left.

Availability 

Probably the worst part of the Steam Deck is that as a victim of its own success, this is a device that is being produced in limited quantities to customers that already signed up on a long waitlist, so it won't be easily available for possibly over a year. People who ordered the Deck less than an hour after preorders started are now, as of June 2022, still having to wait weeks or even months depending on their region and model they chose, and anyone looking to just jump in and buy one right now will be disappointed to find out they'd be looking at a ship date probably in 2023. 

You could go to eBay or elsewhere, but the prices are high and it's just usually a bad idea to work with any kind of scalper. 

Taking Advantage of a PC Gaming Golden Age

Valve is releasing the Steam Deck at an amazing price and they're doing it during what I believe to be a new golden age of PC gaming where most of the best console games - even the stuffy first-party exclusives by Sony and Microsoft - are getting released either immediately or eventually on PC, and at least for now, nearly all of it can run on the Deck as long as you're willing to compromise on performance and eye candy a bit. Even though blockbuster games (as problematic as trying to do AAA gaming in 2022 really is) require lower detail settings and only a fraction of the total library is actually officially supported to run, the level of ambition here is astounding. 

The simple fact is that there are a lot of questionable, cheap and sometimes very wrong ways for a company to get into the handheld PC gaming business - other companies' offerings have very clearly shown us that - but Valve has put the effort and time in (and committed to quite a bit more in the coming months and years) to do it right. They've also invested a bunch of money, which they may never see a return on, on simultaneously pulling PC gaming out of the tight grip of Microsoft's control as well as allowing PC gaming to be viable on the go. It's a lofty and rather noble goal and I, for one, am in.