Recently video game company and Steam owner Valve released its first portable device with the Steam Deck. Following a year of revealing the console's features, review embargoes lifted last Friday, and outlets gave readers both a sense check and verdict on the hardware.
The machine has earned praise for its ergonomic design and Steam Storefront offerings. It was offset by various opinions on how comfortable it is to play and its overall appeal.
In her review of the Steam Deck for Engadget, Jessica Conditt made note of the device's dimensions and mass juxtaposed to that of the Nintendo Switch. Like most reviewers, she drew comparisons to the latter as its the closest competitor on the market.
"The Steam Deck is 11.7 inches long, 4.6 inches tall and 1.9 inches thick, and it weighs 1.5 pounds. For comparison, the Switch Lite and Vita each weigh about half a pound, while the Wii U gamepad weighs just over 1 pound," Conditt said.
She went on to explain that its weight results in what may become a discomfort when playing games. With its mass, players may find it more comfortable to rest the console on their lap and look downwards, however that may lead to neck discomfort.
Another point she drew attention to was that the console might not be comfortable for people with smaller hands. She explained that the combination of its size and button layout may not be read as intuitive as one would think.
"At more than 4.5 inches tall, I'm unable to rest the Steam Deck on my palms while also reaching the top buttons with my thumbs, and even using the analog sticks is difficult in this position," she notes.
"It truly feels like my hands are too small for the Steam Deck."
"I have to support the controller by clutching the grips about an inch above the bottom, straining my pinky fingers and encroaching on the back buttons in a way that renders them useless. It truly feels like my hands are too small for the Steam Deck."
She ultimately expresses that it isn't fit as a portable for commutes, but feels that it serves better as a an auxiliary experience to those whom are familiar with PC gaming already rather than an introduction.
"The Steam Deck isn't a mobile device to take on your everyday commute; it's a Steam library extender, opening up new places to play around the house. I wouldn't recommend the Steam Deck as an introduction to PC gaming, but for millions of existing Steam users, it's worth the price of entry, even if you just play a few times a month, two hours at a time."
PCMag's Jordan Minor also notes that the device is sturdy but doesn't find its size to be a matter of concern.
Minor calls the Steam Deck a promising portable PC, the experience of playing the device feels good and somewhat to the Nintendo Switch he says. He goes on to note that playing titles on a handheld comes with some setbacks such as power, but says that's fine.
"Although the Steam Deck is more powerful than Nintendo Switch, its similar handheld form-factor ultimately limits its raw power compared to its desktop PC counterparts. As a long-time Switch owner, I'm more than ready to sacrifice specs for impossible mobile ports."
Minor goes on to explain that have a portable gaming device is a convenience but does comes with trade offs for the overall experience. But these are trade offs he's willing to have with the Steam Deck.
"Setting portability aside, gamers trade power for convenience all time," Minor wrote. "The PlayStation 5 is cheaper and more user-friendly than a high-end PC. The weaker Xbox Series S looks way nicer sitting in your living room than the bulky Xbox Series X. The Steam Deck is just another trade off, one I would gladly make."
"Steam Deck is already the most compelling mainstream hardware Valve has ever made..."
He concluded, "Steam Deck is already 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. We have a lot more PC games to play on Steam Deck to get a better sense of what it can do (particularly in battery life, which Valves states is 2-8 hours), but so far it's looking like the real deal."
Rock Paper Shotgun's James Archer explained that among the device's imperfections, its battery life may also disappoint people expecting hardware comparable to Valve's VR headset.
Archer says that the battery's life varies depending upon the games a person decides to play, while he provided examples.
"Valve say the Steam Deck will normally last between two and eight hours, depending on what you do with it, so I tried to hit both extremes," Archer explained.
"First, a worst-case scenario: Horizon Zero Dawn, running at original quality [without upscaling], with maximum screen brightness, Wi-Fi on and full speaker volume. In this torture test the Deck only lasted one hour and 23 minutes, short of Valve's lowest estimate."
In another example, he said the device lasted a little over nine hours as he played the 2D title Super Meat Boy. Which he played with the lowest screen brightness, no upscaling, locked a 30fps with airplane mode engaged.
Archer continued and surmised that most games will land more on the lower end of the battery life, which he notes is around three hours or so, something he said isn't ideal for long commutes.
In defence of the hardware, he notes that it doesn't take much time to recharge the Steam Deck, as it took him two hours to be fully charge the device from being completely empty.
"You could argue that the Switch lasts longer, which would be fair, though overall Nintendo's console doesn't have anywhere near the Steam Deck's attention to detail. Again, there are all those little settings for stretching out battery life, but there's a real sense that the Steam Deck has thought of everything," Archer said.
Chris Plante of Polygon expressed in his review that the more he tested the console, the more he found that some games didn't work or had issues. As to why a title wouldn't work, that wasn't necessarily clear, he states.
For example, some titles work albeit with some minor issues whereas others would have more unique problems.
"Some games are completely unplayable, like 2009's Arkanoid-inspired Shatter, failing to load or getting stuck on a title screen. Other games (most notably Persona 4 Golden) are playable but have occasional audio/visual problems." Plante explains.
For consumers to avoid any issues he noted that Steam Deck-approved titles are listed for convenience.
"Individual game fixes have been and will continue to be prioritized for repair by a variety of factors - most notably, how much time a game has been played by Steam users who've pre-ordered the Steam Deck," Plante said. "To put it another way: Popular games will often get a FastPass to the front of the queue."
Speaking on games, TechRadar's Matt Hanson expressed that having access to your Steam library on the device is a positive.
He offsets the device's price point in relation to the titles a person can play compared to the experience one would have with the Switch.
"If you already have a large library of PC games, then you'll also have a ready-made selection of games that you don't need to buy again..."
"Nintendo has the edge, then, when it comes to upfront cost, but many multiplatform games will cost less on Steam than for the Nintendo Switch. If you already have a large library of PC games, then you'll also have a ready-made selection of games that you don't need to buy again," Hanson said.
He continues, "Compared to a gaming laptop or PC, the Steam Deck is a lot more affordable. While it's not as versatile as a traditional laptop or PC, as Valve has been keen to point out, it is essentially a computer."
The Washington Post's Nathan Grayson offers the closest we could come to a sentiment summing up the critical consensus around Valve's new console.
"As evidenced by the fact that I've absolutely plowed through 'God of War' since mine arrived, it's an incomparable backlog slayer," Grayson said. Portable at least in the sense that it'll allow you to play Steam games in more places around your home than just wherever your PC puts down roots. It's not everything it could be yet. Still, I'm excited to see what it looks like when it gets there."