Review:  My New Favorite Handheld Ever: Steam Deck Exceeded My Expectations and Gave Me a Reason to Play My Massive Backlog

So the Steam Deck is finally getting out to more eager customers, and with Valve announcing increased production, you  can place an order and get a Steam Deck later this year—way shorter than the year I waited to get mine.  I’ve had my Steam Deck for a month now, and I’ve been putting it through its paces. And while early reviews called Steam Deck a little rough around the edges, after applying the latest updates, my Steam Deck experience was great out of the box.

The Steam Deck is a surprisingly versatile console—it can be used as a desktop computer, and you can even connect it to a TV for a couch-based console experience. However, doing either of these things requires a USB hub or a third party dock (since Steam’s has been delayed)—both of these options can run you a small chunk of change, with JSaux releasing a Steam Deck Dock Alternative for around $50. You can even install Windows on it, emulators and tinker with it in many ways that closed off consoles like the Nintendo Switch doesn’t allow without having to look up guides online—and hoping it works out. And while the Steam Deck doesn’t have the docking capabilities of the Nintendo Switch—and I find myself constantly wishing you could just drop the Steam Deck into a dock and play on a TV—it’s easily my favorite handheld I’ve ever owned. Ever. 

My main concern with the Steam Deck was the amount of fiddling I’d have to do to get the games I want to play to work. The older I get, the less I want to mess with settings to get games to work. And while there is an amount of fuss you have to spend on some games to get them to work, a surprisingly large number of the games in my library worked with no issues. In fact, about 30 percent of my 2500+ game library was Steam Deck certified, and over half work, but with a tiny bit of messing around to be done to get it to function. Even some games that said they were unsupported or support was “unknown” work with very little tinkering in some cases. Of course, in others, major glitches and graphical issues happen, too.

There are a ton of little things about the Steam Deck user experience I didn’t expect, and really impressed me. For instance, when you’re loading into a game, it will let you know what control scheme it has loaded up. You can also easily configure the Steam Deck’s controls to suit your needs, or download a community made control scheme and benefit off of someone else’s tinkering.  You can also fully program four back buttons to anything you’d like, which helped me eliminate my claw grip playing Dark Souls by mapping one of the back buttons to dodge/run.  

Build-wise, the Steam Deck feels solid—but my initial impressions  were that it felt a little cheap.  I’m not sure what it is, but the plastic that Valve uses to manufacture their hardware always felt cheap to me. It could be because of the way its textured, which is ironic, because the slightly textured plastic makes it much easier to get a grip on the system.

The Steam Deck is packed with hardware features—some of which I’ll probably never touch. There are gyro controls, which you can use in some first person shooters to give mouse-like accuracy. There are track pads under the thumb sticks that emulate mouse controls, and with some sensitivity tweaking I was able to play a first person shooter with them. However, I found myself preferring the thumb sticks over the tracks pads or gyro. As good as the touch pads are, I find myself avoiding their use altogether. It would take me some serious practice to get proficient at them, and I’d rather just stick to playing the games that require them on my desktop with a mouse and keyboard.

However, if a game has full controller support, I found it to be a great fit for the Steam Deck. The d-pad, A, B, X and Y buttons similarly feel great to use. The thumb sticks are run-of-the mill, and clicking feels a bit stiff—but I can’t find a reason to complain.

I can’t overstate enough how impressive the Steam Deck is. It not only handles AAA game visuals like a champ, it has a large vibrant screen that is easy to see—even when text isn’t scaled up to be more readable on the handheld. It does have a short battery life, but that depends on the game you’re playing. I could play Vampire Survivors  or Slay the Spire for about four hours using the Steam Deck

While I used to not care where I purchased my games, Steam Deck has managed to make me once again completely committed to their ecosystem. In fact, I’m kicking myself for getting games on PlayStation or Xbox or even buying some of the Epic Game Store games while they were in their year-long exclusivity. Similarly, I tell PR people that I don’t have a strong preference for which platform I get game keys on—now I want them all on Steam.

The biggest advantage of the Steam Deck is the fact that PC gaming is now consolized. You don’t need several thousands of dollars to play games on the latest, greatest gaming rig when Steam Deck offers an affordable and easy way to play Steam games.  I love my Steam Deck, and unlike most other handheld consoles where I have to find a use case for them, I find myself using my Steam Deck even when sitting next to my gaming PC—because it’s just that neat.

Antal Bokor
Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian.
He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.

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