(Photo: PC Gamer) Valve’s Steam Deck is shaping up to have the capabilities of a full tower PC with the comfort and flexibility of the Nintendo Switch—but with a few extra features tacked on. Thanks to strong pre-order demand, Valve has already pushed back the launch date until Q2 2022 and beyond, depending on the configuration. It may be worth the wait, as the company claims the Steam Deck can handle AAA gaming, despite its APU and related lower-end hardware specs. Although it may be some time before we get hard info on that, there’s more we’re learning now, as PC Gamer, Tested, Tom’s Hardware, and others just went hands-on with the Steam Deck at Valve’s office.
At 1.47 pounds and 11.7 inches wide, Valve’s portable console is larger than its main competitor, but apparently still comfortable to hold and use. PC Gamer said the unit had to be so large to contain its multitudes of control options, each of which is smoother and more reachable than photos may let on. The joysticks are larger than those on the Switch and operate more like the ones on an Xbox controller, while the haptics are reminiscent of the Steam Controller. The console’s 7-inch display is a touchscreen, likely more for various apps than for actual gameplay.
Many gamers are easily awaiting the Steam Deck’s updated UI, which will be replacing the venerable Big Picture mode. PC Gamer said Valve is switching from Linux distro Debian to Arch in an effort to iterate more efficiently, which will really only affect those who spend a good amount of time on the Steam Deck’s desktop. Using the “…” button on the right of the Steam Deck, users can pull up a menu that facilitates adjustment to screen brightness and volume, among other basic settings. The Steam button on the left of the console opens up a Steam Input settings menu and an option to toggle to the game’s library page, though this menu is still in development.
As far as accessories go, the Steam Deck offers Bluetooth connectivity for extra controllers, but what I’m eyeing is its ability to connect with wireless headphones—a huge selling point over the Nintendo Switch, the latest model of which still only allows wireless connection with its controllers. A portable device is meant to be able to go anywhere, and not everyone at your airport gate or workplace break room wants to listen to you experience the latest Farming Simulator, so wireless headphone compatibility is a must. The Steam Deck will also have its own dock eventually, though it’s currently unclear what “eventually” means and what exactly the dock will look like.
The Steam Deck is an exciting development for people like me, who love the PC’s endless game options but aren’t committed to purchasing pricey gaming towers or spending real recreational time in a desk chair. As a couch gamer, I’m thrilled to learn that Valve’s intention is to make all of Steam’s 50,000-game library handheld through Proton, a tool Valve developed to make Microsoft games playable on Linux-based systems. It gives me hope that I’ll eventually be able to stop responding to game trailers with “When will it be available on Switch?” It also doesn’t hurt that everyday apps like Spotify and Netflix will be available on the Steam Deck, too. I can really imagine taking the Steam Deck with me when I travel—even if my destination is just the couch.