Hands-on with Steam Deck: Here’s what to expect from Valve’s portable – and powerful – gaming PC


One of the first pre-production models of the Steam Deck Handheld Gaming PC, by Valve Software. (Photo by Thomas Wilde)

It is still early enough in the production process that it is difficult to tell what to expect from the Steam bridge. From what I’ve seen, the new portable gaming PC from Valve is flexible, surprisingly powerful, and affordable. He has potential.

If Valve can circulate the Deck enough, he has a chance to change the face of PC gaming. Still.

The Deck, which was officially first announced a few weeks ago, is a pocket PC that runs a new version of Valve’s Linux-based SteamOS. Out of the box, it includes gamepad controls and two touchpads, built into either side of a 7-inch LCD touchscreen, but you can also connect it to a monitor, mouse and / or keyboard and treat it like an ultra-portable PC tower.

Valve invited me and others to try out the first production models of the Steam Deck on Thursday afternoon, during an hour-long demonstration held at Valve’s offices in downtown Bellevue, Wash. . We were told directly that the units we were using were some of the early pre-production models of the Deck’s 512GB model, and still had a few bugs that Valve had not addressed.

The first thing that struck me about the Deck is how light it is. I subconsciously expected it to be a brick like an old portable system from the ’90s, but the Deck only weighs 1.7 pounds, with most of that weight concentrated in the handles.

It’s also intuitive to play if you’ve spent time with a controller. The D-pad on the Deck, the cross-shaped button at the top left, is admittedly in a strange place, but the left touchpad under the controller is mapped by default to work as the D-pad typically would in games that use it. It always seems surprisingly natural.

The right touchpad, on the other hand, can be used as a thinner version of the right controller, and it took some getting used to. I don’t think this will ever fully replace the controller for me, but if you’re looking for specific actions from the Steam Deck, you can, at least theoretically, use the trackpads. I can imagine using the right trackpad to line up more precise shots in action games, for example.

The top of the Deck includes a volume control, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a USB-C slot and its center vent. (Photo by Thomas Wilde)

Of the games I tried on the Deck, I was most surprised by the one from 2020 Eternal destiny, which ran at 110 FPS without any issues. 2019 Control worked just as well.

Conversely, however, Valve’s own Gate 2 worked fine but had some weird texture bugs when moving around in the game, and the document released by Microsoft Overdrive at sunset didn’t want to load its shaders at all. Deck play functionality, at least at this early stage, is best dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

The Deck also has the same problem as Nintendo’s Switch, in that not all games are designed or suited well for a 7-inch screen. UI scaling can and probably will fix some of the issues, especially as the Deck continues to mature, but a game that’s designed to look good on a 42-inch or larger screen isn’t doing well. endure being reduced to a sixth of that size.

With a game like the recently released Ascension, where the player characters are already relatively small, trying to play it on the Deck screen is like an interactive and violent painting of Monet. You can’t really tell what’s this past.

It’s not Valve’s fault, of course, but it’s something customers need to watch out for. There are plenty of Switch games that you probably shouldn’t try playing in portable mode, due to poor UI scaling or graphics that don’t scale well, that is – to say Skyrim, and this will be equally true for the Deck. Valve says, however, that the final version of the Deck will feature a built-in magnifier, which should alleviate some of those issues.

The 512GB model of the Steam Deck, shown here running Underworld, also has an anti-reflective etched glass on its touch screen. (Photo by Thomas Wilde)

One of my other big takeaways from my time with the Deck was its versatility. Valve was sure to show it off at the event, with a dedicated multiplayer station via a few Bluetooth-connected Dual Shock 5 controllers, and one showing how the Deck works when connected to a keyboard and monitor.

The Deck has a USB-C port that can be used to plug in standard adapters, or you can use Bluetooth-enabled wireless mice and keyboards. When connected to a monitor, the Deck is designed to automatically switch to desktop mode, where it runs an operating system derived from Arch Linux.

Valve had installed a Deck with a wireless monitor and keyboard in his office that ran Blender, the VLC media player, Chromium, and Visual Studio Code all at once. Starting a game on top of all of this didn’t cause any noticeable impact on performance.

The Valve team members made it clear that The Deck is a PC, not just any type of console, and can be used as such. It’s also slated to ship in three models, priced at $ 399, $ 529, and $ 649, and the only serious difference between the three is the size of the built-in hard drive. Their internal specifications are all the same, and you can expand its internal storage via an SD card slot at the bottom of the unit.

This is something I don’t think we’ve talked about enough: Anyone who buys the Deck potentially gets a surprisingly powerful pre-built PC for as little as $ 399. Of course, the Deck mostly runs games, but at this price it’s competitive with high-end Chromebooks. The Steam Deck could be huge for low-income audiences, both as a gaming platform and as an affordable PC.

Its portability also opens up many options for other niche audiences, such as tournament organizers. From the moment the Steam Deck was announced, it has been appealing to people who regularly host events, such as this weekend’s Evolution Championship Series, as an easy way to carry a dozen or so game setups or more.

The only downside is that the Steam Deck, at the time of writing, doesn’t have built-in anti-theft measures, like the Kensington security slot on the back of the Xbox Series X. Otherwise, the Deck would be a solid go-to option for nationwide fighting game tournaments.

The left trackpad of the Steam Deck has a satisfying sort of “clickiness”. (Photo by Thomas Wilde)

The Deck also has a lot of potential for DIY enthusiasts. The Valve team was sure to mention to me that the Deck won’t have any locking measures installed on it that will prevent users from installing their own software on it, even if that means wiping out its original operating system.

Now that I’ve played the Steam Deck, I’m doubling down on what I said before: The Deck is by no means a “Switch killer”, as many people have said on social media after the announcement. initial. It looks like a Switch, but Valve isn’t even trying to target Nintendo’s audience. (Which is a shame, because I bet Half-Life Kart would move some units.)

If the Steam Deck is anything, it’s the next generation Playstation vita.

La Vita, Sony’s successor to its popular PlayStation Portable, was a portable video game unit that was discontinued in 2019. Although its current software library had a few fans, the main reason people got Vitas was because they were and are very easy to hack, and very useful once you do.

At this point, users have turned Vitas into platforms for movie streaming, game emulation, e-readers, and more. The Steam Deck is inexpensive, versatile, and anything but designed for the same type of homebrew exploration. It’s pretty impressive on its own, but what really interests me now that I’ve seen it is what the fans are going to do with it.

The Steam Deck is still expected to start shipping in December. The first models available are expected to go to Steam users who managed to pre-order last month, on a first-come, first-served basis.

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