After several months of delay, the steam deck finally must arrive February 25th for those who managed to pre-order the console. Valve’s latest venture into gaming hardware is expected to tread the line between PC and handheld consoles, allowing gamers to enjoy their Steam library on the go.
But as tempting as a portable gaming PC might seem, in practical terms, the upcoming device has too many red flags for me to actually consider buying one any time soon.
Before I have a chance to antagonize any early adopters, let me start by saying that I truly believe what Valve has achieved with the Steam Deck is amazing. Less than a decade ago, having the opportunity to play computer games on a handheld device seemed like a dream. We are now just days away from being able to do just that.
Still, as someone who is interested in something that meets my specific lifestyle needs, I’ve decided to take my time and wait until Valve or its competitors find a solution to the problems outlined below.
Battery life sounds like a big issue
Judging by the advance previews, the Steam Deck appears to have significant battery life issues. Various YouTube channels such as GamersNexus and ThePhawx already had the opportunity to test the Steam Deck and found that they were only able to get off the device for about 85-90 minutes before it ran out of power.
It’s important to note that both content creators have tested the Steam Deck in very graphically demanding games with an unlimited frame rate and VSync disabled. However, even setting a cap of 60fps and enabling VSync seemed to add an average of 30 minutes of gameplay time. This is obviously disappointing, as it means that both reviewers only seemed to hit the lower end of Valve’s claims of two to eight hours of battery life.
That’s not a complete shock considering the Steam Deck’s internals. After all, your handheld needs to be powerful enough to run most PC games flawlessly, and processing power like that requires a lot of juice. Still, that’s a big problem for a device that primarily markets itself as a portable gaming PC.
As revolutionary as it is, I’m not terribly interested in paying at least $400 for something that would limit me to the nearest electrical plug. And compared to the Nintendo Switch OLEDwhich has approximately 4.5 to 9 hours of battery life, is a dramatic difference.
There are a multitude of reasons that can contribute to your device’s battery life. It is very possible that this issue could, to some extent, be due to unfixed software issues that are very commonly found in early test drives. While retail units are unlikely to offer a significant jump in battery life, it’s not unreasonable to think that some software improvements will be made in the run-up to the device’s launch.
It’s too bulky for daily commutes
Another issue that drives me away from the Steam Deck is that it is simply too big to be comfortably used outside. The bulky handheld is 11.7 inches long and 4.6 inches wide, making it nearly twice the size of two FORS5 DualSense controllers held together side by side. It also weighs approximately 635 grams (1.4 pounds), which is significantly heavier than average. iPad and 215 grams heavier than the Nintendo Switch OLED.
YouTube channel Phawx took the liberty of comparing the Valve Steam Deck to several other handheld devices, including the original PSP and the Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP. However, the most appropriate comparison seems to be the Nintendo Switch OLED:
Here’s the #steamdeck next to the OLED Switch. pic.twitter.com/kbGF9exbe0February 4, 2022
For most people, using the Steam Deck from the comfort of their home or car won’t be a problem. However, as a London traveler, just the thought of using the device on my morning commute to the office is daunting, considering how difficult it would be to hold in the middle of a crowded train car. Personally, I even think the Nintendo Switch OLED is a little too big to carry around. In this sense, the affordable price Nintendo Switch Lite it is much more suitable.
The Nintendo Switch does it better
Size aside, there are several other reasons why the Steam Deck should look to the Nintendo Switch for inspiration. Of course, the Switch and Steam Deck are not comparable in terms of game libraries and general technical specs. The Steam Deck is a relatively powerful gaming PC, repackaged in a miniature form factor, while the Switch is much more like a classic handheld console. Both devices are also aimed at completely different gaming audiences.
However, in terms of practicality and comfort, the Nintendo Switch and its accompanying Joy-Con controllers are simply unmatched by any other handheld device that has been introduced in the last few generations of gaming hardware. The console may not be perfect – and the common problem of Joy-Con Bypass can attest to that – but the Nintendo Switch is something I believe the Steam Deck can take lessons from. After all, there’s a reason the Switch became the fastest console to reach 100 million sales mark.
let’s wait and see
In no way am I discouraging others from pre-ordering and enjoying the Valve Steam Deck. But I personally prefer to wait for more advanced models to hit the market rather than buying something that doesn’t quite meet my expectations. And with the pace of technological advancement, I’m unlikely to have to wait long.
Recently, it was reported that AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution feature has been implemented in the Steam Deck. This means individual games can be rendered at a lower resolution before upscaling the image, allowing the device to save power as a result.
While it’s unclear to what extent this can resolve Steam Deck battery life issues, the Nintendo Switch has shown that positive changes can happen in this area. The original Switch model only offered 2.5 to 6.5 hours of battery life, which was later improved in 2019 models.
Over time, we’ll also likely see a more refined system hit the market if the Steam Deck is a moderate success. Similar to the evolution of the Nintendo DS to the Nintendo DS Lite, there is a high probability that the next version of the Steam Deck (or a third-party version) could solve many of the problems I have with Valve’s bulky system, and I’m willing to wait until then.