OPINION: It’s safe to say Valve hasn’t seen major success with its hardware. The Steam Machine was an intriguing device and the Valve Index is a popular (albeit niche) competitor in the VR market, but nothing has ever really taken off to the same extent as a console from Nintendo, PlayStation or Xbox.
But after spending over two weeks with the new Steam Deck, I’m confident that’s about to change. The Steam Deck is a new handheld PC that has a very similar design to the Nintendo Switch. But unlike Nintendo’s portable, the Steam Deck is able to run virtually any PC game, providing access to a gargantuan library.
Sounds too good to be true, right? But while the Steam Deck does have limitations (most notably the battery life) it’s still comfortably the best way to play PC games on the go.
In fact, the Steam Deck offers such a great experience that I’m convinced that it could have a significant enough impact on the market to change the face of PC gaming as we know it.
The Steam Deck has multiple advantages when compared to playing games on a traditional gaming PC or laptop.
With a PC, I usually have to boot up Windows first and login to Steam before I can become fully immersed in a game. But with the Steam Deck, I’m immediately greeted by my game library upon boot up, allowing me to jump into a game in a matter of seconds, just like with the Switch and PS5
It was also great to be able to use the Steam Deck while resting in bed or on a sofa. Having to dig out my laptop or move to my office desk just to jump into a session of Football Manager felt needlessly laborious.
The Deck’s homescreen’s layout is fantastic too, with recently played games displayed in a horizontal row with large, colourful game posters. And if you want to check or fiddle with the likes of battery, network or Bluetooth, you don’t need to get lost in a labyrinth of the PC’s system settings; you can simple click the ‘Quick Access’ menu button instead.
And let’s not forget that the Steam Deck has built-in buttons, and so is optimized for use with a controller rather than a keyboard and mouse. I’m sure that alone is enough to get people interested.
The biggest strength of consoles is their simplicity, and the Steam Deck shares those qualities thanks to SteamOS. But make no mistake, the Steam Deck is not a console. The ability to swap to a Linux desktop or wipe the hard drive to install Windows 11 are great reminders of this, as Valve has ensured its portable to be open-platform that users can freely tinker with.
But despite its clear categorisation as a PC, the Steam Deck differs from any gaming PC or laptop that I’ve ever used for one simple reason: it prioritizes gaming over everything else. This is a refreshing focus for PC hardware, as gaming has always been considered a secondary focus on the likes of Windows.
With the Steam Deck, Valve is able to offer the same level of convenience as a console, while still retaining the versatility of a computer. I can still fiddle with the performance settings, make use of mods and even connect a keyboard and mouse.
Of course, the Steam Deck won’t appeal to every gamer. The fact its screen is limited to a 60Hz refresh rate and isn’t powerful enough to run games at a high frame rate will all but rule out the Deck for those who want to play multiplayer games at an eSports grade.
But those gamers are already well catered for. It’s arguably the more casual gamers, who don’t want to spend a fortune upgrading specs every few years, that PC gaming has previously failed to entice. The Steam Deck proves that PC gaming can finally offer the same level of accessibility as a console, while offering a far greater game library than a PS5 or Xbox Series X could ever hope for.
And if the Steam Deck proves successful (which I’m confident it will) it’s unlikely to be the last portable PC of its kind. We could see an influx of new gaming-centric PCs from other manufacturers – Dell has already teased its Alienware Concept UFO after all.
With that in mind, the Steam Deck has every chance of changing the face of PC gaming as we know it, making the likes of Steam and Epic Games Store even more accessible and blurring the lines of a PC and console to reap the benefits from both sides.
Ctrl+Alt+Delete is our weekly computing-focussed opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.