Steam Deck (First Impressions)
I've now had a week and a bit to put the Steam Deck through its paces whilst travelling and also while at home... and I have to say, in general... I'm pretty damn impressed! It isn't the perfect package yet, but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages, especially when you consider that updates are constantly rectifying many of the launch window issues that have cropped up.
As I have mentioned before, the concept of having a handheld portable PC with full access to your Steam library of games was such a killer concept. The price point was incredibly enticing as well, with Steam leveraging the new killer combos from AMD for CPU/GPU power at cost and energy effectiveness in comparison to Intel/Nvidia. Interestingly enough, I'm usually a Intel/Nvidia combo for my computers... I've only had an AMD system a very long time ago in the past... so, I'm pretty chuffed to see that AMD have made a welcome competitive return to give the incumbents a bit of a kick in the arse!
Anyway... at the moment, there are many games that are being actively verified as being "great to run" on the Steam Deck. Every time that I turn the Deck on, there are more and more being added as users verify that various games are a good experience. Oddly enough, there are a few games where the sequels are definitely okay, whilst the originals are not yet verified. I would have thought that everything would go together. A case in point, Divinity Original Sin 2 is good with a checkmark, whilst the original Original Sin is missing. Probably okay, but who knows! Similar things for Dark Souls, where the 2nd and 3rd versions are good, but the original is missing. I guess I could install it to be a bit of a beta (alpha...) tester... but I'm not really wanting to do that!
Apart from the access to the Steam library of PC games... the big stand out in comparison to the Switches and other handheld devices is the sheer power that lies under the hood. On the admittedly smaller and lower resolution screen (compared to a laptop/desktop monitor) games still look pretty damn awesome... This is a photo of Hellblade... and things run nice and smooth as well! Who would have thought that this would be possible?! But we are definitely now living in the future!
I have found that battery life for the more intensive games tends to be on the lower side of things... however, when I'm travelling, I will tend to play less intensive games anyway. Games like Fell Seal (turn based RPG) and Woolfe (platformer) sip the battery quite lightly and you will definitely get several hours out of it. Meanwhile, Hellblade or other games of that ilk will drain the battery significantly faster!
There have been people making comments about the fan noise... but I've not really had a problem with it, but keep in mind that I've been playing the games that don't punish the system quite as hard! So, thermal regulation isn't such a big issue...
I've noticed more than a few comments about the physical size of the Deck as well. It is much bigger than a Switch or any other comparable handheld gaming machine, but keep in mind that it has MUCH more power than those as well. So, you are able to access much deeper games than what is generally available on the competitors... something that is quite important to me as a gamer, as I often find that the console games are a bit lacking in interest and depth for me personally. Plus, they are overpriced... Now, despite the size, the Deck is quite well balanced and not at all heavy.... and this is the critical part, size is one thing... but weight and balance is the most important. They've got this part right, and the Deck is incredibly comfortable to play on!
So... lots of glowing first impressions, and lots of joy out of playing so far. Let me get down to the little problems that will hopefully be fixed in coming updates.
The first problem... the touch screen is pretty lackluster. It works, but it is no where near the quality of a phone/tablet touchscreen. It can be slow to respond and sometimes it loses your touch whilst you are swiping. It is functional, but it can be a bit of a pain in the arse to use. Thankfully, the touchpads which mimic a mouse mean that you don't have to rely on the touchscreen... but it would have been nice to have a touchscreen that was more of a joy to use. Plus, if you add a screen protector... it might degrade that performance even more.
Wifi stability at the moment is a bit janky. There are moments where you will lose connection... for no apparent reason. Temporary fix at the moment is enabling developer mode for the Deck, and turning off the rather aggressive Wifi power management. This seems to have fixed it for me... and Steam know of the issue and are going to address it in coming software updates.
Finally, the sharing of screenshots and all of that is pretty crappy at the moment... It is definitely not optimised for the Deck, and it means that you can only upload single screenshots one at a time... which is tedious. I'm hoping that this will also be remedied with a further update... in fact, I would have thought that just uploading every screenshot on every logged in Steam device to a central cloud server would have been the best way to go?
The ability to add in your own microSD card for additional storage is a killer feature. I immediately picked up a decent SanDisk 1TB card to expand the already spacious 1/2 TB onboard storage. I know that I probably didn't need to... but knowing myself, I will just install games left,right, and centre just to have them available! At least now, I'm freeing up space on my laptop/desktop as soon as the games land on the Deck!
One really tedious thing (which may just be user error...) is that game default to installing on the onboard storage (PS: the onboard starge is also user replaceable!). It will install to the microSD if there isn't enough space... but otherwise, you have to shift it manually... and let me tell you, that is a pretty damn slow process for some of those bigger games!
Anyway... that is the end of the first impressions for the Steam Deck after about a week or two of toying around with it! Very happy... and looking forward to future updates to fix some of the little issues. As soon as I get these bloody screenshots off the device, I will be starting to post some reviews of games that I've been playing on it!
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Nice overview, Valve have been pushing Linux gaming for the better and the constant flow of updates have only made the Steam Deck better over the last few months. I think changes to fan speed and other variable screen refresh rate have made a big difference.
I'm a big fan of their approach towards self repair too!
I don't really see the deck as a direct competitor to the Switch, but definitely other x86 devices. Have you used the gyro at all?
The self-repair is a big one! I love that a major company is bucking the tendency against this... and really put it front and centre!
I haven't used the gyro yet... I actually completely forgot about it! Will test it out soon!
I feel it is more matching against the Switch due to the control scheme... for the x86 machines, I still really prefer the Keyboard/Mouse setup.