Friday July 29th 2022 was the second-most memorable day of my entire gaming life, behind only the 25th December 1997 when, at 5am, I burst into my parents’ bedroom and tore the wrapping off a PlayStation 1. July 2022 was, of course, when I first got my hands on my Steam Deck.
I’ve built, bought and owned numerous gaming machines, from handhelds to consoles to high-end gaming PCs. But none aside from that PS1 have evoked anywhere near as much anticipation as Valve’s Steam Deck.
There are a few reasons why. When announced, the Steam Deck represented the concept that PC gaming was shaking off its restrictions. At a personal level, PC gaming would no longer require shutting myself in my study — I could now take my Steam library on the train to work, or to the living room, without being limited by a laptop trackpad or the awkwardness of using a mouse away from a desk. Week-long gaming sessions needn’t be interrupted by annoyances like going on vacation either. This was an incredibly exciting concept, in theory.
There was a sense, too, that the Steam Deck heralded a broader freeing of PC gaming. Its relatively low price point versus a gaming rig could open up PC titles for people who may not have had the money for a desktop or laptop that could run them. While its high-profile launch, its portability and serious gaming capabilities had the potential to attract gamers who may previously only have used consoles.
Of course, there were other reasons. The Steam Deck was and is technically impressive — during the wait for mine, I watched countless articles and videos showing how well the little Deck could run triple-A games. It was fantastic and supremely exciting to see all of that performance shrunk into a tiny handheld.
Finally, there was the long wait for the Deck, and the amount of hype that surrounded it from its announcement all the way through to fulfilment. The wait was agonizing, driving media and consumer excitement to feverish levels.
So why now, a year after the Steam Deck’s release and 7 months after I received mine, is my Deck sitting on a TV stand in my house, unused for around a month? Why is it suffering the indignity of being picked up only so I can use its power adapter to fast-charge a phone?
Portability? Only technically
As there were numerous reasons for being so excited about the Deck, so too are there several factors that have resulted in me neglecting it, one of which is the battery. I’ve played a range of games on the Steam Deck, from graphically intensive RPGs like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order through to much smaller early-access titles like Hellish Quart. Battery life has been poor across the board, often managing under 90 minutes.
To devote any decent time to gaming in my lounge or on the train, I found I had to stay near a socket. This proved awkward and frustrating over time, especially as I’ve found the Deck to get uncomfortably hot when playing on charge.
What’s more, on car or bus journeys, or if playing out and about in a cafe for example, socket charging often isn’t possible. My solution has been to lug around a power bank (which has also doubled up as my charging solution if I’ve needed to sit in a part of my lounge without a nearby socket). Given the Steam Deck’s already bulky case, the prospect of adding the weight and size of both to my work or travel bag has often been enough for me to just leave them at home.
All of this has, in my experience at least, severely limited the Steam Deck’s efficacy as a truly portable gaming device, and as such my use of it.
While the battery may be Valve’s fault, most of my reasons for ditching the Deck are down to me, not it. During my ownership, health issues have stopped me commuting. This has meant one of the Deck’s biggest draws — playing on the train home from work — is not something I need anymore.
Similarly, while at first it was cool having an extension of my gaming rig that I could use in other parts of the house, the novelty wore off quickly, and since then I haven’t found myself using the Steam Deck much that way.
When gaming at home, I tend to want to go all-in. I’m not gaming to kill time as I would on a commute — it’s ‘me time’, which I want to dedicate to a game I love. Likewise, when I sit down to watch TV, I want to pay attention to what I’m watching.
For that reason, I’ve realized I much prefer shutting myself away for a solid 6 hours of gaming in isolation rather than casually playing for an hour while I watch TV.
The games you play
I also think the types of games you play make a big difference to how much you’ll get out of a Steam Deck. A big part of why I’ve ditched the Deck is because my gaming doesn’t really suit it.
While I had some fun playing casually on titles like Hellish Quart, Stray and GTA V, I predominantly play grand strategy games, specifically Total War: Three Kingdoms and Crusader Kings 3. Playing Total War on Steam Deck is just not an experience I was prepared to bother with. Full-fat Total War games need a mouse, keyboard and a larger screen for real time battles to be playable.
Despite not being verified for Steam Deck, Crusader Kings 3 is totally playable, as your whole time is spent on a campaign map. After a while getting used to the controls and with a few custom control maps, it’s a surprisingly easy experience.
However, due to the small screen, CK3’s UI can’t be increased without affecting certain core screen elements, limiting the time I found I could spend on the game before starting to get eye strain. What’s more, cloud syncs don’t seem to work for CK3: my PC saves weren’t visible on the Steam Deck and vice versa, requiring me to start separate campaigns on both. In the end, I just gravitated back to my PC, its larger screen and my main savegames.
To sum it up, I barely use my Steam Deck because it doesn't suit the games I spend the majority of my time playing, I’ve been commuting less than before and I’ve found it a bit of a pain to use in most situations inside and outside of the house.
Happily, however, as covered in a recent case study by Kimberly Gedeon, Editor at sibling publication Laptop Mag, most users don’t seem to feel the same way. In fact, Kimberly’s hypothesis that the hype would now have died down and people would be ditching their Decks on mass ended up being wrong — 4 out of 5 of her case studies still played their Decks as they did a year ago, which she was pleased to discover.
I’ll admit that I succumbed to the hype around the Steam Deck. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It was a hype that was totally justified and mostly fulfilled. The Steam Deck is a great piece of gaming hardware that delivers on the fundamental promises Valve made about it, and even though I don’t use it much anymore, I’m still happy I bought it if only to support Valve, the Steam Deck and what it represents for the future of PC gaming.
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Peter is Editor of the How To and Camera sections at Tom's Guide. As a writer, he covers topics including tech, photography, gaming, hardware, motoring and food & drink. Outside of work, he's an avid photographer, specialising in architectural and portrait photography. When he's not snapping away on his beloved Fujifilm camera, he can usually be found telling everyone about his greyhounds, obsessively detailing his car, squeezing as many FPS as possible out of PC games, and perfecting his espresso shots.
The thing that I learned to appreciate about the Steam Deck isn't that it is some "Switch killer" or rival console/PC but more like a niche hardware tool that if you put your mind to it, really lets you do anything. No doubt thanks to its easy modding and ability to streamline ROM's it has stomped all over the emulator market making systems like the RG350 look underpowered and a hassle to use. But even when I first unboxed my Deck, it wasn't like I thought this was the end-all system to end all debates. I will note that I don't think I'll ever fly/travel without my deck again - literally every plane seat and airport has a power outlet, so you'll never run out of power. Since I travel on business, I just need to bring the dock for my deck and I can just connect it to any hotel tv and bam, like I never left home at all. Remember how I said it can be really used for anything? Heck, it worked great for sampling old NES songs - just hooked up a 3.5mm to 1/4 cable to a loop pedal and we're live. I'm not sure how long I'll really use it, but it has become the go to rather than lugging around a big and heavy laptop.Reply
Not the greatest take.Reply
I take my steam deck with me everywhere. Whip it out in the drive thru if the line is too long, on any plane or car ride, start gaming at a friend's house while I wait for everyone to wake up and get breakfast after a night of partying.
To claim it isn't portable because you can't fit a power bank in the default case is a little short sighted. There are plenty of travel cases like MVRPDXC that are small enough to reasonably by carried around anywhere and everywhere, sort of like a purse for gaming.
I've taken my deck with my on hikes, out of the country, literally everywhere. This article is reminiscent of a lot of similar posts I've seen on Reddit.
And in my opinion, it seems like the only people who are disappointed in the steam deck are people who never take it anywhere (hence defeating the purpose of owning a portable PC). And it makes sense that you would be disappointed, though it doesn't make as much sense that you wouldn't, you know, start traveling more with it.
Wildly dishonest criticism. When you complain about screen size, for example - so you're going to ditch the deck to go back to a large device, maybe a fixed-in-place console - you are completely ignoring that your can dock the deck and play on a big screen, which I do all the time. Connect any controller you want. And your can't complain about lack of games, or genes unverified, because ALL systems are missing some games.Reply
Battery life can be an issue... So... Plus it in life a console or PC. Sheesh.
This article is just crap the more I think about it. It has the functionally of a console/PC that is ALSO portable, so what's the problem again? Too cheap to buy a docking station? Come on ... Wish I could follow the money trail and see who's paying you to publish such false criticism... Either that or you are truly ignorant and should have your editor title stripped
lols this. I do think with regards to the discussion about the Deck and mobility, a big hiccup for Steam was not selling the dock at the same time it released the system, so if you didn't get one, some may honestly not have a great experience or even realize docking to a screen was a thing(some people are honestly not tech savvy). I found myself finding the lack of Steam authorized accessories a bit frustrating, ended up causing me to default to JSAUX for nearly all of the Deck accessories which isn't a bad thing, they make great products, but those who have no clue what they're doing, they may find they bought a dock that lacks enough ports or only does HD at 30K rather than 60K.Raichiori said:And in my opinion, it seems like the only people who are disappointed in the steam deck are people who never take it anywhere (hence defeating the purpose of owning a portable PC). And it makes sense that you would be disappointed, though it doesn't make as much sense that you wouldn't, you know, start traveling more with it.
Side note; there is also a fundamental flaw with the Steam Deck - it can't do most online games because the OS screws with anticheat mechanics. With games like Fallout4 which require signing into a Bethesda account, it usually doesn't work, so that means you won't be able to access mods, which for some, ruins the mood. Again, this is why I consider the Deck "niche", as it doesn't fit in with consoles or PC's so some experiences are going to be completely different. However, that doesn't mean all the experiences will be bad, just different.