Steam Deck OLED is the must-buy handheld of 2023 — and the perfect holiday gift for gamers

Steam Deck OLED - MGS 5
(Image credit: Future)

Prepare to cast me as quite the contrarian. Just a couple of days ago, I wrote about why you should forget about Steam Deck OLED thanks to an awesome portable monitor that can give Valve’s original portable PC a massive boost in terms of image quality. While I stand by what I penned in that piece, you should absolutely in no way, shape or form actually forget or ignore the Steam Deck OLED.

From my perspective, it’s hands-down the most exciting piece of technology that’s been released this year. I rate it so highly, I’ve barely touched my PS5 or my sensational 77-inch LG G3 OLED TV over the past fortnight. Oh, and on that note, said television purchase is why I’ve been living off dirt cheap microwave meals for the past three months.

Back to the Steam Deck OLED, and holy smokes what a handheld. I grew to love the original LCD model despite the fact that I’m a massive display snob, so the fact I can now access my bulging Steam library via a pin-sharp 7.4-inch HDR OLED display that’s capable of hitting 1,000 nits of peak brightness is the textbook definition of a “game-changer”. 

Make no mistake: This is the best screen to ever grace a handheld gaming device. I don’t say that lightly, either. The Nintendo Switch OLED also boasts a sensational display. The only problem with The Big N’s hybrid console is that it lacks the necessary graphical grunt to really squeeze the most out of its brilliant panel. 

Black levels in the hugely underrated Alien Isolation port on the Switch OLED look incredible, but even in games as majestic as The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, the lack of anti-aliasing is enough of an eyesore to blemish even OLED tech’s impeccable contrast performance. 

Make no mistake: This is the best screen to ever grace a handheld gaming device

Mercifully, that’s nowhere near as big an issue on the Steam Deck OLED, as the majority of “Deck Certified” games have at least some form of AA to help smooth out in-game jaggies.

Almost every title I’ve played on the Deck OLED gets the sweetest of tunes out of its amazing screen. Red Dead Redemption 2, Batman: Arkham Knight and even the recent (slightly broken) port of Metal Gear Solid 2 look wonderful on its OLED panel. And that really is the main selling point of Valve’s refreshed handheld: It breathes new life into older games you might have played years ago on a crappy LCD TV.

Alien nation

Steam Deck OLED - Alien Isolation

(Image credit: Future)

Circling back to Alien Isolation, I can’t think of a better advert for Steam Deck OLED than The Creative Assembly’s masterful survival horror. Thanks to the fact this terrifying tale of Ripley’s daughter being tormented by the titular Xenomorph over the course of 15 captivating hours boasts such an excellently optimized engine, you can run the game at the Deck OLED’s maximum refresh rate of 90Hz. Compare and contrast to the 30 fps Switch experience, and it’s a night-and-day improvement.

The Asus ROG Ally and Lenovo Legion Go may pack a lot more power under their respective hoods, but even with their higher native resolutions, they can't match the peerless screen quality the Deck OLED is capable of serving up.

This will sound a little flowery, but holding Valve’s updated machine in your hands is downright bewitching. Color accuracy is wonderful, black levels are obviously infinite and the sheer vibrancy of the screen makes every single game I’ve played on this device pop in an immediately eye-arousing way.

If you’re tempted to buy a Steam Deck OLED, pull the trigger on that purchase you’ve been pining for

If you’re tempted to buy a Steam Deck OLED, absolutely pull the trigger on that purchase you’ve been pining for. My one piece of (super geeky) advice? Save yourself some money and buy the less expensive $549/£479 512GB “glossy” model rather than the etched glass 1TB edition that goes for $649/£569.

Why? Because there are enough reports out there now to suggest that despite helping to eliminate reflections, the more expensive Deck actually dials down picture vibrancy placed next to the cheaper glossy unit. 

Regardless of what version you go for, you can’t go wrong with the Steam Deck OLED. This is the must-buy gaming piece of hardware of the year. Providing stocks last throughout the holiday season, I can’t think of a better Christmas gift for that PC gamer in your life. 

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Dave Meikleham
UK Computing Editor

Dave is a computing editor at Tom’s Guide and covers everything from cutting edge laptops to ultrawide monitors. When he’s not worrying about dead pixels, Dave enjoys regularly rebuilding his PC for absolutely no reason at all. In a previous life, he worked as a video game journalist for 15 years, with bylines across GamesRadar+, PC Gamer and TechRadar. Despite owning a graphics card that costs roughly the same as your average used car, he still enjoys gaming on the go and is regularly glued to his Switch. Away from tech, most of Dave’s time is taken up by walking his husky, buying new TVs at an embarrassing rate and obsessing over his beloved Arsenal.