The Steam Deck Is A Magnificent Handheld PC, But For Who?

The Steam Deck, according to every review that is currently out there, is a marvel of engineering. It is by all means a revolutionary gaming machine. But we can’t help but look at it with some doubts; who in their right mind would buy one of those?

Technical magnificence

LinusTechTips calls the Steam Deck one of the most revolutionary PC’s in gaming history. Seeing some of the teardowns, it is clear Valve designed their ‘handheld PC’ with great care. Every joystick, touch pad and trigger is individually connected to the motherboard, making replacement of each individual part super easy.

Furthermore, the Steam Deck is able produce surprisingly solid graphics. Games like Control, Forza Horizon 5, and Ghostrunner (all quite gorgeous games) should perform at around the 60fps mark, depending on graphical settings. Of course, the display only has a resolution of 720p, but that’s still plenty to enjoy on a small screen.

Pricing and use cases

The technical marvel of the Steam Deck is all nice a dandy, but the real debate isn’t about whether Valve put out a respectable console. The more important debate is about whether you should buy one or not. The Steam Deck starts at $399 for the 64GB version, with jumps to $529 and $649 for the 256GB and 512GB versions respectively.

So quite easily, you’re looking at a handheld PC that’s as expensive as a brand spanking new Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5. Those are stationary gaming machines, designed to bust out huge graphical prowess at up to 8K resolutions. They don’t function on their own though.

The Steam Deck on the other hand, is all about portability. You’ve got a screen, a controller, and the actual console forged into one big chunk of gaming fun. As a preliminary answer to the question of today: if you’re on the go a lot, this console could provide you with major entertainment. But if you’re like majority of gamers who sit at their PC or console in their highly coveted gaming setups, it doesn’t make much sense to buy a high powered mobile gaming device.

Battery: the Achilles heel

The Steam Deck does in fact offer high quality mobile gaming…for a few short hours, that is. Valve promises 2 to 8 hours of gaming fun, but that really depends on the situation. In all reviews currently out there, not one instance of over 6 hours of gaming was recorded.

Many of the games tested (all provided by Valve) drained the battery within 3 to 6 hours. In some cases the results were even worse:

  • 78 minutes of Devil May Cry 5 at high settings with VSync (GamersNexus)
  • 3 hours of VLC 4K 60fps playback at 50 percent brightness (GamersNexus)
  • 4 hours of Forza 5 capped at 30fps (The Phawx)
  • 4.5 hours of Ghostrunner capped at 30fps (LTT)
  • 5 hours and 40 minutes of Portal 2 capped at 30fps (The Phawx)
  • 6 hours of Dead Cells at 50 percent brightness (The Phawx, GamersNexus)

Should you buy a Steam Deck?

Realistically, most single player games would drain the battery after one solid session of gaming. With a refresh rate of 60Hz, you’d think that is the norm in terms of frames. But all games that ran for more than 4 hours were capped at 30fps, with the graphics settings lowered a bit.

In other words, this really is just a novelty, niche handheld gaming PC, reserved for people that already knew they’d buy it the second Valve showed it. So in conclusion, the Steam Deck is only for you if:

  • You’re regularly on the go and have a pair of eyes to spare
  • It’s okay for you to game at a sub optimal resolution and framerate
  • A gaming session of a few hours is enough to scratch that gaming itch

The Steam Deck is by no means a useless machine, but its use cases are like butter spread over too much bread (yes, I quote The Lord of the Rings whenever I please). Unless you’re willing to put up with its inherent shortcomings, OR like the freedom to game whenever and wherever you want, just stick to a conventional console.

Let us know what YOU think: