|Valve Steam Deck
Price: $399 – $649 (New)
Find it on: Steam Deck, GameStop
A couple of caveats before I get into my full review of the Steam Deck.
The first is that I am not a first generation user of this handheld. The Steam Deck was first released in the United States in February 2022 to much fanfare, but also contained a number of glitches on the software side that needed to be worked out over the next several months. If I was in that initial wave of customers, that may have affected how I reviewed it. But alas, I was not. I didn’t pick up mine until October 2023, a year and a half after the Steam Deck was initially released, and by then, all of those issues had been resolved and I had a relatively smooth onboarding process with my handheld. The Steam Deck support community is as large as it is passionate, and if you have a problem with the Deck, a quick search through Reddit or Discord should resolve your problems quickly.
The second is that I got my Steam Deck on the second-hand market. GameStop sells a limited number of refurbished Steam Decks at a significant discount off the sticker price. A new 64GB Steam Deck coming directly from Valve retails for $399, whereas I got mine used off GameStop for $309, thereby greatly bumping up my performance to price point. It’s worth noting that my refurbished unit felt new without dents or scratches, and I’ve had zero issues with it. Once the OLED version was announced in November 2023, the price of a used Steam Deck has gone down even further, and GameStop has been selling it for $278.99 when it has stock.
It is with this lens that I review my SteamDeck, and it is by far my favorite gaming handheld that I’ve ever used.
For those of you who have been following along with this blog, my previous flagship retro handheld device was the Odin Lite, which played a large amount of the sixth generation (GameCube/PlayStation 2) games that I wanted to go relive. And it was an even better Wii (7th Gen) emulation device as compared to PlayStation 2. While there have been many more Android handhelds released since then with significantly more powerful chipsets (including the Odin 2), Android devices are mostly confined to sixth generation games since the software support has not materialized for other systems. I knew my next handheld would need to be able to emulate Xbox, PlayStation 3 and WiiU games, but also not break the bank. To be sure, there are non-Android handhelds that play in this space, but for a PC/Linux device, most of these handhelds are running at least $700 to get decent 7th/8th generation emulation. But that is not the case with the Steam Deck. Even if I paid the full $399 for the device, it would still beat the price points of the AYANEO lineup and ASUS ROG Ally by a significant amount. You can spend more money to get a larger solid state drive, but why spend that amount when a $30 SD card can provide the same expansion?
As I mentioned before, I am a late-comer to the Steam Deck, and setup was relatively simple. The standard for retro gaming is EmuDeck on this device, and it was just a point and click set up process, which took care of the button mapping, emulators and folder set up. While it isn’t a straight up plug-and-play when it comes to getting up and running on your emulators, it comes pretty darn close. You’ll still need to, ahem, ‘find’ a few files to get everything fully functional, but if you have a little technical know-how to tinker, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
As expected, when I finished setup and loaded all of my games, I was happy with the results. My PlayStation 2 games that weren’t playable on the Odin (Hot Shots Golf 3, for instance), played perfectly. As did my Wii U library and Xbox. PlayStation 3 was a bit hit or miss, but I was able to get certain games running, like Goldeneye 007 Reloaded. The one frustrating system was Wii because of the controller issues with flipping between Classic, Nunchuck and Sideways. It involves you exiting into the back end, opening the emulator, and making the adjustment, and then re-entering gaming mode and relaunching the Dolphin emulator to see if the changes worked. It is not technically difficult, but it is time consuming compared to the Android counterpart.
The Steam Deck is not a pocketable handheld. All told, it is 11.7 in × 4.6 in × 1.9 in, and weighs about a pound and a half. This isn’t a device you can casually throw in your pocket as you are headed out for the day. This is something you would make a concerted decision to take with you and transport in a bag. Since I got the device, it hasn’t left the house, and is mostly shuttled back and forth between the living room, bedroom and home office as a pick-up-and-play device. I don’t play with it for more than an hour at a time maximum, which is good, because the one time I tried playing for 90+ minutes, I got an alert that my power had dropped to under 10%. That has been a common complaint of the Steam Deck, and I echo that sentiment. Still, that is the tradeoff for powering such a large device. I should also mention that for a large device, it has great ergonomics. It feels great in the hands and the 7-inch touchscreen LCD display (1280×800 pixel resolution and 60 Hz refresh rate) is a joy to interact with.
In my review of the Odin Lite, I felt like I had found “the one,” and for a long time I did feel like that. But that title has been quickly transferred over to the Steam Deck. With its ability to power 8th Gen games, its large screen and fantastic community support, this is a must have if you can spare the $300 for a used device, or $399 for a new one.