The PC gaming handheld that strikes a balance gets even better.
It has been almost two years since Valve, the game maker, launched an impressive piece of hardware. The Steam Deck was a hit, after years of experimenting with controllers, gadgets that let you play PC games on your TV, and even VR headsets.
The Deck was made by fitting laptop-level PC parts inside a handheld device with a 7-inch screen, and running games that work on Windows with a user-friendly OS that does not need Microsoft. Valve was sensible in designing most aspects of the Deck. It did not have the clearest screen, the best graphics, the strongest processing, or the smallest size. But it had a good balance between these factors and gave gamers a lot of value. And, with ongoing software updates and over 300 patches, the Steam Deck has improved over time.
That is why I was worried when I got invited to see a new Deck at Valve’s headquarters. Would they make the product better in meaningful ways, or just try to please gamers who want high-res graphics with a super powerful version of the handheld? Luckily, they chose the former. The new Steam Deck OLED model is like a stone that Valve polished a bit more, making it more attractive. Those who waited for the Deck to be more refined should know that this is the time to get this amazing gaming PC.
A Brighter View The first Deck was a bit surprising to see, with its, let’s say, practical design. It was big, wide, and chunky. But it was also great to use, giving you a lot of control over many games. The new Steam Deck OLED model keeps the same layout, size, and shape, and does not change a good thing. It has a touchscreen, two thumb sticks, a D-pad, buttons, triggers, and two touchpads, so you can easily play games that use controllers or even mice. For the new OLED model, Valve has made some design changes. The keys have a darker color, the sticks have a better grip, and the bumpers are more responsive. The engineers also told me that the vibration of the touchpads is more accurate in the new Deck.
The shape and size of the Deck OLED are the same as the other Steam Decks. It fits well in my medium-sized hands. But if you think the Nintendo Switch is too big to hold for long, the Deck might not suit you. The new OLED model is slightly lighter, by about 30 grams; that is about a 5 percent reduction in weight, which I could notice but did not make much difference.
The new screen is the highlight of the Steam Deck OLED, which sits between all the buttons, pads, and sticks on the front. The old Steam Deck had a weak screen that was small (only 7 inches across), dull, and not very colorful. The new display changes everything. It uses OLED technology to show a brighter (600 nits in normal mode, and 1,000 nits peak in HDR mode, compared to 400 nits on the old LCD) and more vivid picture, as well as darker, since OLED pixels can turn off completely, creating deep blacks. The OLED screen is also a bit larger, with an extra 0.4 inches on the diagonal, and has a faster 90-Hz refresh rate for a smoother appearance in games and menus that are not too demanding on graphics.
This screen is stunning and a major improvement. In the sunny part of my apartment, where the original Deck’s screen was hard to see, the OLED version was clear and bright. In HDR-enabled games like Cyberpunk 2077, the neon signs and streetlights of Night City were dazzling as I drove a dead rock star’s Porsche in the rain. Later in the game, I searched a digital crime scene for clues and had to blink my eyes during a very bright transition scene. You need to see this screen for yourself; even if your favorite games don’t have HDR support, everything you play on the new Deck looks more lively.
Power Struggle Gamers are known for wanting more and more power from their devices. But the latest Steam Deck OLED does not cater to those wishes. Instead, Valve has focused more on efficiency, using a new custom chip—made with a better 6-nm process, for those who care about processors—to reduce power consumption at the same performance levels.
In my tests, using the beta version of the operating system on my test device, the Steam Deck OLED had similar performance results to the older model. In the Cyberpunk 2077 benchmark, both a 2022 Deck and this new one averaged 30 frames per second. Stray also stayed around 60 fps depending on the action on screen, with no noticeable difference between the old and new Decks. The Deck is still not as powerful as a home console—and falls behind other handhelds like the ASUS Rog Ally and Lenovo Legion Go in graphics power—but Valve beats everyone else in battery life.
The new Valve-designed processor and a bigger battery mean longer overall run time. While I could only play a big AAA game for a couple of hours before I had to charge the previous Deck, the OLED model can last longer, though the playing time may vary a lot between games depending on how much graphics they use. On the original Deck, I could play Cyberpunk 2077 for about two hours before it reached 10 percent, while the new model lasted almost two and a half hours. In simple but stylish games like Night in the Woods and Donut County, the Deck’s OS gave me estimates of around four hours. It’s hard to tell the exact battery life because of the different types of games you can play, but my general impression is that you won’t need to charge the Steam Deck OLED as often.
Valve has made sure that the Deck can run many games from the Steam store, unlike other handhelds. Some games are not tested yet, but most of them are either “playable” or “Great on Deck.” Big hits like Baldur’s Gate III, Elden Ring, and Mortal Kombat 1 are among the great ones, while Starfield is too demanding for the Deck’s low-power chip and is “unsupported”. If you don’t care about the newest games, you can enjoy many fun and cool indie games like Hades and Vampire Survivors that run smoothly on the Deck and last longer on battery.
Valve is working with game developers to fix any problems and optimize the games for the Deck. They also check things like font size and keyboard input to make sure the games are playable. The best part is that the Deck lets you play whatever you want, so you can experiment and find what suits you. You can use the device to play games from other sources or even run old games from different platforms. You just need some patience, time, and maybe a helpful online guide.
The Deck offers a console-like experience that is very easy to use, unlike other devices like the Asus ROG Ally that run Windows and have more powerful chips. You just need to stick to the games with the green badges and enjoy the Deck’s touchscreen-friendly interface. But if you prefer to tweak the graphics settings and access the desktop mode, the Deck can also act like a gaming PC and do much more.
The Deck’s OS still has some flaws, but it has improved a lot in the last year. I’m sure they will keep fixing bugs and adding more games. That doesn’t mean you won’t have some issues with some games, especially old ones that need some configuration. (I can play old classics like Knights of the Old Republic and Psychonauts, but only after I set up how they use the keyboard on the Deck.) For now, it’s good to know that Valve is committed to the Deck, and that the models have similar specs, so current owners won’t be left behind anytime soon.
More Space, More Fun The most important factor to consider if you’re new to the Deck and interested in the OLED model is your budget. The Deck has three models for now. The cheapest one costs $399 and has the same old non-OLED screen but four times more storage (from 64 GB to 256 GB). That’s a great deal, and I think it makes the upgraded Deck the best choice for PC handhelds.
If you prefer the OLED screen, longer battery life, and the other minor improvements in this new version, you’ll have to pay at least $549 for the 512 GB model, or $649 for the 1-terabyte one. And then, for those who want something extra special, there’s a gorgeous transparent limited edition 1 TB model for $679, with orange accents on the vents, screws, and thumbsticks that contrast nicely with the smoky, see-through body. Both 1 TB models have anti-glare screen coatings and a unique two-piece case that lets you keep the hard exterior of the case at home and carry the Steam Deck in a slimmer sleeve instead.
As a current Deck owner, I’m not sure if it’s worth upgrading to other owners. After all, if you’re happy with your Deck, and the screen doesn’t bother you, and the battery life is enough, why change a good thing? The main experience, for better or worse, is very similar between the Steam Deck OLED and the original one. But if you’re new to gaming handhelds and want to try one, the Steam Deck is my top recommendation for its unmatched combination of software support and efficiency. It just so happens that the little changes make the Steam Deck OLED a better device for those new to this thrilling hardware category.