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We review the Steam Deck: Is it the best handheld gaming console on the market?

For the last few years, the Nintendo Switch has been the reigning champion of handheld gaming devices, so we’re thrilled to finally test out Valve’s Steam Deck.

Published Nov 28, 2023
7 min. reading time
steam deck on blue background

When the Steam Deck was first announced in 2021, we thought it seemed too good to be true. 

PC gaming on a handheld device, and playing our favorite Steam games from the comfort of our bed? It was almost unimaginable.

But it’s here, and we were beyond excited to test it out. 

Read on to discover if the game-changing device is worth the money. 

Read more: The best over-ear headphones to elevate your audio experience

What is the Steam Deck?


  • Processor: AMD APU (with up to 1.6 teraflops computer power)

  • RAM: 16GB

  • Storage: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB (also expandable with MicroSD)

  • Display: 7-inch 1280x800 IPS LCD

  • Refresh rate: 60Hz

  • Battery life: 2 to 8 hours depending on use

The Steam Deck is a mini handheld PC for gaming — with LinuxOS, you can essentially play any game that runs on PC. Of course, they wouldn’t all run well, but you technically could. 

So, if you don’t want to fork out at least $1,000 for a decent gaming PC,  the Steam Deck may just be your best option.

Using this game e console, you can run your desktop OS, completely customize your integrated graphics settings (reaching up to an impressive 60fps) and it even offers mod support — unlike some of the other leading handheld gaming devices. 

Additionally, you can hook it up to your TV to elevate your experience, with support for 4K resolution at 120fps. 

For even more customization, you can connect a wireless keyboard and mouse for gaming or video and photo editing. So, depending on how you prefer to work, you’ve got options. 

steam deck on wooden background
Photo: Phoebe Davenport

What do we actually think? 

It’s important to be realistic about the limitations when it comes to handheld devices. While they can be a great alternative to your gaming laptop or game console, they can’t replicate them in terms of graphics or performance. 

That said, we don’t think it means your gaming experience will be hindered. 

Read on for our thoughts on the Steam Deck’s design, performance and software. 

Design & ergonomics

Rating: 4 out of 5

When we first unboxed our Steam Deck, it was bigger than we initially expected — which we think is both positive and negative. 

A bigger device means a bigger screen and more processing power, which for a device handling intensive games is an absolute necessity.

That said, the larger size also means it’s relatively heavy, weighing a hefty 669 grams (compared to the latest Nintendo Switch model at 320 grams), which may not be ideal for long gaming sessions without a mount or something to rest your arms on. 

Its larger size also means that we have mixed feelings about its portability. For pricier devices like these, we prefer storing them in the case so as to not risk damaging them. With the case, it’s a pretty bulky item to carry along when commuting or traveling.

However, if you don’t mind the larger size, we think it’s worth it for an enhanced gaming experience.

left and right hand controls on the steam deck
Photo: Phoebe Davenport

In terms of aesthetics, it looks pretty similar to other handheld gaming consoles on the market, and it’s currently only available in black. (We’re hoping for a pink version in the future!) 

It has the typical D-Pad, thumb sticks, back buttons, a touchscreen display and two sensitive touch trackpads. 

While the touchscreen is a generally useful feature, we typically didn’t use it outside of using the onscreen keyboard — which brings us to one thing we did not like. To activate the keyboard, you have to press the ‘STEAM’ and ‘X’ buttons simultaneously, which due to the size of the console, feels a bit awkward. 

In sum, testing out the Steam Deck reveals that the design is solid. But nothing completely unique makes it stand out against its competitors. Keeping this in mind, we found that it’s comfortable to use for long periods of time if you can get used to the size and weight

back of the steam deck
Photo: Phoebe Davenport

Navigating the Steam Deck

Rating: 5 out of 5 

The Steam operating system boasts a super easy-to-navigate user interface (UI). All you need to do is log into your Steam account. 

With a simple click of the ‘STEAM’ button on the left side of the console, you have access to Home, Library, Store, Friends & Chat, Media, Downloads, Settings and Power.

On the right side of the console, there’s a ‘...’ button, which gives you immediate access to Notifications (which would include game invites, messages etc), Friends, Quick Settings (where you can adjust brightness, audio, turn on airplane mode, Bluetooth and Wi-FI), Battery (with projected battery life, which has saved us multiple times!) and a Help option. 

These two buttons alone make the Steam Deck incredibly easy to operate, making it an ideal console if you’re just starting out with gaming

When you enter the games store, you’re immediately taken to a ‘Great on Deck’ section, where every game offered is optimized for Steam Deck. We love this feature since the Steam Deck is still relatively new to the market, and not all game studios have optimized their latest releases for Steam Deck yet. 

The ‘Great on Deck’ section is also displayed in your Steam library, so you can easily find the games you want to play and they won’t get mixed up with the others you have for PC. 

graphic showing the steam deck library
The 'Great on Deck' section of the Steam library. Photo: Phoebe Davenport

However, you’re not restricted to these games. You can purchase any game in the store, regardless of whether it’s optimized for the Steam Deck, making it great if you’re out and about and want to purchase a game for your desktop PC at home. 

You can quickly check Steam Deck’s compatibility for any game on the store. It’s not as simple as a yes or no; there are four tiers for compatibility, and they are:

  • Verified: These games are fully functional and work well with the controls and display of the Steam Deck.

  • Playable: These games are functional, but some features might need more effort to interact with.

  • Unsupported: These games have been tested, and are currently not functional with the Steam Deck. You can check back later to see if has changed. 

  • Untested: Valve has yet to test this game's compatibility with the Steam Deck. You can check back later to see if it has changed.  

Unlike on Playstation, you can easily connect our favorite wireless headphones (no need for a dedicated gaming headset!), which is definitely a win in our books. 

That said, if you don’t use wireless headphones, there is a headphone jack — but we’ve found wireless pairs offer more depth of sound when gaming.

the steam store showing steam deck compatibility
Steam Deck compatibilty shown on the Steam store. Photo: Phoebe Davenport


Rating: 4 out of 5

For the purposes of our review, we played numerous games, ranging from the newly released, wildly anticipated ‘Baldur’s Gate 3,’ to the ever-popular 4v1 online game ‘Dead By Daylight,’ and ‘The Sims 4.’ 

Of course, performance will differ for each game depending on how demanding its size and graphics are, and you’ll probably find that each game needs tinkering with the settings to get them to optimized to how you like it. 

In the case of ‘Baldur’s Gate 3’ (Steam Deck Verified), it’s a pretty intensive game for even the best gaming PCs, so we had to heavily edit the graphics settings to get it running smoothly — but we managed to get it looking pretty good at 50fps. 

During gameplay, it looks slightly pixelated (which is to be expected), but it’s not so bad that it hinders your experience.  Also, the cutscenes look brilliant.

The UI for BG3 was adapted brilliantly for Steam Deck, with the controls being easy to use. When compared to the PC version, we preferred the UI on the Steam Deck because it appears less cluttered. 

We’ve played almost 50 hours of ‘Baldur’s Gate 3’ (BG3) on our Steam Deck by now, and we haven’t considered switching to PC for our playthrough

Additionally, the internet connection to be faultless. When playing co-op campaigns on BG3 or playing ‘Dead By Daylight’ (Steam Deck Verified) the internet connection never once dropped. 

While this could be due to our WiFi source, our Playstation connection is often iffy. So we can safely attribute its internet performance to the console’s setup.

picture showing battery life while playing
Image showing projected battery life of 1hr 12 min with 69% battery. Photo: Phoebe Davenport

On the flip side, since BG3 is such an intensive game, it drains the Steam Deck’s battery pretty quickly. The battery lasts about two to four hours on a typical session, meaning you can never stray too far from a plug socket. 

You’ll find similar battery performance with games like ‘Elden Ring’, ‘God of War’ and ‘Final Fantasy’. 

We have also found that the Steam Deck gets hot to the touch. However, the fact that it can overheat wasn’t totally unexpected since it’s running PC games.

Additionally, the fan is also quite loud, which is easily remedied by using headphones when playing games. However, when playing with the Steam Deck while in the presence of others, we received feedback that it can be quite noisy and distracting.

We’ve tried playing a few ‘Playable’ games, such as ‘The Sims 4,’ but our experience was not one we’d likely repeat. For example, with ‘The Sims 4,’ the controls seemed clunky and far more inconvenient than just booting up our PC.

As a result, we’d recommend sticking with games that are verified, and we anticipate that most new releases from big game studios will become Steam Deck verified upon release or shortly after. 

Which Steam Deck should I get?

If you’re looking for a budget option, we would recommend the 64GB version. Of course, you could always buy the 64GB version and expand it with a MicroSD card for additional storage

Though, in our opinion, we would opt for the 512GB model. We’ve made the mistake of opting for the smallest or mid-capacity in the past, and the hassle of installing and reinstalling games constantly will make you wish you chose the pricer model. 

So, treat yourself and get the 512GB model. We don’t think you’ll regret it. 

Is the Steam Deck worth it?

Overall rating: 4.7 out of 5

Short answer: Yes

If you’re a PC gamer looking for a handheld gaming console, we don’t think you can do better than this. 

There are enough Steam Deck games optimized for the device by now, so you won’t miss out on many of the newest releases if you opt for this — and hopefully what isn’t released as Verified will in the future!

Sure, it’s pricey, but when you compare it to the cost of a decent desktop gaming computer setup, it’s relatively affordable. 

Simply put, what you have to sacrifice in terms of graphics and performance, you make up for in the convenience of not being stuck at a desk when playing — and for us, that makes it worth the purchase alone. 

So whether you’re a seasoned gamer or just starting out, we think the Steam Deck is a great portable gaming PC for playing video games. 

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Prices updated on 11/28/2023. We are not responsible for any changes on the prices mentioned above.

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Written by
Phoebe Davenport

A book aficionado, you will always be able to rely on Phoebe Davenport for the best book recommendations. On the weekend, you’ll probably find Phoebe at a bottomless brunch in London, at a museum, or chilling at home with her two cats.