Less than a month after its initial announcement, Valve have invited a group of techies out to put their mitts on the upcoming Steam Deck handheld. Valve handed them over to several different sites to take for a spin with a selection of games including Control, Doom Eternal, Hades, and others. Not your RPS crew, alas, unless I massively missed a memo about Katharine being in Seattle.
In liu of us getting our own hands on the thing, here's what everyone who got to did had to say about it. The long and short is pretty positive: comfortable controls despite the large size and good performance even if the battery life may trend towards the low end of Valve's targets.
Now, inevitably, everyone is going to compare the Steam Deck to the Nintendo Switch. That is still definitely a point of reference for just about everyone who's gotten their hands on the thing this week—on everything from the size of the machine itself to performance to peripheral support and so on.
One common commentary from just about everyone so far seems to be that the thing looks even bigger in person. Compared to the Switch, that is. It isn't terribly heavy though, coming in at 1.47 lbs (669 grams) compared to the 0.88 lbs (399g) of the original Switch.
When it comes to comfort, most everyone mentions that the Deck actually fits pretty comfortably in the hand. "It took me maybe 10 seconds with the analog sticks to be certain I vastly prefer them to the Nintendo Switch's joycons. It helps that they're much bigger, with a fluid rotation and design I'd compare to an Xbox analog stick," says PC Gamer. "Don't worry about that B button—it may look like it's hanging off the edge of the Deck, but in use it's no problem."
Giant Bomb gets into all sorts of topics in their video right here. Early on they do a quick side-by-side test of the Deck and the Switch each loading up Hades, which the Deck was able to do faster.
Giant Bomb also talk a bit about battery life, saying that they were actively using the Deck for about an hour and a half which took the device down to about 30% battery. That's worth taking note of, given Valve's initial announcement that gave battery life expectations of 2-8 hours. You may be able to play eight hours of Solitaire, but not Doom Eternal, obviously.
Booting up a game from your library is allegedly as easy as can be. "Playing the game it was so easy to forget I was there to test out a new machine, and playing on a work in progress prototype, because there was no friction," says GamesRadar. "The game just felt so right my brain slipped straight into gaming mode."
For a different comparison, Linus Tech Tips spends some time judging the Deck against the AYA NEO handheld instead. There are more compliments on the Deck's analog sticks here as well, though LTT do point out again that the Deck is a larger device with a thicker profile. When it comes to handheld devices, the Deck is definitely going to be on the beefy side.
It is good to see some initial positivity about the analog sticks, which Valve have said they didn't want to take risks on. I've got a bad case of stick drift on one of my own Switch joycons and would certainly be bummed to see that issue crop up again in another handheld device.
Initial hands-on impressions seem rather on the positive side, then. Naturally, this is the Steam Deck in a controlled environment. The real test will be when thousands of eager pre-orderers all start getting their hands on the Decks.
In a recent intervew, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell said that gamers have never had a good portable gaming option. I like my Switch as much as the next person, but it does indeed come with Nintendo's restrictions. If the Steam Deck is really as dummy-proof as folks are making it sound, or as dummy-proof as PC gaming gets anyhow, maybe the Steam Deck really does have a shot at being a new ubiquitous portable gaming option.