The Steam Deck OLED releases officially from Valve today, bringing with it numerous improvements to my favourite Linux-powered gaming handheld and here's my initial thoughts on spending some time with it. I originally reviewed the LCD Steam Deck back at release since Valve sent over a review unit and they did the same for the Steam Deck OLED.
Pictured - 1TB Steam Deck OLED with Dying Light 2
Disclosure: much like the original Steam Deck, Valve said I can keep the Steam Deck OLED for ongoing coverage.
The new models are:
|£479 / $549 512GB OLED||£569 / $649 1TB OLED|
|512GB NVMe SSD||1TB NVMe SSD
|1280 x 800 HDR OLED display||1280 x 800 HDR OLED display with premium anti-glare etched glass|
|7.4" Diagonal display size||7.4" Diagonal display size|
|6 nm APU||6 nm APU|
|Wi-Fi 6E||Wi-Fi 6E|
|50Whr battery; 3-12 hours of gameplay (content-dependent)||50Whr battery; 3-12 hours of gameplay (content-dependent)|
|45W Power supply with 2.5m cable||45W Power supply with 2.5m cable|
|Carrying case||Carrying case with removable liner|
|Steam profile bundle||Steam profile bundle|
|Exclusive startup movie|
|Exclusive virtual keyboard theme|
Plus there's a Limited Edition Steam Deck OLED with different exclusive colours for the 1TB model but that is only available in the USA / Canada and it's in limited quantities. For the release Valve said they are limiting the Steam Deck OLED purchases to one per customer per week, but this will be relaxed when they are confident they can meet the demand.
While it's refresh of the existing Steam Deck, it really is quite a different beast. Looks wise though, it's pretty much the same at first glance with the same shell size apart from the new slightly bigger thumbstick design, and a new coloured power button that's a little higher. The new thumbsticks are much nicer though and more concave than the older design, so they're easier to keep your thumbs actually on them. Funny how even the smallest of tweaks makes the Steam Deck OLED so much nicer to actually play games on directly as it really does make a big difference. Even without using HDR, the Steam Deck OLED screen is just far superior in standard games.
Looks are very much deceiving overall here though, because once you turn it on and start using it — clearly this is not the Steam Deck I've come to know and love. It's just better. That display is just…gosh, the difference between it and the LCD is completely ridiculous. It's brighter, it's clearer, the colours are better and it's slightly bigger too and with it going up to 90Hz it's pure joy to play with. HDR support is working well, although there's not a whole lot to test with and finding them isn't actually that easy but Valve did just recently add HDR Support notices into the previous Steam Beta update and hopefully soon a proper category on the Steam Store to make finding them easier again. From the picture above showing Ori and the Will of the Wisps, with both on max brightness and the OLED with HDR it should be clear enough how much richer the colours are. Not just that, but so much more battery time!
Since it's the same shell, the vast majority of existing accessories will still fit as well, which I did a short demo on in a recent video showing the Deckmate, dbrand Killswitch and the JSAUX Modcase. So you won't have to go out and buy a whole bunch of new kit to go with it, which is really great. Not everything though. Some screen protectors won't fit if they didn't cover the entire screen area including the bezels, and with the thumbsticks tweaked design that's just slightly bigger so most thumbstick covers likely won't fit either (my dbrand thumbstick covers didn't fit properly and easily pop-off).
There's improvements to some of the buttons as well too which is good to see. The Steam and Quick Access Menu buttons that were notoriously spongy and kind-of awful feeling on both my LCD models have been adjusted to give a nice muted click feeling. The Select and Menu buttons at the top of the unit also feel a bit more clicky too. Not an audible click though, just the click-feel.
Cooling is massively improved too. While I don't have thermal equipment and have to rely on touch, it's noticeably cooler where it counts. The biggest improvement is the fan though, something that was an issue on the original LCD model that was split between two different fans. Here, the fan is bigger and quieter than both of my LCD models (one of which has that annoying high-pitch noise). It's more like a gentle blowing sound that you would expect from something pumping out a lot of heat and with the Steam Deck audio turned up even to 50% - I simply can't hear the fan. Absolutely wonderful.
Charging speed was something I was keen to test as Valve said they "improved battery chemistry for faster charging, from 20% to 80% in as little as 45 minutes" — so that was put to the test in my own way. Bringing both an OLED and LCD down to 10% charge (where you get the on-screen warning) and then leaving them plugged in while turned on but completely idle, at 50% screen brightness on I saw:
- 512GB LCD to 90%: 2 hours, 11 minutes.
- 1TB OLED to 90%: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Most people of course will likely charge while the unit is asleep though, so of course I tested that too. Running the Steam Deck down until it gave the yellow on-screen 10% warning again up to the LED showing full charge:
- 512GB LCD: 2 hours 31 minutes
- 1TB OLED: 1 hour 33 minutes
So that's nearly a full hour faster to charge in sleep mode to a full charge. So yes, the OLED really will charge faster despite the bigger battery too thanks to their improvements. This is great news for people in a rush, or for people who keep leaving it on sleep and forgetting to charge it because that is surprisingly quick and I’m really happy with those results, Valve did a great job on the new battery for the Steam Deck OLED.
Actually in-game time though, how’s the battery life there (see my latest OLED Q&A video Part 2!)? Testing with 50% brightness, 50% volume I picked Cyberpunk 2077 and DiRT Rally. DiRT Rally actually has a benchmark mode you can infinitely loop, making this a good test. For DiRT Rally on Medium settings at 60FPS the Steam Deck OLED model gave a good 2 hours extra battery life around 5 hours compared to 3 hours on the older Steam Deck LCD. The OLED was also consistently using less power at all the same settings.
How does this translate to other titles though? Testing Cyberpunk 2077, matching up all settings at 30FPS locked using the same save I saw similar results to DiRT Rally with less power being used. Using the Steam Deck graphics preset, it was giving a good solid extra hour battery life. So it went from around 1 hour 30 on the Steam Deck LCD up to 2 hours 30 on the Steam Deck OLED.
From other games I've tested like Elden Ring and various others including plenty of smaller indie games, the battery life is just clearly better. But not just that, there are some differences in the performance I've seen too. Every game so far has been at least a little bit noticeably smoother. Not overly surprising though, given the RAM speed bump from 5500 MT/s to 6400 MT/s, and since I've seen it run cooler and use less power while gaming as well, it's probably not hitting the limits the LCD is allowing the OLED performance to stay up top. It's not drastic though, we're talking a couple FPS and a little bit smoother frame-timing. I'll have more on that in future articles / videos.
For people who enjoy docking their Steam Deck, the Steam Deck OLED's ability to wake from Bluetooth with controllers is another really nice addition. With the release firmware update, I've tested this working with a latest-gen Xbox controller, and with a PlayStation 4 controller. A bit quirky though, as the Deck OLED blips back to life for a second or so on Sleep at times and then fully sleeps. So as always, a few little niggling issues for Valve still to sort but it does work. Now when I want to play docked on my sofa with my 4K TV, I can just flop onto my sofa, gab my controller and jump back into whatever game I told it to go to sleep with.
Since we've seen that Valve constantly upgrade all the software from the Steam Client to SteamOS itself (that they sometimes decide to call Steam Deck OS), we know it's only going to keep getting better for both the LCD and OLED and I can't wait to see what else they have cooking. Plus, with it being more repairable than before due to the internal redesign and new case screws, it's going to have a long healthy life. While I aimed to talk about various bits here, there's plenty of things I've missed and this should not be considered a final review by any means since Valve do change things quite often (and I've had a lot less time with the OLED to review compared with the LCD at release). So be sure to follow the Steam Deck tag for all the incoming news.
If you were previously considering buying a Steam Deck - I can't see a reason not to just finally go for it. For people who already have a Steam Deck, it's still a very impressive upgrade when taking the sum of all the improvements together from the massively improved screen to the healthy battery life boost.
Overall and simply put: I cannot imagine going back to the LCD model after toying with the Steam Deck OLED. It's better in pretty much every way aside from a big performance bump that we can expect from an eventual Steam Deck 2. It's a thing of beauty and my new constant companion. It may not be a next-generation thing but at this point it's close enough.
Be sure to check out all my videos with multiple recent Steam Deck OLED videos on the GamingOnLinux YouTube Channel.