Confused on Steam Play and Proton? Be sure to check out our guide.
Finally got a Steam Deck - thoughts and first impressions
Page: 1/2»
  Go to:
Pengling Oct 12, 2023

I was very kindly given a Steam Deck as a gift recently. Now that I've spent a good chunk of time with it, and being a lifelong portables enthusiast (I was one of the idiots who bought into the Tiger Game.com at launch, and even owned a Bandai WonderSwan ), I just wanted to share some thoughts and impressions about the hardware. Note that I'm approaching this from the perspective of a portables enthusiast, as this has more-or-less always been my primary way of gaming - your perspective may differ if you have a preference for stationary gaming gear and/or frequent upgrades.

I will say right out of the gate that the Steam Deck has changed how I play video games completely - and that surprised me quite a bit, because I'm already a portables-only person to begin with. However, the experience that it offers is so thoughtfully-designed and mostly very-well-polished that it feels like a genuine evolution of all of the handhelds that I consider to be past greats. In particular, for me, it feels like a much more advanced evolution of what was offered by the Nintendo 3DS, which was my favourite modern-day dedicated gaming handheld before now.

The first thing that hit me is that, in person, the Steam Deck doesn't appear as big as its dimensions and some pictures would suggest, even though it's a bit bigger than, say, the Nintendo Switch was. It's sort of like a TARDIS, it's really weird! I have small hands, but I find the Steam Deck better to hold than the Switch, because the Switch was way too thin to comfortably use for very long. In terms of grip, it's more similar to the GPD Win Max 2021*, which has been my main gaming-PC for the last couple of years. It seems lighter than that machine, though I don't know if it actually is, or if the centre-of-gravity is simply much better-thought-out - regardless, I'd been told that the Steam Deck is heavy, but it's considerably lighter than I'd expected!

*GPD makes some nice hardware, but they showed themselves up a while ago, and now that more affordable options for handheld PC-gaming are available I wouldn't choose them again.


I first truly put the machine through its paces when Super Bomberman R 2 was released on September 13th of this year. It was my most-eagerly-awaited game of many years, and I had a free day at the time, so I played for nine-and-a-half hours, non-stop! There was never once any hint of hand-cramps, eye-strain, or any sort of discomfort, and the controls proved their worth far beyond any of my testing before that point. I play a lot of maze-chase games, and a whole lot of Bomberman, so reliable, precise controls that I can trust are an absolute must for my handhelds.


At the time of writing, I've now put in almost 105 hours, entirely on the Steam Deck, and all without any issues with either the hardware or my hands, wrists, and arms.

The controls are a perfect match for what the machine is capable of. The last time I saw this on a handheld was with the Nintendo 3DS; It has everything that it needs, no more and no less. It's all laid out well, too - even parts that I thought looked too close to the edges to be comfortable in pictures are actually perfectly fine in reality. I've also been pleasantly surprised by the back-buttons - I didn't think that I would use them, but I've found that they're actually quite handy; At the very least, I always map the screenshot function to the L4 button (rather than using the Steam-button + R1 combo), so that I can get good action-shots!

The inclusion of a carrying case is a great touch - with other handhelds, you'll find yourself spending an extra £10 to £20 to get a case of this sort that wouldn't be as nice as this one (it's not cheaply-made and it's very sturdy). The notch in the back for holding small items is a cool use of space, too, and helps to make the case more universal - for some consoles, you'll find that the cases for them often only have a space to fit smaller US power-supplies, rather than larger UK ones, so I really appreciated this design-choice.

The screen is really nice, too, both in terms of its touch-response, and how it looks; I'm not sold on products that are guaranteed to die, like OLED displays, so what Valve has gone with is perfect for me, as I tend to keep my gear for a long time. I have no idea where the claims about the colours being washed-out have come from, as what I'm seeing on my unit is nice and vibrant - I don't know if this is a difference in perception or a change of parts in more recent batches, though! The resolution is the current industry-standard for handheld gaming devices of this size, and it was the right choice.

The fan is nice and quiet (more so than that of the GPD Win Max 2021, which isn't terrible itself), and the way the unit is laid out means that you typically won't feel the heat that it's pushing out. It's also really good to have easy access to all of the power-management niceties of Linux-based portables, wrapped up in a very user-friendly form. Equally nice is seeing sleep and wake (which at this point always work well on Linux laptops) applied flawlessly, console-style, to a gaming PC - the Steam Deck wouldn't be half as good without it.

The rumble is very weak - it doesn't stand up to what the Nintendo Switch offers, here. However, personally, I can take or leave rumble features in a handheld, so I don't really mind that this feature is lacking. None of my other current portables have rumble at all, anyway.

Setting the machine up was far more intuitive than with the leading handheld brand - everything is very clearly explained and labelled on first-boot (and you can repeat this guided-tour at any time if you need to), and the interface is well-thought-out and easy to navigate overall. I sometimes get a bit discombobulated when picking up a new interface if there's too much going on at once, but that didn't happen here.

I did get a couple of "Compatibility tool failed" errors early on, but that was on me - I was trying to launch a game before the Proton download had started, and I think that could be a bit better-displayed or at least warned about, though I'm not sure how one would go about that.

Generally, though, everything is intuitive and well-labelled, and it's a great touch that the Steam Deck pops up compatibility specifics when you go to install games, along with an easy-to-read diagram showing which controls are used when you launch them. Some examples of that can be found below;







The on-screen keyboard works really nicely, and is also helpfully labelled with button-prompts as well. It's also fine for carrying out quick tasks in desktop-mode, though you wouldn't want to use it that way for long stretches of time.


Desktop-mode is exactly what you'd expect - a full KDE desktop, doing all the desktoppy things that desktops do. I prefer Xfce personally, but being a long-time Linux user I'm not the target-market for this mode - that would mainly be folks who aren't familiar with Linux, and I acknowledge that KDE is absolutely the right choice for that audience. Unfortunately I've experienced the machine crashing (or, one time, getting softlocked, with only mouse-input available, but nothing loaded) five or six times when switching modes, though since the update this week it hasn't happened again yet, and with any luck it will stay that way. I'm not quite sure what to make of this feature - due to the issues I've encountered I feel that it's not as polished as the machine's main purpose, though it would easily work as a laptop-replacement in a pinch, which is definitely a nice extra.

I was particularly impressed with how well the Steam Deck Docking Station works! It's not quite as "automagic" as the Nintendo Switch Dock due to needing to be plugged in manually (which gives a satisfying little click when you do so), but it does offer a lot more utility, which I feel is a worthwhile trade-off. It's also not as fussy as my experiences of docking the Switch, where that hardware would be picky about output resolutions and colour-depth and just didn't like some brands of HDMI cables, all of which frequently led to no output and a lot of frustration. I did not experience any of this with the Steam Deck - I hooked up the dock, the Deck immediately told me that it needed to apply an update to it, and once that was done it auto-detected my display, automatically set the correct resolution, and was simply ready to go. As an aside, pairing my Xbox Series X controller (my preferred wireless gamepad at this time) was effortless - it worked right away, and the Deck didn't have any issues with handing over to an external controller. And unlike the Nintendo Switch's provided controllers, you're not stuck with sitting at a particular (fairly short) distance and strange angle relative to the docked system in order to not lose wireless connectivity, which is a much better experience of docked handheld play than I was getting before.

It's utterly incredible that Valve can offer hardware this well-thought-out and capable for the prices that they do, and I can see that they're playing a long game here, as it's cheaper than a lot of laptops that I've encountered (Linux or not, and usually not well-suited for gaming), and, when docked, also a great "stealth" introduction to desktop Linux for those who haven't used it before. On that note, the dock feels like the idea behind the Coleco Adam, Sega SG-1000 with SK-1100 keyboard, and Nintendo Famicom with Family BASIC keyboard, but done right - even with the occasional wrinkles that I've come across with switching to and from desktop-mode, the technology has finally caught up with the concept.

Given the affordability of gaming on Steam alone (never mind all of the other platforms that you can make use of, because at the end of the day it's a PC), especially if you're patient and are willing to wait for sales, key-bundles, or to take a chance on cheap mystery bundles every so often, I can easily see the Steam Deck and dock appealing to those looking to combine gaming and proper (i.e., not tablet-based consumption) computing on a budget, too. Gaming does tend to drive tech-adoption, after all.

I should note, here, that, being British and in my 40s, when I was a youngster home-microcomputers were THE only viable gaming platforms in this country and I got a Commodore 64C when I was eight years old, so I've always appreciated the lifelong transferrable computing skills that I learned back then. Whilst consoles are definitely convenient, with the background that I have I would recommend the Steam Deck over those to others every time. And that's what I'm doing - it's a well-polished device that's mostly consolised and very hassle-free to use, and in my experience there's no other handheld PC out there that offers as good of an experience right now.
StoneColdSpider Oct 12, 2023
Quoting: Pengling(I was one of the idiots who bought into the Tiger Game.com at launch, and even owned a Bandai WonderSwan )
Gamecom active.......


Quoting: PenglingThe first thing that hit me is that, in person, the Steam Deck doesn't appear as big as its dimensions and some pictures would suggest
Thats what she said......

Quoting: PenglingI first truly put the machine through its paces when Super Bomberman R 2 was released on September 13th of this year. It was my most-eagerly-awaited game of many years
I never would have guessed...... Im totally shocked......

Quoting: PenglingThe inclusion of a carrying case is a great touch - with other handhelds, you'll find yourself spending an extra £10 to £20 to get a case of this sort that wouldn't be as nice as this one (it's not cheaply-made and it's very sturdy)
Dont you have a handbag to put it in???........

Quoting: Penglingboth in terms of its touch-response, and how it looks
And you reckon im crass.....

Quoting: PenglingThe rumble is very weak
Theres SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much I could say to that........

Quoting: PenglingDesktop-mode is exactly what you'd expect - a full KDE desktop, doing all the desktoppy things that desktops do. I prefer Xfce personally, but being a long-time Linux user I'm not the target-market for this mode - that would mainly be folks who aren't familiar with Linux, and I acknowledge that KDE is absolutely the right choice for that audience.
I use KDE Plasma on my desktop PC and I find it to be absolutely great.......

Quoting: PenglingIt's utterly incredible that Valve can offer hardware this well-thought-out and capable for the prices that they do
As long as you live in a region where it is available.... If not it might as well cost a million dollarydoos and be made of anthrax.....

Quoting: PenglingI should note, here, that, being British and in my 40s
My condolences.......

Quoting: Penglingwhen I was a youngster home-microcomputers were THE only viable gaming platforms in this country and I got a Commodore 64C when I was eight years old, so I've always appreciated the lifelong transferrable computing skills that I learned back then. Whilst consoles are definitely convenient, with the background that I have I would recommend the Steam Deck over those to others every time. And that's what I'm doing - it's a well-polished device that's mostly consolised and very hassle-free to use, and in my experience there's no other handheld PC out there that offers as good of an experience right now.
Glad you are enjoying it so much........ Sounds like a really great product.......

Now let us all bow our heads and pray for Lord Gaben
LordDaveTheKind Oct 13, 2023
British and in my 40s too here lol

I posted a picture a few months ago on my first year with the Deck. And so much has been achieved also in the subsequent 6 months.

Salvatos Oct 13, 2023
Good post. I didn’t think I would read all the way through, but here I am. :thumbup:
denyasis 8 years Oct 15, 2023
Great post!

I got a deck a few months ago. Biggest issue I have is finding games in my library that work well with it. Usually there is some investment in controller set up required, but so far it's a good experience!

My secret dream is to be able to use a Link to play a game on my TV (with the family) and use the deck as a "controller". Since the Steam Controller is basically deprecated, I've noticed even "Deck verified" titles don't always work well with a Link/Controller combo (looking at you, Rimworld, lol)... I really like the Deck's controls, maybe it'll turn into a Controller 2 one day, I hope.
Pengling Oct 16, 2023
Quoting: StoneColdSpiderGamecom active.......
That was surprisingly not as annoying as you might think, since the home-consoles of the time had also recently introduced start-up jingles of this sort, too.

What was annoying was the absolutely awful screen (if I'm remembering right, it generated each frame in four passes, on an extremely slow and blurry display which wasn't even close to being as good as the fairly-bad screen of the original Game Boy), and unbelievably bad software-support. I don't think even the surprisingly-good cancelled conversion of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night could've saved it - after all, folks forget that SotN wasn't actually well-received at the time due to being 2D, and only began earning most of its praise years later, in the early 2000s.

Quoting: StoneColdSpiderThats what she said......



Quoting: StoneColdSpiderI never would have guessed...... Im totally shocked......


Quoting: StoneColdSpiderDont you have a handbag to put it in???........
I'm not the sort of woman who uses a handbag, hahaha! I'd never be able to fit all of my gear in one of those things! I always use a backpack, or at the very least this lovely tote-bag featuring the Bomber-sisters;



That's about as feminine as my bags get - and it's still completely geeky.

Even so, I would still want the Steam Deck in a protective case.

Quoting: StoneColdSpiderAnd you reckon im crass.....
Quoting: StoneColdSpiderTheres SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much I could say to that........
Demonstrating my point for me, my friend.

Quoting: StoneColdSpiderI use KDE Plasma on my desktop PC and I find it to be absolutely great.......
Oh, it's certainly good - it's just massively overkill for my requirements, with a lot of information packed in all over the place, and it gets a bit cramped at 1280x800 where Xfce does not.

Xfce wouldn't do the job on the Steam Deck, though - it's too simple and lightweight for what a lot of folks expect from a modern desktop, and I know that it doesn't suit everyone.

Quoting: StoneColdSpiderAs long as you live in a region where it is available.... If not it might as well cost a million dollarydoos and be made of anthrax.....
They REALLY need to sort that out.

Quoting: StoneColdSpiderMy condolences.......
Haha.

Quoting: StoneColdSpiderGlad you are enjoying it so much........ Sounds like a really great product.......
It really is. It's a world of difference from sticking gaming controls on a device that just uses a standard OS, be that a Linux distro (which is what's on my GPD Win Max 2021) or Microsoft Windows.

Quoting: StoneColdSpiderNow let us all bow our heads and pray for Lord Gaben


Quoting: LordDaveTheKindBritish and in my 40s too here lol

I posted a picture a few months ago on my first year with the Deck. And so much has been achieved also in the subsequent 6 months.

Ooh, I like this idea a lot, as I literally do about 99% of my gaming on the Deck now. I'll have to keep it in mind!

Epic list, by the way - will you be doing more in the future?

Quoting: SalvatosGood post. I didn’t think I would read all the way through, but here I am. :thumbup:
Thanks very much for taking the time to read it - I really appreciate it.

Quoting: denyasisGreat post!
Thankyou!

Quoting: denyasisI got a deck a few months ago. Biggest issue I have is finding games in my library that work well with it. Usually there is some investment in controller set up required, but so far it's a good experience!
My taste in games means that I generally don't have to alter the layouts at all, so I've done well there. If anything, I've had to remove a few extraneous mappings from some official layouts, where I didn't want the back-buttons mirroring the face-buttons.

I do love the interface for customising controller layouts - it works so well. I now consider it the gold standard for that sort of feature.

Quoting: denyasisMy secret dream is to be able to use a Link to play a game on my TV (with the family) and use the deck as a "controller". Since the Steam Controller is basically deprecated, I've noticed even "Deck verified" titles don't always work well with a Link/Controller combo (looking at you, Rimworld, lol)... I really like the Deck's controls, maybe it'll turn into a Controller 2 one day, I hope.
I would love a controller derived from the controls offered by the Steam Deck - they're such high-quality controls, and it would complete the "docked" package to have a matching controller to go with it all.

Last edited by Pengling on 16 October 2023 at 4:24 pm UTC
Arehandoro Oct 18, 2023
I'm not British, though I live in Britain, and 40 next year... where do I send applications to belong to the club? :P

Jokes aside, very good post!! I'm missing some impressions on battery life, though, and how well it compares based on the games you play on other consoles, etc.
Pengling Oct 18, 2023
Quoting: ArehandoroI'm not British, though I live in Britain, and 40 next year... where do I send applications to belong to the club? :P
It's automatic once you turn 40. (However, getting a Steam Deck at 40 might not be automatic. )

Quoting: ArehandoroJokes aside, very good post!!
Haha, thanks very much!

Quoting: ArehandoroI'm missing some impressions on battery life, though,
It's a good thing you mentioned that, because I just completely forgot to write that down!

I'm finding that, with the stock settings but a much-lower brightness (I don't like my displays too bright), I get about the same as I got/get out of other handhelds in a vaguely-similar power-bracket - it's similar to the 3 to 4 hours that the stock original-model Nintendo Switch and the GPD Win Max 2021 get, but I'd say that the performance is better because it's designed to do one job well, whereas the Switch is repurposed Nvidia Shield guts and the GPD Win Max 2021 is just a half-sized x86 laptop with a control-pad built into it.

I have yet to mess with any power-management tricks, though - I put off investigating it for now, after I found that it causes some of my games to run at half-speed. When I tried Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection (a package containing six emulated Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS games, which is presumably locked to 60Hz because the original consoles were) at 40Hz, it was like trying to run through mush!

Quoting: Arehandoroand how well it compares based on the games you play on other consoles, etc.
I'm sorry to say that I don't quite have a direct answer for that one, as I don't have anything that I can compare to - as I alluded to in another similarly-lengthy topic, a years-long series of disappointments with Nintendo* led to me ditching consoles altogether two years ago (mine's always been a primarily-handhelds setup, so I've been waiting for the technology to catch up). I game on Linux only, now.

*Just so nobody mistakes me for those types who will tolerate and praise all of the anti-consumer nonsense that Nintendo pulls: Even when I was a fan, I was never happy with those poor practises and was willing to call them out, which meant that I never really fit in with most of that fandom. I bailed after they stopped making most of the series that I enjoyed, and then took the remaining few I liked off in directions that I didn't enjoy at all, and became increasingly predatory with their monetisation along with it, so there was no reason to keep putting up with them. I don't see that situation improving, and I have no intention of going back. I would describe myself as a "Nintendo expat", I guess.

That said, I feel that the Steam Deck is a vastly superior experience to how my gaming life was before! So I guess I can compare to that: Steam is a lot more affordable than Nintendo's offering, and when there are sales there are actually substantial discounts, not to mention that gaming on Linux/Steam Deck means that your stuff stays working for a lot longer (anyone who's even somewhat used to Nintendo will know that their modern-day approach is to try to gloss over the past and shuffle people on to the newest installments, past digital purchases be damned). I recently picked up the original Portal for 85p in a sale - meanwhile, Nintendo is happy to release up-ports of games of a similar vintage for £40 to £50. Also, you'll typically see a delay of at least a year for indie games to jump from Steam to Nintendo's consoles. There's just a whole lot more variety on Steam.

And not only that, but as far as my tastes are concerned, times are changing - due to massive growth in PC-gaming in Japan over the last few years (which, given my strongly arcade and console influenced history, is where a number of my favourite games hail from), where, for example, Super Bomberman R was a Switch-exclusive for its first year, Super Bomberman R 2 seems to have had the Steam version as its lead version (its first public showing was the Steam version, and I tracked its development by keeping an eye on its SteamDB page after a fellow GOL'er showed me how to use it), so what I like and how I want to play it is now treated as a first-class day-and-date citizen by Japanese developers, which has probably been helped along by the Steam Deck's availability there (you can buy them at retail in Japan). I fully expect this to continue a few years down the line when we'll hopefully see Super Bomberman R 3.
Arehandoro Oct 18, 2023
Quoting: PenglingIt's automatic once you turn 40. (However, getting a Steam Deck at 40 might not be automatic. )

Lucky I got one last year! :D

Thanks for taking the time to write about the battery. I haven't played that much on my one for a while. Not taking public transport so often, and not travelling that much either, kind of allows me to play on the desktop more. I think the title I played the most time on it was Pentiment last December, whilst having a back injury, and a bit of Disco Elysium.
Liam Dawe Oct 19, 2023
All this would make for a nice article wink wink nudge nudge
Pengling Oct 19, 2023
Quoting: ArehandoroLucky I got one last year! :D
And you didn't even have to turn 40 to do it.

Quoting: ArehandoroThanks for taking the time to write about the battery.
Glad to do it - thanks for reminding me that I missed it!

Quoting: ArehandoroI haven't played that much on my one for a while. Not taking public transport so often, and not travelling that much either, kind of allows me to play on the desktop more. I think the title I played the most time on it was Pentiment last December, whilst having a back injury, and a bit of Disco Elysium.
I've always got mine on me regardless of where I am, and I personally find it just as convenient at home as anywhere else. That said, being a handhelds person, the Steam Deck is the most powerful hardware I own*, as well as the best experience of any of them, so it's naturally become the first choice!

*Here's my fleet, as shown on my profile.


Anbernic RG351MP, GPD MicroPC, GPD Win Max 2021, Entroware Orion i5, and Steam Deck.

Quoting: Liam DaweAll this would make for a nice article wink wink nudge nudge
These were really just my informal notes taken over the course of my first month-and-a-bit with the machine - hence why I managed to forget about the battery-life thing, haha!

Still, if you'd like me to take a bit of time to refine this and add in some of the bits that I opted to leave out (I left out my experience of adding Minetest* as a non-Steam game, which went very well and was eye-opening since it turns out that Valve allows community controller layouts for non-Steam software, for example), and do a bit more docked stuff so I can properly write about that (I haven't used desktop-mode when docked yet, though I have tested out the dock with a USB hub and an unholy rats'-nest of controllers), I'd be more than happy to - I really enjoy writing stuff like this.

*The Deck's ergonomics are so damn good - this took ages, but it was painless;

While you're here, please consider supporting GamingOnLinux on:

Reward Tiers: Patreon. Plain Donations: PayPal.

This ensures all of our main content remains totally free for everyone! Patreon supporters can also remove all adverts and sponsors! Supporting us helps bring good, fresh content. Without your continued support, we simply could not continue!

You can find even more ways to support us on this dedicated page any time. If you already are, thank you!
Login / Register


Or login with...
Sign in with Steam Sign in with Google
Social logins require cookies to stay logged in.