Steam Deck Battle: Why the OLED Model Might Signal LCD’s Demise
Regret may be echoing for those who recently purchased a Steam Deck before the surprise unveiling of Valve’s new and improved OLED model. The announcement caught many off guard, as the Steam Deck OLED proved to be a superior version of the original LCD, all while maintaining a nearly identical price point. The r/SteamDeck forum quickly became a space flooded with new owners expressing their remorse over what now seemed like a less optimal choice. However, amidst the commotion and the allure of the sleek OLED model, it’s crucial to assert a clear truth: the Steam Deck LCD remains a formidable contender in the handheld PC arena.
Valve, evidently still standing by the LCD model’s capabilities, continues to make the 256GB version of the Steam Deck available at a reduced price of $399, even with two OLED models positioned above it. This review is crafted for those considering Valve’s entry-level handheld and for the original Steam Deck owners seeking reassurance in their device choices. Let’s delve into an exploration of the Steam Deck LCD’s merits and its enduring relevance in the fast-evolving landscape of portable gaming.
The journey of the Steam Deck traces back to my review in February 2022, where I described it as the offspring of a drunken union between the Vita and the Wii U, conceived on the grounds of Linux. Now, almost two years later, that sentiment stands firm. The Steam Deck shares characteristics with the Vita, offering portability and supporting multiple input methods. However, its bulkiness ensures that, much like the Wii U, it rarely ventures beyond the confines of my home. What truly sets it apart is its native support for Steam, a colossal advantage for users valuing simplicity and ease of use in their gaming experiences.
At its core, the 256GB Steam Deck packs a punch, capable of running a myriad of Steam games, including heavyweight titles like Elden Ring, Armored Core VI, and Cyberpunk 2077. Powered by a custom 7nm AMD APU, 16GB of speedy RAM, a 40Whr battery, and a 7-inch, 800p LCD boasting a maximum refresh rate of 60Hz, the handheld device delivers a performance that competes with industry standards. The LCD display, with a peak brightness of 400 nits, holds its ground against contemporaries like the Switch OLED.
Performance is not a mere boast for the Steam Deck LCD; it’s a tangible reality. Visually captivating games such as The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, Dave the Diver, and Rollerdrome showcase their beauty and play seamlessly on the device. Granted, the LCD has its limitations—the blacks aren’t as deep, and dark backgrounds may exhibit a subtle gray tinge. However, these constraints do not overshadow the overall gaming experience, especially when immersed in the heat of gameplay.
The Steam Deck LCD stands out not only for its performance but also for its versatile input options. In addition to the standard dual-analog inputs, the device features a touchscreen, two haptic pads flanking the display, and four back-panel buttons that provide a satisfying, bassy click. Storage space, a critical consideration for many users, has proven to be accommodating. As someone who tends to gravitate towards indie games of varying sizes, ranging from 200MB to 80GB, I currently have 22 titles installed on my Steam Deck, leaving me with 9GB of breathing room. Storage, in practical terms, has not posed a significant challenge.
However, the not-so-subtle presence of heat during prolonged use is an aspect that demands acknowledgment. The Steam Deck LCD generates enough warmth to make palms clammy after about 30 minutes of gameplay. While the grips tend to accumulate warmth, the device manages to stay within bearable limits. The fan, consistently expelling warm air from the top, does so without becoming an obnoxious distraction.
Turning our attention to battery life, the Steam Deck LCD, admittedly, does not stand out for its stellar endurance. Valve asserts that the device can last up to eight hours on a single charge. However, in practical scenarios, the longest run I’ve achieved is around four and a half hours. Adjusting brightness and refresh rate can extend battery life, but in my experience, battery concerns have never escalated to emergencies. The device typically resides at home, within close proximity to a charging cable, ensuring a secure and warm sanctuary for the device (likely aided by its thermals).
Various adjectives have been used to characterize the Steam Deck—monstrous, massive, hefty, beefy, and beastly—all of which remain fitting. The dimensions of the Steam Deck LCD, measuring 11.7 inches in length, 4.6 inches in height, 1.9 inches in thickness, and weighing 1.5 pounds, set it apart in a league of its own. In comparison, the Switch Lite and Vita each weigh approximately half a pound, while the Wii U gamepad tips the scales at just over 1 pound. Holding the Steam Deck feels unusual, especially for someone with smaller-than-average hands like mine. Palms tend to cramp up after a mere 10 minutes of gameplay, prompting frequent
searches for more comfortable ways to hold the device. This sentiment extends to the OLED model, which shares the same chassis and essentially the same weight.
To counteract the strain induced by the Steam Deck’s weight, a peculiar solution has emerged in the form of stuffed animals. As an individual with a penchant for claw machines, I’ve found certain stuffed animals to be perfect props for the Steam Deck, allowing me to rest the device on my lap without straining my neck. The stuffed roast chicken, in particular, has proven to be a versatile companion, rarely venturing far from the Steam Deck.
Another, non-stuffed solution has emerged in the form of the Docking Station—an innovation that I’ve come to appreciate wholeheartedly. With recent software updates, Valve is embracing the inherent nature of the Steam Deck as a primarily at-home device. The Docking Station facilitates connections to external displays such as gaming monitors and TVs, transforming the Steam Deck into a revamped Steam Machine. In docked mode, both the OLED and LCD Steam Decks share identical performance targets, supporting external HDR and VRR, even if the device’s display cannot sustain these features. In my usage, the Docking Station has primarily found its place in the living room, turning my Steam Deck into a versatile gaming console.
Bluetooth connectivity, however, remains a mixed bag on the Steam Deck LCD. In recent testing, pairing an 8bitdo Ultimate Controller and my old Galaxy Buds Plus proved to be a seamless process. Yet, my attempts to connect the new Galaxy Buds2 Pro have been met with persistent issues. This Bluetooth inconsistency has been a lingering concern since the Steam Deck LCD’s inception, and while not surprising, it does pose occasional frustrations.
Perhaps the most significant evolution witnessed in the Steam Deck’s journey lies within the Steam platform itself. The introduction of a classification system for games, indicating their compatibility with the handheld device, has been transformative. Initially, only about 10% of my Steam library was classified as Verified for the Steam Deck, and the significance of this classification was unclear. Today, that number has grown to 30%, with 74% of my library being either Verified or Playable. Verified titles seamlessly run on the Steam Deck, while Playable games, although requiring minor optimizations like using the on-screen keyboard, provide a satisfactory gaming experience. A quick Steam search reveals a growing list of 11,229 Verified or Playable Steam Deck games, surpassing the library of any console released to date.
In the current landscape, most mainstream games launch on the Steam Deck with either Verified or Playable status. Games that support gamepad input tend to translate well to the handheld, offering a diverse and rich gaming experience. The Steam Deck’s built-in game store stands as a significant advantage for those looking for a portable PC gaming device that is easy to pick up and play, positioning it favorably against competitors in the handheld market.
The handheld PC sector has experienced a surge in activity over the past two years, with various devices emerging from manufacturers like Ayaneo, Lenovo, Ayn, and ASUS. The Steam Deck, historically priced more competitively, with the $399 model offering unparalleled value, has maintained its appeal. Initially, the $399 model featured only 64GB of storage, making the current deal even more enticing. While competitors have closed in on price and, in some cases, surpassed in performance, the Steam Deck LCD still typically costs around $600 for a handheld device.
A direct competitor to the Steam Deck LCD is the Steam Deck OLED. While I won’t attempt to undermine the merits of the LCD model, if you find yourself with the extra funds, opting for the OLED version is a wise choice. The Steam Deck OLED comes in two configurations: 512GB for $549 and 1TB for $649. These price points are commendable, especially considering the OLED model’s enhanced features—a 7.4-inch OLED display with native HDR, faster frame rates, pure blacks, and a peak brightness of 1,000 nits. The new model also boasts improved Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, better thermals and weight distribution, longer battery life, and distinctive orange accents. While the OLED version maintains the same size as the LCD edition and doesn’t offer upgrades in processing power, it undeniably stands out as a superior choice.
However, it’s crucial to emphasize that choosing the OLED model does not diminish the value of the LCD version. In the broader context of the handheld gaming sector, the Steam Deck LCD provides an exceptional return on investment. Its out-of-the-box usability, support for various input methods, and competitive pricing make it an attractive choice for those entering the portable PC gaming space. Despite its size and limitations in battery life, the Steam Deck LCD stands as a testament to Valve’s commitment to delivering a user-friendly, accessible gaming device.
Reflecting on two years of usage, my Steam Deck LCD continues to serve its purpose as an in-home portable device. Its journey involves traversing between the living room, office, and bedroom throughout the week, much like its initial days in my possession. The notable change lies in the device’s expanded library, reflecting the evolving landscape of compatible games. Additionally, a peculiar habit has developed—ensuring the presence of a suitably sized stuffed animal in proximity to the Steam Deck, providing a quirky solution to the device’s weight.
In conclusion, the Steam Deck LCD, amidst the rapidly evolving landscape of handheld PCs, maintains its relevance and offers a compelling choice for those seeking a portable gaming device. While the OLED model introduces notable enhancements, the LCD version’s value proposition remains formidable. For users unswayed by its size and primarily focused on in-home gaming experiences, the Steam Deck LCD proves to be an excellent investment, standing the test of time and technological advancements.