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Valve Steam Deck OLED review – possibly the best console I’ve ever owned

The Steam Deck OLED changed the way I play video games

I’ve been putting off writing this review of the Steam Deck OLED ($549, $649). You see, I’ve been waiting for the clouds to clear to give me a better sense of whether my head is stuck in them, but I’m just going to come out and say it: it’s one of the best game consoles I’ve owned.

The first few days were a haze as I switched between dozens of games to test the machine’s limits. It doesn’t have many. If a title is Steam Deck Verified (you can filter the library to show only these), it runs on this portable console, usually at a high (90Hz) and relatively stable frame rate.

It takes a while to load a game up the first time you play something (as it spends a few minutes compiling its magic shaders), but it’s genuinely impressive once you’re in the action. It can struggle with more intensive modern games, but they’re perfectly playable. It’s a complete game-changer – games I never imagined being portable suddenly are – and the pin-sharp, bright OLED screen means I barely even miss my television.

Let’s start with that screen, which is almost half an inch bigger, corner to corner, than the original Steam Deck’s. The old IPS display is gone, swapped out for an OLED screen capable of deeper blacks, a higher range of color, and better viewing angles. It might only be 720p, but you’ll barely notice thanks to the quality.

The entire Hitman series is in your hands. You can play GTA 4 on an OLED screen while sitting on your sofa. You can complete the character creation part of Baldur’s Gate 3 on a long train journey. Punch a Penguin in Batman: Arkham Knight while sipping on a Starbucks. Forget Portable Ops – play Metal Gear Solid V on the toilet.

Even strategy games like Stranded: Alien Dawn work a treat. Elden Ring, Sekiro, Sifu, Traveller’s Rest, and Death Stranding – just some of the games I’ve been playing and loving on the Deck. Some of them are Deck Verified and some – MGSV and GTA 4, for example – are not, but they run great anyway.

You can even plug the Steam Deck into a screen and use it as a PC.

You can even plug the Steam Deck into a screen and use it as a PC.

Steam’s library is the most robust and varied digital store in the world, and it’s entirely at your fingertips. If you use your Nintendo Switch as an indie games machine, consider, well, switching.

Besides the library, another advantage of the Deck is its inputs. The sticks don’t feel like they’re going to snap off under the weight of your thumb! What a concept. It takes a little getting used to the placement of the D-pad, but there’s little else to complain about when it comes to ergonomics and design. Maybe it’s a little heavy for some, but you’ll be fine if you can open a jar of peanut butter.

I’m also impressed by how quiet it is. It’s a thin console – 4.6 by 11.7 by 1.9 inches (H,W,D) – and it barely makes a noise when you’re throwing processing power at it. The heat dissipation is so good that it stays cool throughout.

My only real gripe is the battery life. If you’re playing a triple-A game, you’ll get a few hours at the most (still an improvement of around one-third over the original model) if you’re not hooked up to the charger. Still, it’s not the end of the world and it’s easy enough to carry the charger with you when traveling – it comes packaged with a solid case for the console and cable anyway. It also helps that the USB-C charging point sits at the top of the console, so it’s quite comfortable to play while connected to the mains.

I’m also a fan of the custom SteamOS UI, which is like a more streamlined version of Steam’s Big Picture mode. Navigating between your library, the store, and different categories is easy, and you can switch between different menu options using the sticks and the touchscreen depending on which method you prefer. And if you’re a tinkerer, there are ways to turn the OLED Steam Deck into the best emulation machine on the market. I’m personally happy with the Steam library alone, but there are ways and means for those interested in rocking some retro classics.

The Steam Deck OLED is a revelation. It’s changed the way I play PC games, despite having a high-end PC plugged straight into a big OLED TV. It’s just nice to chill on the sofa and not have to worry about any of the faff associated with PC gaming. Just download games and play games while sitting comfortably – that’s what it’s all about, and the Deck OLED is the best way to do it.

If you decide to pick one up, check out our Steam Deck setup tips and tricks. We've also compiled a list of the best strategy games in the Steam autumn sale