Steam Deck: everything we know about Valve's handheld

The Steam Deck is Valve's long-rumored portable PC, and its set to launch this December. This Nintendo Switch-like device promises to put a fully-functional PC in the palm of your hand, and for anyone with a large Steam library of games, it already sounds like quite a tempting proposition.

News originally surfaced that the company behind Half-Life was secretly developing a dedicated handheld device back in April. Dubbed the “SteamPal”, which was also previously known by the codename Neptune, Ars Technica were the first to break the news about Valve's portable PC gaming device which we now know is real.

At a glance, the Steam Deck is an all-in-one portable PC gaming device that brings the features and games you love from Steam and packs it into a new powerful and convenient form factor that you can take with you wherever you go. It runs a modified version of Valve's Steam OS, complete with a console-like interface, and has 7-inch LCD screen. 

Much like the Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck can also be docked and output to a TV or monitor using its USB Type-C port. Valve plans to sell its own dock separately at a later date, but you can use existing USB Type-C docks without worry. 

This functionality means you can use the Steam Deck as a fully-fledged PC if you so choose, as you can also install any OS you like - though most will be happy to stick with Steam OS. You can also connect various hardware accessories like a mouse and keyboard or flight stick, which means all your favorite peripherals will work. Oh, and you can even connect a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones.

Steam Deck: Cut to the chase

  • What is it? A powerful, portable PC from Valve
  • How much will it cost? $399 / £349 for the 64GB version, $529 / £459 for the 256GB version, and $649 / £569 for the 512GB version
  • When will it be released? December 2021 in the US, Canada, EU and UK. Other regions in 2022.

Steam Deck release date and price

Steam Deck console from Valve

(Image credit: Valve)

The Steam Deck is set to release in December 2021, and costs $399 / £349 for the base model that comes with 64GB of eMMC internal storage and a carrying case.

The mid-range option costs $529 / £459 and includes a 256GB NVMe SSD inside for faster storage, a carrying case and an exclusive Steam Community profile bundle.

Finally, the highest tier option costs $649 / £569 and includes 512GB of NVMe SSD internal storage, premium anti-glare etched glass, an exclusive carrying case, exclusive Steam Community profile bundle, and an exclusive virtual keyboard theme. 

All three consoles storage can be expanded thanks to an microSD card slot, which supports SD, SDXC and SDHC formats.

We expected the Steam Deck to be sold at a higher price tag than the Nintendo Switch, which retails for $299 / £279.99 / AU$469, but it's even more expensive than the new Nintendo Switch OLED, which retails for $349 / £309. 

Valve's Gabe Newell said the company found hitting Steam Deck price "painful" but "critical" in an interview with IGN. Newell told IGN about the need to be "very aggressive" in terms of pricing, and said that the top priority was to make sure that PC players are able to pick up the Steam Deck and feel like it works perfectly.

"I want to pick this up and say, oh, it all works. It's all fast. It's all... and then price point was secondary and painful. But that was pretty clearly a critical aspect to it," Newell said. "But the first thing was the performance and the experience, [that] was the biggest and most fundamental constraint that was driving this."

Steam Deck: design and features

Steam Deck console from Valve

(Image credit: Valve)

The Steam Deck may look rather ungainly, but Valve says it's been designed for comfortable, extended play sessions, and it has full-fidelity control so you can play your favorite games without any compromises.

The Steam Deck features "best-in-class" thumbsticks with capacitive touch sensors built-in, which Valve says will provide "a level of precision and comfort not found on other portable gaming devices".

You'll notice that the Steam Deck also includes two trackpads, which means users will have mouse-like control in games that don't play nice with a gamepad. Valve says these pads are similar to those found on its now discontinued Steam Controller, so expect some haptic feedback and general improvements over the trackpads of old.

Along with the usual triggers on the back of the device, which are pleasing analog unlike the Nintendo Switch's digital triggers, the Steam Deck also includes Grip buttons, which will provide extra input options right at your fingertips. If you've ever used a "Pro" controller, you'll understand how useful these extra buttons can be.

Valve's portable device features a 7-inch LCD touchscreen, and even includes gyro controls, so you can fine-tune your aim by physically positioning the device and achieve more precision than using a thumbstick or trackpad alone. 

The Steam Deck also lets you suspend and resume games by pressing the power button to put the device into sleep mode, just like the Nintendo Switch. You can only suspend one game at a time, however, so don't expect something like Xbox Series X's Quick Resume feature that lets you suspend multiple games at a time.

In terms of other features, the Steam Deck has expandable storage thanks to a microSD card slot, includes two stereo speakers, onboard dual microphones, and the battery life is predicted to last between two to eight hours, depending on the games you are playing.

As the Steam Deck is basically a PC with a gamepad attached, you can choose to install PC software, browse the web, watch streaming video and even complete productivity tasks. You can even install games from other stores, if you like.

Of course, the Steam Deck comes with all the Steam features you'd expect. It supports Steam Chat, Remote Play, notifications, the entire Steam Store experience, Cloud Saves and access to the Steam Community. It runs a new Steam operating system that is optimized for a handheld gaming experience, too, so it should feel intuitive to use.

Steam Deck specs

Steam Deck console from Valve

(Image credit: Valve)

What's inside the Steam Deck? Valve's portable PC promises to run the latest AAA games, and run them really well. Here's a full breakdown of the Steam Deck's internal specs:

  • Size: 298mm x 177mm x 49mm (W x H x D)
  • Weight: Approx 669 grams
  • CPU: AMD Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
  • GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.0-1.6GHz (up to 1.6 Tflops FP32)
  • Storage: 64GB eMMC / 256GB NVMe SSD / 512GB NVMe SSD (all models include high-speed microSD card slot)
  • Display resolution: 1280 x 800px (16:10 aspect ratio)
  • Display size: 7-inch diagonal
  • Brightness: 400 nits typical
  • Refresh rate: 60Hz
  • Touch enable: Yes
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, Dual-band Wi-Fi radio, 2.4GHz and 5GHz
  • Audio: Stereo speakers, dual microphone array, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
  • Power: 45W USB Type-C
  • Battery life: 2 to 8 hours of gameplay
  • Operating system: Steam OS 3.0

Valve's Steam Deck looks like it will provide stern competition for Nintendo's Switch, then, and could be a viable alternative for those looking to pickup a hybrid device that can also function as a desktop gaming PC, albeit at the cost of graphical performance.

We’ll be keeping our ear to the ground for any more Steam Deck news and announcements, and will update this page accordingly should we hear more.

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