The short answer is yes. I do believe I am excited. I won’t be buying one, but I think the Steam Deck is an awesome idea, and I really hope it succeeds!

The Steam Deck looks a bit like a Ninendo Switch. It has controllers on the sides of a 7” screen and it can sit in a dock connected to your TV. Why does the base Steam Deck cost $50 more than the Switch? Why is there a $529 version?

The Steam Deck isn’t a Nintendo Switch

The Steam Deck is bigger, heavier, bulkier, and you can’t even remove the controllers! It also has four times as much RAM and a whole lot more CPU and GPU power.

I did some extremely basic searching through laptop inventory on Amazon. I don’t know precisely which Ryzen APU live inside the Steam Deck, but that’s OK. I just wanted an idea of what a laptop with a four-core Ryzen APU with 16 GB of RAM might cost.

My Nintendo Switch

The prices tend to be pretty close or a little higher than the Steam Deck when the laptops come with a similarly sized NVMe drive.

The Steam Deck is really just a laptop in a different shell, so this is good news. The price is right around where we should expect it to be, and I’m only comparing the Steam Deck to the cheapest laptops. It would probably be more fair to compare it to extremely thin ultrabooks.

How big is your library of Steam games?

I’m probably going to hit 2,000 games this year. How many of those would I be able to play on the Steam Deck? How many of those games would I even want to play on a handheld?

The Steam Deck ships with SteamOS. SteamOS is built on top of Arch Linux, so the experience should be similar to what I experience on my own Linux desktop. Valve’s Proton compatibility does a fantastic job of running Windows games on Linux without any fuss or configuration. It seems to work more often than it doesn’t these days, but some percentage of your library just won’t run on SteamOS today.

Then there’s performance. There are YouTube videos showing off some games running on four-core Ryzen laptops. My desktop is getting pretty old. It is a Ryzen 1600 with an Nvidia GTX 970. Judging by this video, I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me the Steam Deck winds up being about 70% as fast as my old machine here.

That little screen is only 1280x800. That’s plenty for a 7” screen, and it is only about 1/4 as many pixels as the monitor I’m staring at now. I bet we’ll be able to play some Red Dead Redemption 2 on the Steam Deck!

Can we talk about our Steam library some more?

Having an existing library of games is a huge value. I’m not talking about launch titles. I am talking about games you already own!

I’ve been buying games on my Switch that I already have in my Steam library simply because I want to play them on the couch. I bet I’ve repurchased around $100 in games, and I know there’s at least $100 more that I’ll eventually buy again.

That only includes the games that have been ported to the Switch. I own plenty of games that will never land on the Switch–it just isn’t powerful enough.

How about emulators?

Nintendo has been bumming me out a bit with regards to retro gaming. I didn’t buy the Mario bundle during its limited time in the shop, so I won’t be replaying Mario Galaxy on my Switch.

I can’t install RetroArch without hacking my Switch, and I’m pretty sure that would mean I can’t play Nintendo Switch games with friends or buy games from the store. The Switch is the perfect form factor for playing old console games, and I would love to have RetroAchievements available to me.

I am excited about the NES and SNES emulators bundled with Nintendo’s online service. They’re pretty good, and the selection of games isn’t bad. I’ve played more than my share of Super Mario Bros. and Zanac on the Switch. It’d be nice to have access to RetroArch’s CRT shaders, and it would be amazing to have access to RetroAchievements.

Valve isn’t going to sell a significant quantity of Steam Decks to folks that want to run their emulators, but I’m quite excited about the possibility. My own desktop seems to only have just barely enough CPU to run PlayStation 3 games on RPCS3, so I’m betting that will be beyond the Steam Deck.

I’m confident the PlayStation 2 and Wii emulators will run great on the Steam Deck, and I won’t be surprised if we learn that the WiiU and Switch emulators work as well.

If I’m so excited about the Steam Deck, why in the heck am I not ordering one?!

I just don’t do much gaming on the go, so I don’t really have much use for a second handheld console.

I have gone on a ride to the park on my electric unicycle with the Switch in my backpack, but that was mostly just so I could say I did it. I played Dead Cells for ten minutes and moved on. It has been nice being able to take the Switch when I know I’m going to be sitting in a waiting room for a long time, though, and this has happened several times.

As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about what the real question is. If I didn’t already own a Nintendo Switch, but I had $400 in my pocket, would I buy a Switch or a Steam Deck?

If I had never owned a Switch, I would definitely buy the Switch. I wind up buying just about every single Nintendo console just to play the Super Mario games. It was inevitable that I would eventually buy a Switch.

However, knowing today just how disappointed I was when I finished Super Mario Odyssey so quickly, and how little interest I had in collecting even more moons, I would tell this other hypothetical self to buy a Steam Deck.

Almost every time I pick up the Switch, it is to play Dead Cells. I decided as soon as I got the Switch that I would stop making progress on Steam and play only on the handheld. This is fine. I’d much rather play Dead Cells on the couch than at my desk, but the experience on the Switch is lacking. The Switch is always an update behind, and the game gets quite laggy every time there’s fire damage on screen.

Let’s be honest here. Would I rather be playing Super Mario Odyssey while sitting in an uncomfortable waiting room, or would I rather be playing Grand Theft Auto V, Red Dead Redemption 2, or Borderlands 3?

First-person shooters and the Steam Deck’s thumb pads

I bought the Steam Controller as soon as it was available for sale. I absolutely abhor playing first-person shooters with a gamepad and analog sticks. The idea of being able to play these games on the couch with touch pads and motion controls sounded awesome.

The first game I played was Saints Row: The Third. This game bummed me out on the PlayStation 3. It didn’t do auto aim like every Grand Theft Auto game. When I later tried the game on my PC, aiming with the mouse was fantastic, but driving with the keyboard was just awful!

My Steam Controller

The Steam Controller gave me the best of both worlds. I could drive with the thumb stick and analog triggers just like on the PlayStation, while I could also aim with a huge percentage of the skill and accuracy I usually have with the mouse. How awesome is that?

Then I decided to replay Borderlands 2 using the Steam Controller on my TV using the Steam Link, and I chose to use the sniper. I figured playing through a familiar game would help me get the hang of using the thumb pad for large aiming movements and the motion controls for tuning in those head shots.

At some point during the first dozen missions, my friend Sixx randomly joined my game. I figured I was in trouble. If I had a mouse and keyboard, I’d be pulling my weight and getting about half the kills. I figured for sure he’d be doing 95 percent of the work.

I was wrong. I did surprisingly well. At the time I was guessing that I was getting more than one third of the kills. I thought that was pretty impressive!

Borderlands 2 is entirely cooperative. I wouldn’t try playing anything remotely competitive without my mouse and keyboard. I have over 3,000 hours logging in Team Fortress 2, and I would most definitely look and feel useless to my team if I attempted playing with the Steam Controller.

The big problem with Valve’s touch controls

The biggest problem is also the biggest advantage. Valve has created an amazing interface for customizing your controller. The amount of customization available is staggeringly complicated.

This is fantastic if you’re hardcore. If I flicked my finger to spin around 180 degrees in Borderlands 2, and I kept overshooting, I’d go into the settings and adjust the sensitivity or how much inertia that virtual trackball had until I got it right where I wanted it.

Most people don’t want to do this. Valve needs good, sane default configurations for as many games as they can manage. If you want to use the Steam Controller today, odds are that the default settings for a game are nearly worthless. You can download other people’s custom configurations straight from the Steam interface, but you never really know what you’re going to get.

I think Valve has learned a lot since discontinuing the Steam Controller. The Steam Deck adds a second thumb stick, so you’ll be able to use standard Xbox controls with most games. The touch controls are what might get PC gamers playing their favorite games on a handheld, though, so I hope Valve improves the defaults here.

Valve has fantastic support for their discontinued hardware

The Steam Controller was discontinued two years ago, and the Steam Link was discontinued three years ago.

Valve has still been improving the configuration interface for the Steam Controller, and my Steam Link still works just as well as it did in 2016. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is working even better now.

Speaking of the Steam Link, I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone mention the Steam Link functionality in relation to the Steam Deck. Steam lets you stream games over the network from one computer to another as long as they’re both running the Steam client. If you have a beefy gaming rig in the house, you can run your games there and stream the video to your Steam Deck out in your backyard.

I wouldn’t be afraid of what happens when Valve discontinues the Steam Deck. Not only is it just another x86 laptop, but Valve has also shown that they do a great job at supporting older hardware as it ages.

I want to know what you think of the Steam Deck!

I am well aware that I am late to the Steam Deck party, and I am fine with that. I’m mostly writing this for my own benefit. Writing about the Steam Deck helps me figure out exactly how I feel about the Steam Deck.

I think it is a great product at a good price point. I would enjoy owning one, but it isn’t the right toy for me right now.

What about you? Are you excited about the Steam Deck? Is the Nintendo Switch not enough portable gaming hardware for you? Are you excited about an updated version of Valve’s touch controls being refined for a new piece of hardware? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!