App & Software Gaming Review Tech

Steam Deck OLED review: better, not faster

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Good issues usually come to players who wait. There’s at all times a slimmer, extra power-efficient PlayStation or Xbox on the best way. Nintendo has lengthy hammered out enticing new combos of measurement, display, shade, and battery life for its Sport Boy, DS, and Swap.

However Valve, with the brand new Steam Deck OLED, might have created the perfect console revision ever.

It fixes my largest complaints about Valve’s unique handheld gaming PC after which some, with none new catch. Beginning at $549 for 512GB of storage, it solely prices $20 greater than final 12 months’s mannequin with half that capability — or you’ll be able to pay the identical $649 as final 12 months’s 512GB to get 1TB now.

However don’t let the title idiot you: not like Nintendo’s Swap OLED, the brand new Steam Deck isn’t only a new display and additional storage. It’s a brand new battery, new chip, new cooling, a brand new 90Hz refresh fee, and nicely over a dozen different substantive adjustments. Virtually all make the Steam Deck OLED hands-down higher than the unique. It’s so significantly better, I wouldn’t purchase an unique Steam Deck anymore.

Here’s a sentence lifted phrase for phrase from my take a look at notes which may offer you some thought: “Cyberpunk is working quicker, extra secure, cooler, quieter, whereas drawing much less energy from a bigger battery and searching brighter and clearer and higher.”

That’s what I would like for all of my video games, and that’s what I would like for you. Simply know that once I wrote “quicker,” I solely meant an additional 4 frames per second. 

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That’s proper: the Steam Deck OLED isn’t a next-gen “Steam Deck Professional” or a “Steam Deck 2,” and it’s by design. In September, Valve instructed The Verge it wouldn’t make the Steam Deck quicker anytime quickly, even if rival handhelds with quicker processors can now get much more playable leads to demanding video games like Starfield and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

The orange energy button and black sticks are the one approach to inform it from the unique at a look.

However whereas an Asus ROG Ally does have extra headroom for newer video games, it struggles to play them practically as lengthy. With the Steam Deck OLED, Valve is extending its battery life lead, promoting three to 12 hours of gameplay in comparison with two to eight hours beforehand. And when you can completely drain it in lower than three, I’m at all times feeling far extra comfy about how a lot gasoline is within the tank.

For instance: in 2022, I used to be in a position to play the graphically intensive Management for just below two hours on my unique Steam Deck evaluate unit at 60 frames per second. This previous week, I performed the identical sport at as much as 80 frames per second for 2 hours, 11 minutes. 

I performed an hour and quarter-hour of 2D titles and with some previous associates, chatting on Discord all of the whereas, and had 84 % battery left within the tank once I completed. With 70 % remaining as I write these phrases, my Deck OLED evaluate unit is telling me I can play Slay the Spire for seven extra hours because it’s persistently drawing simply 5.3 watts now. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time appears prefer it’ll final eight hours complete, up from 5 or so beforehand.

I additionally performed over three hours of Nier: Automata over the course of two days with out returning to a plug — two of these hours at 60fps. When the Deck mentioned I solely had 30 % battery left and 37 extra minutes to play, I merely dropped the body fee to 45fps and, later, 30fps to almost double that remaining playtime — getting one other total hour and 10 minutes earlier than the Deck shut down. (At 45fps, three hours of Management can also be undoubtedly inside attain.)

How? A extra environment friendly chip, bigger battery, a 90Hz OLED display — and usually, the choice to tug a Nintendo with the brand new Steam Deck. 

The Steam Deck’s new, thicker heatsink and fan. Please gently yank the battery cable earlier than you open the secondary cowl, and don’t neglect to take away your microSD earlier than you open a Steam Deck in any respect.

AMD shrunk down its 7nm “Aerith” chip into a brand new 6nm “Sephiroth,” and Valve pointed nearly all of that effectivity towards energy financial savings reasonably than efficiency, similar to Nintendo and Nvidia did with the purple field Nintendo Swap.  

And like Nintendo with the Swap OLED, Valve didn’t waste efficiency or battery life on increased display decision — it contracted Samsung to construct a customized 90Hz HDR OLED panel on the similar 1280 x 800 decision as the unique.

And since that new display was thinner, Valve managed to suit a thicker heatsink, bigger fan, and a 22 % increased capability 50 watt-hour battery pack into the identical area. 

Relying on the content material, the OLED display alone can save over half a watt, in response to Valve — and general, I’m seeing massive video games draw two watts fewer on the Steam Deck OLED in comparison with the Steam Deck LCD, at 24W, the place the unique drew 26 or 27. There are exceptions: Nidhogg consumed 7.2W on OLED versus 6W on LCD on the similar 60fps, and Max Payne 2 drew roughly the identical 10W on every. 

However the greater battery means video games last more anyhow. And the brand new OLED display, die-shrunk “Sephiroth” chip, and a slight bump to 6400MT/s reminiscence usually make them play higher, too. 

Not all of those video games run equally nicely.

Let me be clear: Starfield nonetheless runs like crap. And I received’t say I didn’t see mysterious stutter in different video games as a result of I completely did. However in Cyberpunk 2077, Elden Ring, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and sure, even Starfield, I noticed very barely increased body charges and fewer body time spikes for extra secure gameplay than the OG Deck — and I consider I’m seeing comparable stability in much less intensive video games, too. (And if you happen to ask me, taking part in an previous sport at a buttery clean 80 or 90 frames per second undoubtedly counts as extra efficiency than the previous Deck’s 60fps most.)

The fan can also be whisper-quiet now, fixing one of many largest points with the unique. All the handheld runs cooler. It merely doesn’t get uncomfortably scorching, even after absolutely draining the battery with an intensive sport. The battery prices quicker, at the very least comparatively talking: whereas the OLED mannequin truly took over half-hour longer than my LCD mannequin to fully prime off, I noticed it take its bigger battery from 2 % to 80 % in simply 71 minutes — in comparison with 99 minutes for the LCD mannequin. Based on my wattmeter, the brand new Deck takes full benefit of its 45W USB-C PD charger proper as much as the 65 % mark.

A fast-and-dirty Flir thermal digicam video. (This solely exhibits obscure pores and skin temperatures, not inside temperatures.)

Talking of chargers, each Steam Deck OLED now comes with an extended 2.5-meter (up from 1.5-meter) energy cable, and the 1TB mannequin comes with a flowery two-in-one case — a smaller shell appropriate for stuffing your Deck right into a bag, Velcroed into a bigger carrying case for standalone safety. I discover it’s a tad tougher to zip up — however the small model is definitely helpful.

There’s additionally Wi-Fi 6E for quicker downloads, with two antennas for two.4GHz and both 5GHz or quicker 6GHz concurrently. My dwelling community’s nonetheless on Wi-Fi 6, however I’m nonetheless seeing respectable 500Mbps-plus downloads straight from Valve’s servers. The Deck additionally has a devoted Bluetooth antenna now — and whereas I haven’t but examined Valve’s declare that it higher helps a number of simultaneous wi-fi gamepads for sofa video games, I’m so pleased to verify the Deck lastly helps Bluetooth microphones for chat. (You’ll nonetheless want a pair of low-latency headphones or earbuds to keep away from sport audio lag.)

Bodily, the brand new Deck is definitely 29 grams lighter, sufficient that I can discover the distinction blindfolded when selecting them up. The shoulder buttons and Steam / Fast Entry buttons are clickier. The thumbstick tops are taller, wider, and grippier, making it barely simpler to make your character maintain working in a single route; they’ve received a tackier, extra recessed clean divot on prime that’s a stunning (and hopefully simpler to scrub) perch in your thumb.

They’re not Corridor impact magnetic joysticks, by the best way, simply regular ones. “We have now not seen very many complaints in any respect with joystick drift,” says Valve {hardware} engineer Yazan Aldehayyat.

Valve says the touchpads and touchscreen at the moment are extra responsive, too — however I feel it’s lastly time to deal with the 7.4-inch elephant within the room. 

We are able to’t simply present you HDR in a browser, however you’ll be able to think about.

It’s like getting a brand new pair of headphones and wanting to listen to all of your favourite songs once more: that’s how I’d describe the Steam Deck’s barely bigger and completely higher RGB-stripe HDR OLED display. 

Despite the fact that I’ve an OLED TV in my front room and an OLED telephone in my pocket, I don’t play PC video games on them — and OMG does look so good on this gadget. The reds, the blues, the yellows — the complete sport’s artwork route simply explodes off the display despite the fact that it’s not an HDR sport. I might say the identical about Hades. I can’t wait to attempt Hello-Fi Rush, significantly since Valve’s additionally made the audio system noticeably louder right here. 

Technically, this display could also be higher than my LG OLED tv: I’ll defer to show nerds with skilled colorimeters on that, however I do know I’ve but to make use of an OLED that boasts 110 % (not 100%, not 99 %) of the DCI-P3 shade gamut, reaches 1,000 nits of HDR peak brightness, and but nonetheless manages to pump out 600 nits of full-screen SDR brightness, too. 

Functionally, which means the Steam Deck OLED at all times will get brighter than the Steam Deck LCD in each scenario — and in HDR, your video games lastly have actual gentle. The neon lights in Cyberpunk 2077 appear to be precise neon tubes! The bounce jets and sparks and laser blades in Armored Core VI realistically glow. Elden Ring’s magical bolts of fireplace come alive, and after some in-game HDR brightness adjustment, the golden gentle of the Erdtree begins to really feel blindingly divine. 

Ori and the Will of the Wisps, broadly considered top-of-the-line made-for-HDR video games, always bursts with wonderful gentle — and with out the remainder of the display awkwardly dimming like I noticed in my latest gaming monitor evaluate. I do want it displayed in 16:10, although.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps — a screenshot I took on the Deck that doesn’t do it justice.

Nonetheless, there aren’t plenty of HDR video games on the market final I checked, and also you’ll have a troublesome time discovering HDR video to play on this method, too. There’s no HDR Netflix, no HDR YouTube, no different HDR streaming providers I’m conscious of on Linux. My tough understanding is that HDR on Linux is a little bit of a Wild West, and Valve helps construct among the first settlements on the market.

And as a lot as I choose the unbelievable response time, readability, blacks, and shade of an OLED display, there’s one thing left to be desired from the display’s refresh fee(s) in comparison with, say, the Asus competitors. 

Valve show tech professional Jeremy Selan tells me that variable refresh fee (VRR) “didn’t fairly make it into this revision,” so the Steam Deck OLED can nonetheless simply run into stutter when video games can’t sustain with the refresh fee you choose. And when you can now choose from an unbelievable vary of body charges all the best way from 10fps to 90fps, a few of which divide properly into the refresh charges Valve’s new display helps, I’m discovering it takes plenty of trial and error to see which video games work with which refresh choices. 30fps ought to scale fantastically to 90Hz, however I’m solely seeing that work in some titles. Even 60/60 wasn’t completely clean in all the things I’ve tried.

I’d not purchase an Asus ROG Ally over a Steam Deck, however the don’t-have-to-think-about-it VRR means is one in every of two issues I choose about Asus. (The opposite is a turbo mode to get further efficiency once I plug into the wall. Valve says turbo mode complicates issues and requires overdesigned parts. “We don’t wish to dissipate our weight and funds on issues which may not be helpful to you,” Aldehayyat tells me.)

However there’s no query that the brand new Deck’s display is leagues higher than the unique’s. Even on a purely beauty degree, the bigger 7.4-inch measurement makes for noticeably smaller bezels, and the true blacks of fully turned off OLED pixels imply there’s no ugly backlight bleed or unlucky grey letterboxing once you’re taking part in video games at 16:9 reasonably than the native 16:10 side ratio.

Valve says the Deck is extra repairable than ever, with Torx screws, fewer restore steps, machine screw bosses for the again cowl, and a display you’ll be able to substitute all by itself.

This isn’t but a definitive evaluate of the Steam Deck OLED as a result of, frankly, I don’t know the way a lot it’d change over the times and weeks to return. Throughout my evaluate interval alone, Valve added a number of lacking options (like Bluetooth microphone assist and louder audio system), squashed a number of main bugs (like nonworking inside microphones and audio stutter on resume), and adjusted how the battery-saving body limiter works. Reviewers are working with beta software program, and I had one mysterious blackscreen. My colleague Vjeran Pavic had one other whereas filming our evaluate video. 

However whereas the unique Deck was shoved out the door months earlier than it was prepared, I really feel much more assured recommending this one, and I’d argue Valve has greater than earned the good thing about the doubt. It’s shipped over 300 updates to the unique Steam Deck over the previous 21 months, remodeling it from right into a genre-defining handheld. Between these updates and the {hardware} buyer assist I’ve seen, I now belief Valve greater than every other gadget maker. 

The Steam Deck on a shelf.

I make some extent of holding onto the perfect variations of each sport console I really like. The 60GB PS3 “Phat” with PS2 backward compatibility. A Homebrew Channel-hacked Wii for my GameCube video games. An Xbox 360 Elite with the swappable arduous drive and supposedly Pink Ring of Demise-proof “Jasper” motherboard. A Nintendo DS Lite with a particular Sport Boy Advance cartridge that may play Japanese video games with English translations on prime. An unique PS2 with a tough drive rigged to load video games quicker than disc.

So I’m fairly positive I’ll purchase a Steam Deck OLED — until I can persuade myself to attend for the Deck’s eventual next-gen successor. Perhaps I’ll choose the limited-edition $680 mannequin with a clear shell and orange highlights that’s solely delivery to the US and Canada since you know the way I really like my see-through nerdery.

The brand new Steam Deck OLED ships November sixteenth, and there shouldn’t be a multi-month wait this time round. Valve says they’re in mass manufacturing. “We have now them; they’re piling up within the warehouse now.”

As for the Steam Deck 2: “We’re assured that within the subsequent couple of years we’ll have one thing we are able to name a correct Steam Deck 2,” Valve designer Lawrence Yang tells me. 

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