a heavy and buggy Nintendo Switch alternative: NPR


A render of the Steam Deck
A render of the Steam Deck

Like millions of other gamers, I’ve spent the past few weeks drooling over the new hit Ring of Elden. Glued to the sofa, I go to load up my PS5 and anxiously explore The Lands Between. It’s so exciting that stepping away to participate in this boring thing called “real life” can be a drag.

While I have a Nintendo Switch brimming with indie games, the 5-year-old console hasn’t kept up with the technological demands of new blockbusters like Ring of Elden. What if I didn’t need to move away from a cutting-edge console? What if I had all the luxury of a gaming PC everywhere I went?

Break into an elite niche

PC gaming has traditionally been the domain of hardcore enthusiasts with money to burn. These aficionados invest hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in custom desktops, outfitted with expensive monitors, mice, and keyboards adorned with RGB lights.

But when Valve announced the Steam Deck in July 2021, I saw an opportunity. I had games through Steam – the biggest PC game store – but my laptop couldn’t run them properly, and it was much nicer to play on PS5 or Nintendo Switch.


Side view of the Steam Deck.
Side view of the Steam Deck.

Less than a year later, the Steam Deck arrived at my doorstep, (almost) ready for any game I wanted to download. And despite some glaring technical issues and hardware weaknesses (we’ll get to that), the Steam Deck has quickly become a staple in my gaming arsenal.

Valve boasts that the Steam Deck can run over 30,000 games from the Steam store, which is remarkable considering you can play Death Loop on the train. Even the most expensive Steam Deck ($649) costs significantly less than the average gaming PC. What dedicated gamer wouldn’t want access to thousands of portable games though?

Change loyalty

It’s a proposition that could drive people away from the Nintendo Switch. But Jason Schreier, video games reporter for Bloomberg, says that’s not likely.

“Nintendo will never have to worry as long as they have Mario, Zelda, Pokémon and all of their other franchises, which are some of the greatest things on the planet.”

Valve isn’t focused on stealing Nintendo fans, and the Steam Deck is unlikely to sell the more than 100 million units Nintendo made with the Switch. Consumers won’t be able to get the Steam Deck from just any retailer – you can only order directly from Valve.

“It’s already a pretty big niche,” says Schreier. “Unlike the Switch, which you can just pick up at Target or Walmart.”


The Steam Deck (top) far exceeds my particularly beloved Nintendo Switch.

Keller Gordon


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Keller Gordon


The Steam Deck (top) far exceeds my particularly beloved Nintendo Switch.

Keller Gordon

Breaking into the console market is ridiculously difficult. For decades, it was dominated by the same three companies: Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. Even Google, with its endless resources, failed to create a top-selling console. But Valve seems convinced dedicated gamers will empty their wallets.

“The Steam Deck is for the person with a huge backlog of Steam games,” says Jason Schreier, “And now they can play it on the go.”

But there’s a catch: Not all games on the Steam store have been “checked” for Steam Deck compatibility. If you happen to get one – which is almost impossible without pre-ordering – a small yellow icon indicates that you will need to adjust the controller inputs to make the game playable. Luckily, the Steam Deck offers countless customizations to suit a game’s needs, including built-in trackpads.

Touchpads? On a portable console?

Yeah, and it’s Valve’s way of being a little friendlier to fast-paced first-person shooters like Call of Duty Where Apex Legends. Sitting below the joysticks, they’re meant to mimic the smoothness that a traditional mouse would give to those games. Plus, they’re adding a new way to navigate what’s basically a laptop with underlying features similar to a Chromebook.

That’s right; Although the Steam Deck is designed for gaming, it can still function as a office the computer. Hold down the power button to enter desktop mode with a Linux operating system and an Internet browser. With a mouse and keyboard connected via the USB-C port, you can check email, watch Netflix, or even write a Steam Deck review!

But despite the versatility of the Steam Deck, it’s not a perfect machine – at least not yet. A high-pitched fan starts whirring nonstop as soon as you launch a game. The finicky touchscreen will occasionally freeze. Although Valve has released frequent updates, these drawbacks can frustrate early adopters.

It’s also heavy – far surpassing the Nintendo Switch. The Switch (with JoyCons attached) weighs 0.88 lbs, while the Steam Deck is twice as heavy at 1.65 lbs. I found the most comfortable way to use the Steam Deck was to place a pillow in my lap and hold the console there.


My preferred method of handling the Steam Deck, with a pillow helping to cushion the weight.

Keller Gordon


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Keller Gordon

It’s also a pain to lug around. Both thicker and heavier than the Switch, the Steam Deck takes up a lot of space when stored in its carrying case. Putting it in my backpack left me with little room to put extra gym clothes, a water bottle, or books. Unfortunately, integrating the Steam Deck into your daily commute can be tricky. Despite this, the Steam Deck is shaping up to be a popular handheld console; the waiting list extends until the fall of 2022. And that has also changed my habits.

Before receiving my Steam Deck, I felt left out of PC gaming. My 3-year-old laptop isn’t designed for this, and launching Steam didn’t bring me as much joy as turning on my Switch. But now PC gaming is a treat. I can look past the console’s flaws knowing that an incredible lineup of games awaits me. And while Nintendo can build on its first-party successes, they no longer have a monopoly on handheld indie games. My Switch has literally gathered dust since I got the Steam Deck, and until there’s a major release from Nintendo, it’s likely to stay that way.


Keller Gordon is a columnist for
Join the game. Find him on Twitter: @Published_

NPR received a Steam Deck from Valve for the purposes of this review.

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