Happy birthday, Steam Deck! It’s exactly one year since Valve hopped aboard the handheld gaming PC market, winning over the hearts of innumerable gamers who couldn’t wait to get their hands on the portable, beloved handheld PC.
Before we break out the party hats, streamers and cupcakes, I can’t help but ask one contentious question: Has the Stream Deck’s shiny-new-toy luster begun to dim? In other words, if you’re a Steam Deck owner, I want to know if your playtime with the device has drastically dropped since you first purchased it.
A few of you may have just sneered and said “Pfft, I played on my Steam Deck like two hours ago!” This may be true for you, but I wonder if it’s still frequently used among Steam Deck owners en masse. Granted, playtime almost always dwindles after the shiny new toy excitement wears off, but I theorize that the playtime plummet for the Steam Deck is more drastic than other gaming platforms.
Unfortunately, I can’t poll the entire Steam Deck community to determine whether my hypothesis rings true, but I’ve decided to ask every single person I know with a Steam Deck — four in total — to tell me whether the handheld PC still plays an active role in their lives. There are some limitations, of course. A quartet of Steam Deck owners isn’t remotely enough to represent an entire cohort, but this isn’t a scientific research paper either, so don’t take this too seriously.
I am totally prepared to eat my words. Perhaps I am wrong — maybe all four are still glued to the Steam Deck, playing with it several times a week. Let’s find out!
The Steam Deck’s seduction — how it initially drew gamers in
Tony Polanco, Tom’s Guide’s Computing Writer, let me play with his Steam Deck that was running Cyberpunk 2077 on a 7-inch LCD touchscreen. I inspected the controls for flaws, and except for the somewhat mushy D-Pad, I had nothing negative to say.
Valve must’ve corralled a world-class research and development team to perfect the ergonomics on this black beauty because, goodness gracious, holding it felt so good! The handheld PC seemed to fit into the contours of my hands like a puzzle piece. Whether I was reaching for the ABXY buttons and or playing around with the four programmable buttons on the back, everything seemed to be within reach, positioned perfectly for an organic, natural feel.
My favorite aspect of the Steam Deck? The joysticks — what a joy they were indeed! It’s like the thumbsticks were an extension of me, leaning in any direction in a smooth but sturdy fashion. The dual trackpads were also fun to use, so I navigated SteamOS with ease.
Playing CyberPunk 2077 was seamless with the Steam Deck’s controllers, but the visuals on the 1280 x 800-pixel, 60Hz panel looked middling, especially if you’ve been spoiled by the vivid and crisp display on the Nintendo Switch OLED. After all, its AMD RDNA 2-based GPU, delivering up to 1.6 teraflops of power, has parallels with Nvidia’s GTX 1050 graphics, according to Gamer Revolution, which won’t blow anyone’s socks off in this day and age. (On the plus side, the Steam Deck, as a whole, is said to be as powerful as the PS4 Pro).
Despite the so-so screen, I was taken aback by Steam Deck — in a good way. I didn’t expect it to be that good. It has the potential to captivate the gaming market as the go-to portable handheld gaming system, particularly because of its cloud-save feature. With this perk, gamers can enjoy titles from their Steam library on a more stationary and powerful system, but if they have to step away, they can pick up their Steam Deck and continue where they left off. Win! (It’s worth noting, though, that not all games support Steam cloud save.)
But here’s where things get hairy. There’s one glaring issue standing in the way of Valve’s portable gaming nirvana: battery life.
Is the Steam Deck beginning to lose its luster?
Laptop Mag’s Content Editor Jason England listed “poor battery life” as one of the Steam Deck’s cons in his review, adding “needing to remain tethered doesn’t really make it truly ‘portable.’” I pored through countless other reviews of the Steam Deck and almost all of them concurred with England — the Steam Deck requires power on an almost constant basis.
In Polanco’s Steam Deck review for Tom’s Guide, he said that the handheld PC typically tapped out after three hours. “I wish the battery life could have lasted at least five hours,” he lamented.
According to this Reddit thread as well as this one, Steam Deck owners say they can squeeze out a four-hour runtime for less-demanding games, but for the graphics-intensive titles, the portable gaming system can muster only between 1.5 to 2 hours of battery life.
Not bad for a 45-minute commute, I suppose, but for frequent travelers who must endure long journeys or gamers who want to chill on their couch, those runtimes may not cut it. Sure, you can always pack a USB power bank with you or be an outlet owl, always keeping your eyes open for public power sources, but, let’s be honest, there’s an unspoken anxiety that comes over us when we’re using power-inefficient devices. Is it about to die on me? How many more hours — or minutes — do I have? Is this game too resource hungry to last long enough on a charge?
Battery drain is expected from a portable machine that can run demanding games like Deathloop, Elden Ring and Death Stranding. Still, a solid battery life brings a peace of mind, and well, the Steam Deck’s runtime is anxiety-inducing. This is one of the reasons why I theorize that the Steam Deck is beginning to lose its shiny-toy luster, but again, I’m prepared to renege.
Finally, although I gushed about its top-notch ergonomics in the last section, many Steam Deck owners have complained about its weight (1.5 pounds) and how fatiguing it can be during gameplay. Some solve this problem by propping it up on a pillow or resting it on their lap, but still, I theorize that aching hands, digits, and forearms aren’t exactly selling points here.
That being said, to test my hypothesis, I asked four Steam Deck owners whether their playtime for the handheld PC has dropped significantly.
Four Steam Deck owners speak out — are they still using it?
As I mentioned at the outset, I suspect that the handheld PC is collecting dust inside the closets of my four Steam Deck-owning friends, but I’m willing to eat my words — I may be totally wrong. Let’s find out!
Tony Polanco, Computing Writer at Tom’s Guide
Polanco got his Steam Deck in late Spring of 2022, an entire year after he pre-ordered it. He’s fired up games like God of War (2018), Marvel’s Spider-Man, Elden Ring, TMNT, Shredder’s Revenge, Cyberpunk 2077, and Doom Eternal on the handheld PC.
When I asked Polanco about how often he plays on his Steam Deck, he said, “I don’t play Steam Deck too often since I’m primarily a console/PC player. Right now, I’d say I play every other week or so when I’m curious to see how a new game runs or when I need to write a new guide.”
My ears perked. Wait a minute — is Polanco actually supporting my theory? Not so fast! No, Polanco doesn’t play on the Steam Deck too often, but the truth is, he never did. “My playtime has more or less been consistent since I purchased it. I purchased the Steam Deck knowing it wouldn’t be my primary gaming machine,” Polanco said, adding that he’s mostly a console and PC player.
For kicks and giggles, I asked Polanco where his Steam Deck is sitting now. “My Steam Deck is on my bookshelf, safely inside its protective case,” he said. Although he doesn’t play on the Steam Deck frequently, Polanco believes it was a good investment. “The main reason I purchased the Steam Deck was to support Valve’s endeavor to create a truly powerful gaming handheld system. Sorry, Switch, but you’re woefully underpowered for my liking.”
TLDR: Tony doesn’t use his Steam Deck often, but he’s never been a frequent user anyway, so his playtime is more or less consistent since he purchased it.
Allisa James, Computing Writer at TechRadar
James purchased her Steam Deck in October 2022; she told me she often uses it for on-the-go gaming, diving into games such as Persona 4 Golden, World of Horror, and other indie games. “I don’t really play AAA games much,” James said.
When I asked James how often she plays on her Steam Deck, she said, “Not too often. About once a week since I don’t have much time for gaming right now.” But the question is, has her playtime dropped since she first purchased the handheld PC? Unfortunately for my hypothesis, the answer is no. In fact, it has increased.
“[Playtime] was nonexistent at first, but then increased to the current once a week rate now,” James said.
Where’s James’ Steam Deck sitting as we speak? “It’s in my bedroom currently. I need to charge it up, but I plan on playing more Persona 4 Golden on it soon.”
I asked James whether the Steam Deck was worth the investment. Her response? She told me that the Nintendo Switch gets more love from her, but since she’s been using the Steam Deck more, it’s become a worthy purchase in her eyes. “Eventually, I’ll get to adding emulation on it, which will make it an even better investment,” James said.
TLDR: James’ Steam Deck activity has increased since she purchased it last October.
Jorge Jimenez, Hardware Writer at PC Gamer
Jorge Jimenez got his Steam Deck at launch; he prefers to play strategy games such as Tactics Ogre Remastered, Marvel's Midnight Suns and Elden on his handheld system.
Jimenez told me he plays on his Steam Deck for about 30 to 45 minutes a day, and completely obliterating my hypothesis into smithereens, he said his playtime habits hasn't changed much since he got Valve's handheld PC. However, he told me that how he uses the Steam Deck has changed.
At the start, he once used the Steam Deck for his commute, but now, he plays it at night while he's "trapped under a sleeping baby." He's been bringing the Steam Deck along for his work trips more often, too.
Jimenez praised the Steam Deck for its easy access to his Steam and Epic Games libraries. "It's the best non-Nintendo Switch Switch out there," he joked. "I just wish it wasn't so big since using it for more than two hours is pretty uncomfortable."
Despite the minor discomfort, the PC Gamer writer said that the Steam Deck turned him into a "handheld person," which hasn't happened since his Game Boy Pocket days.
Jimenez's Steam Deck is currently sitting on his nightstand.
TLDR: Jimenez's Steam Deck playtime has been steady since launch, but how he uses it has changed.
Jason England, Content Editor at Laptop Mag
England snagged his Steam Deck in July 2022. To paint a picture of his excitement over the handheld PC, after waiting nearly a year on Valve’s pre-order waitlist, he finally got the greenlight to buy the Steam Deck via email. “I was at a music festival at the time in the middle of nowhere, so it took me 90 minutes to complete the purchase over EDGE connectivity,” he said.
What drew England to the Steam Deck? As a macOS user, he doesn’t have the luxury of playing PC games after he’s done working for the day. “It’s the ideal device that can play all my games on-the-go that my MacBook just doesn’t have,” he said.
England plays some of the best Steam Deck games on the beloved handheld PC, including Persona 5 Royal, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Forza 5, Bugsnax and Hitman 3. Sometimes, he tinkers with the Steam Deck, installing emulators and customizing how it works with custom boot animations.
On average, England told me that he plays on the Steam Deck for about five to six hours a week. When he travels, that rate goes up. When I asked England whether his playtime for the Steam Deck has dropped, he said, “I would say it has. It has primarily become a travel companion, an alternative to needing to carry a gaming laptop around with my MacBook.”
When I asked if England felt that the Steam Deck was a worthy investment, he told me it depends on what kind of gamer you are and the resources you have at hand. “If you don’t have a gaming laptop, buy the Steam Deck,” he said. It’s a cheaper alternative that’s much lighter than lugging a giant laptop in your backpack for travels.
“If you have a gaming laptop, don’t buy the Steam Deck,” England warned. “You already have something that can be the ideal all-in-one, work-and-play solution.”
Like James, England’s Steam Deck is sitting on his bed, seducing him to play more Persona 5 Royal.
TLDR: Yes, playtime has dropped for him since he purchased it last year, but on average, he’s active on his Steam Deck for about five-to-six hours a week. Steam Deck playtime skyrockets when he travels.
Alright, alright! I can admit when I’m wrong. Save for one Steam Deck owner, the others’ playtime has either been consistent or increased since they purchased the handheld PC.
What’s interesting, though, is that the Steam Deck isn’t anyone’s primary gaming platform, but that was never Valve’s intention when it launched this highly praised portable PC. Instead, it wanted to fill a gap in the gaming market — there was nothing for on-the-go PC gamers who were sick of clunky gaming laptops. That’s when Valve swooped in to save the day with the Steam Deck, delivering a more portable, lighter solution for users. As such, four Steam Deck owners are simply using the device the way it’s supposed to be used — as a travel companion, an extension of one’s PC, or tinkering with its emulation abilities.
Unlike the PS Vita, it looks like the Steam Deck is fated to enjoy many more birthdays in the future. At this rate, I won’t be invited to any of ‘em (sorry for calling you dusty, Steam Deck), but I still wish the handheld PC wonder the best.
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Kimberly Gedeon, holding a Master's degree in International Journalism, launched her career as a journalist for MadameNoire's business beat in 2013. She loved translating stuffy stories about the economy, personal finance and investing into digestible, easy-to-understand, entertaining stories for young women of color. During her time on the business beat, she discovered her passion for tech as she dove into articles about tech entrepreneurship, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the latest tablets. After eight years of freelancing, dabbling in a myriad of beats, she's finally found a home at Laptop Mag that accepts her as the crypto-addicted, virtual reality-loving, investing-focused, tech-fascinated nerd she is. Woot!