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OLED Steam Deck: Hands-On With a Complete Handheld Gaming Upgrade

Good news, handheld-gaming holiday shoppers: Valve just dropped a delightful surprise. The year-plus-old Steam Deck has a new version with a larger OLED display, arriving Nov. 16. I’ve been using it for the last couple of days, and it’s really good.

Handheld gaming consoles have been back on the rise lately, not just with the Nintendo Switch, indie handhelds and the upcoming PlayStation Portal, but in PC gaming too. To compete with the Steam Deck, the Asus Rog Ally and Lenovo Legion Go bring Windows-based handheld gamers even more options. The new OLED Steam Deck update starts at $549 and the original LCD-based models remain on sale at reduced prices, starting at $349.

Comparing the new OLED Steam Deck next to the original at home, I saw some clear advantages. The new Steam Deck has a 7.4-inch HDR OLED display that, while still the same 1,200×800-pixel resolution, looks far more vivid and colorful. Playing games on the OLED Steam Deck gives me the same feeling I have playing on the Nintendo Switch OLED: I don’t want to go back to the original and its LCD screen. The larger display also leads to a sleeker, thinner frame bezel on a similar-sized chassis.

Steam Deck game handheld in its packaging on wood floor

The Steam Deck OLED comes in a new hard case that has a removable inner softer case. It’s like two cases now.

Scott Stein/CNET

The new OLED Steam Deck also has a larger battery, boasting up to 50% more battery life. I haven’t experienced what that actually adds up to in everyday use yet, but that’s welcome news. Even more surprisingly, the handheld is slightly lighter. Storage configurations have been boosted, too: There’s now a 1TB Steam Deck option, in addition to a 512GB model. The 512GB version is $549, while the 1TB version is $649 — which is pretty fantastic, since these were basically the prices of the Steam Deck higher-config models previously. $649 now nets you twice the storage, an OLED display, better battery and a lot of other improvements.

Valve is selling previous LCD models at a discount going forward, with most of the savings on higher-end configurations. The 64GB version drops to $349 ($50 off), the 256GB model is now $399 ($130 off) and the 512GB model is $449 ($200 off).

There’s also a fancy limited-edition transparent 1TB OLED model, too, for $679, which looks nice, but it’s the same hardware as the $649 1TB OLED model.

Steam Deck with OLED display next to a power cord, with yellow background

The new power adapter has a longer cord (nice).

Scott Stein/CNET

Improvements across the board

Valve added a lot of other tune-ups to the Steam Deck in the new model: a surprising amount, in fact. The laundry list is extensive, but here’s what Valve is promising:

  • 7.4-inch, HDR OLED display (1,200×800-pixel resolution); maximum 1,000-nit brightness in HDR; 90Hz max refresh.
  • Faster-response touchscreen.
  • Better haptics on the Steam Deck and touchpads.
  • Analog sticks have improved grip.
  • 50Whr battery (up from 40WHr).
  • About 1 ounce lighter weight.
  • Wi-Fi 6E.
  • More power-efficient AMD APU processor (6nm instead of 7nm).
  • Bluetooth 5.3 (controllers can wake up Steam Deck).
  • Louder speakers.
  • Microphone and headphones can be used at once.
  • Longer charge cable, faster charging (45 minutes for 20-80% charge-up) and a charge LED on the Deck.
  • Larger fans, promising better cooling.
  • Changed inner design and screws for easier repairability.
  • Included hard case now has smaller travel shell case inside for easier bag fits.

What I’ve noticed the most so far, apart from the display, are the touchscreen improvements. The original Steam Deck was fine, but the responsiveness now feels better, closer to a phone or tablet. The touchpad haptics are improved: The haptic “clicks” now feel a lot more like a normal everyday touchpad click, less obviously a vibrational effect.

The 1TB OLED model still has a matte-glass screen, which makes games pop a little more to my eyes. It’s a great display, and the Steam Deck OLED would have been a welcome upgrade just for that alone.

I love that the overall “console” feel of the Steam Deck just feels better now. And I appreciate the included hard case’s new inner soft case. You could pull the hard case off now and just travel with a lighter shell case instead. 

The Steam Deck still supports microSD cards to expand storage further, and there’s still 16GB of RAM onboard. This isn’t a “Steam Deck 2,” but in terms of its overall upgrades it feels like a Steam Deck 1.5.

Two Steam Deck game consoles next to each other

The new Steam Deck OLED (top) versus the original Steam Deck LCD. You can’t appreciate the OLED display in a photo, but notice the bezels are smaller and screen larger on the OLED model.

Scott Stein/CNET

Steam Deck OLED vs. the Windows handheld competition

The Steam Deck still feels big to hold and use, but it’s not as big as some competitors. The Lenovo Legion Go, which I’ve also started using, is massive in comparison, with an even bigger and higher-res 8.8-inch display, and removable controllers. 

The advantages of Windows-based gaming handhelds is you can run all of Windows easily on them, including Microsoft’s Game Pass and streaming options, in addition to Steam. Steam Decks run their own Linux-based OS that’s optimized entirely to Steam gaming, although they’re hackable if you have the interest or patience. Out of the box, the Steam Deck feels much more like a complete console experience, although not all Steam games play on Steam Deck.

With these new updates and the price not having increased, it’s welcome news for anyone who’s shopping for one. I don’t know if you need to upgrade from an original Steam Deck just to get these changes, but the collective improvements look to make this a must-buy option over the LCD models, if you have the budget.

Valve has already made me a believer in PC handheld gaming, and the Steam Deck’s improvements elevate it at the right time as PC gaming feels even more aware of the handheld landscape. Valve has previously suggested a true Steam Deck 2 won’t be around for a while, so in the meantime this looks like your best bet. 

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