All Hands on Deck: Preparing for the Steam Deck

The end times are nigh! There is a lot of hype for a handheld Linux gaming device from Valve, that Steam Deck you’ve been hearing about. I have to admit, after being curious but not completely on board at the announcement, I find myself being swept up in the hype train. But let me temper those expectations (I prefer to be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed) and let you know my thoughts going into the launch this Friday, as well as catching you up on the flurry of news we’ve recently covered.

While I wasn’t sure at first, I did try to get a reservation as soon as I could. I managed, through dumb luck, to reserve the 256 GB model within 5-10 minutes of the reservations going live. So I’ll be the first of the Boiling Steam staff to have a Deck, and fingers crossed I’m in an early shipment to get you my impressions, hacking, and review as soon as possible.

Here’s what I think will be the weaker points or questions of the Deck, at least from a Linux gamer’s viewpoint. In other words, ignoring what a Windows user might expect or want on the software side.

  1. The screen: I’m spoiled for high resolution screens and not seeing pixels, or really large screens. The Deck’s 1280×800 7“ screen will not be the same as a good smartphone, for sure, but is comparable to the handheld phenomenon that is the Nintendo Switch. There’s a trade off for power consumption and performance needed to drive that, of course. This just comes with the territory, but I’m prepared to be left wanting.
  2. Battery life: No one in the history of mankind has ever wanted less battery on something. I’m curious how it will fare for me, probably playing less demanding games and willing to take a quality hit if needed for traveling. Early reports put it anywhere from 1-4 hours in many workloads, maybe more like 5-6 on something light with some tweaks (or even hitting 8 or 9 hours with more effort). Should be okay for many use cases?
  3. Size: The Deck is a big boy/girl. Early impressions around the web overall put it as quite comfortable, maybe some adjustments for people with smaller hands (hi). How will this fit with wanting to travel light? If I need a laptop anyway on a short trip, is it worth bringing the Deck too? Is it going to be a bit ridiculous to whip out the Deck in more public settings?
  4. Usage: Questions for someone like me that lucked into a new desktop build recently are when and how I’ll use the Deck, how will it change what or how much I play? Personally I can see it for that back log of indies, metroidvanias, RPGs, etc. And perhaps playing more, maybe when it is hot in the summer where my computer is or getting away from the other distractions with a dedicated gaming device. How will it complement my love for VR?
steam deck hands on
Battery life optimization by The Phawx for the game Control.

Those are the big ones for me. And for some perspective of where I’m coming from: I’ve never owned a gaming handheld, of any kind. This is new to me. Will it be amazing to get that real computer gaming experience in a smaller package? Or will it lack in comparison to the full thing?

On the software side I’m pretty optimistic, both since I primarily use Steam and I’m confident I can add whatever else I need (Lutris?). Proton has been great and as a Linux only gamer that hasn’t touched competitive multiplayer in a while, there’s no “must plays” missing from native or Proton for me. Steam is not perfect, but give it a controlled environment from Valve and I think it will come out pretty well from the start. Having spent some time in the Steam sandbox and runtimes (for packaging in Guix) I really appreciate the hard work they’ve had to do.

Besides early impressions on all of the above, I hope to get into some interesting territory with my Deck. I want to see about using it as a Linux desktop (and stripping it down to a bare window manager), install/break/fix things, see how it drives a TV or projector, maybe see how puke-tastic VR is with it…

pocket.jpg
“Pocketable” is a state of mind…and pants size. (via Reddit)

What would you like to see from our coverage? We can expect general reviews and performance testing everywhere, but from the seasoned Linux side we have different expectations and questions. And I don’t just mean “can I run Emacs with an onscreen keyboard” (yes, you know I’ll be trying that right away). What would you like to know about the Deck?

The first round of order emails will be going out this Friday the 25th. In the meantime, let us know what your expectations and questions are. And here is a roundup of highlights from our Steam Deck coverage (follow that link for the full list of all our Deck articles):

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