Steam Deck OLED Limited Edition: First Impressions Are Quite Underwhelming


The new Steam Deck OLED arrived! I was quite excited about it but it ended up being an underwhelming experience. Let’s dive in for more details.

As soon as I opened the box I could see the contents, compared to last time everything was blocked by a white and blue guidance card (sorry I recycled it, so I have no pictures). Removing them from the box exposes the new cover, with a black logo and removable liner.

Besides the logo, the two major differences are the handle is now on the side where the zippers start and end, and there is a Velcro lock to keep it closed and prevent the zippers to go through accidentally.

The liner has Steam Deck prints on it, and it is connected to the case by Velcro. The mould is similar to the original Deck. The little towel is now white with a minimalist black logo on it without text.

Outside there are not many differences from the original Steam Deck besides the colors for the commemorative edition. For the internal changes, I recommend this article. The minor notable changes are:

  • The new, and welcome, torx screws.

  • A narrower screen bezel.
  • Smooth and deeper analog stick face. I find the older more comfortable, but the new might work better for people who customize their sticks.

  • The logo on the charger - they have the same technical aspects printed on them, but Steam Deck OLED charges faster than LCD.

The screen now supports 90 FPS, and it is quite nice for people that have been using monitors with +100FPS - you will fell less the change. Another benefit(?) I felt is that if you use lower FPS, let’s say: 40FPS, you can still get 80Hz refresh rate, again, it might be subjective as I have no way to test, but the game feels a bit less choppy.

One noteworthy mention about the insides, if you mute while under heavy load gameplay, you can hear a more pleasant noise from the OLED fans compared to the LCD version. Otherwise, I could not hear any with the music playing with the built-in speaker.

I also reported to Valve support a problem I had while using jack earbuds. It has excessive electrical noises. I tried with 2 different earbuds (Hola, Bl03) and 1 set of headphones (Sundara). What makes me wonder if it is something with the voltage, impedance levels or something power related. Podiki also experienced the same with his Steam Deck OLED.

While navigating the Steam menus, I could hear cracklings noises. I imagine the problem might be power related, as the crackling would happen with the build in speakers as well.

Here are a few audio samples from the Steam Deck jack output:

Baseline LCD

Baseline OLED

OLED with button press

Plenty of people on GitHub reported this problem as well. And some managed to partially fix by properly insulating some screws. More details down the GitHub issue..

My last reply from Valve support was about 3 weeks ago, saying they are investigating the issues. Some people from the thread linked above already received invite to RMA their products.

Once you start the new Steam Deck OLED, it will ask for a few minutes to update. After you log in, you can claim the bonuses:

  • Steam Deck profile (if you already have it, you get nothing)

  • Virtual Keyboard (OLED) - see picture above.

  • Startup Video (OLED)

You can use the new virtual keyboard and startup video on your old Steam Deck as well. Most cosmetic changes you would do on one Deck, would reflect on the other Deck right away. The things I did not notice changing were game profiles - the OG Deck cannot go over 60 fps, but I doubt that was the reason, as Performance Overlay and other tweaks did not change between devices.

OLED shines at higher brightness - no pun intended. The colours pop and the edges are so much better defined.

At brightness 0 in darker places, things started getting weird. I felt more enjoyable to look at the original Deck, and for some reason I was spending more battery on the OLED version. That was the opposite I expected from the changes.

At the same frame rate and 0 brightness, I was consistently getting 0.5W less on the original LCD compared to the OLED version. Note on the screenshot above and below, I have about 1.5W more because I am streaming to my computer.

I had to use the stream function on my computer because after the Steam OS update to 3.5+ the Performance Overlay is not appearing on screenshots. Please see below a picture from a camera.

I also put Steam in offline mode and disabled the Wi-Fi, after reading about some people having issues with the new board. That helped shave another Watt from the power drain on both decks, but did not help me investigate the problem.

After those first impressions, I was worried and tested several games. Most of the games I play on the Deck draw under 10 Watts of power, and I was consistently getting the same results or better number on the LCD. Hotline Miami was one of the ties, 6W of power drain on each Deck, varying very little.

Because most reviews I saw were benchmarking heavy games, I installed a bunch of those and saw some improvements. The Steam Deck OLED never went above 22W, while the Steam Deck LCD would go around 24W and struggling to reach the same FPS OLED was providing. After never hitting 23W on OLED, I wonder if there are any locks preventing it from going further.

For example you can see above the benchmark of Shadow of Mordor, OLED averaged 158FPS while LCD was under, at around 145FPS. If you limit it to the screen’s framerate, it leaves a lot of room to bring the graphics up a notch.

HDR can be another fine addition to the Steam Deck OLED, but the results can be personal and subjective - and not many games in my library supported it. But I quite enjoyed its effects while playing Death Stranding. The image here looks a bit darker with HDR on, but at the distance it looks less “washed”.

I am yet to try emulators, and there are many other tests I would like to run. But first I want to troubleshoot these problems I had with Valve. I hope I did not get a defective unit, and it can be solved with software.

Patola also struggled to transfer settings from the Steam Deck LCD to the OLED, as the Steam Deck was referencing compatdata prefixes on the internal drive. Steam also did not sync his controllers’ configuration. All those migration issues and workarounds would deserve their own article.

The main selling point of the Steam Deck OLED is supposed to be the battery life, but I keep getting higher consumption on the Steam Deck OLED compared to the original Steam Deck on the games I usually play.

It also does not help that one of the main features I use for Boiling Steam reviews was removed - the ability to take screenshot with overlay.

For all the above technical reasons, I am quite underwhelmed with this new device.