The Steam Deck undeniably has some great features, but if it were a superhero its superpower might not be what you expect. No, it’s not the powerful processor or advanced options and software, but seemingly the complete opposite of that: the Steam Deck’s real power is its super sleep.
First, a superpower needs to be reliable and without any big caveats. The Deck’s sleep ability is just that: every time it works quickly and flawlessly. It is a quick power button press away or in the Steam button’s power menu. In the middle of a game without a pause button (hi, Elden Ring)? No problem. Running low on battery or just need a moment to move the Deck without accidentally hitting the buttons? Or want to resume in that spare minute to get in a quick gaming fix? The Deck delivers every time. You can also set the Deck to go to sleep after some idle time, confident you won’t lose your game progress or battery life.
While sleeping/resuming is not perfect on many OSes and hardware, I think anyone that has used Linux for a while can attest to the many pitfalls for sleep. Often it is graphics drivers (Nvidia especially in my experience, but not only) or hardware quirks, but it is a difficult problem. I’ve certainly lived in fear when shutting the lid of my laptop, suddenly remembering I didn’t save something I was working on, just in case. Hardware and software that sleeps and resumes perfectly might later develop a very occasional failure rate, which can be very difficult to diagnose.
All that is to say that Valve have nailed it with SteamOS and the Deck’s hardware configuration. This will be something any competitors, whether also on SteamOS, a derivative, or Windows with its updates likely less controllable, will have to live up to. I’ve never experienced a hitch in the quick sleep/resume function. Maybe I’ve been scarred by unlucky experiences in the past, or just haven’t had a console or handheld, but it is a remarkable feature to me, just on a technical level. While nearly all, but not all, the time my computers sleep just fine (insert a joke about them getting better sleep than me), it is decidedly more important and useful on a portable, battery-powered device.
That aside, the sleep superpower is more than an expected convenience on this type of hardware. It really changes how you play. I usually don’t leave Steam open all the time, for one because it can be a little resource-heavy, and two because, well, temptation. It doesn’t take long to open Steam, but we also know that many games don’t like to be “alt-tabbed” (window or desktop switching). So you are playing, or not. Someone comes to the door or your oven pre-heated to put in some food? Better hope you can pause. Or add in some other setup before you can play, like taking out your gamepad, turning on and switching inputs on your TV or projector, etc., etc.
It may not seem like much but it can all add up to just enough friction to make gaming less than instantaneous. If you have kids, or just as you get older, you may not have large chunks of dedicated time to fully immerse yourself in playing. I think for many of us it ends up pushing gaming further down the list of quick and relaxing activities. Or maybe makes you turn to that mobile device for something short and bite-sized, yet not scratching that same itch.
That’s why the Deck’s real superpower is its sleep: suddenly all that is gone. I can get in a quick romp through a new area in Elden Ring, a couple of battles in my latest deckbuilder obsession (too many to name), and just keep chipping away at whatever I’m playing. I can hit that power button to sleep within a few seconds so I can move downstairs, tend to my cooking, and do whatever needs to be done knowing I can be right back in the game in a couple of seconds wherever I am.
This has led to a lot more game playing for me, and from what I see online, many others. I’ve been favoring quick, little games a lot these days anyway, for these reasons, but they fit very nicely on the Deck. Even the big games, like Elden Ring, have been largely played on the handheld Deck rather than my (still new) desktop with the big screen projector.
It is just easier. Lowering that barrier to getting you in the game is really the Deck’s greatest change to my gaming habits. And keeping gaming to a dedicated device might just keep you more focused at your computer. Just maybe keep it out of arm’s reach while you are at your desk.