Steam Deck OLED review: better, not faster

Good things often come to gamers who wait. There’s always a slimmer, more power-efficient PlayStation or Xbox on the way. Nintendo has long hammered out attractive new combos of size, screen, color, and battery life for its Game Boy, DS, and Switch.

But Valve, with the new Steam Deck OLED, may have created the best console revision ever.

It fixes my biggest complaints about Valve’s original handheld gaming PC and then some, without any new catch. Starting at $549 for 512GB of storage, it only costs $20 more than last year’s model with half that capacity — or you can pay the same $649 as last year’s 512GB to get 1TB now.

But don’t let the name fool you: unlike Nintendo’s Switch OLED, the new Steam Deck isn’t just a new screen and extra storage. It’s a new battery, new chip, new cooling, a new 90Hz refresh rate, and well over a dozen other substantive changes. Almost all make the Steam Deck OLED hands-down better than the original. It’s so much better, I wouldn’t buy an original Steam Deck anymore.

Here is a sentence lifted word for word from my test notes that might give you some idea: “Cyberpunk is running faster, more stable, cooler, quieter, while drawing less power from a larger battery and looking brighter and clearer and better.”

That’s what I want for all of my games, and that’s what I want for you. Just know that when I wrote “faster,” I only meant an extra four frames per second. 


That’s right: the Steam Deck OLED is not a next-gen “Steam Deck Pro” or a “Steam Deck 2,” and it’s by design. In September, Valve told The Verge it wouldn’t make the Steam Deck faster anytime soon, despite the fact that rival handhelds with faster processors can now get far more playable results in demanding games like Starfield and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

The orange power button and black sticks are the only way to tell it from the original at a glance.

But while an Asus ROG Ally does have more headroom for newer games, it struggles to play them nearly as long. With the Steam Deck OLED, Valve is extending its battery life lead, advertising three to 12 hours of gameplay compared to two to eight hours previously. And while you can absolutely drain it in less than three, I’m always feeling far more comfortable about how much gas is in the tank.

For example: in 2022, I was able to play the graphically intensive Control for just under two hours on my original Steam Deck review unit at 60 frames per second. This past week, I played the same game at up to 80 frames per second for two hours, 11 minutes. 

I played an hour and 15 minutes of 2D titles Duck Game and SpeedRunners with some old friends, chatting on Discord all the while, and had 84 percent battery left in the tank when I finished. With 70 percent remaining as I write these words, my Deck OLED review unit is telling me I can play Slay the Spire for seven more hours since it’s consistently drawing just 5.3 watts now. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time looks like it’ll last eight hours total, up from five or so previously.

I also played over three hours of Nier: Automata over the course of two days without returning to a plug — two of those hours at 60fps. When the Deck said I only had 30 percent battery left and 37 more minutes to play, I simply dropped the frame rate to 45fps and, later, 30fps to nearly double that remaining playtime — getting another entire hour and 10 minutes before the Deck shut down. (At 45fps, three hours of Control is also definitely within reach.)

How? A more efficient chip, larger battery, a 90Hz OLED screen — and generally, the decision to pull a Nintendo with the new Steam Deck. 

The Steam Deck’s new, thicker heatsink and fan. Please gently yank the battery cable before you open the secondary cover, and don’t forget to remove your microSD before you open a Steam Deck at all.

AMD shrunk down its 7nm “Aerith” chip into a new 6nm “Sephiroth,” and Valve pointed almost all of that efficiency toward power savings rather than performance, just like Nintendo and Nvidia did with the red box Nintendo Switch.  

And like Nintendo with the Switch OLED, Valve didn’t waste performance or battery life on higher screen resolution — it contracted Samsung to build a custom 90Hz HDR OLED panel at the same 1280 x 800 resolution as the original.

And because that new screen was thinner, Valve managed to fit a thicker heatsink, larger fan, and a 22 percent higher capacity 50 watt-hour battery pack into the same space. 

Depending on the content, the OLED screen alone can save over half a watt, according to Valve — and overall, I’m seeing big games draw two watts fewer on the Steam Deck OLED compared to the Steam Deck LCD, at 24W, where the original drew 26 or 27. There are exceptions: Nidhogg consumed 7.2W on OLED versus 6W on LCD at the same 60fps, and Max Payne 2 drew roughly the same 10W on each. 

But the bigger battery means games last longer anyhow. And the new OLED screen, die-shrunk “Sephiroth” chip, and a slight bump to 6400MT/s memory often make them play better, too. 

Not all of these games run equally well.

Let me be clear: Starfield still runs like crap. And I won’t say I didn’t see mysterious stutter in other games because I absolutely did. But in Cyberpunk 2077, Elden Ring, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and yes, even Starfield, I saw very slightly higher frame rates and fewer frame time spikes for more stable gameplay than the OG Deck — and I believe I’m seeing similar stability in less intensive games, too. (And if you ask me, playing an old game at a buttery smooth 80 or 90 frames per second definitely counts as more performance than the old Deck’s 60fps maximum.)

The fan is also whisper-quiet now, fixing one of the biggest issues with the original. The entire handheld runs cooler. It simply doesn’t get uncomfortably hot, even after fully draining the battery with an intensive game. The battery charges faster, at least relatively speaking: while the OLED model actually took over 30 minutes longer than my LCD model to completely top off, I saw it take its larger battery from 2 percent to 80 percent in just 71 minutes — compared to 99 minutes for the LCD model. According to my wattmeter, the new Deck takes full advantage of its 45W USB-C PD charger right up to the 65 percent mark.

A quick-and-dirty Flir thermal camera video. (This only shows vague skin temperatures, not internal temperatures.)

Speaking of chargers, every Steam Deck OLED now comes with a longer 2.5-meter (up from 1.5-meter) power cable, and the 1TB model comes with a fancy two-in-one case — a smaller shell suitable for stuffing your Deck into a bag, Velcroed into a larger carrying case for standalone protection. I find it’s a tad harder to zip up — but the small version is actually useful.

There’s also Wi-Fi 6E for faster downloads, with two antennas for 2.4GHz and either 5GHz or faster 6GHz simultaneously. My home network’s still on Wi-Fi 6, but I’m still seeing respectable 500Mbps-plus downloads straight from Valve’s servers. The Deck also has a dedicated Bluetooth antenna now — and while I haven’t yet tested Valve’s claim that it better supports multiple simultaneous wireless gamepads for couch games, I am so happy to confirm the Deck finally supports Bluetooth microphones for chat. (You’ll still need a pair of low-latency headphones or earbuds to avoid game audio lag.)

Physically, the new Deck is actually 29 grams lighter, enough that I can notice the difference blindfolded when picking them up. The shoulder buttons and Steam / Quick Access buttons are clickier. The thumbstick tops are taller, wider, and grippier, making it slightly easier to make your character keep running in one direction; they’ve got a tackier, more recessed smooth divot on top that’s a lovely (and hopefully easier to clean) perch for your thumb.

They’re not Hall effect magnetic joysticks, by the way, just normal ones. “We have not seen very many complaints at all with joystick drift,” says Valve hardware engineer Yazan Aldehayyat.

Valve says the touchpads and touchscreen are now more responsive, too — but I think it’s finally time to address the 7.4-inch elephant in the room. 

We can’t easily show you HDR in a browser, but you can imagine.

It’s like getting a new pair of headphones and wanting to hear all your favorite songs again: that’s how I’d describe the Steam Deck’s slightly larger and absolutely better RGB-stripe HDR OLED screen. 

Even though I have an OLED TV in my living room and an OLED phone in my pocket, I don’t play PC games on them — and OMG does Mirror’s Edge look so good on this gadget. The reds, the blues, the yellows — the entire game’s art direction just explodes off the screen even though it’s not an HDR game. I could say the same about Hades. I can’t wait to try Hi-Fi Rush, particularly since Valve’s also made the speakers noticeably louder here. 

Technically, this screen may be better than my LG OLED television: I’ll defer to display nerds with professional colorimeters on that, but I do know I’ve yet to use an OLED that boasts 110 percent (not 100 percent, not 99 percent) of the DCI-P3 color gamut, reaches 1,000 nits of HDR peak brightness, and yet still manages to pump out 600 nits of full-screen SDR brightness, too. 

Functionally, that means the Steam Deck OLED always gets brighter than the Steam Deck LCD in every situation — and in HDR, your games finally have real light. The neon lights in Cyberpunk 2077 look like actual neon tubes! The jump jets and sparks and laser blades in Armored Core VI realistically glow. Elden Ring’s magical bolts of fire come alive, and after some in-game HDR brightness adjustment, the golden light of the Erdtree starts to feel blindingly divine. 

Ori and the Will of the Wisps, widely regarded as one of the best made-for-HDR games, constantly bursts with glorious light — and without the rest of the screen awkwardly dimming like I saw in my recent gaming monitor review. I do wish it displayed in 16:10, though.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps — a screenshot I took on the Deck that doesn’t do it justice.

Still, there aren’t a lot of HDR games out there last I checked, and you’ll have a tough time finding HDR video to play on this system, too. There’s no HDR Netflix, no HDR YouTube, no other HDR streaming services I’m aware of on Linux. My rough understanding is that HDR on Linux is a bit of a Wild West, and Valve is helping build some of the first settlements out there.

And as much as I prefer the incredible response time, clarity, blacks, and color of an OLED screen, there’s something left to be desired from the screen’s refresh rate(s) compared to, say, the Asus competition. 

Valve display tech expert Jeremy Selan tells me that variable refresh rate (VRR) “didn’t quite make it into this revision,” so the Steam Deck OLED can still easily run into stutter when games can’t keep up with the refresh rate you select. And while you can now select from an incredible range of frame rates all the way from 10fps to 90fps, some of which divide nicely into the refresh rates Valve’s new screen supports, I’m finding it takes a lot of trial and error to see which games work with which refresh options. 30fps should scale beautifully to 90Hz, but I’m only seeing that work in some titles. Even 60/60 wasn’t perfectly smooth in everything I’ve tried.

I would not buy an Asus ROG Ally over a Steam Deck, but the don’t-have-to-think-about-it VRR ability is one of two things I prefer about Asus. (The other is a turbo mode to get extra performance when I plug into the wall. Valve says turbo mode complicates things and requires overdesigned components. “We don’t want to use up our weight and budget on things that might not be useful to you,” Aldehayyat tells me.)

But there’s no question that the new Deck’s screen is leagues better than the original’s. Even on a purely cosmetic level, the larger 7.4-inch size makes for noticeably smaller bezels, and the true blacks of completely turned off OLED pixels mean there’s no ugly backlight bleed or unfortunate gray letterboxing when you’re playing games at 16:9 rather than the native 16:10 aspect ratio.

Valve says the Deck is more repairable than ever, with Torx screws, fewer repair steps, machine screw bosses for the back cover, and a screen you can replace all by itself.

This isn’t yet a definitive review of the Steam Deck OLED because, frankly, I don’t know how much it might change over the days and weeks to come. During my review period alone, Valve added multiple missing features (like Bluetooth microphone support and louder speakers), squashed several major bugs (like nonworking internal microphones and audio stutter on resume), and changed how the battery-saving frame limiter works. Reviewers are working with beta software, and I had one mysterious blackscreen. My colleague Vjeran Pavic had another while filming our review video. 

But while the original Deck was shoved out the door months before it was ready, I feel far more confident recommending this one, and I’d argue Valve has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. It’s shipped over 300 updates to the original Steam Deck over the past 21 months, transforming it from a glorious mess into a genre-defining handheld. Between those updates and the hardware customer support I’ve seen, I now trust Valve more than any other gadget maker. 

The Steam Deck on a shelf.

I make a point of holding onto the very best versions of every game console I love. The 60GB PS3 “Phat” with PS2 backward compatibility. A Homebrew Channel-hacked Wii for my GameCube games. An Xbox 360 Elite with the swappable hard drive and supposedly Red Ring of Death-proof “Jasper” motherboard. A Nintendo DS Lite with a special Game Boy Advance cartridge that can play Japanese games with English translations on top. An original PS2 with a hard drive rigged to load games faster than disc.

So I’m pretty sure I’ll buy a Steam Deck OLED — unless I can convince myself to wait for the Deck’s eventual next-gen successor. Maybe I’ll pick the limited-edition $680 model with a transparent shell and orange highlights that’s only shipping to the US and Canada since you know how I love my see-through nerdery.

The new Steam Deck OLED ships November 16th, and there shouldn’t be a multi-month wait this time around. Valve says they’re in mass production. “We have them; they’re piling up in the warehouse now.”

As for the Steam Deck 2: “We’re confident that in the next couple of years we’ll have something we can call a proper Steam Deck 2,” Valve designer Lawrence Yang tells me. 

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