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Steam Deck pros and cons: Is a big handheld what PC gaming needs?

(Image credit: Valve)

Steam Deck is more or less a Switch for PC gamers: A bulky, AMD-powered handheld that plays all your Steam games, and can be tinkered with if you want to install other stores or even wipe SteamOS and install Windows. The cheapest version costs $399, and Valve is going to start shipping them in December.

Gabe Newell thinks that if Valve has done this right, it should sell "millions" of Steam Decks. Even Epic CEO Tim Sweeney is a fan. Several PC Gamer staff members plan to buy a Steam Deck. Others, however, are asking: Why?

Not all of us see the value in Valve's mobile PC gaming machine; some think it's absurd. For others, it's exactly what they were waiting for. Here's what resulted when Morgan (pro-Steam Deck), James (pro-Steam Deck), and Tyler (anti-Steam Deck) attempted to hash out their differences:

Pro: It's a handheld with my Steam games on it. I have hundreds of games already in my library. Now they're all portable without a choppy cloud stream. Why wouldn't I want that? —Morgan Park, Staff Writer

Con: Because playing Steam games with trackpads on a 7-inch screen sounds bad. Anyway, don't you have a smartphone? A tablet? A Switch? You can play games on those. —Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor

Pro: Phones don't have Baldur's Gate 3 on them! Phones and tablets are good gaming devices, but this thing can run Control and Jedi: Fallen Order, which my iPhone 7 Plus couldn't dream of. —Morgan

Con: Even if it is a good experience, enjoy the four or five hours of playtime you get. Maybe less. A maximum eight-hour battery life isn't promising. —Tyler

Pro: You can plug it in. And besides, who's playing four continuous hours of Hunt: Showdown beneath the old oak tree in the town graveyard? Most of my desk-based PC sessions stay under two hours, and my portable sessions will probably be shorter.  —James Davenport, Editor

(Image credit: Valve)

Con: If we're plugging it in all the time, then why not just get a gaming laptop? You can use it for work or school or for writing your spec script about a haunted oak tree and emailing it to Netflix, and it also has all your Steam games on it. A Razer Blade 14 is significantly more expensive, sure, but if you're thinking of dropping $650 on a 512GB Steam Deck, I feel like you're on your way there. —Tyler

Pro: I don't want to bring a gaming laptop to a bar. My biggest problem with PC gaming is that it's usually tied to a desk in an isolated room away from friends and family, and the last thing I wanna do after working at a desk all day is stay sitting to play some games. Once I clock out, I fill my backpack with stuff I might wanna dip into if the occasion arises: books, swimming shorts, and now, a whole-ass gaming PC. I like the idea of a more ambient PC gaming lifestyle, where I can hop on my Deck to check out the latest Baldur's Gate 3 patch while sipping a beer at a dive bar while waiting for some friends, or poke at an Elden Ring boss on the train. Spending endless evenings glued to my desk just for a hobby makes me reel in abject horror if I know I can just bring the hobby with me.   —James

$400 is one hell of a deal for an entry level gaming PC that just works.

James

Con: I don't really want to game at a bar. Maybe I just don't care about gaming outside of my home, which I suppose is all I needed to say to explain the rift between us here. I'm down to put in a few rounds of Hearthstone at the coffee shop, but I'd use a multi-purpose device like my phone or a laptop. Carrying around a Steam handheld (which I'd probably have to really tinker with to get Hearthstone onto, by the way), feels like a commitment to going outside for the purpose of looking at a screen, and seems unnecessary to me. —Tyler

Pro: You can use it in bed, or on your couch, too. Like I do with my Switch… sometimes. —Morgan

With a dock, you can use the Steam Deck as a desktop PC, if you want. (Image credit: Valve)

Con: I get the appeal of leaving your desk, but a $400-plus hunk of screen with the games I already have somehow doesn't feel like the best solution. I ought to be pushing for Nintendo and Sony exclusives on PC, I know, but seeing as they're not on PC (not entirely, at least), it makes more sense to me to get a console if you want to create more gaming opportunities away from your desk. —Tyler

Pro: We're forgetting that this isn't just for existing PC gamers. $400 is one hell of a deal for an entry level gaming PC that just works. We could get stuck in the weeds debating the value of console exclusives, but the fact is Steam has more games, better games, and cheaper games than the other platforms. And all for the price of a console. I can just point my nephew at it and say go. —James Davenport

Con: If it works. Valve's hardware has been hit and miss. Remember Steam Machines? (Yeah, that's right, I have cons, too.) —Morgan

Con: Whoa, double con. But I have to concede that James makes a good point up there: This device is clearly not for me, but it is an interesting proposition for someone who doesn't already have a gaming PC, but wants to play Steam games. They can use it like a console with the dock. (Hey, wait a minute, it's a Steam Machine!) —Tyler

(Image credit: Valve)

Pro: One last thing: Grip buttons, baby. Everybody's dwelling on the front trackpads that might suck, but it has four back grip buttons that can be mapped to anything. Those will be handy in so many games, especially shooters like Doom Eternal. —Morgan

Con: Know what else is handy in shooters like Doom Eternal? A thing you slide around on your desk. —Tyler

Pro: Then plug in a mouse, you sourpuss. It can do that too. —Morgan

Pro: And maybe there'll be fewer people hounding developers about Switch ports? One can hope. —James

Pro: Good point. Fine, I am pro now. —Tyler

Pro: Being pro feels good. I'm pro pro. —James