Update: Several hours after SteamDB creator Pavel Djundik tweeted about a possible handheld Steam console, Ars Technica cited multiple sources saying that Valve is indeed working on a portable gaming device and actually has been for some time—and that it might even be launched before the end of 2021.
According to Ars, the unit will be a sort of Nintendo Switch-style take on a PC, with a touchscreen, gamepad controls, and "system on a chip" architecture designed by either Intel or AMD. The unit is still in the prototype stage according to the report and so some features could ultimately change, but at least one prototype device is wider than a Switch in order to accommodate a large number of control options (although apparently not a wee tiny built-in QWERTY keyboard).
SteamPal devices—that's not yet an official name, by the way—will also reportedly run on Linux, which brings to mind memories of Valve's failed Steam Machines initiative. But this is aimed at a very different sort of market that doesn't currently offer many options to consumers: There are plenty of gaming laptops available (here's our list of the best of them) but they're generally expensive as hell and a lot more hardware than you need if you just want to blast through a few levels of Super Meat Boy in the back of your Uber.
There's not nearly enough information at this point to make any sort of prediction about how the SteamPal effort will ultimately work out: What sort of hardware it will be built around, how it will handle streaming, and of course the big one, what it will cost. There's also no guarantee that any of these uses will ultimately make it to market, although the release of the Valve Index VR headset demonstrates that Valve does have the capability of making these things happen when it really wants to.
The Ars report sounds definitive, but we haven't confirmed the details ourselves yet: There's been no official word from Valve about SteamPal devices one way or another. I've contacted Valve for more information and will update if I receive a reply.
Valve's latest Steam client beta has pointed towards the possibility of a future hardware release, with suggestions that it's going to be a handheld console.
SteamDB creator Pavel Djundik tweeted about another appearance of a project codenamed Neptune. The name made its first appearance back in September, but this update coupled it with references to "SteamPal" and "SteamPal Games" (thanks, VGC). Djundik also pointed out references to a quick access menu and a power menu. There are also strings relating to a low battery notification, Bluetooth and airplane toggles, and the options to restart, shut down, and suspend...something.
Djundik says he reckons all the strings found in the update relate to Neptune, coming to the conclusion that Valve could potentially be making a handheld Steam console. It's not a far-fetched suggestion either, especially taking into account that a decent amount of the strings relate to things you'd often find on a handheld device.
This update also added a "quick access menu" and a "power menu"I have a feeling all these strings related to "Neptune": https://t.co/Ih0K2y4E5AIs Valve making a handheld Steam console?May 25, 2021
It all lines up pretty neatly with Gabe Newell's strange sockless chat at a New Zealand high school earlier this month, too. When a student at Sancta Maria College asked Newell if Steam games would ever come to console, he responded "you will get a better idea of that by the end of this year, and it won't be the answer you would expect."