Nov 26, 2023 6 min read

A Steam Deck OLED mini review: Better than expected

The Steam Deck OLED is a much better handheld than I initially thought and Valve made us believe.

Handheld shot of the Steam Deck OLED playing Star Fox: Zero

The Steam Deck OLED is a much better handheld than I initially thought and Valve made us believe.

Hi, hello and welcome. It's Sunday, so it is time for a new edition of the overkill digest newsletter. The focus this week is on the new Steam Deck OLED, which arrived at my doorstep earlier this week.

I own many handhelds (I'm counting fourteen right now), but I am still surprised by the Steam Deck OLED, which I want to review today.

Interlude: If you missed it, a few weeks ago, we launched a Patreon account. For a monthly $5, you get access to behind-the-scene looks, an ad-free browsing experience here on overkill, access to our members-only Discord server, and more. Chris and I are also working on a few new ideas that will be exclusive for our Patreon subs, but we'll announce them in the future. Thanks for your support!

So, let's get to it!

The Steam Deck OLED, after a few days

Earlier this week, I received my OLED Steam Deck, and after setting it up following our starter guide, I have to admit that I am surprised at how much I like the few changes Valve made to this handheld.

Even though, on paper, Valve only switched the screen to an OLED panel with a higher refresh rate, made the device a bit lighter, and changed a few tidbits here and there, I am surprised by how much of an impact these changes have made.

I've played the Steam Deck OLED a lot these last few days — and I mean a lot. My eyes actually hurt a little from the number of hours I played (and I refuse to use eyedrops because that stuff scares me).

Even though it's still early – after all, this Steam Deck arrived on Wednesday –, the OLED version is climbing in my personal ranking of all the handhelds I own.

ROG Ally connected to a TV.
My ROG Ally is basically a fancy XBOX nowadays.

My favourite device was the AYANEO 2s. My second favourite handheld was the AYANEO Air 1s because it is so small and comes with a great OLED screen – it is (was?), after all, my indie machine of choice. As for the ROG Ally, I primarily use(d) it as a console connected to my TV. Though, it is not the best experience, but more about that in a future post. As for the original Steam Deck, I didn't use it that much. I prefer Windows for the simple reason that I own a lot of games that are not on Steam. I'm also a sucker for performance, and both AYANEOs and the ROG Ally are simply more powerful than even this new Steam Deck.

But there's something about this OLED Deck and the latest version of SteamOS that makes me enjoy Valve's handheld much more. Even though it's less powerful than other options, and running games that you got outside of the Steam Store is still a mess, there's a certain charm about the whole console-like experience of the Deck. The OLED version is also noticeably lighter than its predecessors, helping relieve the carpal tunnel syndrome I suffer from after long sessions (it's not entirely gone, as I sometimes still lie on the couch like a gremlin, though this might be more on me than on the ergonomics of the Steam Deck).

Comparison Shot of Steam Deck OLED and AYANEO Air 1s
Two OLED screens, but one device is significantly larger.

One of the reasons I liked the AYANEO Air 1s so much is its OLED screen. But due to its size (that I quite like; I wish Valve would make a Steam Deck Lite), the Air 1s is less powerful than the 2S. It is still more powerful on paper than the Steam Deck, but I must admit that the larger OLED screen with the higher refresh rate is why I started to like Valve's handheld more than the AYANEO one.

It is simply a joy to look at, and no matter what games I am playing (right now, it is Star Fox: Zero via CEMU, and Endless Dungeon for a future edition of overkill spotlight), I thoroughly enjoy the experience.

Is the Steam Deck OLED perfect? No, I don’t think so. There are still some apparent issues, like its enormous size for people who like smaller devices, the peculiarity of installing games outside of the Steam Store, and the lack of a second USB-C plug (this is probably my biggest issue). I am also trying out GeForce Now for a future blog post, and, unfortunately, there is no native client for Linux. Sure, I could use the browser version, but that is still a different experience. The same goes for Microsoft's streaming service.

I also don’t think I will play any of the major AAA games on the Steam Deck because of the differences in performance – these are still reserved for the 2s or occasionally the ROG Ally (despite the lack of OLED, a 120 Hz refresh rate still makes a difference).

Shot of the orange power button of the Steam Deck OLED.
I like the orange accents a lot.

But I see myself using the Steam Deck OLED much more going forward. In fact, I can easily see it becoming my most used device for all my indie and emulation needs (which is what I play the most on a day-to-day basis) despite it not being my favourite handheld.

Also, one thing I haven't yet tried is the new TV experience of the Steam Deck OLED. The Steam Deck Dock now supports Variable Refresh Rates, and Valve added a new Bluetooth chip to the OLED version that enables us to wake it up with a Bluetooth controller. So maybe it could even replace my ROG Ally, but I will report back in the future.

In summary, I‘m absolutely enjoying my time with the new Steam Deck, and believe that the changes are much more impactful than I initially thought, and Valve makes them seem. I actually believe Valve could have called this Steam Deck 2, and I wouldn't have been bothered that much.

My next steps are potentially modding the Deck more to my liking by installing the biggest available (and payable) SSD (this or this) and MicroSD (this, currently on sale). I am also waiting for GuliKit to release new hall-sensing analogue sticks, and for dbrand to drop a new limited-edition skin like the Zelda-inspired one on my original Deck. If you want to know more, drop a comment down below.

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