A surprising turn of events, if I say so myself. We knew a rejoinder was about to hit the Big N, but not in the way we were expecting. A PSVITA follow-up? Probably. An XBOX Series H? (for handheld, get it?) Possibly. But Steam? A handheld PC gaming device that allows you to take your games on the go? Well let’s do some homework. PC Handhelds have been around for quite sometime now in the form of tablets, and raspberry pi devices that allow users to play simplistic mobile titles, or run emulators and store millions of illegally downloaded roms on their SD Cards – yeah, I’m shaming you… you know I’m talking directly to you. Spruiked across international storefronts like AliExpress and eBay, they come a dime-a-dozen, in different shapes, sizes and colours, but none ever able to encase and compartmentalise the power of a brute force gaming PC into a tiny case.
The Nintendo Switch was able to ascertain that market, with its revolutionary handheld hybrid, home console format that unequivocally changed the way we play. Doom Eternal on the go? The Witcher 3 on the bus? The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild while you poop? History making. But out of the three titles just mentioned, two will have their place on Steam’s new platform, while one will remain exclusive to Nintendo’s. The difference? The Steam deck will harness enough horsepower to run those games at exemplary performance while the Switch will always entail a filtered version to compensate for lacking hardware. An Issue we thought Nintendo were looking to fix with their revised OLED Model. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe the Japanese hardware developer are looking to release an upgraded model that will internally strip out the old guts and replace them with fresh chipsets, but it may be sometime before it gets there.
The question is, who has the upper hand? Is it Steam or Nintendo? It’s hard to say right now, but if were to wager a guess, I would have to give it to Nintendo. An already established market, which they decimate in terms of handheld gaming. Sure it may become competitive in terms of digital pricing, which is good news for Switch owners when the Steam Summer and Winter sale come along, but it begs the question – or possibly makes a difficult decision for those in the market for a new handheld device – which do I get? As someone who just pre-ordered the OLED Switch model, I too am now am a little perplexed. Did I make the right choice? Should I wait for the Steam Deck? I already own three Switch models, do I need this fourth for the OLED exclusive upgrade? Or do I promise a powerhouse that I can on the go? I hate window shopping, it’s the worst.
For the general consumer, this is a war of attrition, essentially gauging what one or the other may offer in hopes of enticing a general audience. But it’s an uphill climb for the Steam Deck if they hope to overturn the king of handheld gaming. Otherwise the hardcore and devout, this will break the bank. As someone who has over 200 titles in their Steam Library, I’m sitting pretty with a promise to actually play through a great chunk of back catalogue games that I promised I would finish… one day. But again, Nintendo’s library is sheer quality over quantity, with the promise of Breath of the Wild’s sequel just around the corner I’m completely torn. It truly does come down to what you want to play, and how you would like to play it. The PC market may not be flocking to a handheld device even, this is niche and for those that look to prolong their time in time-sinks/MMO’s like Final Fantasy XIV, or World of Warcraft.
Nintendo Switch OLED
$399USD (64GB Model)
October 8, 2021
11.7 x 4.6 x 1.8-inch (298 x 117 x 49mm)
4 inches high, 9.5 inches long, and 0.55 inches deep (with Joy-Con attached)
8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5HGz
8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.8GHz (3.6GHz with SMT)
16GB LPDDR5 @ 5,500MT/s
4 GB LPDDR4 SDRAM @ 1600 MHz
AMD RDNA 2
Nvidia Tegra X1 (Custom)
Up to 4K at 120Hz via HDMI in TV mode.
Up to 720p via built-in screen in Tabletop mode and Handheld modes
Up to 1080p via HDMI in TV mode.
Up to 720p via built-in screen in Tabletop mode and Handheld modes
64GB (Can be expanded through MicroSD Card slot)
2-8 Hours depending on which title you’re playing.
5-8 Hours depending on which title you’re playing.
The not-so shocking detail of stripping Steam OS from Linux and re-installing Windows 10 as its base operating system, widens the gap and opens a new realm in possibility for the device. Emulation galore, which Nintendo is already on the front foot by throwing a bible’s worth of DMCA’s across multiple sites. But Nintendo’s joint offering of annual membership that comes free with their legacy library, upgraded with online play is already a plus. The probability of Steam Deck overcoming the Switch’s success is low, and that’s the honest reality. Yes, it will have a dedicated fanbase that will undoubtedly bring Valve some success to its platform, but fears of it being another “VITA” could potentially bring ruin, but I highly doubt that will happen here. Ergonomically speaking, I do hope the Steam Deck gets a quick design overhaul before release as it does look like a pain to hold. I realise they need to compensate for pointer controls, but the placement of action buttons looks like a hand-cramp waiting to happen.
The Switch deviates from traditional means with the trademark touch-screen that has been staple for handheld gaming since the NintendoDS. The 7-inch OLED touch-screen will be an appreciated improvement over the 6.2-inch LED screen already implemented on base model units. The Steam Deck will mirror the OLED’s display but only in dimension, not in technology. A standard 7-inch LED touch-screen will be encased with the PC platform, with a somewhat polarising 60Hz refresh rate. The AMD Zen 2 CPU Processor smokes the Nintendo Switch, with 16GB (LPDDR5 @ 5,5000MT/s) of RAM, but again like the switch only outputs 720p in handheld. With guts comes girth, and the Steam Deck flaunts a chunky exterior that carries its weight. Almost double that of the Switch, the Steam Deck comes in at a lofty 1.47lb’s while the Switch OLED gains a few choc-chip cookies from .66lb’s to .71lb’s.
Battery life for both units are identical at 7-8 hours depending on the title you play. The Steam Deck will however deliver an omitted feature that gamer’s have been begging Nintendo to include on the Switch for quite some time now, Bluetooth for headphones. Sure you can purchase third-party headsets specifically manufactured for the Switch that do come with a proprietary dongle to allow such a thing, but it’s not 2007 and we should not have to do that – I’m looking at you as well, PlayStation. Generously, Valve give users the option to select three models of the handheld that will encase different size NVMe SSD drives from their base model which again mirror’s the Switch OLED at 64GB, the mid-tier at 256GB, and the premium model at 512GB each ranging from $399USD/$529USD/$649USD respectively.
So where do we sit right now? The answer is: Limbo. The Switch OLED is for the enthusiast that gets more use out of their beloved home console than the general consumer, but the Steam Deck is certainly an enticing piece of kit that may be able to demonstrate the next generation of handhelds. Should Nintendo be worried? Not at the moment. They know they own the market, and Steam are completely aware of that. The Deck’s existence is purely for the PC Gamer to get their fix on the go, and it’s not a dominate niche that needs to be satiated. PC elitists love their large monitors that display 4K gaming at exorbitant refresh rates, and the clicks of the mechanical keyboard that lights up with the flashy RGB. Right now, the Steam Deck is a certain complimentary console to the big rig sitting at home, but Nintendo have their install base that are devoted to their titles, this in addition to the PlayStation, XBOX and the PC gamer that want to play their first Party titles. Nintendo are sitting pretty, and they know it.
The Nintendo Switch OLED Model releases on October 8, 2021. The unit coincides with the release of Metroid: Dread, which you can now pre-order.