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The Steam Deck Is Not Fit For Purpose

The Steam Deck is a piece of kit with great potential. If you’re into diving into the code or tweaking your PC’s BIOS settings just to run Crysis at a couple more frames per second, then I’m sure you’ll love it. It’s a gaming laptop in the body of the Nintendo Switch. A Switch after it’s been souped-up, put on a course of anabolic steroids, and taken up bodybuilding, that is.

My gripes with the Steam Deck are not that it’s too bulky, however. I’m also not bothered by the fact I don’t want to dive into the nitty gritty of the console’s code to run certain games – although I am consciously aware that I could be getting more from it. I’m not too bothered by the fact that it can double as a radiator when playing games I didn’t think were particularly intensive. Kaiju Wars turns it into a bona fide hot water bottle.

I’m not even arsed about the abstruse systems, meaning that I couldn’t dive into The Witcher 3 on a long car journey because I didn’t have an internet connection. It was fully downloaded, but because I didn’t load it up for the first time when connected to the internet, it was unplayable until I did so. Okay, I’m a little bit arsed about that, but most of all I hate the battery life.

The Steam Deck is great for playing your games on the go, and I’ve never seen more power in a handheld device. Cyberpunk looks great, and runs okay, and that alone is impressive. But how long can you play it for? Three hours tops.

In the car journey that I downloaded (and couldn’t play) The Witcher for, my Steam Deck died before I reached my destination. It was fully charged and I wasn’t playing particularly intensive games – a mix of Kaiju Wars, Shadow of Mordor (I know), and Norco – but it died within four hours. I live in England, so it’s rare that journeys take longer than this, but we were driving down south to see my nan, and I was forced to talk to my family for the final hour of the trip. Horrific, I know.

But this got me thinking. If I was making a longer journey, say, to the northernmost parts of Scotland or a plane ride anywhere outside of Europe, why would I take the Steam Deck? It would provide a few hours of great entertainment, and then what? Whereas the Switch, the Steam Deck’s closest competitor, would last for the entire journey, but I’d be stuck with those crummy Switch titles like Breath of the Wild, Metroid Dread, and Animal Crossing. I know that the Steam Deck has infinitesimally more titles than the Switch and I purposefully picked Nintendo’s finest for this comparison, but if I had the choice between playing Hades for four hours on the Steam Deck or twice that on the Switch at slightly lower settings, the answer is clear.

And it’s exactly that reason that I believe the Steam Deck isn’t fit for purpose. Is a console truly portable if its battery only lasts for a couple of hours? If I was going on holiday abroad, even to somewhere relatively close like Spain, I would need to get an hour of public transport to get to the airport. Like all dads, I’m an early bird and like to get through check-in and passport control a couple of hours before my flight. After browsing duty free and grabbing a Burger King (why do all airports always have Burger Kings?) I've likely got another hour or two to kill. One train ride and a short wait – will my Steam Deck have any charge left by the time I board the plane?

I could seek out power outlets and turn my brightness right down, but that’s besides the point. I want a portable console that is actually portable. I don’t want to have to find a place to charge it twice a day just to make it through my journey, and I don’t want to turn the brightness down so low that I can’t see what I’m playing – that all defeats the point of buying a portable console in the first place. I said in my review that the Steam Deck feels like a prototype: the Steam Deck 2 needs twice as big a battery.

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