If you’ve been holding off on buying a Steam Deck for a bit, I’ve got some great news: Today, November 9, 2023, Valve announced a hardware refresh for the Steam Deck. It’s called the Steam Deck OLED and, yes, the new, (and very) improved screen is one of its main features, but there’s plenty more to get excited about. Is it worth upgrading to the new device? Is now the right time to get a Steam Deck? Well, Kotaku got some hands-on time with the new unit and I am ready to share our preliminary findings.
Before we jump into the specifics, let’s talk price so you can get an idea of what all of this will cost you if you’re thinking of grabbing one. Valve will offer a selection of Steam Decks at these price points:
- $399 - 256BG Steam Deck LCD
- $549 - 512 GB Steam Deck OLED
- $649 - 1TB Steam Deck OLED
- $679 - 1TB Steam Deck Limited Edition
With these prices, the Steam Deck’s lowest price tier (which has the original Deck’s screen) improves with additional storage. But importantly, the new 1TB OLED Deck is the same price the top-of-the-line launch unit was, now with double the storage, and an improved screen, battery life, and more.
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Buy Steam Deck LCD: Steam | GameStop
Valve has made clear that the Steam Deck OLED is aiming for the “same performance target” as the original model, referring to the new OLED refresh as the “definitive first-generation Steam Deck.” That means you won’t be playing more demanding games on the unit but the games you currently have are going to look remarkably better and more vivid than they did before.
As the name suggests, the premiere feature of the new Steam Deck OLED is, yes, the new OLED screen which impresses on first glance—particularly when held up to the original, LCD Steam Deck.
Here are the Steam Deck OLED specs:
- HDR OLED
- Wide color gamut
- 110% P3
- Pure blacks—million to one contrast ratio
- Improved, more responsive touchscreen
- Larger 7.4” picture (up from 7” due to smaller bezel)
- 90Hz refresh rate (up from 60Hz)
- 1000 nit peak brightness (up from 400 nits)
- <0.1 ms response time
- More power efficient
- Premium anti-glare etched glass (1TB and Limited Edition models only)
The screen upgrade is a remarkable improvement over the initial LCD. In my time with the new unit, I bounced around between The Invincible, Signalis, Control, Sprawl, and Sea of Stars. In all of these games, colors are substantially more vivid. Not just vivid, they basically glow. I noticed this difference while playing Sprawl, a retro-style first person shooter set in a dark cyberpunk city packed with glowy signs that dazzle on this new screen.
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Buy Steam Deck LCD: Steam | GameStop
In Signalis, the deeper blacks of the OLED screen dramatically improved the experience. On the flip side, Sea of Stars looks bright, clear, and colorful. Thanks to the OLED within moments of booting up the handheld, I stopped caring about the specs of the machine and was swiftly immersed in each game I played.
This is a lovely, vibrant screen that elevates the experience of the Steam Deck. The improved colors and black levels make it feel more premium than its first iteration. Is it a revolutionary leap? No, the original Steam Deck is still an awesome device. But the OLED model simply feels like the best example of what this version of the machine can be.
I also found that desktop mode is a bit nicer on the new screen. It feels less cramped, and moving windows around with the touch screen is very easy. It almost makes me dream of a future where this could just be my main operating system instead of Windows.
The Steam Deck OLED also packs a 50Whr battery (the original had a 40Whr) which combines with a more power efficient refresh to the machine’s processor to make for improved battery life. Valve estimates that the Steam Deck OLED has anywhere from a 30 to 50 percent improvement in battery life.
It’s hard to quantify how accurate that is right now based on early hands-on time, but simply setting up the device alongside my original 512 GB Steam Deck, it was clear that my old one was burning through the battery at a faster rate.
Valve also states that the inclusion of a larger fan will improve thermals, but don’t worry: The exhaust vent still smells great.
With a Wi-Fi 6E module onboard, you’ll also be downloading games much faster. I was able to download Control in around 10 minutes on my home Wi-Fi with 555 Mbps download rates. But even on public Wi-Fi, the Steam Deck OLED still downloaded games remarkably faster than the original unit was able to. Having set both machines up to A/B test a few games, the OLED was ready to play a game with time to spare while the original Deck ticked away at its downloads.
Valve also states that the machine is roughly five percent lighter, and that difference is noticeable. If I’m being honest, I prefer the weight of the original, but hey, I’m a weirdo.
Here’s a list of the technical changes:
Performance and Thermals
- APU die-shrink from 7nm to 6nm for power savings
- 6400 MT/s memory, improves latency, more power management
- Improved thermal performance due to larger fan
- Faster resume time by roughly 30%
- Vastly improved responsiveness
- Higher polling rate (180Hz)
- Lower latency, better accuracy, and consistency.
- BT 5.3 module with a dedicated antenna for a better experience when using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi simultaneously
- Better connectivity, especially while docked
- Now supports more Audio Codecs like Aptx HD and Aptx low latency
- Supports wake via Bluetooth controller
- Improved, higher fidelity haptics
- Redesigned trackpad for improved fidelity and edge detection
- Louder speakers with improved bass
- Onboard mic can now be used simultaneously as the headphone jack
- 30g, or ~5% lighter
- Improved thumbstick texture and geometry for more comfort and control
- Redesigned power supply with a longer cable (2.5m vs 1.5m)
- Faster charging with improved battery chemistry, 20%-80% in as little as 45 minutes
- WRGB charging LED
- Switched to machine screws on the rear cover with metal bosses, to disassemble/reassemble more reliably
- Torx screws to reduce head stripping
- Lowered the number of screw types throughout the system
- Fewer steps required for common repairs
- Bumper switch is now on the joystick board for easier repair, improved bumper shock reliability
- Replacing the display does not require taking the back off
As you’ll note, Valve has decided to put Torx screws on the back instead of the current Phillips head screws. Thankfully, these are not the security Torx variants with the raised dot in the middle. As stated above, this was done to prevent stripping.
Though there is a limited edition, translucent model that Valve will offer for $30 more than the top Steam Deck OLED, the regular model does have some nicer aesthetics than the original.
The cutest is perhaps the orange power button (which is joined by an out-of-sight RGB power light that turns green when the device is fully charged). Orange seems to be the theme of the OLED variant: The splash screen has a Steam Deck logo with an orange center and the newly designed case (which contains a Velcro strap to close it and a removable inner shell for more space, but yes it still has the mystery sock, handy rear strap, and mystery pocket) also has the orange-themed Deck logo.
Valve also replaced the thumbsticks, which not only feel better, but the black stems, combined with more subdued colors in the face, […], and Steam buttons help the device fade away a bit more while you’re playing a game. Curl up in a dark corner on the couch, and all you’ll see is the beautiful OLED screen, nothing else distracting.
Overall the more striking uniformly black appearance, combined with the neat orange button, offers some subtle personality, that I haven’t seen in most Valve hardware, which usually is more utilitarian in style.
This is even more true of the limited edition (available in USA and Canada only) model which features a snazzy translucent screen, and colored accent marks on the thumbstick stems and rear exhaust grill.
Valve’s characterization of the Steam Deck OLED as the “definitive first-generation Steam Deck” is on point. But it’s not a next gen leap for the Deck. It aims to deliver the same performance, just way prettier.
So if you’ve been holding off on an upgrade for greater processing power, this might not be the Deck you’re looking for—but damn does it look good.
If you haven’t gotten a Deck yet and have been waiting, lucky you. The Steam Deck OLED was worth the wait—. internally it’s basically the same machine that many of us have fallen in love with in the last year, but the bigger and way more gorgeous screen (and other aesthetic improvements) make this an awesome option for first-time buyers
But if you already have a Steam Deck, I don’t know that I’d immediately shell out another six-hundred-plus bucks for another. Mine’s only been in service for about a year, so it would be tough to justify shelling out for the OLED so soon. That said, if money is of no object to you , the visual improvement of the OLED’s screen is a lovely step up. I’d be less enthusiastic about taking this one apart for sure—and not because it feels less fragile, I just feel more compelled to preserve this unit as it exists than I did with the original.
Also, the Deck is a portable machine. Maybe you’ve taken yours on a lot of trips and it’s suffered more than a few battle scars from drops and more? Maybe you’ve modded yours out to improve aesthetics or performance (or somewhat of a haphazard mess) and could use a new unit to either preserve in its condition while you mod out your old one. For these, if you’re okay with the same performance target, the OLED Deck might be a nice hardware refresh.
The Steam Deck OLED is a great first Deck if you’ve been holding out. The new HDR OLED screen looks absolutely gorgeous in person and improvements to storage capacity and battery life only sweeten the deal. It’s the kind of improvement that makes you think less about the device and more on the games you’ll be enjoying.