When the first Steam Deck launched, there was a big review that specifically called the LCD screen “ho-hum” as “the biggest drawback of the system.” Color correction “wash-out” and “transparent light bleed” are among the more obvious effects of the “cut (Ting) Valve corners to save money” on the Deck 7-inch LCD panel.
In the several months since that launch, Valve has issued frequent software updates to fix other early issues in areas such as game compatibility, stability, and system-level features. But that lackluster LCD screen has been the Steam Deck’s biggest flaw, a headache that users need to endure to enjoy a portable PC gaming experience that is otherwise very low on compromises.
With Steam Deck OLED, Valve is ready to eliminate that issue. The new unit, which is on sale starting today, sports a glossy screen that is the same as the one that Nintendo provided to Switch owners two years ago. Coupled with a handful of other minor quality-of-life hardware upgrades, the new version of Valve’s handheld should inspire plenty of envy in those stuck with the LCD version of yesteryear.
As nice as those upgrades are, though, they don’t touch Steam Deck’s core pixel-pushing specs, which are already starting to look a little dated in the shadow of top competitors with beefier chips. Whether those fast aging internals are enough to last until the proposed launch of the true “Steam Deck 2.0” in a few years depends mostly on what kind of games you hope to play on the handheld.
Light and smooth
We’ve been touting the benefits of OLED vs. standard LCD screens here at Ars since at least 2016, so the major improvements in the OLED deck are pretty familiar by now. Deeper blacks, better contrast, brighter colors, less detail – it’s all here.
If anything, the OLED improvements are even more impressive because of how terrible the screen was on the original Steam Deck. When the Nintendo Switch unveiled an OLED model in 2021, we thought the upgrade was “not necessary,” in large part because the original Switch’s screen was already decent. Going from Steam Deck to Steam Deck OLED, on the other hand, is akin to moving from viewing through clear glass to viewing through custom prescription glasses.
Visual pop is most visible in games designed to make full use of the HDR color gamut. By now, gamers with decent TVs or monitors are familiar with the effect of, say, a bright HDR sunrise shining through the mountains in a game like Spider-Man: Miles Morales. And while smartphone players have been enjoying this kind of influence on select games for a while now, there is still a wow factor to see these colors on the huge screen of a dedicated game console.