Steam Deck 2: the features we want from Valve’s next gaming handheld
The Steam Deck is a solid piece of kit. Can Valve do even better?
By most estimations, Valve should be very happy with the near universal praise heaped on its first ever handheld console. Sorry, make that handheld PC: the Steam Deck doesn’t just put your Steam library into a gadget you can take on the move, it’ll play titles from other digital stores, emulate classics and makes a fine substitute for a laptop with minimal tinkering. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t improvements to be made, should a Steam Deck 2 ever hit the shelves.
And why wouldn’t it? The original was in such demand Valve had to initially restrict supply, and only recently eliminated the waiting list. Its popularity has seen games devs embrace Linux (the back-end operating system that powers the Steam Deck’s UI) like never before, and firms both mainstream and boutique popping up with their own take on the game-friendly handheld.
With competition only set to increase, Valve will almost certainly want to cement its lead with a follow-up device – when the time is right. Before it does, we’ve thought of a few ways a Steam Deck successor could improve on today’s model.
Steam Deck 2: is it actually happening?
Yes. Well, we think. Valve has called the Steam Deck a multi-generational product, suggesting that it will evolve in some way. For one, in an interview with The Verge, Steam Deck designers Lawrence Yang and Pierre-Loup Griffais said they hope to release a new Steam controller. “Yeah, we want to make it happen,” Yang told The Verge, referring to a upgraded version of the 2019 Valve discontinued pad. “It’s just a question of how and when.”
In that same interview, Yang and Griffais also addressed some questions about a Deck 2.0, too. Yang and Griffais both said that when it comes to a second-gen Steam Deck, they hope to improve the screen and battery life. Valve is also deliberating on whether to keep the handheld’s performance consistent for the time being, Yang and Griffais told The Verge.
“Right now the fact that all the Steam Decks can play the same games and that we have one target for users to understand what kind of performance level to expect when you’re playing and for developers to understand what to target… there’s a lot of value in having that one spec,” Griffais said. “I think we’ll opt to keep the one performance level for a little bit longer, and only look at changing the performance level when there is a significant gain to be had.”
Steam Deck 2 likely release date
First off, we know for a fact that Valve is at least working on a Steam Deck 2. Company co-founder Gabe Newell confirmed as much in an interview with Edge Magazine, saying a new Deck would focus on “the capabilities that mobile gives us, above and beyond what you would get in a traditional desk or laptop gaming environment.” But when, exactly?
Unlike the smartphone world, which is tied to an annual release cycle, the PC hardware market tends to move at a slower pace. Valve won’t likely want to launch a Steam Deck successor until there’s a new generation of APU (the combined processor and graphics chip doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to games) available.
The current Steam Deck uses custom AMD silicon based on the firm’s RDNA 2 architecture, which was first announced in 2020 and started appearing in consumer gadgets a year later. The PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles were among the first in line, with more battery-friendly versions following later.
RDNA 2’s successor, the imaginatively named RDNA 3, made its debut in November 2022 inside AMD’s latest high-end PC graphics cards. Beyond a general power hike, improvements include a 50% increase in performance-per-watt over the previous generation and adaptive power management – making it the obvious choice for any Steam Deck sequel.
That helps narrow down the likely timeframe for Steam Deck 2’s arrival. We could be looking at late 2023 at the earliest, as AMD takes time to perfect its manufacturing process and downscale the architecture to suit battery-powered gadgets like laptops and handheld PCs.
There are really no rumours, murmurs or news suggesting anything more concrete right now, but we’ll bring you them once we hear them. While the Steam Deck 2 keeps us waiting, though, Ayaneo are looking to jump in Valve’s grave with the recently announced Ayaneo Next II. The Ayaneo Next II will reportedly be powered by a Ryzen 7000 CPU. In theory, this could compete with gaming laptops and even some PCs, and could wrestle some handheld dominance away from Valve.
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Steam Deck 2 possible price
Bargain hunters may not be too thrilled to hear the most popular version of the Steam Deck is the most expensive one – and Gabe Newell suggests the company has taken that as customers willing to spend even more should it release a more expensive version.
It stands to reason, then, that the £349 entry price might not stick around for a second generation. Valve could instead move the goalposts, making the current £459 mid-range model the new entry-level, and introducing an even pricier tier above the current £569 flagship.
Component costs are on the rise right now, along with the general cost of living, so we’re betting the next generation Steam Deck will be more expensive either way – but right now an exact amount would be pure guesswork.
Steam Deck 2 feature wish list
We awarded the Steam Deck four stars in our review, singing the praises of its astounding performance, intuitive UI and endlessly customisable controls. A host of software updates has worked out some of the kinks, but there’s still room to improve. Look no further than the following suggestions of what we’d like to see in a successor to work out what would have raised that score to the full five stars.
Longer battery life
We’ll get the obvious improvement out of the way first. Unless you’re using the Steam Deck to play 8-bit classics at the lowest brightness setting and with all the internal hardware turned down to its lowest level, it isn’t fantastic in terms of battery life. Steam says you should see anywhere between two and eight hours of game time, but that makes for a pretty wide margin.
In reality, three or four hours is a fairly common benchmark, and it’s not uncommon for the Steam Deck to make it to around 90 minutes in the most demanding titles before throwing in the towel. As the primary gripe of Steam Deck gamers, fixing this issue would be a major crowdpleaser – either with a bigger battery, or more energy-efficient components.
Give us OLED
For Deck 2.0, Steam should follow in the footsteps of Nintendo and make the switch to an OLED display. The current Steam Deck’s relatively small screen looks great in isolation, but pop one next to any modern smartphone and it’s clear LCD tech is a long way behind OLED in terms of colour and contrast.
We don’t need a higher resolution, as that would add more strain to the APU and drain the battery even faster. A higher refresh rate would be a bonus, but again we can take or leave it if battery life is going to take a major hit. But an OLED panel could help narrow the disparity between desktop and handheld, and make PC games shine just as bright as their console counterparts. Oh, and if it could slim the bezels down at the same time? That would be a dream.
Up the accessibility
Accessibility in gaming, although slow moving, is getting better as more developers aim to make their games enjoyable for everyone. Valve could do its part to help in a few ways. First off, there are too many games with tiny text and no way to resize them: offering a way of changing hardware-level text sizes would make games far more legible on the Steam Deck’s small screen.
The Steam Deck is also very big. At 669g, it’s also over double the weight of the standard Nintendo Switch, which comes in at 299g. That’s a problem for people with motor disabilities, so trimming some of that weight down should be a top priority.
To Steam’s credit, they are addressing some of the accessibility issues. Steam Input, a service that allows any controller to be linked to a device, works well on the Deck and opens up a world of customisable accessible control schemes for many players. Steam could also release updates to some of the issues we’ve raised above, too. But for the Steam Deck 2, a greater emphasis on accessibility will edge it much closer to being a perfect handheld
Time for a Steam controller rebirth?
Once upon a time, 2015 to be exact, Valve experimented with the idea of a Steam controller. It sported dual trackpads for PC gaming, dual-stage triggers and haptics that allowed you to ‘feel the spin of a virtual trackball, the click of a scroll wheel, or the shot of a rifle’, said Valve. But the Steam controller ran out of, well, steam, and was discontinued after four years. A downside to the Steam Deck, though, is its inability to fully adapt to games that are best played with a mouse and keyboard. This isn’t a problem unique to the Steam Deck, but a Valve-certified controller built specifically for the handheld would be a great addition.