What a ridiculous bit of kit the Steam Deck is. But if you’re new to Valve’s (almost) pocket-sized PC, you probably haven’t tapped into its full potential. The Steam Deck offers a whole lot more than just Steam games, but only once you know how. Improve your Deck life with these extra Steam Deck functions that every owner should be aware of.
Play more than just Steam games
Steam might be in the name, but the Deck is versatile enough to tackle games far beyond Valve’s store. Thanks to Desktop Mode and the Heroic launcher, it’s possible to install Epic Games Store titles directly onto your Steam Deck. Provided you don’t mind Cloud streaming, setting up Xbox Game Pass is a cinch. The Freedom to tinker is at the heart of the Steam Deck’s design. Those willing to put in the work can even set up a Windows install or transform the Deck into the ultimate emulation machine.
Run other apps at the same time as games
We love the Nintendo Switch, but you won’t catch us blasting out music or chatting to friends on it while gaming. The Steam Deck, however, makes all that possible. Swap to Desktop Mode and you can install Discord or Spotify before adding them to your Steam library. Head back to Game Mode and you can hop into your favorite server or pop on a playlist before booting up a game. The console’s built in mic is decent enough, but you can improve things further when you…
Plug it into whatever you want
The Steam Deck doesn’t come with a dock, but official and third party ones readily available. Pick one up and you’ll transform the device from a handheld to the ultimate hybrid. Gaming monitors are the obvious choice, but provided you’re willing to work around the occasional technical quandary, you can hook the Steam Deck up to TVs and more.
But why stop there? A keyboard and mouse will make it into a mini PC (and save you from the pesky on-screen keyboard). A dongle-based wireless gaming headset like the HyperX Cloud II will up your immersion and will keep those Discord chats going while you wander around the house. You could even plug in a dedicated microphone like the QuadCast S to really up your audio game.
Customize more than you’d think
One of the most fun aspects of the Steam Deck is just how little is locked down. Swapping out the Desktop Mode wallpaper and Steam art is extremely straightforward, though you’ll need to make sure the images for the latter are cut to the correct size. Thankfully, plenty of Steam Deck owners out there have already made custom artwork for common intalls like Discord and Spotify. More fun, however, is playing around with the console’s boot-up animations. It’s possible to set up your own custom videos, but other users have already made randomized boot-up packages that include classic console animations or edits of intros to popular TV shows like The Office and Futurama. Check out this video if you’re interested to see them in action.
Stream games from your PC
The Steam Deck can run a lot, but it can’t handle everything (more on that shortly). If you’ve found a title that just won’t run, one way around the Steam Deck’s limitations is to rely on the support of a more powerful PC. If both devices are on and logged into Steam, you can stream games directly from your PC to the Steam Deck. It won’t help you game more on the go, but it can let you crack on with more demanding titles from the comfort of the couch. Plus, the smaller screen size should easily compensate for any visual artifacts introduced by streaming.
Things it can’t do
So the Steam Deck is brilliant. Yes, but if you’ve been on the fence about buying one, it’s worth knowing what is can’t do as well as what it can.
Play every game
The Steam Deck is a unique bit of kit, and as a result, support for games is in a bit of a Wild West. Most games will work on the Deck, but there are plenty which struggle with performance, have poor readability (though the Steam Deck’s shortcuts include a magnification option, or simply won’t launch at all. Steam’s own “Verified” rating is far from a guarantee that a game will run smoothly, but you can take a look at this page to get an idea of which of your existing games should work well on the device.
A bunch of popular multiplayer games now make use of advanced and kernel-level anti-cheat systems. Sadly, these are all pretty much non starters on Steam Deck. Titles like Dead By Daylight seem ideal for the Deck, but unfortunately this restriction means they won’t let you online. Streaming the games to Deck is a workaround but not an ideal one for fast-paced titles.
Much as the Steam Deck’s power continues to surprise us, it’s not a system built for the strain of virtual reality. Technically, you could hook up a headset like the Meta Quest and load a VR game, but the compact device is not optimized for VR gaming and your experience is almost certain to suffer as a result. We love VR, but you really shouldn’t buy a Steam Deck if that’s what you’re after.
New, high-end releases
Every time a new or graphically demanding title launches on Steam, it has a 50:50 chance of barely working on Steam Deck. Most major titles do eventually get some level of support, but the Steam Deck’s relatively small userbase is far from a priority for most developers. As such, the handheld isn’t an ideal choice for those looking to enjoy the latest and greatest right as they release. Give a game a few months following launch and there’s good chance it’ll have been optimized better or the Steam Deck community will have found some handy workarounds.