I was one of the very few reviewers out there who was critical of the Steam Deck when the first model was released a little over 18 months ago. It’s probably one of the reasons why Valve never reached out to me for a review sample of the OLED model. At least I take solace in the fact that even some of the more prolific content creators out there – such as CryoByte33 – didn’t get a review unit.
The problem now is, since the OLED hype is over with all the people who have already reviewed the newer refresh, there’s not much more I can contribute here. The ship has sailed, so to speak. That being said, however, this post will go over the Limited Edition, and will serve more so as a “quick impressions” rather than a full-fledged review.
I kind of wish Valve still had a 64 GB SKU for the OLED. Would have been nice to save some money – and all users would have to do is upgrade the drive with the one they were using in their LCD model, or just slip in a 1 TB MicroSD card.
At any rate, here are the differences with the 1 TB OLED model and the 1 TB Limited Edition:
- the included carrying case comes with a removable liner
- you get a “Steam profile bundle” along with an exclusive startup movie and OSK theme
- the front and back shell is a smoky, charcoal-colored, translucent color
- various parts of the device are accented with an orange tint, including the back screws, the vents, and the bottom part of the sticks
- the LE is only available in the US and Canana
- it’s $30 more expensive than the regular 1 TB model
It took me about half-an-hour to make the order when the OLED was made available for purchase on Steam. It was in my cart but the transaction wouldn’t go through. After some time though, the order finally went through. I got it eight days later – last Friday.
Package-wise, it’s largely the same as the one I got with the LCD model. Same brown box, same size. Same box with the charger inside, the case nestled right next to it, you get the idea. Where the magic happens is after you unpack the plastic for the case, remove the paper, and undo the anti-theft tag that secures the zippers.
The outer case has a velcro strip that secures the liner in place. Upon opening it, the removable liner looks gorgeous, at least on the inside. Around the zipper area is an orange accent. The fabric feels very nice, and it’s got the design of the Deck being torn apart with various internal parts exposed. Unlike the LCD Deck that I have, the case also comes with a little bag in the back where the strap is. It’s barely large enough to fit the charger, now that the cable is even longer than the one supplied with the LCD model, but I have used it to store the kickstand part of the DeckMate accessory.
Onto the Deck itself. This also looks very gorgeous. The button labels are slightly darker than they appear on the LCD model. The D-pad feels more mushy, but that’s in a good way, in a way that’s hard to explain. It just feels more satisfying to press. I didn’t really have any complaints about the sticks on the LCD model, but the way they’re built now, they have “increased grip and dust built-up resistance.” Alkazar, the founder of ChimeraOS, did mention in my first interview with him that he found the original sticks to be “incredibly slippery” though, so perhaps the refined sticks on the OLED model will be of benefit to people like him.
The shoulder buttons are slightly more click-y. Same goes with the Steam and QAM buttons; they are far less mushy than on my LCD model. The trackpads overall just feel a lot more nice, since they have “improved fidelity and edge detection” as well as “greatly improved trackpad haptics feel and precision.”
Overall I’m really pleased with the color of the shell itself. It’s not super black; it’s more so a charcoal color. It’s not the most translucent shell out there – even if I put this to a light, the only thing I can really see on the inside is the ribbon cables that connect to the daughterboards. Interestingly enough, it’s easier to see the internals through the back side of the device. Here I can easily see the battery, the thumbsticks, and the daughterboards.
The subtle orange accent is pretty nice too. The back screws are more easily seen thanks to this. I didn’t think I was going to like the orange accent on the sticks when I saw videos prior to actually getting one, but they have kind of stuck with me. The vents and the power button are also orange-colored. I’m guessing Valve wanted to sort of give this model a Half-Life theme.
Even though the OLED is only a single ounce lighter than the LCD Deck, I can feel the difference when holding the two devices together. A lighter device means less strain on your arms – and maybe even your neck – when you’re playing for a few hours straight. And somehow, it’s still lighter with the bigger battery. A wonderful engineering feat.
Accessories and Hardware Modding⌗
I can confirm every accessory that I’ve tested so far – including the JSAUX ModCase and the DeckMate – is 100% backward compatible with the OLED model. This is incredibly convenient. No need for manufacturers to re-produce the same accessories for a different profile, and no need for the end user to buy another accessory. As for the DeckMate, I can attach the main frame to the Deck and it can still fit comfortably inside the case. Any accessories that go with it, I just put them in the little bag that’s supplied with the case.
At some point I also plan on replacing the back shell with the JSAUX RGB backplate, just for curiousity’s sake. Well, actually I want to see if the Deck will operate at a cooler temperature with the thermal pad that the RGB backplate uses. Otherwise, I’m kind of nervous to do any kind of hardware mod with the OLED. It’s pretty nice as is.
I definitely don’t see myself replacing the front shell, thumbsticks, or the buttons. Matter of fact, I don’t even think it’s possible to use third-party joysticks, since the way the OLED thumbsticks are designed, the shoulder buttons are on them. If I put the GuliKit sticks in, for example, I would lose functionality of the left and right shoulder buttons, since they aren’t on the daughterboards anymore.
It was great enough that Valve offered the right-to-repair on the original Steam Deck. And now it’s even better. Naturally, I couldn’t resist the urge to take the back plate off to see the internals. Taking a device apart sometimes feels…oddly therapeutic.
So, here are the repairability advantages that the OLED has over the original, according to iFixit:
- all screws are replaced with T6 Torx, to reduce the risk of stripping (all of the back cover screws are the same size too)
- four of the screw pillars are embedded with a metal thread, which further reduces the risk of stripping
- broken shoulder buttons are less expensive to replace now that they’re on the thumbsticks as opposed to the daughterboards
- refined motherboard – two RAM chips as opposed to four, and they’re smaller. Overall less clutter, and the SSD no longer is on top of the Wi-Fi module, which, in turn, should result in less radio frequency interference
- easier to remove the OLED panel since the adhesives are “relatively light.” Should make it easier for front-shell swapping
- the daughterboards can now be removed without having to remove the triggers, making disassembly easier
- the battery no longer sticks to a large adhesive pad, and is instead secured with four strips, making the removal process somewhat easier
Note, however, that there are still some flaws present:
- since the OLED display has a different design, it won’t be possible to use the DeckHD, or upgrade your LCD screen with the OLED panel
- you can’t upgrade the trackpads on the LCD Deck with the OLED ones, since they use a different connector
- the MicroSD card slot is still located inside of the back shell, making you cognizant of the need to remove the card prior to taking off the back shell so it doesn’t snap
- battery is still a pain to take out, despite the strips making the removal a bit easier
- the sticks are still using potentiometers, which will cause wear over time
- not every household is going to conveniently have a T6 Torx screwdriver available, unlike a Phillips screwdriver
Still, the advantages far outweigh than the disavantages.
I tried to find some complaints with the OLED Deck…and honestly, I don’t have much to criticize. It’s by far the best refresh I’ve ever seen for any device. It has less input lag than the LCD model by an average of 10 milliseconds. Sometimes it’s even faster depending on the framerate/refresh rate. It’s going to make fighting games, like Super Smash Bros. Melee, a more “snappy” experience.
Combined with the lighter weight, a bigger battery, more screen real estate, easier repairability, slightly faster RAM, backwards compatibility with most – if not all – Steam Deck accessories for the LCD model, improved ergonomics with the trackpads, a brighter and more colorful display…maybe the $680 was worth it.
I have managed to succesfully undervolt the OLED model to -30mV on the CPU, GPU, and SoC. And naturally I got CryoUtilities up and running with 8 GB swap, swappiness of 50, 4 GB UMA frame buffer size. Decky-Loader worked just fine as expected, as well as EmuDeck. Gotta have that customized Steam theme and sound effects, ya know?
You don’t get the “exclusive” OSK theme or startup movie out-of-the-box. You have to “claim” them through your Steam profile. For some odd reason, I had trouble getting this to work properly. I had to try a few times, until I finally got them. But I’m telling you, the black and red color scheme of the OSK is nice, and is in great harmony with the hardware aesthetics. The LE edition startup movie is also fantastic.
As for games, lately I’ve been trying Ship of Harkinian (Zelda: OoT PC port) with some nice visual enhancements, and Render96, an HD overhaul for Super Mario 64, running natively on Linux. I’ll probably have a guide up soon with getting these games set up. Both games play and look great on the OLED, and it’s been just a battery sipper having the TDP limit around 4 W and still getting a nice 60 FPS on Render96, and a native 90 FPS with SoH. I’ve also been playing Overwatch 2, running at 90 FPS at Medium settings with a TDP limit of around 10 W (using FSR, of course). It’s just been a really great experience so far.
And let me tell you: no other PC handheld out there is going to have as great Linux support as the Deck does. I still do like the Legion Go for its larger screen real estate and more powerful performance, but Linux support isn’t as good.
So…what am I going to do with my old Deck? Keep it for modding purposes. I still do love the GameCube-esque aesthetic that I put on it. It also has a larger resolution and better color quality than the stock LCD screen, thanks to the DeckHD upgrade (I’ll have a more detailed review on DeckHD soon). I may also look into overclocking the RAM and APU, see if I can squeeze some more performance out of it. And just sort of use it like a console now, while taking the OLED with me on the go.
Speaking of the DeckHD, here’s a head-to-head comparison with Metroid Prime Remastered. Surprisingly, the color quality – at least in my eyes – looks pretty close to that of the OLED. The OLED does look a little more saturated and vibrant in color, but the DeckHD comes pretty darn close, while reaping a larger, 1200p resolution. Perhaps the anti-glare etched glass screen on the OLED hinders the colors somewhat.
Heh…did I say this was going to be a “quick impressions” article? Looks like I got a bit carried away there. But yeah, the OLED Deck has been a solid upgrade over the LCD model. It was worth getting…even if I had to pay for it instead of getting a review unit.
- beautiful aesthetics, from the removable liner pictures to the smoky translucent shell
- less input lag over original, along with a plethora of other minor improvements
- more satisfying D-pad and trackpads, clickier shoulder buttons and Steam/QAM buttons
- longer battery life, richer screen colors, more screen real estate, lighter weight
- still compatible with accessories made for the LCD model
- easier repairability, refined mobo for less RF interference
- MicroSD card slot is still located at the bottom shell – be sure to remove any MicroSD cards prior to taking the backplate off!
- battery is still a royal pain to take out
- some parts, such as the screen and trackpads, can’t be upgraded on the LCD Deck with the OLED parts
- thumbsticks are still using potentiometers, resulting in wear over time
- minimum SSD size you can get is 512 GB; it would have been nice to have a cheaper 64 or 256 GB SKU
Head on over to the Steam store if you’re interested in getting one. Both the LE and the regular OLED models are still in stock, at least here in the US.
WARNING: LGC will be shutting down March 7, 2024. See this post for more details.