“Cyberpunk 2077,” probably the most technologically beautiful game today, isn’t going to look any better in terms of pixels, but its neon colors and black nights will pop brighter and bolder on an OLED screen than last year’s outdated LCD display. The platform also has the same form factor, albeit a millimeter taller thanks to redesigned, tougher thumbsticks.
The Washington Post received a review unit, the top-tier model that boasts a terabyte of storage and comes with a slimmer, hard-shell carrying case. The pricing of these new systems might be the biggest surprise: A 512GB OLED model is $549, twice the storage size for only $20 more than the comparable LCD model. The terabyte model is $649 with the new case, the same price as last year’s 512GB LCD model.
Besides the new screen (which is 0.4 inches bigger, so the bezel around it is smaller), its other upgrades quickly become obvious: It’s a notably lighter device to hold, coming in at about 640 grams, down from 669 grams. (By comparison, Nintendo’s OLED version of its Switch console is 422 grams.) It claims to have up to 50 percent more battery life. During my tests, last year’s Steam Deck battery would last up to three hours for modern, big-budget games. But in the OLED model, a 2023 game such as “Lies of P” can last longer than five hours. Older or less graphically intensive games, such as last year’s indie hit “Vampire Survivors,” can easily hit more than eight hours.
“With the new Deck, our estimate is that you can go from about three to 12 hours,” up from the previous model’s two to eight hours, said Greg Coomer, product designer and one of the first employees at Valve, the influential game developer that shifted its business to become the world’s biggest online PC games retailer. “There is an updated APU [accelerated processing unit] in this version … that we co-developed with AMD.”
That focus on managing power efficiency also means a cooler device. After long sessions of “Cyberpunk 2077,” a taxing game for any machine, the OLED model’s fans didn’t fire off as often as last year’s machine.
The newer machine also comes with a Wi-Fi 6E module and can access the 6 gigahertz spectrum, allowing for downloads up to three times faster, depending on the connection. The touch screen also allows for snappier cursor movement. It’s much more responsive while still not quite matching a smartphone screen.
Coomer said Valve will sell off its remaining stock of the older LCD models at reduced pricing and won’t replenish them. The only older model that remains in the sales lineup moving forward is the 256GB LCD version, which sees a $130 price drop to $399.
Coomer said Valve would’ve made the new version available last year if the company had the technology to make it.
“We just didn’t have the engineering work done or access to the components that we would’ve liked to put in,” he said. “There’s definitely real considerations we had around supply and access to components driven by the existing success. Being able to develop that custom screen with prominent display suppliers is only possible because Steam Deck is in the wild, and the category is established.”
Coomer said Valve isn’t ready to reveal Steam Deck sales numbers, but it’s successful enough for Valve to expand its business as a hardware developer. Nintendo’s Switch console had an OLED screen refresh in 2021, and by fiscal 2023 is the best-selling model by millions of units.
“[The Switch OLED] definitely showed people that the fidelity of an OLED screen is just generally higher,” Coomer said, adding that the Valve offices are littered with Switch OLED units. “It’s just a great product from Nintendo that makes a ton of customers around the world super happy.”
After about a week with the new system, I can confirm it lives up to its high-level promises. My older Steam Deck is now packed away as a backup device. Now would be the best time to dive into the Steam Deck ecosystem if you’ve always been curious. My condolences to anyone who just bought one in recent weeks before this surprise announcement. For those folks and others with a Steam Deck, your mileage may vary on double dipping. If the Deck is your primary platform for PC games, it might still be worth it.
The Steam Deck OLED will go on sale Nov. 16 at 10 a.m. Pacific.