The portable console gamers have been dreaming of for years is now available. I refer, of course, to Valve steam bridgea portable handheld similar to the Nintendo Switch that plays PC games.
Despite running a Linux-based operating system, the Steam Deck can play games designed for Windows thanks to a nifty compatibility layer called Proton. Not only that, but the Steam Deck is a full-fledged PC, capable of loading into desktop mode where you can browse the web, download apps, and stream music. You can even install Windows 10 on the device in case the default Steam OS seems too limited.
With everything going on, the Steam Deck can be overwhelming at first. Luckily, Valve has included handy shortcuts and features to make your job easier. And with that, here are some tips and tricks every Steam Deck owner should remember.
Upgrade storage with a microSD card
Even if you’ve splurged on the 512GB Steam Deck, you’ll likely run out of storage space at some point. After all, some Steam Deck-certified triple-A games, like God of the war (70 GB) and NBA 2K22 (120 GB), require a huge amount of storage. Those who purchased the base 64GB Steam Deck might encounter issues when trying to download a single title.
Luckily, every version of Steam Deck has a handy microSD card slot at the bottom for up to 2TB of expandable storage. The key is to find the microSD card with the fastest write speeds and largest capacity that fits your budget. Think of brands like SanDisk, Lexar and Samsung.
Disable adaptive brightness
Adaptive Brightness is one of those features that sounds great as a concept but rarely works as advertised. I found the constantly fluctuating brightness to be too annoying and any increase in battery life didn’t make up for it. It didn’t take long for me to disable the feature, and once I did, it remained disabled for the weeks I tested the Steam Deck.
If you need to adjust the brightness, you can do it from the quick settings or use the button combo trick described on the next slide…
Change screen brightness while you play
You’re in the middle of the game and enjoying your Steam Deck in the beautiful cool summer air as the sun slips behind the clouds. As a result, the 7-inch screen is difficult to see in such bright conditions. Of course, you can open quick settings and move that brightness slider to the right. But you’re in the middle of a high-octane shootout; there is no time for settings menus!
Thankfully, Valve agrees. It’s implemented a smart brightness adjustment shortcut that you can quickly use to brighten or dim your screen in the middle of a game. It’s a clunky button combo, but it gets the job done: press and hold the Steam button while moving up (brighter) or down (dimmer) on the left rocker.
Wait to install Windows 10
You can install Windows 10 on the Steam Deck. Should you? It is complicated. For now, I would resist the urge. Valve has released Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPU drivers so the Steam Deck has the basics it needs to download games and play them on Windows. However, to do this you’ll need to clear the Steam Deck, and since there’s no dual boot support, that means clearing Steam OS. Worse still, the Steam Deck’s speakers and headphone jack won’t work because Valve has, so far, provided only rudimentary Windows support.
This raises the question of performance and stability. Not all Steam games run on Linux, so you might be tempted to download Windows as a workaround to get full access to your Steam library or games you own on other stores (including Xbox Game Pass games ). Sounds good and all, but these games haven’t been tested to play on the Steam Deck, so you’ll be the guinea pig until other players provide more data.
If you’re a DIYer who considers the reward of downloading Windows to the Steam Deck to outweigh the risk, then go for it. Most people, however, should stick with Steam OS.
Drop your graphics settings
Some games just won’t run on high graphics settings. Even those rated as “great experience” on Steam Deck struggle to dial in the video settings. Control, for example, stuttered at the console’s native 1280 x 800 pixel resolution as hordes of Hiss-possessed enemies filled the screen. Dropping the resolution to 720p fixed frame rate drops without sacrificing visuals.
The important thing to remember here is that the Steam Deck runs on a custom AMD chip with RDNA 2 graphics, not a high-powered GPU and discrete graphics card combo. Just keep your expectations in check and don’t get frustrated if a game doesn’t run perfectly on default settings.
Check for software updates
I can’t count the number of software updates Valve released between the time I received the Steam Deck and the review embargo date. Dozens. Things have since slowed down, but you can expect plenty more software updates in the months and years to come. Keep an eye out for the yellow exclamation mark on the settings gear icon indicating that a new software version is available for download.
Ddon’t buy untested games
It goes without saying: if a game is not verified for Steam Deck, assume that it will not be playable. At least, that’s what I encountered during my tests. You can download the game, but it might not even open. It’s not like Valve is giving us a quick shot; add a game to your cart that is unverified and a bright yellow warning appears, stating that your game “may not work properly on Steam Deck”. My advice? If you already own a game, go ahead and try playing it; you can always uninstall it later. If an unverified game isn’t already in your library, don’t buy it hoping it will work on the Steam Deck.
The Steam Deck has so much buttons. You should take advantage of it! Especially those back paddle buttons, which aren’t always programmed into games because they’re not usually found on a standard controller. That doesn’t mean you can’t use them.
Rear button remapping can give you an advantage when playing certain games, like first-person shooters or competitive titles like fortnite. They can also be used as paddle shifters when racing. Forza Horizon 5. To remap the trigger buttons, press the Steam button, then swipe right twice to reveal the controller button map. Here you can assign the back buttons to any action.
Access the list of shortcuts
Hold Steam + A. I know, wonderful isn’t it? ! If you don’t follow along, hold down Steam + A to bring up a shortcut overlay with all the hotkeys you need to navigate Steam OS efficiently. It basically gives you the button combinations needed to use a cursor and the left and right click buttons right from your controller – no mouse needed.
I’ll cover one of these button combinations in more detail in the next slide.
Force Quit with Steam + B
Things will fall apart. Games, apps, the console itself – the Steam Deck is a first-gen product that’s several updates away from being stable. The Steam Deck works, yes, but it’s also a hasty mess that expects owners to be patient and understanding. Or if patience isn’t your thing, you can use the Steam + B button combination to force quit running games. Simply hold down these two buttons and whatever game you’re playing will stop, taking you back to the main Steam OS screen.
I don’t want to exaggerate the problems of the Steam Deck. It needs work, yes, but game crashes are increasingly rare. Still, it’s good to have a quick exit when things inevitably go wrong.
Connect a gamepad or mouse/keyboard
You can navigate Steam OS (or your favorite operating system) on the Steam Deck using just the controller, but that’s no way to live. The console has a Bluetooth radio so you can connect wireless peripherals like a gaming mouse and keyboard. Pairing my Lenovo ThinkPad TrackPoint keyboard and Logitech Bluetooth mouse to the Steam Deck was effortless and made it easy to navigate in desktop mode when I needed to browse the web. And since I prefer using a console controller to the controls of the Steam Deck or even a mouse and keyboard, I connected my PS5’s DualSense to the Steam Deck via Bluetooth (you can also use the cable) and used it in place.
Use the FPS limiter
The quick settings menu contains an FPS limiter with options of 15fps, 30fps, and 60fps. This setting deliberately limits the console to when you reach these designated frame rates. Why would you limit performance? Mainly to preserve battery life and reduce fan noise. A game running at 15 fps does not consume as much power as if it required full power to reach 60 fps.
You won’t want to lower the frame rate for every game, but going from 60fps to 30fps shouldn’t ruin your gameplay as long as you’re not playing a fast-paced action game. As for the 15fps limiter, this option is best for extending battery life when playing slow titles like turn-based strategy. Civilization VI.