Can't decide between the Switch and Steam Deck? Here's what you should know
Both have a lot to offer console and PC gamers
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The Nintendo Switch and Valve Steam Deck are a world apart as far as handheld gaming consoles go, but many have understandably drawn comparisons between the two. Whether it’s the display, battery life, design, performance, or general availability of games there is a lot to compare between the two consoles. And while both were created for two different groups of gamers, if you’re serious about mobile gaming you’re probably intrigued by both options.
So, if you have money to drop on a handheld console but aren’t sure which one to get—or if you even need to get one at all—here’s what you should know about the Switch and Deck.
All three of Nintendo’s Switch models—the original Switch, Switch OLED, and mobile-only Switch Lite—have a longer battery life than Valve’s Steam Deck, ranging from five to eight hours. The Deck managed to last only four hours in our testing, although other reviewers have had the battery drain in as fast as two hours. High-fidelity games like Cyberpunk 2077 suck up a lot of power, so the best way to get longer battery life out of the Steam Deck is to, well, play the same or similar low-fidelity games that exist for the Nintendo Switch on the Steam Deck.
The Switch will give you several Low Battery warnings before the system powers down, too. The Steam Deck? Nope. You’ll have to remember to manually press a button to check the battery life.
Our pick: Nintendo Switch
This one is cut and dry: While the Switch and Switch Lite models have LCD touch screens that get the job done, the Switch OLED has a (surprise) OLED touch screen, which displays richer colors and deeper blacks than the other models. The Switch OLED also has a bigger 7-inch screen, while the regular Switch has a 6.2-inch screen and the Switch Lite has a 5.5-inch screen.
While there is a special anti-glare glass cover on the most expensive Steam Deck model's display, all three configurations have the same 7.0-inch LCD display at the core. But compared to the 7.0-inch Switch OLED display, the colors on the Steam Deck look more faded and washed out.
Our pick: Nintendo Switch (OLED)
Here’s where things get a little interesting. Nintendo Switch, Switch OLED, and the Deck can all connect to your TV, which is great if you don’t always want to stare at a small screen. The HDMI port is built into the included dock for both the Switch and Switch OLED, while you’ll need a USB-C to HDMI adapter for the Deck—but you can find one of those for under $20. (As of this writing, Valve has not released its forthcoming dock for the Steam Deck, which is a bummer.)
However, those Switch models can only output up to 1080p in TV mode, and the Switch only supports HDMI 2.0. The Steam Deck not only supports HDMI 2.0, but it also supports DisplayPort 1.4, which can output up to 4K resolution content at 120Hz.
The Nintendo Switch Lite cannot do any of that, so by technicality, the Steam Deck wins over the Switch simply because all its models/configurations can connect to your TV with an HDMI cable and a port adapter. But it also wins because it supports more than one video output and resolution.
Our pick: Steam Deck
Theoretically, any game you purchase from the Steam Store should be able to run on the Deck as well—it’s one of the Deck’s biggest claims to fame. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely the case. While Valve has confirmed Deck compatibility for over 300 games it sells on its Steam Store, there are still tens of thousands more left unaccounted for. So, Valve created an entire ranking system (which you can read more about here) to let gamers know how many of their games are compatible and how well they work.
At the time of this writing, though, Valve has implemented its ranking system on only the Steam Deck itself; if you look at your library on the desktop app it doesn’t automatically show you which games are verified as "Great" on the Deck. Not a huge issue, but annoying if your Deck is in the other room and you’re in front of your PC, finger hovering over the left mouse button, ready to click Buy.
There’s no question that if you buy a game for the Nintendo Switch it will work on the Switch. The console has already been out for a few years, unlike the Deck, and the Switch is a closed ecosystem with thousands of available games. So, unlike checking the compatibility of Steam games for the Deck, if you've got a Switch you just hit the buy button, download, and play. No extra thought required.
Our pick: Nintendo Switch
Both the Switch and Steam Deck come in three different configurations, but it’s the Switch that not only has the better-priced gaming console, but also the best value.
On the Nintendo Switch side, there’s the Switch Lite ($199.99), the Switch ($299.99), and the Switch OLED ($349.99). The Lite and regular Switch come with 32GB of storage while the OLED version comes with 64GB—and of course, the OLED version has an OLED display that’s nearly an inch larger than the Switch and 1.5 inches larger than the Switch Lite.
The Steam Deck starts at $399 for 64GB of eMMC storage, which also has the slowest storage speeds of the three. The middle model is $529 and comes with 256 GB of NVMe SSD storage, and the high-end model costs $649 with 512GB of NVMe SSD storage. There are no other differences between the three models as far as design, however, the 512GB version comes with the most perks like an anti-glare etched glass display.
Essentially, the most expensive Nintendo Switch can do everything the least expensive Steam Deck can do. Nintendo has Valve beat on both price and value, without question.
Our pick: Nintendo Switch
And the winner is…
For most people, picking up a Switch over the Deck probably makes the most sense right now, especially if you’re not an avid PC gamer.
But while the Nintendo Switch technically edges past the Steam Deck thanks to better battery life, display, and overall value, both were created with different audiences in mind. Further, it's hard to compare a well-established console to a recently released one, so keep in mind that the current state of the Steam Deck is not its final form. If you want to play Nintendo exclusives like Animal Crossing, you’ll need a Switch. But if you’re primarily a PC gamer and purchase all your games from the Steam Store, the Deck will complement your gaming PC nicely.
There are a lot of games available on both platforms, like Stardew Valley, Carrion, Oxenfree, Life is Strange: True Colors and many others. But again, if you are first and foremost a Nintendo gamer, then stick with the Switch if you don’t already have one. If you're primarily a PC gamer and own all or most of your games on Steam, then the Steam Deck makes more sense; you can emulate older Nintendo and other older console games on it, but if you want to play Nintendo classics on the Switch, you'll need a Nintendo Online subscription to access those.
However, both handheld gaming consoles are appealing to gamers (like myself) who land in the center of the Switch-Deck ven diagram, so if you want to buy both go for it—no one is stopping you, except maybe the supply chain. Just keep in mind that both consoles come with their own issues, like JoyCon drift on the Switch and terrible battery life on the Deck. You also don’t have access to the Switch’s operating system like you do with the Steam Deck, but we found the Deck's desktop clunky and frustrating to navigate. Hopefully, this is something Valve improves with an update soon.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.