Steam Deck OLED
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Thanks to its streamlined interface, a massive library of supported games and amazing potential as a retro gaming platform, Valve's Steam Deck is one of the best handheld systems money can buy right now – which is why we were so keen to get our hands on the shiny new Steam Deck OLED, the first hardware refresh of the concept since it launched at the start of 2022.

However, Valve hasn't chosen to boost the raw processing power of the device with this update – just as Nintendo did with its Switch OLED Model, the company is focusing on the visual benefits of the shift from the LCD panel seen in the original to a fancier OLED.

Is that all there is to this story, though, and is it worth upgrading if you already own a Steam Deck? We're going to find out.

Steam Deck OLED Review: Specs & Pricing

Steam Deck OLED
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The Steam Deck OLED is available in two storage configurations: 512GB (£479.00 / $549) and 1TB (£569 / $649).

Steam Deck Steam Deck OLED
CPU: Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.6GHz (1.6 TFlops FP32)
APU power: 4-15W
6 nm AMD APU
CPU: Zen 2 4c/8t, 2.4-3.5GHz (up to 448 GFlops FP32)
GPU: 8 RDNA 2 CUs, 1.6GHz (1.6 TFlops FP32)
APU power: 4-15W
RAM 16 GB LPDDR5 on-board RAM (5500 MT/s quad 32-bit channels) 16 GB LPDDR5 on-board RAM (6400 MT/s quad 32-bit channels)
Operating System SteamOS 3 (Arch-based) SteamOS 3 (Arch-based)
Storage Steam Deck 64GB
Steam Deck 256GB
Steam Deck 512GB
Steam Deck 512GB NVMe SSD
Steam Deck 1TB NVMe SSD
Expansion UHS-I supports SD, SDXC and SDHC UHS-I supports SD, SDXC and SDHC
Display 1280 x 800 X RGB LCD 7" 1280 x 800 x RGB HDR OLED 7.4”
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0 (support for controllers, accessories and audio)

Dual-band Wi-Fi radio, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, 2 x 2 MIMO, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac

Bluetooth 5.3 (support for controllers, accessories and audio)
Dedicated Bluetooth antenna
Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E radio, 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz 2 x 2 MIMO, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax
Battery 40Whr battery. 2 - 8 hours of gameplay 50Whr battery. 3-12 hours of gameplay
Size 298mm x 117mm x 49mm 298mm x 117mm x 49mm
Weight Approx. 669 grams Approx. 640 grams

Steam Deck OLED Review: Design And Display

The Steam Deck OLED is externally almost identical to the original – the most obvious difference is purely cosmetic, with the power button now orange and the base of the analogue sticks black as opposed to grey.

There are some other minor changes – the top of the sticks feel like they've got an improved level of grip, for example. By and large, though, this still looks very much like the original model, although the changes inside (which we'll come to shortly) mean that it's a little lighter.

Of course, the biggest change is the OLED display. Not only is it larger in size (7.4 inches, up from 7 inches on the LCD model), but it also boasts a 90 Hz refresh rate (the resolution remains unchanged, however). It's the screen's strong colours and deep, convincing contrast that make this such a welcome surprise the first time you turn it on. It's not that the LCD panel on the original model was bad as such – we've comfortably endured it for almost two years – but this new screen outclasses it in practically every regard, making every single game you play look far superior.

Valve has also changed the handy, rugged carry case that ships with the Steam Deck OLED. It looks very similar to the original but now has a separate internal compartment, which is held in with velcro and can be removed if you fancy a slightly smaller case solution. There's also a little velcro tab that adds an additional layer of security – but avoid the temptation to keep the zipper open and only use the tab, as, like us, you might find yourself almost dropping the Steam Deck OLED on the floor when you open the case. Oops.

Steam Deck OLED Review: Performance

Steam Deck OLED
The Steam Deck OLED (top) has a much brighter and more colourful screen than the original model (bottom) — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

When Nintendo announced its OLED Model Switch, many assumed it would offer a performance boost as well as an improved display – but, outside of using a more efficient chip which resulted in better stamina, it was largely business as usual on the processing power front.

Valve has done the same with the Steam Deck OLED; the 7 nm “Aerith” chipset used in the original version has been replaced by a 6 nm "Sephiroth" chip (both are named after characters from Final Fantasy VII, in case you hadn't noticed), and while this doesn't result in a massive improvement in overall performance (we'll come to that shortly), it does offer other benefits, such as lower power consumption (and therefore less heat and a quieter fan) and improved battery life.

Speaking of the battery, the one inside the Steam Deck OLED has around 25% more capacity than the original, which partly addresses one of the key issues with the first model: stamina. Before you get too carried away, this upgraded variant isn't going to put in the kind of hours you used to get from a fresh set of AAs in your Game Boy Color – it's still the kind of machine that you're going to want to charge at least once a day if you're using it on a regular basis. But we did notice improvements here and there when it came to battery life, so it's a welcome change.

Steam Deck OLED
Emulation is easy to set up on the Steam Deck OLED, and one of its biggest selling point, in our opinion — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The other new additions are WiFi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3 support, both of which are neat future-proofing features. Another change is the removal of the 64GB and 256GB SKUs from the Steam Deck family, with 512GB storage now being the entry-level option. The version we've reviewed is the 1TB model, which offers plenty of room for your games – and you can also add more space using a microSD card.

Ah, yes – games. The sole reason for the Steam Deck OLED's existence. The bottom line here is that this refresh isn't the silver bullet you might have been expecting when it comes to solving performance problems with the latest and greatest AAA PC titles; if you had a game which ran like trash on the LCD version, then chances are, you'll get the same experience with the Steam Deck OLED.

However, that's not to say that you won't see any improvement in how games run; as highlighted by Digital Foundry, latency is lower, so things will feel smoother; that 90 Hz screen has a faster refresh rate than the 60 Hz one in the first Steam Deck, and you're likely to notice this in all of the games you play on it.

Steam Deck OLED Review: Retro Gaming & Emulation

Steam Deck OLED
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

As we mentioned in our review of the first Steam Deck, Valve's system is a powerful platform when it comes to emulation. Using the system's 'Desktop Mode', you can set up a bunch of emulators via EmuDeck and even add them to your Steam library, giving them cover artwork and other assets. The whole process is refreshingly streamlined, too, and if you already own an LCD Steam Deck, you can migrate all of your retro games and emulators pretty easily.

The new 6 nm "Sephiroth" chip results in some welcome performance boosts for older titles, too. We found that GameCube and PlayStation 2 games felt like they ran better on the Steam Deck OLED; F-Zero GX, for example, was prone to less stuttering on this model. That could be down to improvements within the emulator, of course, but we noticed things felt smoother elsewhere, with Gradius V also running at a better click.

Machines like the AYANEO Air 1S have beefier hardware inside and are, therefore, going to be better at emulating more demanding platforms, but the Steam Deck OLED remains one of the best ways to reconnect with older titles on the move.

Steam Deck OLED Review: Conclusion

Steam Deck OLED
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

While it's not quite the Steam Deck 2 we were all hoping for, this OLED-packing handheld remains one of the best portable gaming platforms money can buy right now. Sure, it's not quite as powerful as rivals from AYANEO and ASUS, but the fact that everything is so much easier to get up and running (you don't have to wrestle with a Windows-based UI, for example) makes this a much more appealing prospect – and it's also cheaper to boot.

Should you pick one up if you already own a Steam Deck, though? Well, that all depends on if you're still happy with the original version. You're not going to see any massive performance gains with the Steam Deck OLED, but you do get a better display, less heat, a quieter fan and a bump in stamina.

Are those things you'd pay to upgrade for? If the answer is yes, then you'll be very pleased with this iterative upgrade, but if you're less bothered about those points, you might be best to wait for the inevitable Steam Deck 2, which is surely on the horizon in the next couple of years. For those of you who have yet to take the plunge, this is the best place to kick off your Steam Deck adventure.