Unlike the Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck will be an open platform that lets you do whatever you want.
Valve's Sᴛᴇᴀᴍ Deck ɪs a hᴀɴdʜᴇld gamɪɴg PC thᴀᴛ plugs sᴇᴀmʟᴇssly ɪɴᴛᴏ yᴏᴜʀ Sᴛᴇᴀᴍ library. It's ʟɪᴋᴇ a Nɪɴᴛᴇɴᴅᴏ Swɪᴛch ꜰᴏʀ PC gamɪɴg—ᴇxᴄᴇᴘᴛ thᴀᴛ unʟɪᴋᴇ Nɪɴᴛᴇɴᴅᴏ's hᴀɴdʜᴇld, tʜᴇ Sᴛᴇᴀᴍ Deck wᴏɴ't ꜰᴏʀce ᴜsers ɪɴᴛᴏ a ᴄʟᴏsᴇd sʏsᴛᴇᴍ wʜᴇre tʜᴇy ʜᴀᴠᴇ ɴᴇxᴛ ᴛᴏ ɴᴏ ᴄᴏɴᴛʀᴏʟ ᴏᴠᴇʀ tʜᴇ operᴀᴛɪɴg sʏsᴛᴇᴍ ᴀɴd ɪɴstᴀʟʟed sᴏꜰtwᴀʀᴇ.
In an interview with IGN, Valve developer Pierre-Loup Griffais said, "[The Steam Deck] can pretty much run anything you can run on a PC," and despite its handheld form factor will still let you do things like alt-tab out of games and into a web browser where you can watch streaming video.
In a hands-on with the device, IGN also claims you can wipe the pre-installed SteamOS entirely and replace it with Windows. While that will probably hurt your gaming performance (due to this new version of SteamOS being optimized for the Steam Deck's hardware), it does mean you'll be able to install any apps you normally use on a PC and—fascinatingly enough—other gaming storefronts too. Yup, there's a possibility the Steam Deck could also become a de facto Xbox Game Pass or Epic Games Store portable gaming system too.
"We don't think people should be locked into a certain direction or a certain set of software that they can install,” Valve designer Lawrence Yang said. “If you buy a Steam Deck, it's a PC. You can install whatever you want on it, you can attach any peripherals you want to it. Maybe a better way to think about it is that it's a small PC with a controller attached as opposed to a gaming console.”
An optional dock, sold separately, will even let you plug it into TVs or gaming monitors for higher resolutions and framerates (assuming the Steam Deck's hardware can keep up with the game).
That's an enormous contrast from the Nintendo Switch, which is such a heavily restricted system is sometimes borders on infuriating. There's no official browser, no apps for streaming services like Netflix, and no way to use it as a media player unless you hack it. So having a handheld that gives users complete control over the experience is extremely exciting.
The Steam Deck will be available this December and starts at $399. You can reserve one starting tomorrow.