When Valve announced the new Steam Deck OLED last week, you probably couldn’t help but compare the new upgrade to another handheld gaming system on the market: the Nintendo Switch OLED. While both devices are similar in size and offer OLED displays, there aren’t a lot of similarities between the two. These devices serve very different purposes, and knowing that can help you make the right decision when thinking about which to buy.
Steam Deck OLED vs. Nintendo Switch OLED specs
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Specs alone aren’t really what will sway most people towards a Steam Deck or a Switch. Still, it’s important to know what you’re getting for your money:
Switch OLED specs:
Display: 7-inch, 1280 x 720 OLED touchscreen
Processor: Nvidia Tegra X1
Storage: 64GB (expandable via microSD)
Battery life: 4.5 to 9 hours
Size and weight: 9.5 x 4 x 0.55 inches, 0.93 pounds
Steam Deck OLED specs:
Display: 7.4-inch, 1280 x 800 HDR OLED touchscreen
Processor: 6nm Custom AMD APU
Storage: 512GB / 1TB NVMe SSD (expandable via microSD)
Battery life: 3 to 12 hours
Size and weight: 298mm x 117mm x 49mm, roughly 1.41 pounds
Price: starts at $549
Looking just at the specs, it’s clear the Steam Deck OLED offers more power under its chassis. That increased performance does come with some tradeoffs, such as the increased weight and size, as well as a noticeable price difference. But, as I noted above, specs alone aren’t what you’re going to be looking at when you are compare these two handhelds.
Software and game access
Because the Switch is a Nintendo console, you’re pretty much locked into whatever Nintendo offers as far as games go. Luckily, there’s a lot of support for the Switch, both from Nintendo’s first-party software as well as from third-party developers. Just recently, Switch gamers have been able to pick up The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, as well as Super Mario Bros. Wonder. When they’re done playing through those, they can choose from a huge library of indie games as well, including Cuphead, Hades, and Celeste.
Where the Nintendo Switch OLED focuses on Nintendo games with plenty of third-party titles, the Steam Deck is built to bring the vast Steam library of PC games to a handheld device. That means it has access to hundreds of thousands of games, though not every single one is going to be optimized for the Steam Deck’s weaker, slower processor—when compared to what you might put in your PC, anyway.
The Steam Deck OLED is also exceptionally good at emulating, though there’s a murky moral discussion around that particular topic. In theory, you could emulate some Switch games on the Steam Deck, as well as games from other consoles, but you’ll be relying on the performance of those emulator systems, which isn’t something the Steam Deck itself is responsible for. Still, it’s an option if you really care about that kind of thing.
Emulation is also possible on Switch, although it’s heavily geared toward retro gaming. You can hack your Switch to play whatever games you like (again, questionable ethics aside), however, the easiest way to emulate on the Switch is to use Nintendo’s monthly subscription. With this service, you can access older SNES, NES, Game Boy, Sega Genesis, and Nintendo 64 video games through an emulator system designed to work with the Switch specifically.
The real choice here all depends on what kind of games you want to play. If you prefer playing more PC-oriented games, or want a larger library to access, then the Steam Deck OLED is simply going to offer more. However, the Nintendo Switch OLED gives you access to tons of first- and third-party games, many of which have been designed specifically to run on the Switch’s lower-powered hardware. Some games on Switch are going to offer better performance simply because they’re more optimized for it. The Steam Deck, on the other hand, relies on the developers of games to make them compatible. Often, you’ll just have to make do with whatever the little handheld can manage.
Display and battery life
Beyond the game and software access, there’s the question of the consoles’ displays. For starters, the Steam Deck offers a faster refresh rate of 90Hz on its screen, which means some games will appear smoother while playing. Both displays here are OLED, so expect brighter colors and darker blacks than both handhelds’ LCD counterparts.
However, the Steam Deck OLED does come with a bit of a “super power” in the form of HDR. This means you can take advantage of various HDR settings within games to improve the contrast ratio while playing, though running this feature will likely take more battery life than running it without.
The displays are also similar in size, though the Steam Deck OLED does measure just slightly larger at 7.4 inches, compared to the 7-inch display on the Switch OLED. Both are also similar resolution, though the Steam Deck is slightly higher there again, too. That isn’t something that most people are going to take note of when using these devices, though: The screens are probably too small for most to pixel-peep.
Battery life, on the other hand, is something you’re definitely going to notice, and the Steam Deck OLED will likely suffer from the same unreliable power chugging as the original Steam Deck. Sure, it says three to 12 hours on the box, but ultimately that’s going to change a lot depending on what settings you’re rocking. The Nintendo Switch, on the other hand, says four to nine hours, and while your mileage may vary, Nintendo’s settings are much more locked down than Valve’s. All games on the Switch run at the settings they were designed to, so there isn’t anything you have to worry about doing to help keep it from killing your Switch quicker. (Unless, of course, you decide to overclock your Switch, which you probably shouldn’t do.)
Of course, both devices rely heavily on what you’re doing to determine just how long the battery will last. Ultimately, they’re both good for portable gaming, but I’d recommend keeping a charger around for both of them, especially if you plan on playing a more intensive game, like Red Dead Redemption 2 on Steam Deck or Tears of the Kingdom on Switch.
Overall, both of these handhelds offer different experiences for different people. The Steam Deck OLED is slightly better, as it offers an improved display, better processor, and larger storage. However, most of this doesn’t matter, especially if you throw a microSD card into the mix, which can expand your storage on either handheld. If you’re seriously trying to choose between these two devices, I’d ask yourself one question: What kinds of games do I want to play? That’s going to be the deciding factor here. If you want to play PC games on the go, or only want to play indie games with the best handheld hardware possible, it’s the Steam Deck OLED for you. If you want to play new Nintendo games at all, well, you know the drill.