7 tips to make the most of your gaming with Steam Deck

Become a Steam Deck expert with this guide.
person playing a game on a steam deck device
Take your gaming everywhere you go. Edgar Almeida / Unsplash

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The Valve Steam Deck takes the portable console concept that the Nintendo Switch has made familiar and ups the stakes. This new gadget lets you carry top-tier PC games with you anywhere, and it can be yours starting at $399.

If you took advantage of the holiday sales and invested in one of these gaming consoles, you should know how to get the best out of your hardware, so you can game smarter.

Customize your Steam Deck’s game controls

If you don’t like how the Steam Deck buttons are mapped in your favorite games, you can change them. The console gives you plenty of flexibility when it comes to deciding which buttons do what.

[Related: How to stream your PC games to all your screens]

Select a game from your library and instead of tapping Play on its listing page, tap the button showing a gamepad icon on the right. On the next screen, you’ll see the controller layout, which you can tweak by selecting Edit Layout.

Tap the cog icons on the right and you’ll be able to change the action associated with each button, and joystick or touchpad move. Back on the previous screen, tap the cog next to Edit Layout to save your changes as a preset you can load up whenever you want.

Make the Steam Deck gentler on your eyes

The Steam Deck comes with a built-in night mode designed to ease the strain on your eyes late at night and in dark environments. It reduces the amount of blue light emitted by the display, creating a warmer tinge.

You can enable night mode by pressing the Steam button, then choosing Settings and Display. You’ll see that you can schedule night mode for certain times, or turn it on right away (it’ll stay on until morning). There’s also a slider underneath that lets you change the intensity of the tint.

If you want, you can also keep your screen at a fixed brightness, whether or not night mode is on. On the same screen, you can dim the display using the brightness slider, and turn off the Enable Adaptive Brightness feature so that the Steam Deck doesn’t alter it.

Get a better experience by limiting frames per second and resolution

If you’re a PC gamer, you might be familiar with the idea of dialing down graphics settings (like resolution and visual fidelity) in order to get a smoother experience. The Steam Deck lets you perform a similar sort of balancing act.

Press the three-dot button to the right of the screen and scroll down to the battery section of the menu to find the framerate slider. You can cap the frames per second at 15, 30, or 60, or leave it uncapped. Don’t be surprised by the location of these settings—lowering the framerate can improve battery life as well as make games run more reliably.

You can also make performance smoother by reducing the resolution a game runs at. With a game highlighted in your library, press the menu button (top right, the three horizontal lines), then choose Properties and General to find the resolution setting.

Stream games to your Steam Deck

As powerful as the Steam Deck is for a portable console, it can’t compete with an actual gaming PC. Some games won’t run as well on your Steam Deck, but you also have the option to stream Steam games from a PC.

You can do this through the Remote Play service over a local Wi-Fi network, which you can also use to stream games from one computer to another, or play multiplayer games with other people. As an added bonus, your Steam Deck should stay cooler than it does while playing games locally, and you’ll get more time between battery charges, too.

As long as your PC and your Steam Deck are on the same Wi-Fi network and connected to the same Steam account, via the downward arrow next to the Play or Install button on individual game pages, you should find the option to stream them as well.

Get a closer look at games on your Steam Deck

The Steam Deck’s display is clearly smaller than any desktop monitor or laptop display, which might make gaming more difficult. If you find yourself struggling to see what’s on screen, there is an integrated magnifier function you can use.

To enable it, hold down the Steam button and the L1 button, which is on the top-left shoulder of the console as you look at it. You can then use the right joystick to move the magnifier around the screen. Let go of the joystick and the two buttons, and the display interface returns to normal.

Some titles are better than others when it comes to optimizing their interfaces on the Steam Deck, but it’s a helpful tool in situations with little fast-paced action.

Hook up some peripherals to your Steam Deck

The Steam Deck is blessed with a plethora of buttons, but for some games, you might want the feel of a classic gamepad or the very precise control only a mouse and keyboard can provide. The good news is that you can easily hook up these peripherals to the console.

When it comes to gamepads (like PlayStation or Xbox controllers, for instance), you can plug them into the Steam Deck’s USB-C port and the device should instantly recognize them. You can also connect them wirelessly over Bluetooth: Press the Steam button, then choose Settings and Bluetooth to make the connection.

It’s the same with a mouse and keyboard. You can use the USB-C port (via a USB-C hub if you want to connect both peripherals at the same time), or you can go through the Bluetooth menu to pair these input devices wirelessly.

Know the shortcuts on your Steam Deck console

Keyboard shortcuts can make a huge difference to your productivity on Windows and macOS, and the same goes for the Steam Deck. These button shortcuts let you control your gadget just as you would a PC or game console.

[Related: Best PC games that demand a mouse and keyboard]

For example, press and hold the Steam button to use the Right thumbstick or the Right touchpad as a mouse. With the latter, click on the touchpad for a mouse click.

Press and hold the Steam button and then tap D-pad right to simulate an Enter key, D-pad down to simulate a Tab key, or D-pad left to simulate an Escape key. To see a full list of shortcuts, press and hold the Steam button.