With the Steam Deck OLED, Valve has responded to nearly every criticism I had with the original hardware. You can learn all the specifics in our review, but in short, the mid-life-cycle upgrade features a beautiful screen, longer battery life, and a slightly lighter weight that makes gaming sessions less of a strain on the wrists. However, the Steam Deck OLED’s most charming upgrade doesn’t really have to do with the handheld at all.
For the Steam OLED 1 TB edition, Valve put a case within the case. I am obsessed with this silly, inspired little idea.
Some backstory: The more expensive models of the original Steam Deck shipped with a carrying case I’d describe as Toughbook chic. It looked as if you could safely drop it off a skyscraper, and its excessive bulk raised eyebrows at every TSA checkpoint. Please don’t mistake me for ungrateful; that Valve bothered to include a carrying case set it above the competition, and perhaps the case’s blunt design befit the early Steam Deck, which felt (to some) like playing games on a giant brick.
But let’s be real: The bulky hard shell did an excellent job protecting the Steam Deck and a terrible job fitting into any reasonably sized bag.
The Steam Deck OLED ships in a big bulky case practically identical to the original case. However, this time, the inner lining can be removed and used as its own case. The case within the case looks like a mold of the Steam Deck OLED, with little nipples for the joysticks on the front, and on the back, two protruding columns for the grips.
“We always wanted the included case to be slimmer,” said Lawrence Yang, one of the Steam Deck’s designers. “However, our extensive testing during Steam Deck LCD development showed that we really needed a two-layer construction for maximum impact protection; especially since the case also acts as part of the structural packaging during shipping. We also know that some users prefer max protection over a slimmer profile and we’ve seen users strap the case directly to their backpacks or luggage. This new design gives the users a choice; a slim option for basic protection in a bag or backpack or max protection when combined with the outer shell.”
When asked if the Steam Deck team noticed the similarity between the case and the Batman nipple suit, Yang replied: “The team didn’t notice the resemblance to the Batman suit... until now.”
That Valve improved case (and that it continued including a case at all) is the sort of extra expense that could be so easily trimmed in the manufacturing process. Or it could have been covered in trashy Steam logos, doubling as handheld marketing.
This case is an example of what currently differentiates Valve. In a world of gaming gizmos that prioritizes unwieldy design, copious RGB lights, and a nagging sensation of corners cut, the Steam Deck shows an alternate approach. Of course the OLED screen and improved battery are the reason to get a new Steam Deck. But Valve understands that getting the little things right can transcend something from good to great. Even if it’s something as silly as a case within a case.