The Steam Deck is a nifty little portable gaming PC, but it does come with a few wrinkles. The 800p screen, however, is not one of them. If you ask me, the Steam Deck 2 (or whatever Valve ends up calling the Deck’s successor) doesn’t need a higher-resolution display. This is why.
Before we start, a disclaimer: I’m not trying to say that Valve shouldn’t put a 1200p display on Deck 2 under any circumstances. If the company manages to equip it with a powerful APU, it will address most of the common downsides found in the original Deck: average battery life, poor haptics, stiff paddle buttons, poor wireless performance, noisy fan, USB-C port located at the top, etc— and includes a 1200p display that covers 100% of the sRGB color gamut, great! I’m totally for it. But if the price of having a 1200p display is a weaker APU or not addressing some of the console’s more jarring issues, I’m all for Valve keeping the 800p resolution in the Deck’s successor.
Steam Deck has display issues, but resolution isn’t one of them
Lots of Steam Deck owners rant about the Deck’s screen, but most don’t care about the resolution, myself included. Firstly, 67% coverage of the sRGB color gamut is the most critical issue with the panel. The narrow color gamut results in washed-out colors that are far from the color saturation overload we get on the Nintendo Switch OLED, or even other gaming laptops like the AYANEO 2, GPD Win 4, or ROG Ally.
And while there is a Decky Loader plugin—vibrantDeck—that makes colors more saturated, that plugin doesn’t magically increase color depth. If anything, making colors pop more hurts color accuracy. It’s because the more saturated the colors are, the less pronounced is the difference between the different shades of each color, with different shades merging into one. In other words, you get punchy colors but worse color accuracy and fidelity.
Another problem that I, and many others, have with our Steam Decks is low contrast and (very) noticeable backlight bleed. This makes playing dark games on my Deck at night less than ideal because you start to notice the backlight fading in every scene that’s slightly on the dark side. Also, playing games that only support the 16:9 aspect ratio means you have two thin but definitely noticeable patches at the top and bottom of the screen, which can be quite distracting. My Switch Lite, on the other hand, also suffers from poor contrast, but no noticeable backlight bleed, making dark games look better than on my Deck.
What I mean is, personally, I’d rather see an 800p, 100% sRGB display on the next-gen Deck that features at least an average contrast ratio and controlled backlight bleed than a 1200p display with poor color gamut. and contrast, and enough backlight bleed to turn blacks into semi-dark shades of gray. Also, I’m pretty sure most Deck owners would rather have an 800p OLED than a 1200p LCD, especially if it doesn’t feature improved color gamut and contrast.
Steam Deck doesn’t need to match smartphones in pixel density
Another thing I noticed from reading the Steam Deck subreddit and online forums is that some people care a little too much about pixel density. It’s like the Steam Deck has a pixel density of “only” 216 DPI, which in some ways makes it utter garbage. Actually, 216 DPI is pretty good for a portable game console.
For example, the PS Vita has a pixel density of 220 DPI, and no one talked about the poor sharpness of the Vita’s screen. The regular Nintendo Switch has a pixel density of 237 DPI, and the OLED version features a pixel density of 210 DPI. But no one flinched when Nintendo released the OLED version with the same 720p resolution and worse pixel density because the OLED display knocked the regular Switch’s IPS panel out of the park.
Also, the Steam Deck and its successor, every time it comes out, are not smartphones. You don’t spend time on these devices looking at photos, browsing the web, and visiting text-heavy websites; you play games. And while of course games don’t look that impressive on the Deck without anti-aliasing (looking at your GTA IV), any form of anti-aliasing makes any 3D game impressive, even on today’s screen. 800p. We don’t need “retina level” 300 DPI or higher to enjoy gaming on our covers.
In newer games, temporary smoothing virtually removes all signs of roughness. And in older games, even 2X multisample anti-aliasing works wonders. Even the fast and weak approximate anti-aliasing (FXAA) makes games quite sharp and easy on the eyes. And when you’re talking about 2D and “2.5D” (2D games with 3D models), they look great at 800p, even without anti-aliasing. Many 2D games look pretty good even at 600p and with AMD FSR enabled.
Finally, some might say that most other gaming laptop PCs feature 1080p displays. However, most of them are much more expensive than the Deck. Second, despite its beefier hardware, the 1080p resolution is too big on many recent AAA titles for even the most powerful handhelds—unless you’re ready to settle for low visual options or use AMD RSR, a driver level enhancement filter that looks a bit worse than AMD FSR. Which brings me to my next point.
A 1200p display would lead to weaker gaming performance
The common rave about 1080p resolution on laptops is similar to the push MS and Sony made with 4K resolution. Sure, games rendered in native 4K look great, but performance is often limited to 30fps. I’d rather play 1440p 60fps than 4K 30fps. Or, in the case of Steam Deck 2, I’d rather play at 800p and medium or high details and 60 frames per second than 1200p, south of 60fps and low details.
The thing is, even if Valve decides to equip Deck 2 with, say, an RDNA 4-based iGPU, you shouldn’t expect an astronomical increase in performance compared to the original deck. At 15W, the maximum TDP of Deck’s Van Gogh APU, the ROG Ally, featuring a 12-core RDNA 3 GPU compared to Deck’s 8-core RDNA 2 GPU, is only 30-40% % faster on average than Cover.
Next, the RDNA 3-based Radeon 780M iGPU is only 10-20% faster than its predecessor, the RDNA 2-based Radeon 680M, and both have the same number of graphics cores, 12. If we’re being generous and we assume that the RDNA 4 architecture will bring a ~25% performance increase over RDNA 3, and if we also assume that Deck 2 will include an 8-core GPU and faster RAM, the performance increase from Deck to Deck 2 should be enough to play current AAA titles at 60fps and medium to high details, but at 800p resolution. At 1200p, performance should only allow for a 30fps-40fps experience with little detail.
A higher TDP might drive performance higher, but, remember, the team behind the Steam Deck have made it as light on battery as possible while still delivering decent enough gaming performance. In other words, I don’t think Steam Deck 2 has a higher TDP. Maybe if Valve decides to equip it with a solid-state cooling setup, but that’s a story for another time.
However, even with an 8-core RDNA 4 based GPU, Steam Deck 2 will only be able to hit 60 fps with 800p gaming performance at medium-high details on AAA titles. And I’d rather game at 60fps at 800p than settle for 30fps at 1080p with little detail.
And while upscaling the image from 800p to 1200p with the AMD RSR doesn’t look perfect, even on a 7-inch screen (native resolution always looks better on LCD screens), I wouldn’t have a problem with that if Valve manages to equip Deck 2. with a 1200p display and beefy APU while also fixing issues found in the original Deck, as noted at the beginning of this piece. But considering the performance-on-budget nature of the Deck (which reminds me of Google’s philosophy with the Nexus series of smartphones and the good old Nexus days), I doubt we can have it all.
A high-resolution screen leads to higher manufacturing costs
A higher resolution display on the next generation Steam Deck would mean a higher manufacturing cost for the device. And considering Valve’s determination to keep the cost of the original Deck as low as possible, I think the company will do the same with its successor. In other words, no matter how low the cost of putting a 1200p display instead of an 800p display on Deck 2 is, Valve will have to make a compromise by not equipping the console with some other feature, fix, or update.
The thing is, I’d rather go for a series of small but important upgrades to the 2nd Gen Deck over a higher resolution display. Things like better haptic engines, a bigger battery no matter how minuscule the capacity increase, hall-effect analog sticks, a higher-quality Wi-Fi chip, the aforementioned 800p display with 100% sRGB coverage, and the list keep going.
Having the latest and greatest technology in our devices is always great, but we need to be realistic in our expectations instead of wanting things just because they sound better on paper. The original Steam Deck’s screen resolution is sharp enough for gaming, and while a 1200p display on its successor would definitely be a “nice to have” feature, it’s far from an essential addition.
Steam Deck’s “portable PC gaming on a budget” design philosophy means a number of compromises that need to be made in order to give us the best possible gaming experience at an unbeatable price. And with Steam Deck 2, I’d rather compromise on screen resolution than screen quality, game performance, and a host of other features and improvements that can really enhance my gaming experience. More pixels on a screen diagonal that already looks good, since it’s not one of them.