- The Nintendo Switch is designed for gaming, with a user-friendly operating system and easy setup, making it more convenient for casual users.
- Gaming handhelds like the Steam Deck may offer more versatility, but they often come with trade-offs such as complicated boot-up processes and difficult navigation on a smaller screen.
- The Nintendo Switch has a strong advantage with its library of exclusive games, which are a major draw and make it a priority for many console buyers.
I love the Steam Deck, I love the Asus ROG Ally, and I love the Ayaneo Kun. These are all fantastic gaming handhelds, and particularly in the case of the Steam Deck, I would have no problem recommending them to just about anyone. Having said that, I think that for most people, these gaming handhelds are still far too niche to take on the likes of the Nintendo Switch.
To be clear, I also have a Nintendo Switch that’s fallen by the wayside ever since I bought the Steam Deck and have been testing all manner of gaming handhelds. I love all of these handhelds and play them way more than my Switch, but it’s hard to recommend them over something tried, tested, and easy like the Switch.
The Nintendo Switch is made for gaming from the ground up
Where the Nintendo Switch immediately has a leg-up is that it’s clearly made for gaming from the ground up, and that starts with the operating system. You can boot it up, slot in a cartridge, and start playing The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom almost immediately. You can dock it and easily connect extra controllers to play multiplayer games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and you know that no matter what, things will just work.
That’s not quite the case with other gaming handhelds, especially ones that run on Windows, like the Ayaneo Kun or the Asus ROG Ally. You can sometimes boot up a game right away, but other times, there are unskippable Windows updates, Steam updates, and more that get in the way. These trade-offs might be worth it for the versatility you get with these machines, but most casual users won’t want to deal with a finicky experience. That’s without getting into the navigation on these devices, too. Windows 11 isn’t built for touchscreens and the UI is designed for being controlled with a mouse, so icons and actions are difficult on the much smaller screen.
But let’s ignore all of that. Say that you can consistently boot up games in a minute and that you don’t mind navigating Windows UI on a small screen with just your finger. Many video games are meant to be played with other people, especially many of the games on the Switch, and good luck setting up couch-based multiplayer gaming on one of these devices. These gaming handhelds simply aren’t made with that in mind, no matter how good your dock is. You can do it in some games like Rocket League, but by and large, if you’re buying a PC gaming handheld, you’re committing to a largely solo gaming experience.
The Steam Deck gets around some of this thanks to its boot-up-and-play nature, but it still doesn’t make it any easier to have a local multiplayer gaming experience. Even when it comes to solo or online gaming, you’re at the behest of Proton working with the games that you want to play. For the most part, Proton will work, but nobody looks at a Nintendo Switch and its gaming library, hoping that the games will work.
Speaking of that Switch game library, there’s one thing that Nintendo has that others never will, and that’s the iconic Nintendo library of games. Whether it’s Mario, Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or Animal Crossing, there are so many franchises that are exclusive to the Switch. These games are a massive draw to both casual and hardcore gamers and are often the priority for many who are figuring out what they want in a console.
PC games don’t always translate well to a handheld
The other problem is that not all of your games translate well into a handheld experience. Again, most will, but selling the idea of one of these handhelds to somebody by saying, “Most of your PC games should work,” isn’t necessarily the key to convincing a would-be buyer. When it comes to controlling PC games on a handheld, some of them simply aren’t made to be played this way. Minecraft works on the Steam Deck with a good bit of tweaking, but you won’t be able to type in chat. Games like Scribblenauts also work, but the in-game keyboard can be finicky when it’s not made to be interacted with on a touchscreen. Then there are games like like DOOM Eternal and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which I would love to play on a handheld, but I couldn’t imagine playing without some kind of gyro-based controls like the Switch has.
In general, these gaming handhelds require much more research and know-how to get something out of them than other pick-up-and-play devices, and that’s OK. They still offer fantastic gaming experiences, and to anybody who wants to put in the time and effort, they’re often better than a Nintendo Switch. Installing the likes of EmuDeck on the Steam Deck will even give you access to a wide library of emulatable titles that you can’t get on the Switch, for example.
Where the Nintendo Switch immediately has a leg-up is that it’s clearly made for gaming from the ground up.
None of that gets around the fact that a Switch is just easier for most people to use, which is the beauty of console gaming. You just buy the hardware, set it up, buy a game, and get playing. Sometimes, there are updates, and sometimes, you need to do a bit more tinkering, but by and large, they’re made for the masses. The Steam Deck is the closest thing to console gaming in this space, but it’s still not quite as easy to use as a Switch, although it’s on the way.
Finally, there’s one thing the Switch has over all others except the Steam Deck, and that’s price and availability. You can walk into a lot of shops and just buy a Switch outright, but good luck doing that with the Steam Deck or the Ayaneo Kun. You can buy a Steam Deck from Valve, so it’s not particularly difficult to get one, and the price starts at $350, the same as a Switch OLED, but the rest of these gaming handhelds cost a lot more and are harder to purchase. Plus, even with the Steam Deck, that base price is for 64GB of storage; you’ll need a microSD card at least, if not a total storage upgrade.
The future of PC gaming handhelds is bright, and for enthusiasts, it’s no wonder they’re so popular, but the Switch isn’t going to be beaten anytime soon.