Steam Deck vs cloud gaming: How do they compare?

Steam Deck vs cloud gaming: Before I got my hands on a Steam Deck I was sceptical. It’s not like I believed it would fail. It was actually very appealing to have my entire Steam library on a handheld. The only thing I was unsure about was the necessity of the gadget.

Companies have attempted to duplicate the Nintendo Switch’s flexibility ever since. Cloud gaming was one of the first and most innovative attempts. Amazon and Google have made big bets on streaming. They envision a future in which you don’t even need a powerful console or PC to play games. You can use the devices you already have.

Cloud streaming has been met with some reservations by players. Cloud streaming seems like a wonderful idea, but it is dependent on stable internet connections. This can be difficult if you are not located in major cities. Cloud gaming continues to grow despite the hesitation. Services like GeForce Now or Amazon Luna have increased the possibilities of cloud gaming. How does that compare to the Steam Deck’s portable PC? Is it possible to use them as an alternative, or is dedicated hardware still the best?

I set up a friendly competition between my Steam Deck and a phone that plays the same games streaming via GeForce Now to answer these questions. The results showed that there is no one right answer to the flexibility issue at the moment. Everything feels experimental in its own way.

Installation and caveats

To test this, I wanted cloud gaming to be at its best. To test this, I used the Razer Kishi controller attachment on a Samsung S21 smartphone. To test different titles on Steam Deck and GeForce Now, I used a GeForce Now priority accounts. Also, I had access to a high-speed internet connection in New York City via Wi-Fi as well as 5G. This would theoretically allow me to test in the best conditions.

However, there is a caveat: This experience may not be for everyone. Cloud gaming requires a stable and fast internet connection. This is not possible everywhere. While this test shows how it performs at 100%, don’t assume that the data will work for you.

Cloud gaming is limited by the need for a connection. This is another elephant in the room. I can play Steam Deck from an airplane but cannot load GeForce Now. In a battle for portability, the Steam Deck wins. Instead of comparing them in that regard I am simply checking how they work in a home setting for anyone who might be interested in a less expensive gaming PC.

With this in mind, here are these results.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Because Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a high-quality, highly-rated game that runs well on Steam Deck, I began with it . The game ran at an impressive 51 frames per second (fps) in my benchmark test. GeForce Now’s benchmark test also hit a record 111 frames per second. This is to be expected. GeForce Now is powered by dedicated servers that have more power than the Steam Deck.

There is no comparison in image quality. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is stunning while streaming. The screenshots of each device are compared side-by-side. GeForce Now has sharper textures, while the Steam Deck version has fuzzy edges. This is also noticeable when it comes to motion, as Steam Deck had a lot of texture pop-in. The Samsung S21’s screen is smaller than the Steam Deck, which makes any flaws harder to spot.

a comparison of shadow of the tomb raider on steam deck and geforce now.

Battery life is also important. The same 30-minute snippet drained 6% from my Samsung S21’s battery. The Steam Deck’s battery was consumed 25%, leaving my device with less than an hour left. The Steam Deck’s battery life is a major issue right now. However, it’s not surprising. Cloud services can have an advantage depending on the devices.

There is a catch. The game was very powerful on GeForce Now. However, I did experience some strange things with the cloud during my time playing. Although latency was not an issue, I experienced a few micro-stutters. They were small and didn’t disrupt my work until I went into a cave. The frame rate suddenly dropped to a slideshow, and the app crashed. Although visually more difficult, the experience was not affected by Steam Deck.

Rocket League

I decided to play some online games to further test my stability. Rocket League was a good choice as it’s fast-paced and highly recommended for both platforms. It was basically the same story, with GeForce Now having a better visual experience, while Steam Deck offers a more smooth experience. The visual differences weren’t as stark, with both being more or less equal. This may be where the Steam Deck has an advantage.

rocket league running on geforce now and steam deck.

Here were more cloud quirks. There were a few occasions when the screen would suddenly go blank. These quality drops were usually short-lived. I never found myself stuck on a screen that was not properly aligned for more than a second. Stutters also didn’t have any negative impact on shots. It’s an example of how the cloud can bring an experiential element to gaming. Rocket League will run consistent between all Steam Decks, but it will be different for every GeForce Now subscriber.

Online games, such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider, can make me want to play in a cloud stream because of the better visuals. The Steam Deck is wireless, so it still needs a strong network. While a wired connection is preferable, it’s better to transmit less data through Wi-fi.

Destiny 2

This one is a joke. Because of its anti-cheat system, the Steam Deck cannot run Destiny2 natural. This is because it requires players to jump through hoops in order to make it work. GeForce Now allows you to instantly launch the game and it doesn’t require any downloads. Destiny 2 is my favorite game to test on any device. It’s also the only one that I can launch on Steam Deck because of compatibility issues.

Although it’s not fair (if we go into the Steam Deck versus the GeForce Now Library, the former would win), it highlights how experimental Valve is with their device. It may seem simple and run any Steam game. While some games will run just fine, others may not work at all. Cloud gaming is not without its problems. No specs are required to run the most powerful game on the service, even on an iPad five years old. GeForce’s consistency is gone, but its compatibility is up.

Cyberpunk 2077

The time had come to test the two platforms. I wanted to test how each platform would handle a huge game that doesn’t run on most computers. Cyberpunk2077 is what I am referring to. In 2020, the open-world game suffered a poor launch. Performance issues were evident across all platforms. It turns out that Google Stadia was one of the best ways you could play the game even in its most primitive state. This was because it was compatible with capable computers. It was the perfect last challenge for both platforms, with the 1.5 patch adding more stability to the game by 2022.

In case you were wondering, Cyberpunk2077 is still in poor shape. My car fell under the map within one minute of me playing GeForce Now. The game continued loading my descent endlessly. I was soft-locked once more when I entered the ripperdoc chair. The game did not prompt me to exit the story or move on. This is not the fault of the service, but it does give you an idea how important it is to remove all friction from the game.

cyberpunk 2077 running on geforce now and steam deck.

GeForce Now’s performance was impressive. When streaming from the cloud, the game runs smooth. The game was RTX-ready so I could use the excellent lighting. I didn’t experience any latency issues during twitchy shootouts. There were always tech glitches that would occur, such as sudden frame drops or sound glitches. But, considering the game’s volatility, I found that playing on my phone was no different than playing on a PC. (Except for the difficult-to-read text).

Steam Deck required some tweaking to play, which is why it isn’t “verified”. The frame rate was around 30 on “high” graphics settings, sometimes dropping to even lower. Medium settings gave me a speed of around 40 fps. However, shootouts would require me to lower my graphics settings. It was very difficult to play after the battery drain, but I was able to make it work once I had made the correct adjustments. It’s unlikely that many will enjoy the game the way they want, however Elden Ring it is.

cyberpunk 2077 running on geforce now.

Cyberpunk2077 highlights the fundamental philosophical differences between these two platforms. The Steam Deck is primarily for people who are from the PC school of thought. Valve’s Steam Deck allows you to tweak settings and get a game working on your system. Cloud services are better for those who want their games to work straight out of the box. GeForce Now’s settings menu was something I had never considered. All I had to was click on play.

Everybody is a winner

My casual experiment has shown that there are no losers and winners. Each approach to portability has its own downsides but they are both perfectly acceptable ways to play. If you have the right internet connection, the potential is greater with cloud services. However, dedicated devices like the Steam Deck offer more stability when it comes to compatible game compatibility (which is an added benefit for the device). This is my preference, but I love that I have choices.

My initial doubts about the Steam Deck have been eased by it, which has proven that it’s not redundant in the age cloud gaming. However, I am still confident in cloud technology as a whole based upon my tests. Games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider performed better on my smartphone than on my computer. Given the fact that my current component shortage makes it difficult to upgrade my rig I can see a world in which I stream games using less powerful devices than I currently own.

Steam Deck vs cloud gaming

To make that switch, tech must keep momentum going. However, I can also say the same about the Steam Deck-style handheld computer. Gamers currently live in an age of experimentation where companies ask them to be early adopters of rapidly changing tech. Their skepticism can’t be blamed as companies construct the tracks in front a moving train. Although there is still much to do, neither platform that I tested felt in danger of falling off a cliff as Wile E. Coyote.

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