Valve Steam Deck Dock review: Not required
Valve’s Steam Deck has finally been joined by its long-awaited Dock, but it doesn’t feel necessary to price it so high.
The Steam Deck is incredible. While we don’t think it’s for everyone just yet, it’s continuously surprised us at every turn. Though, having a small, portable PC with one USB-C port means that the only way to experience it is through a dock or USB-C.
What’s baffling about the Dock is that it’s priced at $89 (we paid £79), for what effectively can be bought on Amazon for half, or even a quarter of the price, depending on how deep into the port selection you go.
Maybe it’s not Valve’s fault though, as similarly spec’d docks will usually run you around the same price. However, it feels a little anger-inducing to fork over that amount of cash for something that isn’t as smooth, or even easy to use as Nintendo’s Switch dock.
Steam Deck Dock key specs
- USB-C display cable
- HDMI 2.0 (4K60 or 1440p/120Hz)
- DisplayPort 1.4
- USB-C power passthrough (no data connection)
- 3x USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports
What’s in the box: Dock, charger
The Steam Deck Dock is a cleanly machined piece of plastic with all the needed ports – with a surprise appearance from DisplayPort which certainly will satisfy most people with modern monitors.
On the back, once you begin to actually plug in wires and the like, it begins to get a little messy. There’s no included cable management (even something like a reusable zip tie), so you’re on your own. Much like any PC, as long as you don’t look behind it, the wire mess can’t hurt you.
The main issue with this though is that almost certainly, the Dock is going to sit on your desk or shelf. The wires protruding out of it on our desk right now, mean that we’re constantly staring at the jumbled mess.
This wouldn’t be an issue if Valve had taken a leaf out of Nintendo’s book and created an enclosure to keep the wires at bay. Threading them through the back, or encasing them would help with the clean aesthetic that it brings.
A favorite bit, as boring as it sounds, is the design of the USB-C cable. Valve’s decision to include a right-angled connection point is appreciated for keeping things tidy.
On the back, three USB-A ports, as well as a USB-C for charging are accompanied by DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 2.0. There’s also a gigabit Ethernet port for eliminating Wi-Fi. With this Dock, you could very much use the Steam Deck as a full PC.
However, once docked, and with no removable controllers, you’re left at the behest of whatever controller you have laying around. It’s not even an easy process, as the controllers we tested while docked worked great through a direct connection over USB, but struggled to manage the Bluetooth side of things.
We’re not sure if this is a Deck issue, our own weird glitch, or a controller issue. Connecting an Xbox controller took at least two or three attempts each session, and the PS4 controller would sometimes not connect at all.
Keyboard and mice, while great to have for first-person shooters and strategy games, feel weirdly clunky inside SteamOS and its Desktop mode.
Even with a controller connected, actually managing to navigate the menus just never feels right when using anything but the Steam Deck itself.
A lack of immediate access to the home menus without hitting every key, or even with the controller connected, we had to hunt Reddit for the answer to get into the power options (it’s Guide+A).
Monitors and resolutions
There’s this weird sense of lag in the OS when connecting it to a higher resolution of 1440p. On our ultrawide monitor (an LG UltraWide Ergo), everything functioned just as intended. However, on the BenQ 4K monitor we use for playing consoles and as a secondary monitor, until we changed the resolution down to 1080p or 1440p.
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Despite the user interface now displaying at a lower resolution, seeing as the games can operate independently of the SteamOS resolution, this doesn’t make a difference. In our testing of Uncharted 4’s PC port, the game at 720p looked just fine.
We did also manage to get some older, or less demanding titles to run at the full 4K with the Steam Deck screaming out of its tiny little fan. Still hit 60FPS though.
Though, one of the main reasons to get a Dock is for additional storage options that you wouldn’t usually want to have on your person. While the SD card is pure wizardry, loading and playing AAA games without a single hitch, throwing in your fully loaded 1TB NVMe drive from a Black Friday or Amazon sale can’t be beaten.
What should be an easy plug-in-and-go situation, is at the mercy of Linux and how this particular flavor of Linux handles itself. There’s at least an additional 15 minutes to half an hour (if you’re a novice) of setup before you can go.
Even then, once you think you have everything done correctly, you’ll discover you can’t just slot in the Deck and go whenever you want. Returning to the sleeping Deck in the morning, resulted in us having lost connection with the portable drive.
Rebooting brought it back, but unplugging and replugging it back in meant that Linux had unmounted it, with no way to get it back without heading back into the Desktop mode.
The Steam Deck Dock is, for all intents and purposes, precisely what it says on the tin. It will put your Steam Deck onto a bigger display and you will be able to play games or even use the desktop mode as a full PC.
Docked mode feels neglected
Its issue falls into Valve’s neglect of the docked mode. When we first got the Deck, plugging it into a £30 USB-C dock with HDMI, resulted in a sub-30Hz output, rendering it unplayable. However, since a few updates have been and gone, the same £30 dock now works flawlessly.
Another issue is just how poor the connection process can be. For all its faults, and outdated behavior, Nintendo’s Switch and its dock work like you’d expect. The Steam Deck has at multiple intervals caused me concern as to whether or not it’ll display on the screen.
This combined with the issues surrounding the user interface once docked needs to be fixed.
Even over DisplayPort, without the need for HDMI handshakes, it feels like it could collapse over at any point. Once it’s on though? Works just fine. In desktop mode, you can even use the smaller screen as a second monitor if you wanted.
Do you need the Steam Deck Dock?
In all seriousness, if you cannot afford the Steam Deck Dock, and don’t feel the need to have it propped up while it is plugged in, there are a million options out there that will suit you better. Yes, you don’t get the immediate support surrounding it, but the openness of the device just means that you won’t need the official dock any time soon.
The docked mode still feels like a work in progress. Something that might get better, or could get worse depending on the update. It’s a nice thing to have, but maybe not for $89.
We’re not upset with our purchase of the Steam Deck Dock. It’s a clean-cut and totally viable USB-C dock. However, there’s just this lingering feeling that it doesn’t bring enough to the table that any other dock available on Amazon could do. Other than the need to keep things aesthetically pleasing, that is.