The Steam Deck is a straightforward device. It's a handheld gaming PC that relies on Steam and Linux, making it basically the Nintendo Switch for PC gaming. But while you can just immediately get to gaming on your shiny new Deck, there are some things you might want to do before, during, and after you buy it to get the most out of it.
1 Check your favorite games on ProtonDB to see if they work
Valve has a ranking system to tell users how well the Steam Deck can run games: verified, playable, unsupported, and unknown. This isn't just about whether the Deck has the horsepower to run games but whether the experience is glitchy or not, as the Deck runs on Linux and needs to use a piece of software called Proton to get Windows games to work on Linux. It does this surprisingly well, but it's hard to rely completely on Valve's certifications.
For example, God Eater is certified, but it doesn't run natively on Linux and is practically unplayable on the Deck, while God Eater 3 runs much better right out of the box and yet is classified as merely playable. I highly recommend checking out ProtonDB to find crowdsourced info about your favorite games and to see how well they really run on the Deck and what you need to do to get them to run as best as they can.
2 Upgrade your storage with a new microSD card or SSD
While the top model Steam Deck comes with a 512GB SSD, the middle variant just has a 256GB drive, and the cheapest version has merely 64GB of eMMC, which is not only small but has slow transfer speeds. A great thing to do is just upgrade the SSD yourself, and thankfully, there are a lot of 512GB, 1TB, and even 2TB SSDs on the market that will fit in the Steam Deck. All you need is an M.2 2230 SSD, and it should fit inside.
You can also get a microSD card (which is slower but cheaper and easier to plug in) if you're happy with the default amount of storage.
3 Get a USB hub to connect your Deck to displays, peripherals, and more
While many are content with how the Deck comes out of the box, you might find it lacking in some areas, like how it doesn't have a dock or a kickstand, which the Switch has. Thankfully, lots of great third-party accessories are available for the Deck, including some great docks that let you connect your console to an external monitor or provide extra ports for more peripherals.
There are even some you might not have even thought about. For example, you might want a battery bank for on-the-go charging since the Deck can use up its entire battery in two hours if you're playing a pretty intensive game.
4 Protect and personalize your Deck with screen protectors and custom skins
One of the cheapest ways to protect your Deck (or any electronic device, for that matter) is with a screen protector, and you don't really need anything fancy here. Steam Deck screen protectors cost around $10-$20 for a pack of three, which is very affordable. You might also want to get a skin for your Deck. This is another way to protect its plastic shell but also serves to personalize and customize your Deck, which admittedly lags behind the Switch in this regard with its many colors and Joy-Cons.
5 Familiarize yourself with SteamOS
The operating system that powers your Steam Deck is known as SteamOS, and it's a custom Linux-based operating system distributed by Valve. It's different from Windows, iOS, and Android, though, since it puts Valve's storefront, Steam, front and center and has two modes, a desktop mode and a gaming mode. It's easy to navigate both using the touchscreen or the joysticks.
Once you unbox the system and power it on, you'll be prompted to download any updates and will be taken to the standard gaming mode first. You'll have to sign in with Steam and connect to Wi-Fi. From there, you can navigate over to your library to see your games. You'll see recently played games first, but you can scroll over to see your full library.
You can press the Steam Button to pull up different areas of SteamOS. In the sidebar, you'll see the Library section, the link to the Store, a Social section for interacting with Steam friends, a Media section for screenshots, and Downloads for peeking at the progress of games you might want to download. There are also links to Settings and the Power Menu.
6 Learn the ins and outs of the Quick Settings menu
The Quick Settings menu is accessed by pressing the button with three dots on the bottom right, and it's going to be your best friend. It's where you can adjust brightness (turn off variable brightness, by the way), customize the framerate limit and refresh rate, access your friends list, and so much more while in-game. Just go and explore it. It's a lot more fun than you'd think.
7 Use quick commands to shut down games, adjust brightness, and more
One of the nicest things about the Steam Deck is all the shortcuts you can access with just the built-in controller. These shortcuts range from taking screenshots to adjusting brightness to pulling up the mouse or keyboard or even force shutting down the game. While you probably won't use all of these shortcuts regularly, it's definitely important to keep them in mind. If you forget any of them, you can always pull them up by long pressing the Steam button on the bottom left.
8 Manage controllers or try an external controller
The Steam Deck has integrated controllers, which is great for on-the-go gaming. In gaming mode, you can manage the buttons on a per-game basis in your Steam Library and then press the controller icon on the right side of the game's landing page. When in a game, you can manage controls by pressing the Steam button, going to Settings and choosing Controller settings.
External controllers also work great with the Steam Deck, and you can pair them via Bluetooth by pressing the Steam Button, going into Settings, and then choosing Bluetooth. Then, press the pair button on your controller, select it from the list, and you're good to go. For controller recommendations, we have a guide to the best Steam Deck controllers.
9 Browse community controller schemes or make your own
Although Valve has allowed Steam users to remap their controllers and share new button schemes with other users for several years, it's almost like this feature was made for the Deck. In addition to the normal buttons you'd get on a standard controller, the Deck also has two buttons on each of the grips as well as a gyro, meaning there are tons of ways you can customize your controls. Even if you don't know where to begin on customizing your button layout, you can always check out button layouts that other community members have shared.
10 Buy new keyboard and startup themes from the Steam Points Shop
When Valve introduced the Deck, it also added new things to its Points Shop, a store where you can redeem points you get from purchasing games. You can buy new keyboard themes, as well as customized startup movies or animations that play when you wake up your Deck from sleep or boot it up from shutdown. There are a ton to choose from, and what's great is that you can set your Deck to randomly play any of the movies you have at startup or just stick to a single movie if you prefer.
11 Get used to tinkering with in-game graphics settings
Fiddling around with graphics settings in a PC game can sound pretty boring, and it's definitely not for everybody. Personally, I find a lot of satisfaction in tinkering with a game's graphics settings on the Deck and getting the right balance between performance and visual quality. Hopefully, you enjoy it, too, because some games will require a bit of customization to get them to run the best. You can consult the wider internet or ProtonDB if you want to save yourself the trouble.
12 Use desktop mode to customize your Deck even further
Although the Deck isn't really a laptop or desktop replacement, you can access the Linux operating system that exists under the hood, and doing so will give you access to even more ways to add to your Steam Deck. For example, Minecraft isn't on the Steam store, but through desktop mode, you can install a third-party Minecraft launcher and add it to your Deck's library as if it were a normal Steam game. This isn't the only one thing you can do through desktop mode; the possibilities are basically endless.
13 You can also install Windows if you want
You can also install Windows on your Steam Deck. There are ways for you to replace SteamOS with Windows entirely, or you can dual boot Windows and SteamOS by creating a new partition and booting it externally from an SD card or on a USB Drive. This is so you can try out more games on your handheld or use the Steam Deck as a Windows PC.
Steam Deck tips and tricks: Final thoughts
What makes the Steam Deck great are all the things it lets you do, and I've hardly scratched the surface with this list. Whether you're reading about what the Deck has in store for you or discovering for yourself what the Deck is capable of, it's unlikely you'll ever feel limited by the Deck. With these essential tricks, you should be able to truly make the Deck your own.