A few days ago, Valve released the beta version of the Steam Link app for Android. This means you can play the Steam library directly on your phone and it is very good. While by no means a new idea – we’ve seen it with Sony and Nvidia devices – it does not require a PlayStation or GeForce graphics card. All you need is a Steam library and your phone on the same network, as well as a remote control, and you can go.
In-Home Streaming has been around for quite some time, and even the Steam Link name is not new, but this is another way to play your games away from your main computer. With summer coming, this is not such a bad idea – having a powerful gaming computer in an air-conditioned apartment is tantamount to a very hot desk, so if I can still play my games but be in a cooler room at the same time I am under.
I tested the Steam Link Android application in various configurations with the Steam and Shield controllers, using Windows and Linux (Ubuntu) as central operating systems.
If you have a Steam Controller, then you need to update the firmware to turn on Bluetooth. Turn on the Big Picture and a message will appear. just plug in the controller and let it do things. Once done, connect it to your phone or other Android device and open the app. Theoretically, Steam Link should find your computer, as long as it is on the same network and running the Steam program – this applies to both Windows and Linux.
However, on almost every phone I tried (except the Mate 10 Pro), the app could not find my computer, so I had to enter my local IP address. Once everything is connected, you are ready to get started. For ease of use, I suggest starting the game on your host, because Steam Link acts like a remote desktop viewer, unless you are in the Big Picture (physical Steam Link could do that too).
If you are familiar with Steam Controller, then you will know that it does not fit well with first person shooters. In fact, it can be quite awful in some cases. I tried Destiny 2, Overwatch and Doom (2016) and while I was playing, I was not very excited about how it handled them. Of course, I’m not a sniper, but no matter how I changed the settings, I’ve had a hard time. So, if you are planning to play FPS games mainly, then I would suggest something different like Moga Pro or something similar.
Since this is not a Steam Controller review, let’s move on. The latency was surprisingly minimal. I tried to play in different areas of my apartment and did not notice any difference. But for every game I tried, I started sitting at my desk with the Pixel 2 XL on a phone stand below my main screen. Side by side, I could not see entry delay or other obvious signs of delay between the two indications. If you use an 18: 9 phone, you will notice that you will have black boxes on both sides of the game window. It is understandable, but definitely noticeable.
Your mileage may vary depending on the resolution and frame rate you can get, but if you have problems, try reducing the graphics settings. If your network is not strong, then you will fight a lot here.
For those of you who did not know, you can add non-Steam games to your library. This is especially good for people like me who play titles using other platforms like Battle.net or Origin, with whom I was able to try Overwatch and Destiny 2 with this app.
And for the sake of completeness, I also tried connecting to my home network via VPN. I used my Verizon connection and tried to load Steam Link, but it did not work so well. Most of the time, I was left with a black screen that acted as a remote desktop, even though Steam was running Big Picture on my server. It loaded a few times, but the latency was so high that the two games I had to try were impossible to play. So, unfortunately, this is not a reliable method by which you can transfer the Steam library to a client computer outside of your home network.
- Dark Souls III
- Destiny 2
- Doom (2016)
- Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
- Lords of the fallen
- The edge of the mirror
- NieR: Automata
- Not the human sky
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
- Τρίνι 2
- Google Pixel 2 XL (Android P DP2)
- Huawei Mate 10 Pro
- Honor View10 (LineageOS)
- OnePlus 5T
- Xiaomi Mi Mix 2
- LG G6
Shield TV: Steam Link vs. Nvidia GameStream
One of the first things many thought when it was announced was to throw it in an Android TV box and get the experience of playing on the couch. For those of you who do not have a Shield TV, this must have been really great.
For those of us who have the Nvidia Android TV box, Steam Link does not seem to offer much that we do not already have – if you are a member of the Nvidia GPU family. For now, Shield TV owners can use GameStream, which streams a game from the host to Shield, just as Steam Link does. However, there are some “optimized” titles, about 300 of them in the last test, but that may not even cover the scope of the PC game library.
You can set Steam as a GameStream option, which then allows you to play any of the Steam games in your Shield. So in light of that, Link feels a little redundant on the Nvidia platform, but I went ahead and did it that way.
Let’s talk about ease of use first. Nvidia requires that you have the GeForce Experience program installed on your Windows PC. This program reads your installed games for “optimized” versions, which you can then see in your Shield. Choose one, let it start and start the game (assuming you have a Shield controller or whatever). Overall, it is a fantastic experience with options for onscreen keyboard and streaming / recording.
Steam Link runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, and after spending 99% of my time on Ubuntu, Valve’s solution, for me, is already starting to gain stream on my living room TV. I can still use the Shield Controller, which is fantastic, as it is much better for first person shooters. However, Link has stability issues, and some games do not want to recognize controller and controller configurations – for example, Destiny 2 works amazingly on GameStream, but it was a bad experience on Steam Link, as the game still thought I was using a keyboard and mouse. In terms of latency, Link and GameStream seem indistinguishable.
I particularly prefer the convenience and user-friendliness of the GameStream user interface, but at the same time I like the flexibility of the Steam Link. If I had to choose, I would probably get the Nvidia solution right now. does not crash or encounter as many problems as Link.
For this script, I tested the Steam Link with the Acer Chromebook Spin 11 (review coming soon), which I have at my disposal right now. Unlike the Telephone and Shield TV experience, this was not pleasant. Connecting to my computer was just like I had to do with my phones, but I was confined to the small container window of the Android app or to a very big problem that eventually crashed every time I tried to use it.
Since Android apps on Chromebooks are still a hit, I can honestly say I’m very surprised. Valve pointed out when I started Steam Link in Spin 11 that my device had not been verified to be working, so at least there was an advance warning. Corbin also tried it on the Asus Chromebook Flip C302, a much nicer computer, but the results were relatively inconsistent, and the C302 and its gaming computer were on a wireless grid.
Maybe Valve will see the value in this use case and improve end-traffic support.
For a beta version, I’m extremely impressed. On my phones, I only encountered two crashes and some nasty overwatch games. The only big disappointment was the performance of the Chromebook or the lack of it, but I can honestly say that it surprises me.
Considering that this is a free service and only requires you to purchase a controller to connect to your phone (if you do not already have one), Steam Link is the winner of my book. It does not matter if you have an AMD or Nvidia GPU, as long as you have the raw horsepower and grid power, you are golden. Even the ability to stream Linux games to Shield TV is amazing, as I am rarely in Windows these days.
I would like to see Valve improve computer discovery, as it is recommended that the host be wired – I do not mind entering my local IP address in the application, but it is still a bit annoying when it comes to looking for machines that use Steam on the network. I also had a problem updating the firmware on the Steam Controller to enable Bluetooth pairing, as the prompt never appeared and I had to go to settings to find the manual update option, but this is more of a desktop client issue than an application for mobile phones.
Ideally, however, I think it would be extremely beneficial to take advantage of the Chromebook’s capabilities. And as much as I would like to see this work outside of my home network, I understand the strict restrictions that apply. While services like GeForce Now are great, they have the support of huge servers and bandwidth. It is safe to say that all consumers, except the very select, have such resources at their disposal, which is why the idea of GeForce Now and others like it is so appealing. But if there’s one company out there that can make it work, it’s Valve.
If you already have the setting for Steam Link, then I definitely suggest you try it.