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Steam is the standard way of playing games on your PC, but the company offers ways to play elsewhere too. Notably, the Steam Link device lets you stream games from your PC to your TV.
As another option, Valve introduced a Steam Link app for Android in 2018. While having the ability to play PC games on your smartphone sounds exciting, we don’t think it’s as great as it sounds. Here’s why.
What Is Steam Link?
The Steam Link is a physical device that Valve sells for $50. It connects to your TV via HDMI and your home network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, then streams Steam games from your PC to a TV. It’s handy if you want to play games from the comfort of your couch; we’ve previously shown you how to set up the Steam Link if you have one.
The Steam Link App performs basically the same function, except it’s free. All you need is a PC running Steam, a compatible Android phone, and an internet connection. Notably, the app is not available for iOS due to Apple’s guidelines.
But is setting up the Steam Link Android app worth your time? Not when you consider these four factors:
1. Small Screens Aren’t Great for Gaming
Presumably, you have a monitor that’s at least 20 inches for your desktop. And if you play on a laptop, you might have a 13-inch or 15-inch display. With the Steam Link, you’ll get to experience the same games on a tiny 6-inch (or smaller) phone screen. That doesn’t sound like fun.
The best Android games take advantage of the smaller displays of phones, but playing PC games on your phone doesn’t give you this luxury. While most games should look decent, there’s a fair graphical downgrade involved here. It’s a bit like watching a movie on a tiny airplane seat screen; it’s doable, but not the ideal way to enjoy a movie.
This isn’t an issue with the proper Steam Link, as that connects to your 40-inch-plus TV. You could use the Steam Link app on an Android tablet for a larger display, of course. But tablets aren’t as popular as they once were, so that’s a several-hundred dollar expense just to play games on another device if you don’t already own a tablet.
2. You Lose Keyboard and Mouse Controls
Playing Battle Royale games on PS4 makes me REALLY miss keyboard and mouse controls
— Nathan (@NathanAvie) September 15, 2018
Most PC gamers swear by keyboard and mouse controls. They’re objectively better for first-person shooters, and also make sense for a lot of other genres. However, the Steam Link app doesn’t have support the keyboard and mouse combo.
When you walk through setup, you can choose between the Steam Controller, another Bluetooth controller, or touch controls (more on that soon). You’re welcome to try connecting a keyboard to your Android phone, but that involves buying a clunky adapter.
Plus, even if you got a keyboard and mouse connected to your phone, there’s still the issue of latency. Most games demand a high level of precision from your mouse, which won’t happen when you’re streaming games over a network.
Plenty of games have controller support, so you should stick to those if you plan to use the Steam Link app. For some people, this will severely limit their library and the usefulness of the app.
3. Internet Connection Issues
With something as precise as video games, it’s no surprise that the Steam Link app has a few requirements for your network connection. Your phone and PC must be on the same network, so there’s no playing on-the-go.
Steam also recommends a wired connection, which isn’t possible on an Android phone or tablet. For wireless use, it recommends using a 5GHz network. While this has less congestion than a 2.4GHz network, it also has shorter range. This limits how far away from your router you can play games.
If your PC isn’t already hard-wired into your network, you can basically forget about using this app. Perhaps you have a laptop with no Ethernet port or have to use Wi-Fi on your desktop due to your house’s setup. In either case, Steam Link will be near-unplayable due to lag.
This will obviously vary based on your setup. But several potential issues mean that many people will find Steam Link unusable or unsatisfactory due to network concerns. Steam even says that powerline adapters (a common solution to Wi-Fi issues) can have issues with interference.
4. Touch Controls Are Garbage
We mentioned earlier that a lack of keyboard and mouse controls will likely sour the experience for many. Without these, your options are connecting a Bluetooth controller or using touch controls.
If you already have the Steam controller or another Bluetooth-compatible controller, that’s great. (We’ve shown how to connect a PS3 controller to Android if not). But if you don’t have one of these controllers, you’ll have to either spend some money on one or put up with touch controls.
In case you’ve never tried them before, touch controls are terrible. They’re passable for slow-moving RPGs like Pokemon, but little else. Any game that uses more than a few buttons, or requires precise movement, will quickly grow old on touch controls. Plus, they clutter up the screen.
What Do You Think of the Steam Link App?
We don’t mean to dismiss the Steam Link app entirely here. It’s certainly a neat tool, and Valve making it available for free is awesome. However, it requires you to jump through several hoops to achieve gameplay that’s actually enjoyable, making it more trouble than it’s worth for most people.
If you don’t have any extra peripherals and use a wireless connection, out of the box the Steam Link app provides a laggy gameplay experience on a small screen with bad controls. You’ll need to spend time and money to resolve this situation, at which point you’ll wonder if it was even worth it. You might even decide to not use Steam entirely.
Why not just play your games on your PC as they’re meant to be enjoyed? There you have a larger screen, proper controls, and lag-free gameplay.
If you don’t like Steam Link, it might still be worth taking a look at these other ways to stream games from your PC to your TV. And remember to stay in touch with your fellow gamers; check out our comparison of Discord vs. Steam Chat.