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Introducing SteamPal: Valve’s secret Switch-like portable console

Details have emerged surrounding Valve’s secret portable console in development, codenamed ‘SteamPal’, which could rival the Switch Pro with a 2021 release.

Watch out, Nintendo – it looks like the Switch is about to gain some new competition, from one of the major players in the video game industry. A new report from Ars Technica has suggested that Valve has been secretly working on their very own portable gaming console, codenamed ‘SteamPal’.

The device is reported to be “an all-in-one PC with gamepad controls and a touchscreen”, though it doesn’t seem to feature any removable controllers like Nintendo’s Joy-Cons. It’s set to “run a large number of games on the Steam PC platform via Linux”, offering Steam fans the chance to take their gaming experience on the move.

steampal switch
Image: Nintendo Switch / Nintendo

The report cites multiple sources who are familiar with the SteamPal project, confirming that the hardware has in fact been in development “for some time”. It seems that Valve has even hinted at the device recently, with new hardware-related code being introduced in the latest version of Steam.

Naturally, the intriguing new code was detected and shared on Twitter, where it was linked to ‘Neptune’, a previously discovered code term that emerged last September. At the time, it was thought that this might refer to a controller of some nature, which is true to an extent – there will just be a whole handheld device attached to it.

It now seems that the SteamPal was also hinted at by the head of Steam, Gabe Newell, during a recent panel at a school in New Zealand, where he’s been living for over a year now. Newell was delightfully vague when asked about Valve’s plans for putting games on consoles, teasing students with an answer that suddenly makes perfect sense:

“You will get a better idea of that by the end of this year… and it won’t be the answer you expect. You’ll say, ‘Ah-ha! Now I get what he was talking about.'”

There aren’t any details yet on hardware elements like screen size, memory, battery or storage capacity, nor is the actual form of the device confirmed. A likely version of the console in development is “quite wide compared to the Nintendo Switch”, with space for gamepad buttons, joysticks, a thumb-sized touchpad and a touch-sensitive screen.

Regardless of the device’s specifics, the SteamPal is expected to be able to dock to larger monitors, much like the Switch. With the ‘Switch-like PC’ category exploding in recent years, an attempt from a gaming corporation as significant and succesful as Valve will be worth watching.

Ars Technica’s report emphasises the point that, while they “can confirm the device’s existence and development”, there are no guarantees that the SteamPal will emerge this year – or at all – with Valve being known to bring projects almost entirely to completion, before eventually cancelling them.

While Valve is apparently still prototyping the SteamPal, it’s been suggested that the handheld device could be out by the end of the year if everything runs smoothly. It’s very possible that the Switch Pro – a much worse kept secret than the SteamPal – could be facing some direct competition for holiday season sales.

Better start thinking about which one you’d rather put on your Christmas wish list now.