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How to activate and use Steam Deck desktop mode

The Steam Deck might be a gaming console, but it has a nifty trick up its sleeve.
By

Published onJuly 19, 2023

Although the Steam Deck is principally a gaming console, it can also be used as a portable computer to browse the web. This is made possible through the Steam Deck desktop mode. But what is it, and how do you activate it? Here’s what you need to know.

QUICK ANSWER

To activate Steam Deck desktop mode, press the STEAM button, select Power from the primary menu, then select Switch to Desktop in the secondary menu.


JUMP TO KEY SECTIONS

What is Steam Deck desktop mode?

The Steam Deck isn’t just a gaming console. While the Steam interface is where all the gaming fun happens, the console uses a Linux distribution running the KDE Plasma desktop environment. Users can access this environment through desktop mode, which allows the console to be used as a computer.

In desktop mode, you can use the console to browse the internet, run emulators, or chat with friends. Turn it into a semi-permanent computer by connecting it to a Steam Deck dock and plugging in a keyboard, mouse, and external display.

How to switch to desktop mode

As mentioned, the console has two primary interfaces: gaming and desktop modes. By default, it boots into gaming mode with the Big Picture UI when switched on. However, you can manually toggle on desktop mode.

To activate desktop mode:

  1. Tap the STEAM button.
  2. On the main menu, select Power.
  3. A secondary Power menu should now appear. Select Switch to Desktop.

The console will now switch to its desktop interface.

How to use desktop mode

Steam Deck buttons
Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

Using desktop mode on the console takes a bit of practice. Many of the console’s buttons are adjusted and optimized for this mode. Below are the default Steam Deck desktop mode controls.

  • Use the left trackpad to scroll up and down pages or menus.
  • The right trackpad lets you move the cursor around the display like a mouse.
  • To right-click on the Steam Deck, you can use the L2 trigger button.
  • Left-click an item using the R2 trigger button. You can also tap an item on the screen with your finger to simulate a single left click or double tap to simulate a double click.
  • To activate the Steam Deck keyboard, press the STEAM and X buttons simultaneously.

Notably, these key binds and controls can be remapped if desired. Open Steam in desktop mode, tap Steam > Settings > Controller > Desktop Configuration. You can now tinker with the controls.

How to exit desktop mode

Select the Return to Gaming Mode shortcut on the desktop to return to gaming mode from the desktop. You can double-tap the icon using the touchscreen or mouse over it using the right trackpad and double-click through the R2 trigger button.


FAQs

Yes, games can run in desktop mode, but the experience will likely be better in gaming mode.

Yes. The mouse can be controlled by using the right touchpad by default.

To drag and drop in desktop mode, select and hold a file or folder using the left click (R2 trigger by default), and use the right touchpad to move the file to your preferred location. This process might be a little tricky, though but you can tinker with the key binds to improve this experience if necessary.

Yes, Google Chrome can be installed on the Steam Deck.