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Home Reviews Steam Link Android app review: PC gaming goes mobile

Steam Link Android app review: PC gaming goes mobile

The beta version of Valve’s Steam Link app for Android hit the Play Store about a month ago, allowing gamers to stream their favorite PC games to their smartphone or Android TV. I’m very well acquainted with Valve’s TV hardware version of the technology, so let’s dust off a Bluetooth controller and see how it works on a phone.

If you want to give the app a try for yourself, you can grab it for free from the link below.

install the steam link app (beta)

Simple to setup

Credit where it’s due, Valve makes in-home streaming easy to set up and use. Just install the app while Stream is running on your PC, connect up a Bluetooth controller, and you’re good to go.

The Steam Link app will test your network capability upon first connection, giving you an indication of whether your system will provide a stable frame rate. The default is set to Balanced quality at 15Mbps, but you can improve or downgrade this quality depending on the app’s test result (more on that in a bit).

steam link app review steam link app review

The app interface is simple enough, presenting a quick button to start playing or some additional settings if you’re looking to optimize streaming performance. Once you’re connected, your PC will automatically enter “Big Picture Mode,” providing simplified navigation to your favorite games and other Steam features using a controller.

I experienced occasional connection issues launching the app. Even though Steam was running on my PC, the app sometimes couldn’t detect my computer. This happened sometimes on the Steam Link hardware too. Turning my phone’s Wi-Fi off and on again fixed the problem.

Performance and networking

Achieving a solid connection is the key to a good Steam Link experience and the rules are the same for the app as they were for the hardware version. For best results, you’ll want to connect your PC to your router via an ethernet cable to reduce the round trip latency significantly.

My setup is nothing special. I have a basic hub provided by my ISP at the other end of a long room from my TV which has a Steam Link plugged in, although it offers a fast 5GHz channel which comes in handy. I don’t use extenders or mesh networking. Around my reasonably sized two-bedroom flat, there’s only one major Wi-Fi dead zone and that’s the only place I witnessed any connection drops.

The Steam Link app offers the same three quality presets as the TV hardware. Beautiful provides the best quality video compression but requires a steady 30Mbps connection. Fast compresses the stream more heavily but only needs a 10Mbps link, making it ideal if you suffer from patchy connectivity across your home. Balanced sits nicely in between, at 15Mbps.

Fast Quality
Fast Quality
Beautiful Quality

Beautiful Quality

Using the built-in network diagnostic tools, I clocked around 1ms network latency virtually everywhere and packet losses under one percent, even on the Beautiful preset. Your mileage will obviously vary depending on your distance from your router and home layout.

I didn’t run into any network problems, but the app struggled with video decoding performance, something that wasn’t a concern for the Steam Link TV hardware. The flagship phones I tested couldn’t keep up with the 60fps output with my PC using the Beautiful preset, producing results that dipped into headache-inducing low 20s. The situation is slightly better with the Balanced option, but you’ll want to go for Fast to really lock in high frame rates. Dropping the resolution down to 720p, or even down to 480p for lower end hardware, worked too.

Phones with HEVC can boost network throughput, but I still recommend Fast streaming quality or a 720p resolution for best performance.

Fortunately, Fast rendering video artifacts usually easy to spot on a large TV are undetectable on a small smartphone display, and dropping to 720p barely touches the image quality either. You might be able to boost performance and bandwidth a bit more if your phone supports HEVC hardware decoding, but it’s not enabled by default.

This option is located in the app under Settings > Streaming > Advanced > HEVC Video, and toggle it to enabled. Results varied for me with HEVC enabled, so its usefulness will depend heavily on your setup. This setting didn’t make a meaningful difference on the hardware I tested — it’s really designed to eek out extra performance in lower bandwidth situations like on a 2.4GHz network. Enabling this on phones that don’t support hardware decode decreased performance. One final note, a lot of phones default to strange resolutions, like 1,808 x 1,024 with the Note 8, which heavily impacts encode and decode performance compared to a standard resolution like 1080p or 720p, so definitely change this right away if performance is sluggish.

Ultimately, using a combination of Fast quality and 720p is a worthwhile compromise when streaming to a phone. There’s no noticeable loss in quality on a small screen, encode and decode frame rates go up, latency goes down, you’re more free to roam around without connection drops, and the lighter load means better battery life for your phone. I’d even go so far as to recommend this setup if your phone supports HEVC decoding too.

steam link app review

Big Picture could be better

Steam’s Big Picture UI, which runs on your PC when using both the Steam Link app or TV hardware, is built to improve large screen and controller navigation over a PC keyboard and mouse setup. Navigating through with a Bluetooth controller on your smartphone will feel very familiar to Steam Link hardware users.

Some options aren’t always the easiest to find, but on the whole navigating through menus, picking games, and configuring your setup is straightforward enough. The UI prompts don’t necessarily match your controller interface, but that’s an inevitable trade-off when supporting a wide range of third-party products.

Valve has missed an opportunity to improve the experience for Steam Link app users though. Your smartphone’s touch screen continues to work when running the app, meaning navigating via touch is often a lot faster than scrolling through menus with D-Pad buttons. Unfortunately, the UI isn’t tweaked at all for smartphone interfaces, and many options are a little on the small side for pressing with a finger.

Some quality-of-life software improvements for smartphone users would be welcome.

Steam Link app keyboard

You can’t really expect smartphone users to type on this cramped keyboard.

While it’s easy enough to launch your favorite game with a tap on the large icon, scrolling through the majority of the smaller menu options is a pain. There’s no support for Android keyboards in chat yet, and touches don’t always register when you press on the cramped Steam software keyboard, making typing an inconsistent experience. I’d also like to see swipe support introduced for moving through some of the menus rather than having to press the shoulder buttons.

A more mobile-optimized experience is going to be needed to iron out these bugbears. Tailored features will hopefully be implemented by the time the Steam Link app exits beta.

A replacement for a TV Steam Link?

As well as portable game streaming you can, of course, connect your phone up to a TV via HDMI to play on your big living room screen. This could cut out the need for a Steam Link hardware box entirely — at least if didn’t have so many issues.

Given that streaming is rather demanding on the battery, you’ll want some form of HDMI dock with a charging port. I tried the idea out using both the Samsung Dex Station and an OTG adapter hub. Both worked, but remember the Dex Station costs $150 and the Dex Pad is $70. An OTG hub with charging costs just $20 —sometimes less — making it by far the most affordable option.

Valve’s Steam Link retails for $50, but is often on sale for $20. In my experience, you are better off just getting that, for a few reasons.

Steam Link dock options samsung dex

The original Steam Link is better than using phone/HDMI, but the app is a great proposition for Android TV owners

The first is performance. I tried streaming to the TV on a variety of hardware configurations and had mixed results, most likely due to the extra computational power required to encode the HDMI output in conjunction with decoding the stream input. The Huawei P20 Pro didn’t like the situation at all, producing a much lower frame rate than before. The app also crashes in EMUI desktop mode. Performance was also sluggish on the Galaxy Note 8 when streaming in Dex desktop mode.

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Screen mirroring produces the best results. The Note 8 and LG V30 produced smooth frame rates in this mode. However, you’ll have to endure a duplicate screen in your field of view, which you don’t get with Dex mode. The odd aspect ratio of these devices also means you’ll end up with black bars on your TV stream, even after messing with the Full-Screen optimized app settings. It’s a less than premium experience that I wouldn’t recommend paying for.

Ultimately I think streaming with a phone using HDMI is a fair way to test out if you’ll use TV streaming, providing you have the necessary components already at hand. However, the so-so performance and screen mirroring bugs mean smartphones definitely aren’t a replacement for Valve’s dedicated TV hardware.

If you have an Android TV and can install the app, these same niggles won’t apply.

steam link app review

Final thoughts

Valve’s streaming solution is pretty great in my experience. The Steam Link app version showcases that the technology works just as well for portable devices as it does for your living room set. On both, your home network configuration will make or break the experience. Valve recommends an ethernet connection between your PC and router. That’s certainly been the only workable solution my experience.

Unfortunately, the smartphone use case adds a few complications. The wide variety of video decoding and encoding hardware out there makes predicting streaming performance very difficult. You’ll certainly want to make some quality compromises compared to the hardware version to ensure a smooth frame rate.

Valve’s technology works great, but the variety of smartphone hardware make the experience inconsistent.

I cannot recommend using your phone and Steam Link app as a replacement for Valve’s TV hardware. The performance is notably worse, even if you accept the necessary hit to video quality and the questionable compatibility of devices with non-16:9 aspect ratios with TV sets. Picking up a Link for $20 during a sale (which happens very often) is by far the best bet for TV streaming at this point, unless you have an Android TV.

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Overall I’m impressed by the technical capabilities of the beta version of the Steam Link app. A few mobile-centric quality of life improvements to the software are probably needed, and will hopefully be implemented come the full release.

Now I just have to figure out what PC games I actually want to play on a small screen with a controller.


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How much data does video streaming use?

When it comes to internet usage, video watching is one of the main interests of users. Most users are mainly inclined towards streaming videos so it matters a lot to know how much data is required for it. Of course, we do require a smooth internet connection to be able to stream our favorite content online.If video streaming is your preference then you must consider high-speed internet like Spectrum internet for instance, that do not offer data caps. This means you do not have to worry about any extra fee surprises in your bill that are bound to happen if you run out of your data limit. Most of the providers in the United States do impose data caps so it is very important to find out an internet plan that assures a no data cap policy. For that, let us first have a look at the data that is needed for various video streaming platforms.YouTubeJust like using any other app on your smartphone, YouTube being one of the popular platforms needs data too. It nearly takes 562.5 MB of data per hour. This holds valid when you stream at around 480p resolution. In case you want better resolution, then you might require 1.86 GB per hour for 720p. For 1080p you might require 3.04 GB. For watching videos in 4K, you will require a massive 15.98 GB of data per hour.NetflixWe all agree with the fact that how much we love Netflix as it has successfully evolved as one of the most popular video streaming services. For subscribers exceeding 130 million, the internet speed is not much of a problem. An hour of video streaming in standard definition would need around 1 GB of data. If you want to enjoy high-quality video streaming, you might need up to 3GB. For ultra-high-definition, you can require up to 7 GB of data per hour.The selection of accounts can help you decide a suitable resolution for your connection. If you want to save your data, you can check the settings option and click the save button when you want.Amazon Prime VideoAmazon Prime Video was launched by Amazon as a streaming service in 2011 and has ever gained popularity among the users. Nowadays it is seen as one of the biggest competitors for Netflix. This service provides up to three resolutions for the users. Among them include good, better, and best. The Good enables streaming videos at around 480p in standard definition and utilizes a data of 800 MB per hour. The Better option allows an HD stream with a data requirement of around 2 GB per hour. The Best option consumes nearly 6 GB of data per hour. You should also know that accessing Amazon Prime Video on your mobile app results in low data consumption as compared to the desktop app.HuluHulu is another important video streaming option that uses somewhat less data as compared to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video This makes Hulu as one of the most economical options available. You require around 680 MB per hour of data for the standard definition. If you switch to a 720p high definition setting, the data requirement may jump to 1.3 GB per hour. 1080p resolution can need data up to 2.7 GB per hour. You can also stream live TV if you are using Hulu’s $39.99 monthly plan.SpotifySpotify is one of the best-known music streaming platforms but not everyone knows that it also provides a video service in certain areas. The company does not disclose much about the data requirements of the video streaming service. However it only notifies that video streaming requires more data as compared to music streaming and is much like the ones needed for other video channels. Mostly the videos are in high definition and can consume up to 3 GB of data for an hour streaming.VimeoVimeo does not have any details regarding data usage. The standard definition content can need up to 353 MB of data per hour. As far as the HD videos are concerned, they need up to 2.75 GB per hour.StanMany of us might not have heard of Stan as it is accessible in Australia only. The app usually provides four-tier quality. The lowest standard definition setting can require up to 1.13 GB per hour while HD and 4K can require around 3 GB per hour and 7 GB per hour respectively.DirecTVThe DirecTV website also does not display clear information about the required bandwidth. In case if your provider puts a data limit, you can always reduce your video quality. The data consumption parallels to the aforementioned video streaming platforms.Sling TVSling TV is another one of the highest quality video streaming service that uses around 2 GB per hour of data for its highest quality option. The data required for medium quality is 540 MB per hour that further lowers to 360 MB per hour for low-quality streaming options.Summing UpYou need to be aware of the data consumption involved in the video streaming service you are using. This can save you from exceeding your data limit and paying any additional cost.EDITOR NOTE: This is a promoted post and should not be viewed as an editorial endorsement.

This portable UV-C wand sterilizes your items and work space

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How to set up a Messenger Room in Facebook Messenger

With the launch of Messenger Rooms, you can now participate in video calls from the comfort of your smartphone and without any extra apps.If you’re using WhatsApp, Instagram, or Messenger, you can now make a virtual room and invite your friends in a matter of seconds. This saves you the trouble of installing extra apps like Zoom.Today we’re going to look at how to set up a Messenger Room in Messenger.How to set up a Messenger Room in Messenger – The easy wayThe only real pre-requisite here is having the latest version of Facebook Messenger installed on your phone from the Google Play Store. Download it here.Step 1Tap on the People tab at the bottom on the Messenger app and choose to Create a RoomAt the bottom center of the screen, you will have the option of Share Link. Tap on it.With the Who Can Join, you can also control who joins the Messenger Room if you wish to keep the room exclusive to friends, family, etc.Step 2Copy the link in the box and paste it to the group or people you wish to share it with. They will also need to have the Messenger app installed and on the latest version of the app for it to work best.You can share the link via any app or medium you wish, but whoever has access to the link can join your room, unless you modify the Who Can Join settings in Step 1.From here, you just wait for your friends to join and carry out your business. When you feel the room has met its purpose, you can close the room by tapping on the X button at the top right of the room.Leave will mean that the room will still be there to return to for anyone who has the link. End Room will close the room and make the link invalid. This means you’ll have to make a new room if you do End Room here.We also wrote a guide on how to start a Messenger Room from WhatsApp. The feature will soon go live on Instagram globally, so be sure to look out for that as well!If you’ve used Messenger rooms, let us know what you think of it in the comments section below!