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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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Tribit StormBox portable wireless speaker review

Bluetooth speakers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and price points. To say that it’s easy to find something that works for you would likely be an understatement.Bluetooth speakers are also widely available; they’re found not just in electronics stores, but general retail stores and myriad online outlets, too.For every big-name branded speaker that you’ll encounter in your hunt, there also will be unknown companies competing for your attention and money. Take, for instance, Tribit.Although it doesn’t have the same market presence as Ultimate Ears, it does have a growing portfolio of competing products with lower prices. Its StormBox speaker is one of the brand’s latest products and we’ve had a chance to check one out.DesignThe Tribit StormBox is a cylindrical speaker that takes up about as much space as a large energy drink. Although its buttons lead you to believe there’s a specific front to it, the shape lends itself to a 360-degree sound.Speaking of buttons, the StormBox keeps things simple. There are volume controls and a multi-function power/pairing button. Oh, and there’s also an XBass button that’s used to take sound to the next level.The speaker has a hard mesh exterior and an IPX7 rating which means it’s built to withstand splashes and scrapes. At the top is a lanyard that makes it easy to carry or connect to a bag. Nice and portable, it weighs in around one pound total.Although it pairs via Bluetooth, the StormBox also has a 3.5mm auxiliary input for directly connecting to audio sources. It, and the microUSB charging port are located under a protective rubber flap that keeps things dry.Also worth noting, you can pair multiple StormBox speakers together to create a stereo sound. We did not have the chance to test the feature out.What’s Included?Tribit Bluetooth SpeakerMicro USB CableBlack LanyardUser ManualSetupThere’s very little to mess with here as it’s more or less a case of powering on and holding down the pairing button. You don’t have to worry about any apps or phone settings.PerformanceI was quite happy with how the speaker performed as it did everything it promised. The StormBox had no problem filling large rooms and open spaces. You could easily hear whatever was playing throughout any room.The water-resistance worked pretty well. It was a bit muffled, but nothing drastic. Overall, I thought the speaker did really well underwater.As for the special button, I didn’t feel that the XBass button had much effect. I wish it had been a bit stronger.The battery life is reported to be twenty hours. I used it right out of the box and used it for about ten hours, and haven’t had to charge it yet. The manual includes a guide to figuring out the different functions, including how to understand your battery level. It isn’t very obvious, but there is a column of lights on the back that will give you a general idea.ConclusionOne of the best selling points of the StormBox is that it comes with an 18-month warranty. Not only that, but you can extend it out to 30 months at no extra cost. This process is done online at Tribit’s website.Given the affordable ($60) price, this is a great speaker option for people who might want something for around the home, office, or pool. It’s portable, sounds great, and has an excellent battery life.AvailabilityThe Tribit StormBox comes in a variety of color options, including blue, black, and red. Look for it at Tribit’s website and Amazon for about $60.

Cool tech gifts under $100

In the era of digitalization and lots of tech advancements appearing every day, you have no choice but adapt to our quickly-changing world. Tech gadgets are cool: they simplify our life and make it much more convenient. Besides, they become an irreplaceable part of our daily routine, just like smartphones once did. More attention to tech gadgets are paid in college: students are in need of helpful devices as well as reliable services like papercoach, which you can pay for an essay or just delegate your homework. Tech gadgets can also become a great gift for everyone, from a teenager to a retired person. In this guide, we will cover the top popular of them that will not cost you a fortune.Top gadgets for under $100 budgetHow many times have your smartphone, quick Internet connection, and professional student service united to make wonders? You just choose a reliable resource based on speedy paper review and other agencies’ feedback, then send a request like «Can you do my homework for me?» or «Can you write my essay for me cheap?» and receive a completed task within a short timeframe. Just a decade ago, we couldn’t imagine it would have ever become possible. Now there is a variety of gadgets aimed to make our life easy and comfortable. We offer a list of top tech gifts everyone would be happy to get and which cost no more than $100 (however, today $100 can get you quite far):Streaming stickA device like the Chromecast will cost you around $70, if not less, and is good for people who love streaming like bloggers or just enjoy watching Netflix. All tech giants like Apple, Amazon, and Google have invested in the development of the streaming revolution so you can find a variety of models appearing every year (for example, Roku). It is able to deliver 4K HD video and helps you find the best place to enjoy the content easily;Portable chargerThis is a must-have device for active smartphone users that never have enough battery power (that is, for everyone). We recommend getting the one with 20,000mAh or more, which will likely cost you around $50 and will keep your phone charged seven times (this is especially convenient during the trip in the mountains, concerts, and other places where you can`t get charged a standard way). It is small, lightweight, and easily fits in the pocket or backpack. Besides charging quickly, it also does it safely based on your cable and device;Amazon Echo DotThis device is a mini voice assistant speaker that has access to multiple apps and using which you can control smart home devices (lights, garage door, water, and thermostat), listen to music, and order pizza. It will cost around $50 and is totally worth this money: it has a far-field system of voice recognition so you can make commands across the room while the device will react to your speech, accent, vocabulary, and patterns;E-readerFor example, it can be Amazon Kindle for the cost of $80. If the person loves reading and cannot invest much money into regular books buying, this one will make a perfect gift. The most recent models have a nice design, enough memory to download hundreds of books, a great touch screen, and a powerful processor for convenient reading. Talking about Amazon, it also has a built-in vocabulary and the battery life of one month by active reading;Wireless headphonesIf you are looking for a gift under $100, you can consider the Shure SE112 model that has a solid construction, built-in microphone for making calls, great quality of the sound, and a smooth Bluetooth connection. These headphones provide outstanding performance within a limited budget so you can enjoy music on the go;DroneDepending on the model, it will cost you around $100, and it will be a perfect gift for travelers and just nature lovers. It is lightweight, has stabilization features, and is controlled via an app. Cheaper models can record videos in 720p, which still makes great quality.EDITOR NOTE: This is a promoted post and should not be viewed as an editorial endorsement.

Android’s file sharing Nearby Share is now live

One feature that has been missing in the Android space for some time is the option to easily share files and contacts wireless with other Android users. Apple has had this with AirDrop for years, but Google has never brought a comparable protocol to the table. Finally, the rumors have been confirmed with Nearby Share available to Android.Nearby Share gives consumers a great option to quickly share links, photos, contacts, and documents with Android users instantly. The service works over cell networks, Bluetooth, WebRTC, or WiFi. This gives folks multiple avenues to deliver the shared files both on and offline.Google’s blog post also states that privacy settings are available in the app to make sure you have some more granular controls over how you can be found and receive files. You can change this from “all contacts” to “some contacts” or “hidden”. These privacy settings should allow you to add a layer of security to make sure you are only receiving or sending files to your most trusted friends or colleagues.Chromebooks are also not forgotten in this update. Chrome OS is quickly becoming the jack of all trades operating system and Google has made Nearby Share available on this platform as well. File sharing seemed like a natural progression of the already good continuum experience of Instant Tethering from Chrome OS devices to Android phones and we are glad Moutain View’s finest took the time to make this compatible day one.Nearby Share is a long-awaited addition to the Android ecosystem. While we like to think that Apple steals from Google on a consistent basis for new iOS features, this has been a gap in the Android experience that just needed to be fixed.Pixels and “select Samsung devices” should already see Nearby Share on the devices. Google will continue the trend of rolling releases of new Android options like this with future handsets getting Nearby Share over the coming months.