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Valve’s Steam Link Mobile App Has Problems, but It's Also Crazy Cool

It isn’t exactly what we were hoping for, but it’s still a shockingly powerful piece of software.

This week Valve is releasing a free Steam Link app that will let you stream your entire Steam library from your PC to any Android and iOS device, including Apple TVs. That’s a downright insane prospect, but only if it works properly. Thankfully I got a chance to try it out this week, and while it isn’t exactly what I was hoping it would be, it’s still a shockingly powerful piece of software.

I was stunned at how well the stream held up when playing games like Far Cry 5, Doom, and Rocket League on my iPad.

Granted, my host PC was plugged into an Ethernet cable and the IGN offices have a very fast internet connection, but it was still impressively smooth. I could occasionally get hitched up by small frame delays in timing-reliant games like Celeste, but it was unnoticeably smooth more often than not.

Exit Theatre Mode

Similar to the physical Steam Link, and much to my disappointment, your streaming device does have to be on the same network as your host PC. That means my dream of playing GTA5 on my phone during my morning train commute isn’t possible, which limits the scope of what the Steam Link app can do.

The potential for bathroom gaming is limitless.

Since it’s just streaming your PC’s desktop while using Steam’s existing Big Picture mode as a convenient UI, you can’t use the host computer while using the app. That means you are basically just using the app to stream to a phone or tablet in another room of your house without moving your whole rig. You could even exit Big Picture and use the app to stream your entire computer if you wanted to.

It’s incredible to have that level of convenience offered completely free, even if I can’t personally think of too many reasons to use it — though the potential for bathroom gaming is limitless.

But the place the Steam Link app really sets itself apart is its Apple TV app, which comes close to making the standalone Steam Link box obsolete.

Exit Theatre Mode

While mobile devices streamed well enough for me, the Apple TV with an Ethernet cable plugged in was immaculate. I imagine Android-based smart TVs share a similar advantage, and this app will stand as one of the best possible ways to stream your PC to a big screen. While Android devices can connect to PS4 controllers, iOS options are more limited.

That said, even the Apple TV version has a major drawback: controller options.

Thankfully, the Steam Link app has built in support for the Steam Controller, but support is otherwise inconsistent. The Steam controller works with every version and is highly customizable and easily connected over Bluetooth. But while the Android devices can also connect PS4 controllers over Bluetooth and the physical Steam Link has USB ports, iOS devices seem to be severely limited.

Valve says MFI controllers and some other Bluetooth options could work, but it’s pretty much impossible to guess which.

The same goes for Bluetooth mice and keyboards. Not all options can easily hook up to Android and iOS devices, and one keyboard I regularly use with my iPad wasn’t recognized by the Steam Link app at all.

Exit Theatre Mode

And while you can easily use a Steam Controller, it’s still a Steam Controller. It’s a robust option for playing games that don’t have built in gamepad support without a mouse and keyboard, but a half-measure for ones that do unless you spend a whole lot of time tweaking and getting comfortable with it.

As you can see in the Doom footage in the video at the top of the page, its trackpad simply can’t replace a joystick for first-person shooters.

Ultimately the Steam Link app is a mixed bag, but it being so widely accessible and entirely free still makes it extremely exciting. For now, it doesn’t solve problems the Steam Link already had (and even introduces a couple of new ones), but hopefully this is just the start of continued support for a cool and versatile tool.

According to Valve, a beta version of the Steam Link app will arrive today on Android, and the full version will launch on iOS soon. Tom Marks is IGN’s PC Editor and pie maker.

You can follow him on Twitter.

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