27
Jan
steamlogo_thumb

Yesterday Steam launched its brand new app for Android. Unfortunately, the app is still in closed beta and many users are waiting with bated breath for their invites to show up. If you're among the unwashed masses waiting for your golden ticket, we’ve got you covered. Don’t worry, though. You're not missing out on too much.

The Basics

Let's get the obvious out of the way first: you won't be playing any games with this app. While users might hope for an OnLive-type setup that allows players to stream games over a network, Steam is still a ways off from that type of infrastructure. Here's what you do get:

  • Chat with Steam friends
  • Access to Community Groups
  • Shopping on the Steam Store
  • Steam news

It's not a bad start for a companion app. Unfortunately, the app still lacks a few basic features one might expect (like achievement tracking), and the features it does have are scattershot. This might be due to being an early beta, but time will tell.

Friends And Frenemies

At the moment, the Steam app has two really strong points. The first is community. Steam has had a built-in chat system for a while now, which connects players both in and outside the game. Now, users can chat while mobile. It's not a huge breakthrough in technological achievement, but it is nice to be able to keep one's gaming buddies separate from a regular contacts list.

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For every upside in this app, there seem to be two downsides. Chatting with friends is a breeze. Browsing their profiles, however, is less rewarding. You're able to see your friends' profile info, wishlists, etc., but game stats and achievements aren't available. Tapping a game that a friend plays takes you to the listing for that game in the Steam store.

Groups are similarly limited. You're able to browse around to different groups, read descriptions and comments, but making comments isn't possible yet. If you depend on groups for important updates, you'll receive them. If you go to groups to engage with your friends, you'll have to sit this party out. For now.

Shut Up And Take My Money

The other big area that the Steam Android app excels at should come as no surprise: the store. If there's one thing Valve and friends are great at, it's coaxing your hard-earned cash out of your wallet with their sales. Missing those sales can be a bummer for an avid gamer on a budget.

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The mobile store is just as easy to buy from as the Steam client proper. There's a special section for current specials, tapping any game will take you to the game's page with info about the game, and the purchasing process is nearly identical to buying on a desktop. The app even remembers your payment info.

In keeping with the roller coaster of expectations we've been on so far, though, the store still disappoints on some fronts. For starters, while you'll be notified on a game's page if you already own it, there's no central library to see the games you've purchased. You're also unable to remotely install games; while obviously you can't install the games on your phone, it would be nice if you could see a list of devices connected to your Steam account and choose to install the games to whichever computer you choose. Given that you'll be purchasing games on the go, it feels like wasted time waiting to install them until you get to a proper gaming machine.

A Word On The UI

Ugh. That about sums it up. While the interface isn't exactly ugly per se, it's yet another example of an iPhone UI copy/pasted into an Android app. While iPhone UI design isn't exactly known for being bad, it is also not consistent with Android UI styles. In times past this made some sense, but with a well-documented Android style guide freely available, it's hard to sympathize with app developers who make this choice.

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In addition to the iOS-esque elements, the app also has one major element pulled from the Facebook app: the sidebar. Accessible from just about anywhere, tap the menu icon (or the dearly departed menu button) and the sidebar will slide out from the left side of the screen. The menu bears more than a striking resemblance to the Facebook app.

To be fair, these aren't bad design elements to take inspiration from. They're just not Android. Apps are certainly free to express their own individual style, but when an app chooses to ape another's style, it at least fits better when that style fits with the OS it's on. Not to mention that despite the iPhone 4 having a higher resolution than the Epic 4G Touch I tested it on, the UI elements looked blurry and pixelated.

Wrap-Up

The Steam app still has a ways to go before it's fully-featured. There's plenty that the app doesn't do that it could or should. The things it does do, however, it does well. If you've got a pressing need to chat with your Steam friends and buy cheap games while away, this will do you just fine. It's not the mobile control center for your Steam life that it could be yet, though.

Eric Ravenscraft
Eric is a snarky technophile with a taste for the unusual. When he's not obsessing about Android, you can usually find him obsessing about movies, psychology, or the perfect energy drink. Eric weaves his own special blend of snark, satire, and comedy into all his articles.

  • matticus

    Can you go into your group's chat room?

    • Eric Ravenscraft

      No. In fact, it looks like the only thing you can do with a group from the mobile app is leave it.

  • t4y5ery

    Still no invite, f Steam.

    • Eric

      Really, it's been out for less than 24 hours, in which they've been bombarded by invite requests, and your complaining you don't have one?

  • http://calebkester.com Caleb Kester

    Great review! The only thing is you kinda blame them for the UI being a copy of iPhone and say there's documentation available for Android design. I highly doubt that this only took them a few weeks to make. I'm guessing their design was done a long time ago. Now hopefully they will update it to the Android design specs but who knows.

    • Minr

      Nope 1 week with a holiday

  • Eric Ravenscraft

    It's true that they were probably already working on the app when the style guide came out, but that still only accounts for why it doesn't match ICS style. Android has had its own unique methods for accomplishing tasks since the start. Not only were none of them followed, but the exact same elements were copied from the iOS port, resulting in a pixelated, blurry interface. Not adhering to ICS style yet is acceptable, but this isn't even trying to fit into the Android world. Or look good.

  • William

    How does it look on tablets?

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    Great review, Eric.

  • jan

    Just got my invite :) lets check this thing out!

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