Gaming has really evolved in recent years, from more to virtual reality, but also to be able to game anywhere. This is possible on your cell phone, Nintendo Switch, but there is more. Look at the Steam Deck, it came out last year and managed to fairly capture the market with enabling Steam Games in handheld form. But now there is formidable competition in the market.
PC gaming in your hands.
One of the first to enter this new market is ASUS, which launched the ROG Ally a few months ago. The device is now on sale and comes with a somewhat heftier price than you might think, €799, we were allowed to test it and tell you our findings.
For a handheld console, the design and ergonomics are quite important and fortunately the ROG Ally does not disappoint. The device has a classic handheld design where there is a display on the front and a split controller attached on either side. The casing is made of plastic that feels good to the touch and doesn’t give off the feeling of cheapness for a second. You can sometimes have this with plastic, but this is certainly not the case with the ROG Ally. Then we see that the display is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus and Gorilla Glass DXC. The ROG Ally uses an Xbox-style controller layout with non-symmetrical placements for the joysticks, D-pad on the left side and ABXY buttons on the left. There are 2 triggers on each side, one of which is a button and the other uses a hall-effect sensor for analog values. ASUS also added a third trigger on the back, which is neat!
All ports and buttons are on the top edge, including the USB Type-C port. This allows the ROG Ally to be used while charging and sitting on a table.
The Ally weighs about 608 grams, so that makes it quite light and allows you to be reasonably comfortable with it for the long gaming sessions. All in all, the ergonomics of the device is just on point. It feels good, is not too heavy, though the rear triggers may take some getting used to. As for the design itself, ASUS chose to go with a cleaner look for the ROG Ally rather than a heavy gamer aesthetic. The exterior is white throughout and the only RGB lights present are under the joysticks. There is also a nice reflective strip running across the back with some ROG branding on it. I believe ASUS is trying to reach a wider audience with this design, personally I often like those lights and such, but on a handheld?
ASUS has done a really good job considering the display, we are dealing with a 7-inch 1080p LCD panel with a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz and a response time of 7ms. The panel can reach a peak brightness of 500 nits and it supports 100% of the sRGB color space. The panel also supports AMD FreeSync Premium, which is great for a handheld device. Compared to Valve’s Steamdeck, the ROG Ally’s display is much better for both gaming and content consumption. It has a higher resolution and faster refresh rate. The peak brightness of 500 nits also contributes to a good gaming experience when playing outside. Colors look good and contrast levels are adequate. An OLED panel would have been great, but the LCD panel is also fine. The display is touch-sensitive and supports 10-point multi-touch. Having a touch screen as input sometimes makes it easier to navigate Windows. However, it also makes things a little awkward because you’re using touch on Windows on a relatively small display. Combine this with somewhat thicker fingers and you guessed it, more times than not you press incorrectly.
The gaming experience is much smoother, even with solid AAA titles it still handles its visuals smoothly. All this is then made possible by AMD’s latest Z1 Extreme Processor, which is specifically designed for handheld gaming. It is an 8-core/16-thread processor that can boost up to 5.1GHz and has a configurable TDP of 9-30W. It comes with integrated graphics consisting of 12 RDNA 3 cores. In my opinion, the Z1 Extreme is the deciding factor for the ROG Ally. It offers impressive performance in such a small package, something previously reserved only for the hefty laptops. However, the RDNA 3 GPU in the AMD Z1 Extreme is more than enough to play AAA titles at 60fps, provided you lower the graphics quality. I tested the ROG Ally with a few AAA titles such as Forza Horizon 5, GTA V and Baldur’s Gate 3. I also tested it with lighter titles such as Among Us and Fall Guys. In all these titles, I was still blown away by what the device shows you.
You can run the ASUS ROG Ally in three different modes, Performance Mode, which sets the processor to 15W of power when used without a charger. The other two modes are Silent Mode, which limits the processor to 10W, and Turbo Mode, which sets the processor to 25W. All of these modes can also be quickly toggled via the overlay menu, All in all I chose Performance mode most often, it actually gives you the best of all worlds, you have good gaming qualities and in addition a battery that lasts just a bit longer. Of course each mode has its pros and cons, the Silent you will notice that your battery lasts a long time, the fan is practically silent, but on the other hand the quality with which you game. And the Turbo basically says it all.
So as the ROG Ally became more familiar to people there were complaints, the exhaust from the fans would be too close to the microSD port, the emission of heat would melt this port. ASUS acted quickly and via a BIOS update ensured that this would no longer occur. Personally, then, I do think this is a minor form flaw.
Looking further at the OS of the Ally, it runs on a full version of Windows 10, this of course with a custom shell over it. So that it improves you experience of a handheld well. ASUS has created a new version of their Armoury Crate software that adds a lot of functionality to the Ally. It is designed for use via the joysticks and touchscreens, and provides everything you need if you want pure gaming on the Ally. There are quick-access tiles to the games installed on the device, and there are tabs for Settings and Content. In the Settings tab, you can access Lighting controls, wireless connection settings, operating mode and customize the command center.
The Command Center is an overlay accessed by a button on the upper left edge of the display. In this overlay there are quick setting tiles for changing Operating Mode, enabling and disabling a Real-time Monitor, FPS Limiter, invoking the keyboard, etc. Personally, I found the overlay to work really handy when I wanted to quickly set something up. Unfortunately, it didn’t always work properly. For example, sometimes I had it just not appear or not work. There might still be some bugs in this or I wasn’t pressing properly. Anyway, it could also be OS, when you hear afterwards that Microsoft would be working on a Windows version especially for handheld consoles. If true, this would really be a good step in the right direction.
As for ports, they are all found on the top. There’s a headphone jack, microSD card port, a ROG XG Mobile Connector along with a USB 3.2 Gen2x2 Type-C port with DisplayPort 1.4 support. Then there is the power button, which also works as a fingerprint sensor, this is useful for Windows Hello. The XG Mobile Connector is really interesting because it allows users to connect an external GPU and greatly enhance the graphics capabilities of the ROG Ally. The XG Mobile is certainly expensive, but you get a fast GPU and lots of ports, so it’s perfect for a portable PC solution.
Of course, you can also enjoy the ROG Ally wirelessly, it ensures with support for Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth v5.2 that you can use everything. Then perhaps the most important aspect of all, the battery. The battery is a 40Wh, it is the same size as that of the Steamdeck. And this makes it quite short in its battery life. You just need to always have your charger because in a good session of 1.5 to 2 hours it will be empty. Just always pay attention to the level because it just goes hard, especially in the turbo modes.
If we then look at the total, ASUS succeeded quite well for a first step in the handheld world. Therefore, I definitely dare to look at a successor. If Windows and ASUS continue with this it will only get better. The performance of the ASUS Rog Ally is just fine with a crisp display. So if you are looking for a good handheld and have a little budget to spare, this is your console.