Handheld gaming has risen from the dead. Where I used to grow up with a Game Boy Pocket, GBA and PSP, I now enjoy playing on my Switch and as of a short while ago, I have become tremendously excited about the ROG Ally. This new handheld allows you to play all your triple-A games literally anywhere. Until I had the device in my hands, I didn’t know I had so much need for this Windows handheld.
The first impression
First, we take a look at what’s in the box. Besides the ROG Ally, you get a charging cable and a cardboard holder where you can put the Ally while charging. So don’t expect in the box a protective bag that the Ally can be put in while traveling or extra buttons or triggers to customize the Ally to your liking. Of course, I didn’t expect the latter, but an extra case to transport the Ally in would have been a big plus.
The Ally looks sleek and the buttons look high quality. In use, it feels the same. The sticks move very easily, but do not feel cheap and are very pleasant while playing. Furthermore, I was very impressed with the triggers used with the ROG Ally. Those triggers really make gaming incredibly enjoyable. The A-B-X-Y buttons are obviously not mechanical, but do exactly what they are supposed to do. The only thing I am slightly less pleased with is the d-pad. It feels very plastic and does not always register the right input for me. Now I prefer playing with the sticks anyway, but the d-pad is not my favorite. I must also do a quick shout-out to the sound coming from the Ally. I don’t have high expectations from handhelds in terms of led, but was very impressed with the audio and especially the quality it can let out during gaming.
It is further striking how thin ROG manages to keep this handheld. At about 600 grams, the handheld is not too heavy and I was able to play on it for an extended period of time. Additionally, the location of the sticks and triggers ensure that at no point do I experience cramping, something I do experience regularly with the Nintendo Switch. On the back is a kind of grid that serves to cool the CPU and GPU in the device. On the top are two “exhausts” that blow warm air out during gaming. In addition, the ROG Ally features a USB-C input, a jack input for headphones and a slot for a micro SD card.
The ROG Ally is a handheld that runs entirely on Windows 11 and runs recent and heavy games without too much trouble. This is made possible by some specially made pieces of hardware. The engine on the inside of the Ally is an AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme running at 3.3GHz, 16GB of RAM and an AMD GPU that features 4GB of VRAM. All this makes it possible to play literally any game you own in a Steam library, through Epic Games Store or any other service. You experience the games on a 1080p screen capable of displaying 120FPS. Now of course I didn’t achieve that FPS in a game like Cyberpunk 2077, but games like Dead Cells play at 120FPS without any difficulty.
During my time with the ROG Ally, I tried many different games to see what works and what may not work on the device. A number of games run really great, with no problems and overwhelmingly show the power of the Ally. You can run Cyberpunk 2077, F1 22, Redfall, Dead Cells and Elden Ring without any problems. Actually all games that support a controller and run on PC can be played without any adjustment. The games automatically adjust to the resolution you are currently using, and if a game supports AMD’s FSR, then that technique is also good to use. Now I must say that it does then depend on the game whether this adds value. For example, the FSR in Redfall does not work at all and you should always check whether the game runs just as well or better native on the Ally. Games that don’t have native controller support on PC are a lot harder to play. For example, I couldn’t manage to play Baldur’s Gate 3 on the Ally.
With that, it becomes painfully clear to me once again that the Switch is really in need of an improved version.
Emulating games remains a touchy subject, but I’m sure it will happen on the ROG Ally. Of course, in this article I’m not going to refer to all kinds of files and manuals required to do so. However, I can say that you can play your Switch games, among others, on the Ally without any problem. I was able to transfer my favorite Switch games to the Ally and after adjusting some controller recognition settings, it really worked like a charm. With that, it becomes painfully clear to me once again that the Switch is really in need of an improved version of the console, because its games play a lot nicer on the Ally.
So the ROG Ally runs on Windows 11, which means you can basically do everything with the handheld that’s also possible on a desktop or laptop. To make everything a little more manageable, ROG provides the Armoury Crate software by default on the Ally. After installing Steam, GoG and my favorite games, for example, they show up in the Armoury Crate in a handy overview. It is somewhat reminiscent of Steam’s Big Picture Mode with large images showing which games you can start. In addition to the library, Crate also controls all the Ally’s settings. Think about rearranging the buttons, profiles, sound, lighting and so on. There is a separate button on the Ally that opens a quick menu of settings allowing you to switch inputs very quickly, turn on the FPS limiter or unleash the Turbo to squeeze a few extra FPS out of the handheld. I did notice that the overlay does not always work properly and does not automatically adopt the optimal settings. I assume this can be fixed with a few updates, but it felt like a beta version a little too often during my use.
There are still a few things I really need to talk about. The price and release date of the ROG Ally follow below, but I was very curious about its battery life beforehand. Obviously a handheld doesn’t need to last 20 hours, but long train rides, a flight towards vacation or just a few hours next to your partner on the couch is the minimum a handheld should be able to handle as far as I’m concerned. The battery life of the ROG Ally is possibly the only criticism I found after a good number of hours.
Especially big and heavy games like Cyberpunk 2077, you won’t be able to play for very long. I realize that this is possibly the heaviest game you can run, and upfront, the game looks peerless even on the Ally. Of course, that comes at the expense of battery life. After quite a bit of testing with different settings, I got a maximum of 100 minutes of play time out of it. In doing so, I set the refresh rate to a maximum of 30FPS and the resolution to 720p. Going to 60FPS and 1080p, the Ally Cyberpunk 2077 lasts about 45 minutes. Incidentally, that’s comparable to the Steam Deck. Of course, a game like Dead Cells will last considerably longer. Without too many adjustments, so with a resolution of 1080p and an FPS of 120, I was able to play Dead Cell for about 2.5 hours.
Don’t expect to spend the full time with this handheld on a flight to your next vacation destination or a train ride to the other side of the country.
It makes sense that ROG had to make a choice somewhere for battery capacity, and playing short bursts on the Ally was a smart design choice. Don’t expect to spend the full time with this handheld on a flight to your next vacation destination or a train ride to the other side of the country.
Finally, we come to the price and release date of the ROG Ally. It was said beforehand that the handheld would “definitely cost under 1,000 euros” and we can happily confirm that this is true. For 799 euros you can get the 512GB version with Z1 Extreme. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a hugely competitive price and shows ROG is taking the handheld market very seriously. The model I spent about a week with has since been returned to ROG, but I will definitely be setting aside money to purchase an Ally myself. You can place a pre-order starting today, May 11, 2023 and the device will be officially available on June 13, 2023.
The ROG Ally is an incredibly impressive piece of hardware that takes handheld gaming to the next level. It fits comfortably in the hand, the buttons and especially the sticks and triggers feel immensely comfortable, and there is enough graphical power under the hood to enjoy great games in up to 120FPS. The choice to use Windows 11 in conjunction with Armoury Crate is tremendously smart, although the additional software from ROG occasionally feels like an extra hurdle. Moreover, with a price of $799, ROG makes it clear that it wants to be taken seriously. The only downside is that I can still do a maximum of two hours on one full charge of the battery, so there is still room for improvement.