Asus isn’t skipping the handheld gaming race as they released their version with the ROG Ally, but can it beat the competition?
The idea of having a handheld version of your gaming PC or console that you can play on the go or in your living room was any gamer’s dream, up until the Nintendo Switch was launched back in 2017 when it introduced the hybrid portable gaming experience. Several brands have attempted to launch their versions, including Valve with their Steam Deck which heightened the interest for a PC gaming handheld. And now it’s Asus’s turn with their ROG Ally that promises you can play any game at any place, but can they offer a device to play all your games? Let’s find out.
Let’s take a look at the ROG Ally tech spec sheet to learn more about its innards
- AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme Processor
- CPU: Zen4 architecture with 4nm process, 8-core / 16-threads, 24 MB total cache, up to 5.10 GHz boost
- GPU: AMD Radeon Graphics (AMD RDNA 3, 12 CUs, up to 2.7 GHz, up to 8.6 Teraflops)
- TDP: 9-30W
- 7-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 IPS-level
- Touch Screen (10-point multi-touch)
- Refresh Rate:120Hz
- Response Time:7ms
Memory: 16GB LPDDR5
Storage: 512GB PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD
- 1x 3.5mm Combo Audio Jack
- 1x ROG XG Mobile Interface and USB Type-C combo port (with USB 3.2 Gen2, support DisplayPort 1.4)
- 1x card reader (microSD) (UHS-II)
- Built-in array microphone
- 2-speaker system with Smart Amplifier Technology and Dolby Atmos
Battery: 40WHrs, 4S1P, 4-cell Li-ion
Weight: 608g (1.34 lbs)
Dimensions (W x D x H): 11.02″ x 4.37″ x 0.83″ ~ 1.27″
The ROG Ally has two versions available; the regular AMD Ryzen Z1 and the Ryzen Z1 Extreme which has improved performance for the CPU and GPU, while the rest of the specs will be similar with the two variants. The Ryzen Z1 Extreme variant was used for the review.
When looking at its appearance, the Ally still has that familiar futuristic design we tend to see in every ROG product, it was optimized for ergonomics that make it feel comfortable even for prolonged hours of playing, and the grips on the handheld feel good with the hands as your fingers are fully rested and palms fully snug on the grip. I didn’t much have any discomfort even when holding the Ally for more than 2 hours, which is a plus since having a great design for comfort in prolonged gaming. At its size, it is larger than a Nintendo Switch, but smaller than a Steam Deck so it’s not much of a cumbersome to bring it anywhere if you plan to play it at a cafe or outdoors. It can fit into any kind of shoulder bag that is around a foot long with ease, I even tried putting it on a specific crossbody bag designed for the Switch and it still fits.
The thumbsticks are reachable with your thumbs at ease, even when playing intense games, your thumbs won’t get tired and strained. Though it’s only available with a white color version, which will go to attract more dirt to stick after several weeks of use, hopefully, they could release a different color variant in the future. The first thing you will notice when you grab the ROG Ally for the first time is that it is very light, at 608 grams, which is just a hundred grams lighter than the Steam Deck. It makes it less straining to hold when you play for a couple of hours, even when lying down or on tables to rest your elbows on. It also includes some I/O ports such as a USB-C port that acts as a charging port and other accessories including flash drives or peripherals. Let’s not forget that the Ally has one port that many expensive smartphones left out, and that is the 3.5mm audio jack.
As for the face buttons, it features a flat dome design that makes it pleasing to press, the thickness of the buttons is just right that it doesn’t need to be pressed deeper just to register an input. It had that nice clicking sound, not mushy like with controllers that have rubber paddings, but there were instances that some face buttons tend to stick after mashing them several times, it was a rare occurrence for one of the buttons to get stuck during intense games. It’s not that type of issue that requires some fixes like prying them to realign their position, but it can be an annoyance for possible missed inputs when playing, but I still enjoy the feel of the face buttons. The shoulder and trigger buttons are just the right size with the shoulder buttons having a clicky sound while the trigger buttons have a nice feel of tension as you squeeze the triggers, they really go well with shooter and action games I have really no complaints about it. The two extra buttons are located at the back of the Ally and can be used for macros or extra buttons for specific games, its placement wasn’t in an awkward position that you might accidentally press on it, so it’s not an issue whenever you play.
A nice feature that some might miss out on is the fingerprint sensor on the power button. Pressing the button to wake the device up will automatically be logged to your Windows profile if it recognizes your fingerprint without the need to input any password, a nice touch to keep the gaming on-the-go aspect of the Ally. The Ally has a rumble feature with its HD haptics, the feedback is not as strong as with your conventional controllers, but it’s stronger than with the Nintendo Switch, it’s a nice addition to the gaming handheld though some may overlook this depending on the games they are playing.
The directional button has a circular design that is similar to the ones found in the Xbox Series controllers, but there was a tendency for it to get stuck when playing with fighting games and sidescrollers, especially when pressing for diagonal inputs, and the glossy finish makes it slippery in prolonged use, so you’ll be wiping the d-pad more often. It could be a nice option where users can replace the d-pad with a cross-shaped variant that plays well with sidescrolling or even retro games. As for the twin analog sticks, it was an odd choice not to have Hall Effect sticks that can make it less prone to drifting, but the Armoury Crafte SE features customization to adjust the dead zone and threshold for each stick. The thumb grips have a concave shape to make them easy to grip when playing, I enjoy using the analog sticks more than the other controllers that I’m using for the PC, the RGB lighting also gives a nice touch on the analog sticks that you can also customize with the Armoury Suite SE.
The 7-inch screen features an IPS panel with a refresh rate of 120 Hz and can handle up to 1080p resolution, brightness level of the screen is exceptional even when played outdoors, and the screen size is just right that you can still read text onscreen without the need to magnify the screen or increase the font sizes. It also has a touchscreen function that you can navigate around the Windows 11 OS with ease when browsing on the internet or setting some tweaks with some apps. The speakers are one of the best soundings so far in a handheld gaming device that I tried, it has that nice bass for those big explosions and gun blasting and clarity for voiced dialogues, trying out first-person shooters like Warhammer 40K Gunbolt provides that big oomph sound and listening to music makes it feel that you don’t need to hook up an external speaker just to enjoy quality audio. It may not be on par with premium speakers with subwoofers or soundbars, but for a handheld device, it was a big step up.
The ROG Ally comes with the Armoury Crate SE specially designed for the device, it can act as your game launcher for quick access in launching and customizing settings such as button mapping per specific game and creating custom profiles per game. It also includes a sliding menu interface called the Command Center where you can adjust settings while running a game, it allows changing configurations on the fly without the burden of restarting your game or app just to apply any new changes. These include adjusting the power profile of the Ally which also adjusts the CPU/GPU performance, toggling the real-time monitor to check on the wattage, framerate, battery life, etc., changing the color display preset and more. There were cases where the Command Center would hang whenever you toggle to a different power profile (toggling from Performance to Turbo) or just doesn’t respond for certain games, but it only happened twice and to just one game in my experience, and in case it did happen, it can be remedied with a Task Manager or a quick restart.
Now when actually playing games, how did the ROG Ally fare? It features three presets by default; Silent, Performance and Turbo which you can toggle by opening the Command Center menu. These presets adjust the performance of the Ally whether it should prioritize low power consumption or go all max to run the higher demanding games, you can also create custom presets even for specific games. Loading speed when booting the handheld up is fast, around 15-20 seconds right after pressing the power button up to the OS boot and loading up the Armoury Crate SE. The Ally is still a PC since it runs on a Windows OS, you can hook up a wireless mouse and keyboard and run any PC software, watch videos or browse on the internet, the only challenge would be the small screen if you plan to do the more intricate stuff, but with some patience and peripherals, you can use it as your laptop alternative.
Running older games is a piece of cake for the gaming handheld, titles such as Titan Quest will run well even in Silent mode. I also tried out new titles like Warhammer 40,000 Boltgun and Rollerdrome, while set at Performance, it has a stable 60 fps for Rollerdrome and at around 55-60 fps for Boltgun. Some higher demanding games such as Destiny 2 and Final Fantasy XV may require some tweaking with the settings like lower resolution and lower textures when running in Performance, but it can handle the game well where it can go at 60 frames per second when set to Turbo. Running any MMO games is not an issue with it as well, it can provide a steady internet connection, so playing Fortnite sessions or even doing Final Fantasy XIV raids, even cloud gaming such as with the third party Chiaki PlayStation Remote Play after testing it with Final Fantasy XVI on the PS5 with some minor stutter hiccups. Running emulators is a breeze since the PC handheld runs on Windows 11, you can just install any emulator that you prefer or get RetroArch on Steam and let it handle the rest.
Making your games work seems to be an easy feat with the Armoury Crate SE’s support with different game platforms, such as Steam, Xbox, Epic Game Store and GOG. Just log in to your account on your preferred platform and download your games. Games that support a game controller will automatically map the buttons on the Ally and can be customized, you can save the preset for that game so whenever you load the same game, it will apply the preset that you saved.
Battery life is the major downside for the ROG Ally, it can go at least 2 and a half hours when running less demanding games but could barely reach an hour for other games even on Performance mode that is set at 15 watts. You can try stretching the battery life a bit by lowering the screen brightness and disabling other functions like WiFi and RGB lighting on the analog sticks. Increasing the battery capacity wouldn’t hurt just to add more juice to the handheld or perhaps have official peripherals like an external battery pack to attach behind it. As for the temperature of the handheld, even when reaching around 90°C when playing, the heat was barely noticeable even when holding it, since the ventilation of dispersing heat is upwards and away from the user.
The initial package contents for the Ally seem to be underwhelming, it did include its AC Adapter that you’ll use for charging, but Asus also advertised the gaming charger dock for the Ally, which is an all-in-one charger and dock that lets you play the handheld on a monitor. It could’ve been an essential accessory to be included in your package instead of being an optional purchase considering they are promoting the product to be playable with friends as an entertainment system in your living room. Having a built-in kickstand doesn’t hurt either, where you can just flip it out and play with friends with local multiplayer at a cafe. It does include a stand from its package, but the quality is very cheap and it feels like a cardboard or 3D-printed material that is flimsy. There are other accessories though completely optional, that can optimize the gaming experience, such as the XG mobile that acts as an external graphics card attachment and the Raikiri Pro wireless game controller.
Overall, the ROG Ally is an impressive PC gaming device that you can finally carry around. It is superior as compared to the Steam Deck and other similar gaming handhelds with a very competitive price. This can work as an entertainment system that you can play on your couch just like a Nintendo Switch, but only if you want to invest in spending on their expensive peripherals. It has its shortcomings like the short battery life and the limited accessories included (and not to mention a cumbersome interface navigation thanks to Windows 11). What’s great about it is it’s lightweight, hands But the handheld itself is already enough to convince you that this is already a great platform to let you enjoy your games.
But to whom does the ROG Ally cater? Considering the price tag is somewhat equivalent to an entry-to-mid-level gaming laptop and more expensive than any current generation gaming consoles. This is more for those who want a simplified approach for their PC games, where they can just pop out their device and load up a game to play anywhere, something that their desktop PC can do but without distractions. It’s a must-buy for gamers who prefer this kind of experience.
The ROG Ally is now available for PHP 43,995 (AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme) and soon around August for PHP 39,995 (AMD Ryzen Z1).