The Asus ROG Ally is the next challenger in line when it comes to portable PC gaming. This new handheld brings with it a beautiful 1080p screen and a 120Hz refresh rate, alongside an AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme Zen 4 APU, and a price point that’s set to perk up the ears of anyone looking for a serious Steam Deck competitor.
At $699, the Z1 Extreme-powered ROG Ally is only $50 more than the beefiest Steam Deck available ($649, 512GB model), packing with it a whole slew of technical improvements over Valve’s handy device as well. (There’s also a slightly less-powerful Z1-powered ROG Ally model coming soon for $599.) Importantly, it’s also not limited by Steam Deck’s Linux-based SteamOS, for better or worse. If you’ve dreamt of a Windows-based handheld PC that pushes the boat out on features, doesn’t cost $1000+, and plays Game Pass games natively on the go, then the ROG Ally could be what you’re looking for.
Asus ROG Ally – Design and Features
The ROG Ally’s design philosophy continues to follow most industry conventions when it comes to gaming on the go. With a central 7-inch screen and side-form controls as seen on the Steam Deck, Switch, Ayaneo 2, and more, the Ally doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to controlling your video games on a portable device.
The Ally’s face buttons feature a standard ABXY layout that feels snappy and responsive. This is alongside ‘View’ and ‘Menu’ buttons that mimic the Xbox controller, as well as dedicated buttons to call up ROG Armoury Crate or a spec configuration menu where you can switch between performance modes, adjust resolution from 1080p to 720p, cap the frame rate, or even change controller settings for whatever game your playing. The D-pad uses a circular cross layout rather than separate buttons, which I found usable, but it also felt a little cheap on what is an otherwise premium-looking device
The lack of touchpads is definitely a tick in the Steam Deck’s column.
I don’t want this whole review to just be ROG Ally vs Steam Deck (albeit the comparisons are already inevitable), but it is hard to ignore something that is lacking from the Ally: the Steam Deck’s pressure-sensitive touchpads. This won’t be the biggest deal to a lot of gamers, but it’s still a notable omission that can potentially restrict you when choosing what genre to play on the go. The touchpads make controlling mouse-based games much easier on the Deck, especially when combined with the wealth of community control profiles available, so lacking them here is definitely a tick in the Steam Deck’s column.
While you’re not gaming, the joysticks act as a mouse cursor which can further support touch controls if you need a little more accuracy. This doesn’t feel the best but is very passable. Overall I’d still recommend connecting to a wireless keyboard and mouse if you plan to use it like a regular computer at any time. Swiping up at any moment on this screen will quickly grant you access to the Windows toolbar, which is very valuable for navigating the device at all times.
At 280 × 113 × 39 mm and weighing only 608g (Steam Deck weighs 669g for comparison), the ROG Ally has an incredibly sleek and lightweight design. Ergonomically, it can lack a bit of heft which does diminish some feelings of it being 100% secure in both your hands, but its angled sides and sleeker profile do aid in keeping it comfortable for longer play sessions (especially if you’re blessed with smaller hands).
Unlike another handheld competitor, the Ayaneo 2, the ROG Ally deploys bezels on every side of its screen. It can make the playing space seem a little confined when you first use it, but all is quickly forgiven once the screen fires up and you get lost in its impressive visuals. On its 7-inch LCD, 1920x1080p touch screen, with 500 nits of brightness, the Ally is incredibly vibrant and works remarkably well when outside or in direct sunlight. Details can occasionally get washed out, but in my experience, the screen does exceptionally well for those who choose to travel on some of the brighter days of the year.
Full HD+ resolution can be difficult to manage for a lot of devices, but the new AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme APU does a fine job of splitting its duties between graphics and processing. Here are the specs on the unit I was sent from Asus.
- CPU: AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme Zen 4
- CPU Speed: 2.8GHz
- GPU: AMD RDNA 3
- Display: 7-inch IPS touchscreen
- Resolution: 1920×1080 display at 120Hz
- Storage: 512GB NVMe SSD
- Memory: 16GB LPDDR5 RAM
- Audio: Dual speakers with Dolby Atmos
- Security: Fingerprint Scanner
- I/O: USB Type-C (top), headphone jack, MicroSD expansion, Asus PCIe port
- Battery: 40WHrs
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2
The ROG Ally is available for $599 for the 256GB model, running with the AMD Ryzen Z1 chipset, while the Z1 Extreme model with 512GB of SSD storage will set you back $699 instead. As much as the ROG Ally is a handheld gaming device, it’s also worth remembering that it’s pretty much a mini Windows PC, and packs the specs to warrant such a price tag.
In the context of handheld PC gaming in 2023, the Ally tends to run somewhere in the middle of overall affordability. With the cheapest Steam Deck only costing $399 (maxing out at $649 for the priciest model), and the Ayaneo 2 costing anywhere between $1099 to $1499, $699 isn’t the most extravagant price we’ve seen and actually comes across pretty reasonable for what you’re getting.
Asus ROG Ally – Windows User Experience
One of the biggest differentiating factors between the ROG Ally and the Steam Deck is the operating system. Where the Steam Deck runs Valve’s custom Linux-based SteamOS, the Ally runs on plain old Windows 11. This is both its greatest strength and a significant weakness. In the plus column, it means that any PC game will run on the Ally without issue, while the Steam Deck is limited to Steam games only, at least without a significant number of hoops and caveats. This means you’re free to get your games from other storefronts, such as Epic, GOG, Itch.io, or perhaps most notably, Xbox Game Pass.
To that end, Asus includes a 3-month subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in with the Ally. Having Game Pass access out of the box on a device like this is magnificent, and it’s by far my favorite feature on the handheld. With access to hundreds of games immediately, you don’t even need to have an extensive library to get started.
In the negative column, however, running Windows means that the ROG Ally misses out on all of the software-based customization that Valve has done to optimize the Steam Deck. While there are some degrees of software tweaking you can do here – you can adjust power settings, resolution, and set a framerate cap via Armoury Crate, for example – the lack of complete hardware/software symbiosis is still notable.
When first picking the ROG Ally up, the user experience can be a little daunting, and I have to say my first impressions weren’t exactly stellar. Within my first couple of hours with the handheld, I experienced a couple of crashes and several instances where I felt a quick restart was required to get back on track. A lot of these teething problems were down to ROG Armoury Crate feeling a little clunky, and more than often remaining on my screen for a good 10-20 secs after launching a game (and sometimes not going away even when pressing the dedicated button). I’ll admit I lost some confidence in the Ally quickly.
Steam also felt sluggish on the ROG Ally, in direct contrast to the Steam Deck where it’s buttery smooth. Xbox’s PC launcher is still as notoriously buggy as it is on desktop, too, and I did have to reinstall Hi-Fi Rush in order to get it to start.
The biggest negative is that the Ally lacks the Steam Deck’s (and the Switch’s) ability to suspend and resume a game at the touch of a button. This means that any time you want to stop playing for longer than a simple pause, you’ll need to save and quit out of your game entirely, and load up again fresh the next time you want to play. This is, of course, the standard way things go on desktop PCs
But, once I got over a lot of this, and things did start to work how they were meant to, I had a lot of fun. Bouncing between all the various launchers, from Epic, to GOG, Steam, and Xbox, it was truly delightful to not have to break out an online guide and jump through a bunch of workaround hoops in order to start gaming on the go. When everything’s working as intended, it’s a joy to behold and well worth the price of admission over the Steam Deck.
Asus ROG Ally – Gaming Performance
The ROG Ally is the first handheld gaming PC to use AMD’s new Z1 Extreme mobile processor, which is notably more powerful than the Steam Deck’s custom APU, as well as the thus-far mobile king, the AMD Ryzen 7 6800U. The Z1 Extreme is an 8-core Zen 4 processor with RDNA 3-powered graphics, and can be cranked up to a maximum of 30W when plugged in. This compares to the Steam Deck’s 4-core custom Zen 2 APU, which caps out at 15W plugged in or on battery.
The ROG Ally however also targets a higher resolution than the Steam Deck – 1080p as opposed to 800p – though it can also run at 720p (and there’s a handy toggle that lets you easily switch between the two resolutions). For our benchmark comparisons, we’ll be testing the Ally at its 15W “Performance” setting at 720p against the Steam Deck, and the Ally at 30W “Turbo” setting at 1080p against the Ayaneo 2 at 33W and its maximum of 1200p. While they’re not perfect comparisons, these matchups should give you a good idea of how the ROG Ally and its Z1 Extreme chip stack up against the rest of the current gaming handheld landscape.
It’s clear to see that the Z1 Extreme is the more powerful chip.
Starting with our synthetic tests, it’s clear to see that the Z1 Extreme is the more powerful chip. Even at the “even match” of using the 15W setting across the board, the ROG Ally tops both the Steam Deck and Ayaneo 2 in all three 3DMark tests. Moving up to the 30W setting, it again beats the Ayaneo 2’s 33W setting, though it’s worth noting that the latter device is running at a slightly more demanding 1200p compared to the Ally’s 1080p
The gaming benchmarks tell a similar story. At 720p on the 15W power setting, the ROG Ally scored 38fps in Total War: Three Kingdoms, 57fps in Borderlands 3, and 64fps in Hitman 3, compared to 25, 42, and 44 on the Steam Deck and 27, 31, and 51 on the Ayaneo 2. All tests run at the highest available graphics preset.
At the higher-power 30W setting, the ROG Ally again takes the lead, though the gains are diminished by moving up to the more demanding 1080p resolution. You can, of course, run things at 30W still at 720p, in which case you’ll see an even larger increase over the Steam Deck. Here though, we’re looking at the head to head against the Ayaneo 2 at 1200p.
At the higher resolution, the ROG Ally holds a slight edge over the Ayaneo 2, which is held back by its slightly less powerful processor and higher demand of 1200p. The biggest uplift is in Hitman 3, where the ROG Ally scored 48fps – beating both the Ayaneo 2’s 33W score of 40, as well as the Steam Deck’s 800p score of 44.
One important thing to remember is that for comparison purposes, we run all our benchmarks at the highest graphics preset – which is fine for high-end desktop graphics cards, but rather on the demanding side for these handheld chips. Most people have found that Low to Medium settings is the sweet spot for Steam Deck to achieve solid framerates, and the same is true here. The main difference is that, with the right tweaks, you’ll find yourself able to play at High or even Ultra settings, maybe even above 60fps, on the ROG Ally.
Asus ROG Ally – Battery Life
You’ll need to keep your expectations in check when it comes to battery life on the ROG Ally, as it’s not going to blow your socks off. Similar to the Steam Deck, Asus quotes a maximum 8-hour battery, but this will likely be on the lowest graphical settings, at 720p, quiet mode, minimal brightness indoors, and on a retro sidescroller.
If you want to play any kind of graphically intensive game, you’re going to get a max of 1-2 hours overall, especially if you’re playing in 1080p. I tested this out by playing FIFA 22 on a couple of short train rides, working on performance mode at 1080p with low-medium settings, and it topped out at 1hr 30 mins.
The Asus ROG Ally (512GB X1 Extreme Model) will launch on June 13 for $699, with preorders now available at Best Buy. Preorder details on the 256GB model will be announced at a later date, but the listing is also viewable at Best Buy. Otherwise you can see our full ROG Ally Preorder Guide here.
The Asus ROG Ally truly feels like the portable Xbox Game Pass machine that many fans have been clamoring for. While a frustrating user experience, poor battery life, and a lack of Steam Deck-style touchpads do hold it back a bit, it’s undeniable how much fun this handheld is to use when it really gets ticking. With a beautiful 1080p screen that’s marvelously bright and perfect for playing on the go in any condition, alongside its powerful set of specs and a fierce price tag, the ROG Ally might actually be the Steam Deck competitor we’ve been anticipating.