The handheld gaming PC market has seen some interesting additions in the past couple of years, with Valve’s Steam Deck being one of the highest profile releases in recent times. That is, until the Asus ROG Ally was unveiled – or rather, teased as an April Fools’ Day joke.
For the most part, the ROG Ally lives up to expectations. It is undeniably a powerful handheld gaming machine, and it offers quite a number of advantages over the Steam Deck. However, the Ally also has some shortcomings that hold it back from being the “ideal” handheld, though I still think it’s a fantastic device for gaming on the go.
What It Is
|Display||7-inch FHD IPS (1920 x 1080), 120Hz|
|Processor||AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme (8C/16T, up to 5.1GHz)|
|GPU||AMD Radeon Graphics (AMD RDNA 3, up to 8.6 teraflops)|
|Storage||512GB M.2 PCIe 4.0 SSD|
|Dimensions||280 x 111 x 21.2~32.4 mm|
|Audio||Front-facing stereo speakers|
|Ports||1x ROG XG Mobile interface + USB-C combo port|
1x microSD card slot
1x 3.5mm headphone jack
For the Malaysian market, the ROG Ally is available in the sole AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme model, which is the model featured in this review. According to Asus Malaysia, the more affordable Ryzen Z1 configuration won’t be offered here. I personally think this isn’t a big lost, given the performance gains offered by the Z1 Extreme chip for only $100 (about RM460) more in the US.
Speaking of which, the Ally is actually priced quite well in Malaysia. For RM3,299, the Z1 Extreme chip offers excellent gaming performance – especially for a handheld – the RAM and SSD capacities are reasonably good at 16GB and 512GB respectively, and the 1080p IPS display with a 120Hz refresh rate looks great too.
On paper, the Ally looks great, but there’s more to a device than just its spec sheet.
The Good Stuff
Without a doubt the ROG Ally is a capable handheld gaming PC. The Z1 Extreme APU, which is exclusive to Asus for the time being, is quite the chip. I played a ton of Honkai: Star Rail at maxed out graphics settings on the handheld, and it can deliver a consistent 60fps frame rate (with some frame dips in busier environments) on its 25W Turbo Mode.
Of course, on more graphically demanding games like Cyberpunk 2077, I do have to lower the graphics settings accordingly to achieve 30fps frame rate. But despite the reduced image fidelity, the game still looks great on the 7-inch 1080p IPS display, even if most games can’t quite take advantage of the panel’s fast 120Hz refresh rate.
While we’re on the topic, I find the ROG Ally’s display to be completely fine. While I’m not thrilled by the size of the screen bezels, and the viewing angles are not as wide as I would’ve hoped, it’s still a relatively bright panel with a 500 nits peak brightness and quite vibrant colours.
I’m impressed with the system noise of the ROG Ally too. Even in extended gaming sessions, it runs very quiet. Naturally, the handheld does get noticeably warmer after some heavy gaming, but important touch points never get uncomfortably warm, which is great.
Controls of the ROG Ally feel great as well. The analog sticks are nice and smooth (albeit a tad too loose for my liking), the shoulder buttons feel substantial and satisfying to use, and the face buttons provide a good amount of tactile feedback. While there were reports of the face buttons getting stuck in heated gaming sessions, I did not encounter this issue at all on my early review unit.
Build quality of the ROG Ally is also good despite its mostly plastic construction to reduce weight. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the textured plastic chassis feels premium, it certainly does not feel cheap. Weighing 608g, it’s reasonably lightweight too, though I do need to rest my hands on a surface to game comfortably with the handheld.
The Bad Stuff
With so much power under the hood, battery life of the ROG Ally also suffers. As mentioned, I played Honkai: Star Rail a fair bit on the handheld, and with the power plan set to 25W Turbo Mode on a relatively high brightness level, the Ally lasted for…only an hour on a full charge.
If I’m playing less demanding games with the screen brightness lowered – while also setting the power plan to the most efficient 10W Silent Mode – I can stretch the battery life to about two to three hours. Much better playtime, of course, but you do have to find games that can still run smoothly on this power plan (or lower the graphics settings accordingly) to get this level of battery life.
It’s worth noting that I am using BIOS 317 on the ROG Ally throughout this review period and not the latest BIOS 319. While the new BIOS improves battery life, this comes at the expense of lower performance, which is definitely not ideal.
Last but not least is the overall user experience of the ROG Ally. As it’s running on Windows 11, navigating through the operating system with the handheld’s buttons and touch screen doesn’t feel particularly intuitive; I can’t even quickly close a game through Asus’ own Armoury Crate SE software. The bottom line is, Windows 11 in handheld mode still needs some work.
Is It Worth It?
Despite its shortcomings, I still think the Asus ROG Ally is a fantastic handheld gaming PC, especially in comparison to the Steam Deck here in Malaysia. Not only is it a much more powerful machine, it also comes with official warranty support. The same cannot be said of the Steam Deck, which is brought onto our shores through parallel importers.
While the ROG Ally’s battery life and user experience are not great, there’s a good chance that these two aspects of the handheld can be improved over time. Given that Asus is one of the most renowned brands in the market, I’m quite optimistic the Ally will only get better with every software update.