There’s been a ton of handheld gaming devices over the years. From the LCD Brick Games of the 90s, to the Game Boys and Game Gears, to the Tigers…Hell, the Nintendo Switch itself is a handheld. With PC handhelds now starting to become common due to the Steam Deck, it’s a no brainer to see competitors like the ROG Ally.
Coming in at just SG$999, the ROG Ally seems like a great bargain for anybody who wants to bring their PC library on the road. It’s definitely a cheaper alternative to the Steam Deck, and it’s readily available in local stores as the Steam Deck has yet to get a local release.
Does that mean that the ROG Ally is a great companion to your Nintendo Switch when it comes to gaming on the go?
Read on and find out!
What is the ROG Ally?
The ROG Ally is a portable PC in the form of a handheld. It runs on Windows 11 as its OS, along with all the bells and whistles you’d expect. Anything you can run on a PC, you can run on the ROG Ally.
Here are the specs for the current version of the ROG Ally:
|CPU||AMD Ryzen™ Z1 Extreme Processor (“Zen4” architecture with 4nm process, 8-core /16-threads, 24MB 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)|
|Display||7-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 IPS-level touchscreen display (120Hz refresh rate, 7ms response time) with FreeSync Premium|
|Memory||16GB LPDDR5 on board (6400MT/s dual channel)|
|Storage||512GB PCIe® 4.0 NVMe™ M.2 SSD (2230)|
|I/O ports||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 UHS-II microSD card reader (supports SD, SDXC and SDHC)
|Buttons||A B X Y buttons|
L & R Hall Effect analog triggers
L & R bumpers
Command Center button
Armoury Crate button
2 x assignable grip buttons
Thumbsticks: 2 x full-size analog sticks
Haptics: HD haptics
|Audio||AI noise-canceling technology|
Built-in array microphone
2-speaker system with Smart Amplifier Technology
|Networking||Wi-Fi 6E(802.11ax) (Triple band) 2*2 + Bluetooth® 5.2 (*Bluetooth® version may change with OS version different.)|
|Battery||40WHrs, 4S1P, 4-cell Li-ion|
|Dimensions||28.0 x 11.1 x 2.12 ~ 3.24 cm (11.02″ x 4.37″ x 0.83″ ~ 1.28″)|
It’s obvious that ASUS wanted to impress with their first shot at a gaming handheld.
The machine looks good and it feels even better when you hold it in your hands.
The 7-inch display looks stellar too, especially if you play it in the dark. The colors pop, and while it’s just 1080p, it looks much sharper than you’d think.
The high refresh rate, combined with FreeSync Premium, also helps a lot to eliminate screen tearing and judder.
The weight distribution is even and the casing (made out of plastic) is textured, which benefits those prone to sweaty hands and also makes it pleasant to hold.
All in all, the build quality of the ROG Ally is excellent.
The button placements ape the Xbox controller (it even uses the XABY button scheme), with two triggers on the top left and right and two more triggers (one on the left and the one on the right) on the back of the machine.
The analog sticks and d-pad are similar to Microsoft’s too.
Everything feels great to me, especially the analog sticks. They don’t feel too loose and there’s a decent amount of resistance as you move them about. The built-in vibration’s surprisingly good too, though nothing to really write home about.
One thing that puzzled me is why the buttons aren’t backlit.
The analog sticks have rings of RGB surrounding their base, but the face buttons don’t have anything at all.
The machine’s much bigger than the Nintendo Switch, but its increased size actually benefits the ROG Ally, as there’s more space for the buttons and analog sticks.
If I had to choose which machine I’m more comfortable using for long periods, it’s the ROG Ally hands down. The bigger size, the textured case and the contoured handles of the ROG Ally simply trounce the diminutive Nintendo Switch.
ASUS smartly placed everything (the USB Type-C port (which doubles as a data, display and charging port), the microSD card reader and the audio jack) on top of the machine, leaving the sides and bottom bare.
You even get a cute cardboard dock with every purchase of the ROG Ally, allowing you to place the machine upright when you’re connected to a display or charging it.
From all appearances, it definitely seems like the portable is a great machine.
There are definitely issues with the machine that I’ve come across during the weeks of testing I had with it.
First off, I was particularly unimpressed with hardware it was packing.
Bootup time was decent but the loading times for games were a bit on the long side, despite the machine packing a PCIe 4.0 SSD. Even connected to the charger, the load times didn’t impress me.
I’d expected snappier loads but didn’t get it.
Secondly, despite some effort in making loading games as painless as possible (via the Armoury Crate app), it’s painfully obvious that more effort needs to be made to make the experience better.
Like it or not, the ROG Ally right now feels more like a tablet running Windows 11 than a portable pick up and play gaming machine.
I honestly expected a shell UI (kind of like what you get with the Nintendo Switch), that makes me forget I’m using a portable PC.
The Armoury Crate is a great start in that direction, but it doesn’t automatically integrate with other launchers like Battle.net or Epic Games’. In fact, I wasn’t even able to install Diablo 4 with the machine because it’d get stuck on the installer, continuously stating it was determining storage space.
I tried everything from shutting down and restarting, to even reinstalling Battle.net but I was never able to install Diablo IV. There are countless topics on this on Reddit and the fix seems to be to let the game run for a while.
Unfortunately, I left the ROG Ally running for close to two hours and still had the same issue.
To be fair, this isn’t a fault of the ROG Ally…but its something that can happen to it. Depending on how important Diablo IV is to you, this might be a potential gamebreaker.
Other than that hiccup, I was able to get pretty much everything I wanted to install on the ROG Ally without an issue. It’s a Windows 11 machine after all.
That means I was able to benchmark the machine!
Here’s what I got with PCmark 10.
Honestly, the scores are on par with what you’d get with a decent laptop. If nothing else, you can just hook up a wireless mouse and keyboard and use the ROG Ally as a last ditch laptop.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I honestly was.
Anyways, moving on…
Here’s what I got for 3Dmark’s Time Spy.
I didn’t bother with running Time Spy Extreme simply because there’s no reason to.
It’d be horrendous.
The hardware on the ROG Ally is in no shape and form to be playing anything on 4K, so why waste the time to try it?
I also tried the game with a title that was also readily available on consoles: Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Here are the scores I got.
I’m honestly a bit surprised at the numbers.
I’d expected Ray Tracing and maxing out the settings would be overkill on the machine, but the ROG Ally’s performance on Highest and lower is a bit underwhelming. Shadow of the Tomb Raider came out in 2018 (5 years ago), so it’s not exactly recent.
To see the ROG Ally struggle to play the game comfortably was a bit of a shock. Yes, the average FPS for the game on High is above 30, but there’s one thing that you need to remember. It’s the average. During the testing the framerates fluctuated wildly depending on the scene.
FreeSync did help to lessen screen tearing, but the inconsistent framerate was still very visible, especially during the market part of the benchmark.
Physically, I did feel that the machine could’ve also used an extra USB port. The lone USB Type-C port does a lot and definitely could’ve used a friend to share the workload. As it stands, if that port goes, you’re SOL because there’s no other way to charge the handheld.
Finally, the biggest issue with the machine is its battery life.
I always ran the machine on its highest performance mode (Turbo) when it’s not charged and got about an hour and a half with Exoprimal on Medium settings. Lowering the performance mode and playing less demanding games will get you more bang for your buck, but unless you’re intent on playing 2D games, expect about 2 – 3 hours of usage at a go.
I don’t know about you, but that’s abysmal for me. The ROG Ally definitely should’ve gotten a bigger battery. Sure, it’s probably going to increase size and weight but it’s a tradeoff any gamer would’ve made.
If you’re getting an ROG Ally, make sure you purchase a decent power bank because you’ll definitely need it when you’re gaming on the go.
The Bottom Line.
The ROG Ally does a lot of things right…which is really impressive considering that this is the first shot that ASUS’ taken doing a handheld. The machine feels solid, looks great in action and most importantly, is affordable and easily available.
Hell, you can even use it as a regular PC is in a pinch!
Unfortunately, the ROG Ally is hampered by a pathetic battery life at Turbo settings and plagued by underwhelming hardware to run visually intensive games. Those are red lights for any gamer, especially if one is looking for a gaming companion on the go that can play the latest games at a decent clip for a decent amount of time.
Definitely think first before you buy as the cons are sever enough to be deal breakers.
Great build quality that’s held back by the hardware.
- Solidly built.
- Display is bright and clear.
- Ports and shortcuts all on top.
- Triggers, d-pad and analog sticks all feel nice to use.
- Able to be used as a regular PC.
- The battery life.
- Gaming performance can be a bit underwhelming.
- Lack of ports.
- UI needs work.