Like many people, I was surprised when April Fools ended and it turned out that ROG’s handheld ROG Ally was a real product they’d intended to sell. Handheld devices are great, after all, and the recent revolution in handheld PCs is a huge step towards redefining what can and can’t be on a console.
That being said, there has been some need for message control when it comes to Handheld Gaming PCs in general. It’s easy to get frustrated if your device that sits between the size range of a phone and tablet won’t run 4K games, the travesty! As someone who grew up with handheld consoles though, you realize that there’s a lot more to the actual evaluation of a handheld than raw numbers.
After our previous hands-on, our friends at ROG got us the chance to get even more time with the ROG Ally ahead of its launch. Where does this Portable PC stand in a rapidly-crowding field? Read on and find out.
It Is Definitely Handheld
The first thing I’d noticed with the ROG Ally is just how comfortable it is to actually hold. For all its perks, the Nintendo Switch’s main failing is that the out-of-box joycons don’t feel great in your hands, especially when you’ve got a Valstrax on your tail and you’re gripping it like your life depended on it. In contrast, the Ally does a hell of a lot better in that regard: it has enough heft to feel comfortable but not bulky, and the device itself is thick enough that you won’t cramp your hands no matter how clutch the game is getting.
Even when you’re running it in turbo mode, it’s surprisingly good at making sure you don’t scorch your hands since the vents face away from the user and the device keeps itself relatively cool. I do have some anxieties about the white body- white anything is a magnet for grime. That being said, even amid my most intense sessions, I found it looking pretty much pristine, so it’s not something you’d realistically have to worry about.
It’s really impressive just how much it excels in the form factor- after all, that’s the main draw of playing games on a handheld PC, so it makes sense that that’s how they’d run. The buttons themselves generally feel good to use, and I’m especially a fan of the textured patterns on the shoulders and triggers. The analog sticks aren’t horribly offensive either- they’re generally quite good, and passed the test of “can I reliably do DP inputs on them”.
It does also sport gyro controls and haptic feedback, so it’s really impressive just how many playstyles the ROG Ally actually accommodates.
All that to say that you can get quite a lot of mileage playing just on the ROG Ally’s controls itself- it’s not a console that would make you immediately think about alternate controllers or the like.
Play Your Way
As someone who grew up on the Mac ethos of “you don’t have to think about options”, there’s a near paralyzing amount of choice when it comes to the ROG Ally. Since it uses the ROG Armory Crate software, you can customize its settings, and more importantly, its battery life as a result. If you’re the type to enjoy your smaller indie games, you can just set it to its Silent mode, and still get a decent amount of battery time out of it.
That being said, if you’re playing a more intensive Triple-A release, using the maximum power Turbo mode is an absolute must. This does weigh down on the battery life quite a bit, and you’ll find yourself capping out at about 2 hours max for games like Cyberpunk or the Diablo IV Server Slam Beta.
Messing with the options, unfortunately, isn’t really optional either. Depending on the game, some titles will definitely require more tinkering than others- my time using it to lab combos in the Street Fighter 6 Demo had the game running it on Ultra by default, something the ROG Ally isn’t really equipped to do without the help of the mobile GPU.
In a way it’s kind of neat that the ROG Ally still has that ethos of PC gaming going for it- people who are used to tinkering with settings and the like will absolutely get a lot of bang for their buck with the ROG Ally, since the device is quite literally a PC with controller buttons built into it. If you’re coming from the console and using this as your foster Switch Pro, though, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of consideration you need to put into getting your games running silky smooth.
I also absolutely adore the touch screen. Windows 11 isn’t exactly intuitive to navigate with analog sticks, so sometimes its nice to be able to just point at the application I need opened. That being said, using the Armory Crate also allows you to create a console-like interface, so if you’re really strict about only using it for games you can still create that “don’t think too hard about it” environment you’d get out of a console.
There’s also a neat amount of macros courtesy of the Armory Crate app- you can easily grab screenshots and recordings, so it’s not like gaming moments on the ROG Ally can’t be shared. Since it’s a PC, you can even chuck them on Twitter- so all may gaze upon your sweet Ws. It even goes hand-in-hand with the microSD slot, so you can extend the device’s storage if the device’s 512GB isn’t enough for you.
Of course, as someone on an eternal quest for my portable setup machine, I’d be remiss to not talk about the potential for accessories with the ROG Ally. Unlike the Ayaneo Air the Ally only sports one USB-C slot, which means that any wired accessories like, say, a fight stick can’t be run while also charging the device. By that logic, the Ally’s also not great for anyone looking to run portable setups, since that means only one stick can be plugged in at any point in time.
That doesn’t mean you can’t run your bathroom tournaments though- the Ally does support bluetooth controls, so you’re free to run any wireless controllers- but if you’re the type to believe in the sanctity of a physical union between your fightstick and console, it’s going to get difficult.
There’s also the case of standing up the ROG Ally- the device doesn’t sport a kickstand like the Nintendo Switch, but ROG does provide a plastic stand to keep it supported. It’s a neat little thing, and if you’re the type to lug your fightstick around with it you’re not really in the position to complain about also having a tiny little plastic stand.
It’s not just obscure specialist fighting game equipment either- if you feel like climbing ranked in Valorant or CS:GO out of your local coffee shop, you can also connect a Mouse and Keyboard, giving those online a true taste of PC superiority.
ROG’s also got their own lineup of support equipment for the ROG Ally, like a charging dock that also acts as a HDMI output, letting you connect your Ally to a bigger screen if the situation calls for it. While on paper it does sound great since it has a USB Type-A slot as well as a Type-C, you have to remember that the Type-C slot is consumed to simply plug it in. Instead of a tournament enabler, it’s basically a “play on my fightstick for longer” device. Personally, I’m a fan of the XG Mobile GPU, which basically allows the ROG Ally to punch much higher than its weight class. It’s not exactly portable, but it’s a good way to enjoy a night in.
“OK But Can It Actually Run Games Though?”
I think one issue with any kind of handheld PC is going to be managing expectations. The Ally is never going to outpace a high-end PC, no handheld will. It’s the trade off of being able to play it on a train without lugging around an Ikea desk. But that you can even consider running triple-A games on it at all is pretty impressive, and that’s partially because of its AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme processor.
We managed to run games like the infamously testy Cyberpunk 2077 as well as the Street Fighter 6 demo all with pretty positive results. In Street Fighter 6’s case, you can run versus mode fairly smoothly as long as you’re not going full blast with the Ultra settings and max resolution. We reached 60fps both by either lowering the resolution to 720p which is fine for a smaller screen, or just toning down the graphics settings altogether.
In Cyberpunk’s case, the constraints are a little more apparent. Attempting to run the game at 1080p will not get you anything over 40fps, so I really recommend just biting the bullet and running the game at 720 to get a smooth experience.
Even the post-patch Elden Ring sees similar constraints- you can totally run the game at 1080p, but you’ll be running it at about 50fps on the lowest settings. I don’t normally much care for FPS as a direct barometer of success, but these are all games with a fair amount of action to them- in these cases, you really can’t afford to be bottlenecked when you need to do frame perfect dodges or Drive Rush inputs.
Basically if you’re playing big, triple-A releases, you need to be ready to accept that a) you’re not going to be able to run it at max spec and b) when you scale the game down to a handheld scale, you don’t necessarily need to, either. The fact of the matter is that I could spend a decent amount of time on my couch playing the Diablo IV Server Slam beta and I was more focused on the fact that I got to play the game, rather than scrutinizing every pixel for not being on par with a massive TV.
When you think about your average gamer, it’s hard to not be able to recommend them the ROG Ally. It has an everyman approach covered- casting a wide net of use case scenarios that it excels at. I should point out that every situation I’d said it didn’t work was extremely niche- as a device to pick up and play games, the ROG Ally is all set.
One major factor does stand in the way of giving it a proper final verdict- its price. While its USD price roughly puts it around the price of a PS5, ROG has said they’re introducing regional pricing for Malaysia, and that’s going to play a huge part in the recommendability of the ROG Ally. Still, if you’re viewing it as a premium handheld, that’s going to come with a premium price tag. Does it earn it? Yes, actually.
There are some nitpicks that can’t be hand-waved away with the ROG Ally, of course. The game sports a 120Hz display, which is almost too luxurious given how hard it is to find a game that’d need it. It’s hard not to think that you might get a bit more out of the battery if they’d toned down the display, but I also on some level respect the decision to just go with it anyways.
As far as the competition with other handhelds go though, the ROG Ally definitely stands favorably, especially in the SEA market. It outclasses the Nintendo Switch like any PC would, and provides (hypothetically) much better bang for your buck than the Ayaneo Air. It’s also actually officially available in the SEA region, giving it the W against the Steam Deck by default.
Admittedly the one-to-two-hour battery life can sound scary, but it works surprisingly well for my specific use cases. I rarely ever have on-the-go gaming sessions longer than half an hour anyways, so as long as I carry the charger around it’ll always be topped up enough for the session I need it.
ROG Ally review unit provided by ASUS ROG