Handheld gaming consoles haven’t seen too many new entrants in the past decade or so. Of course, we had the Nintendo Switch, but beyond that absolutely nothing from the other two console giants, Sony and Microsoft. It is largely an effect of your smartphone and tablets being used to play games on the go. But as hardcore gamers would tell you, that’s not real gaming.
Interestingly, Valve released the Steam Deck last year – a handheld console for PC games (console and PC games in the same sentence sounds weird, I know). It is yet to officially make its way to India, and users are limited to games in their Steam library. That may not be a huge limitation given the extensive list of titles that Steam offers, but why limit yourself at all?
What about that ever-growing free library on Epic Games? And if you have been generous enough to buy some games on the platform, add that to the list too. Then you also have Ubisoft and EA apps to deal with for titles from those publishers. This is where the new Asus ROG Ally comes to the rescue.
What is the Asus ROG Ally?
Republic of Gamers or ROG is synonymous with PC gaming. The ROG Ally is Asus’ attempt at building a handheld PC gaming console. If the word console feels odd in this case, let’s just call it a portable gaming PC because it is literally that. It has potent hardware and runs Windows 11. As a result, you are not limited to just Steam games but can access pretty much anything that one can run on a Windows 11 computer. I did try some from my Epic and EA collection on the Ally and things were smooth.
The device is fitted with a sharp 7-inch Full HD touchscreen with 120 Hz variable refresh rate, a couple of joysticks, a D-pad and a handful of buttons and triggers that you generally find on controllers of popular gaming consoles. The Asus ROG Ally is powered by a new AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme processor with 16 GB DDR5 RAM clocked at 6400 MHz and a 512 GB Gen 4 SSD.
In terms of connectivity, you get a USB-C 3.2 port that can be used for charging, data transfer, as well as a display out. I wish Asus had provisioned for a second USB port but that’s not the case. You also have a connector to plug in an Asus ROG XG Mobile dock, which can not only boost the graphics capability of the device but also provide you with extra connectivity options. But of course, that comes at an extra cost.
The Ally does have a 3.5 mm headphone jack to plug in a wired headset if you wish to. It also has built-in speakers that are actually quite impressive. For the better part of the review, I stuck to those speakers itself, and the experience was quite enjoyable. The device also supports Bluetooth 5.2 to connect wireless earphones or speakers, and there’s tri-band WiFi 6E too with support for up to 802.11ax standard. Now that you have a fair idea about what this device is, let’s check what’s good about it and what’s not.
What we liked about the Asus ROG Ally
- Study design, yet fairly lightweight
- Powerful hardware for a handheld gaming console
- Can play almost all games available for Windows OS
- Silent operator with effective cooling
- Excellent Full HD IPS display
- Good sound output and connectivity options
I have already touched upon most of these points in the earlier section; time to dive deeper into some of them. The Asus ROG Ally is made of good quality plastic with a fine texture for a better grip. It is available only in one colour – white. While the build quality is sturdy, Asus has managed to keep its weight down to just 608 grams. I say ‘just’ because of the powerful hardware it packs along with the silent yet effective cooling.
The Ally hardly makes a sound and runs fairly cool for the first 30 minutes at least. Post that the device itself doesn’t get that warm but you can sense the warm air coming out of the vents. Things never got uncomfortable though. The weight is kept in check, but it does take getting used to the size of this device, and even more so if you have smaller hands. Even for someone with normal-sized palms like yours truly, the Ally didn’t feel all that comfortable to begin with, but I adjusted to it within hours.
I tried a wide variety of games on the Ally across three popular platforms – Steam, Epic Games and Electronic Arts (EA). The games ranged from a couple of recent ones like Death Stranding to some classics from a decade and a half ago like the original Dead Space. Everything ran smoothly on this device. Other than first-person shooters, I was comfortable playing most other genres of games using the joysticks and the buttons on the Ally.
I still rely on the good old keyboard and mouse combo for FPS games. I struggle to play them on consoles too with the controllers, so it wouldn’t be fair to pin it on this ROG device. For every other game I tried, the Ally was up for it. The manoeuvrability of the stick and the keypress of the buttons and triggers felt just right. Almost all the controls are configurable here, including a couple of buttons at the back of the Ally that I never got a chance to use, nor did I feel the need to.
The frame rate was high enough at Full HD resolution to keep things stutter-free and the screen added to the smooth experience. The 7-inch IPS display is sharp, and bright and the colour reproduction is excellent. The high refresh rate is more than handy in games that support it. Things are fine in a brightly lit room and even outdoors, but just make sure the light source isn’t right behind you as this screen is glossy and quite reflective. You wouldn’t want any glare on the screen while gaming.
What we did not like about the Asus ROG Ally
- Really poor UI experience
- Unimpressive battery backup
- Tries to do too many things rather than focusing on its core strength
While the gaming experience on this device is largely positive, not everything is smooth sailing on the Asus ROG Ally. The irony here is the platform this device is built on and the one that gives it the flexibility of installing a wide variety of games on it is probably its biggest drawback too. Windows 11 on a screen this small is almost unusable. There are very few optimisations for the Ally barring a couple of Asus apps like the Armoury Crate and the Command Centre overlay (which also has a dedicated button).
Asus has used the standard version of the OS and it is a struggle most of the time, unless you simply head to the game library and start gaming. The creators have tried to add too many elements to the Ally and also turn it into a productivity device and a media centre. Yes, on paper it is potent enough to do all that, but in reality it is not an enjoyable experience unless you spend extra on a ROG XG Mobile dock. They should have simply focused on its core strength – gaming, which it handles very well, rather than opting to be a jack of other trades too.
The Asus ROG Ally is in dire need of a custom UI, which hopefully the company will deliver in the future. What the device also needs is a much better battery backup. The 40Wh battery lasts anything between one and a half to two hours of gaming depending on the game and settings. It will probably do a little better in the power-saving mode but at the cost of performance and frame rate. This really needs to improve, but unlike the UI, I don’t think Asus can do much about it on this device.
You do get a 65W charger in the bundle that charges this device fully in about an hour and 45 minutes, which is acceptable. Yes, if you have a power outlet around, you can always keep the Ally powered while you game on it, but it somewhat beats the purpose of having a handheld device that is supposed to give you the freedom of movement. The company should have also bundled some kind of a travel pouch for the Ally given its premium pricing.
Price and verdict
The Asus ROG Ally is priced at Rs 69,999 in India with a one-year warranty and 3 Months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription. Of course, it is expensive but it is hard to comment on its value for money, as there are no comparable products around in this part of the world. But the bigger question for me is – who is this product for exactly? Most PC gamers like to play games on their desktops or laptops, where they have the advantage of a more powerful machine and a larger display for that much money.
Laptops offer portability too, but if you are looking for something a lot lighter and even more compact, you will like the Asus ROG Ally. Though there are certain things that need to improve about it, it is very good at gaming. I wouldn’t call it a finished product yet in the broad scheme of things, but it is a great first attempt. Right now, it may be a super-niche category with a limited target audience, but with certain improvements and a bit of price drop, it might just take off. Something worth keeping an eye on.