When Valve released the Steam Deck last year, it completely reinvigorated the market for handheld gaming PCs. In just the last six months we’ve seen a fresh wave of rivals like the GPD Win 4 and the Ayaneo 2. But now it’s ASUS’ turn with the ROG Ally and thanks to potent specs, a speedy screen and a slick design, we might be looking at the most powerful PC gaming handheld yet.
Now before we get in too deep, it’s important to mention that ASUS hasn’t provided official pricing or availability for ROG Ally’s just yet, and we’re still waiting for clarity regarding some of its more detailed specs. That’s expected to happen on May 11th at its official launch. But from what I’ve gotten a chance to play around with so far, there’s a lot to get excited about.
Perhaps the most tantalizing thing about the Ally is its components. Not only does it feature a new Ryzen Z1 chip – which is a customized Zen 4/RDNA 3 APU designed specifically for handheld gaming PCs – it also has a 7-inch 1080p screen with 500 nits of brightness and a 120Hz refresh rate. That alone represents some very premium upgrades compared to the Steam Deck. And with ASUS claiming that the ROG Ally is between 50 and 100 percent more powerful than Valve’s portable (depending on the power settings), it might have the performance necessary to make that screen really shine. With ASUS rounding out the ROG Ally’s kit with up to 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a microSD card slot, there’s very little to complain about in terms of hardware.
Then there’s the screen, which might be the best looking display in this category. Colors were bright and rich and didn’t look washed out on any game I played, which sometimes happens on the Steam Deck. And even though the panel is the same size as what you get on Valve’s machine, the added resolution and that 120Hz refresh rate made games look both sharper and more fluid.
Another notable difference is that unlike the Steam Deck, the ROG Ally runs Windows 11 which ASUS says was a deliberate move to make sure gamers could play all their favorite titles from any of the major stores (Steam, Epic Game Store, Battle.net, etc.). On top of that, ASUS added a few thoughtful software tweaks including a customized version of its Armoury Crate app along with a helpful button for quickly toggling between hardware settings for stuff like power draw, performance modes and more. And even on the preview devices I used, ASUS’ software felt more responsive than similar apps on competitors like the Ayaneo 2.
As for its design, while ASUS isn’t really innovating a ton compared to other devices in the category, there are a number of small touches I appreciate. You get a familiar assortment of shoulder and face buttons, with two macro buttons in back (one on each side). At 608 grams, the Ally is a bit lighter than the Steam Deck (669 grams) and it's significantly thinner and less bulky too. It doesn’t have big beefy grips like some rivals, but ASUS says the angled contours on the side were designed specifically to make the device sit in your hand just right when you're resting your arms on a desk or table. My favorite nod toward general usability are the Ally’s quiet fans. I noticed that while the system can get a bit toasty under load, even then it never got close to sounding like my Steam Deck, which emits a small whine pretty much anytime the fans are spinning.
For those who want even beefier performance, ASUS included an XG Mobile port so you can hook the ROG Ally up to one of the company’s portable GPU docks. Admittedly, I’m not sure I see the need to take a handheld PC and tether it to a big dock (even if it does provide better performance). And with the cheapest XG Mobile dock going for about $1000 (for an older 30-series card), it’s a pricey way to upgrade Ally’s performance. But for people who might already have one of ASUS’ Flow-series gaming laptops, it’s a nice bit of extra value.
All told, the only things you don’t really get on the Ally are built-in touchpads like on the Steam Deck or a second USB-C jack like on the Ayaneo 2. And while ASUS has opted for standard analog control sticks instead of ones based on more sophisticated magnetic hall effect sensors, the company teased that it may be possible to swap in third-party joysticks in the future.
Even though the ROG Ally naturally draws a lot of comparisons between it and the Steam Deck, I don’t think they’re actually direct competitors. That’s because while ASUS has yet to reveal official pricing, I’m expecting the Ally to cost at least $800, which is twice the price of a base Steam Deck. Instead, it seems like the Ally is a better version of the Ayaneo 2. Not only is it more powerful, its software feels more polished and with ASUS being a significantly larger company I’m hoping the Ally will come with better customer support too.
For people out there who are looking for a premium gaming handheld, the ROG Ally may have just leaped to the head of the pack. It has pretty much the fastest components you can fit in a system this size. My one concern at this point is if its 40Wh battery can deliver decent longevity while still pumping out strong performance. But more importantly, when I think about the category as a whole, it’s really encouraging to see more big names enter the space and put their spin on a rapidly growing class of gadgets.