Asus ROG Ally Review: Are Handhelds No Longer A Gimmick?

# **ROG Ally: The Ultimate Competitor to Valve’s Steam Deck**

The ROG Ally, manufactured by ASUS, is undoubtedly the biggest competitor to Valve’s Steam Deck. Having already spent a considerable amount of time with the Steam Deck, we recently had the opportunity to test the ROG Ally and determine if this new handheld device can be considered more than just a gimmick. While the Steam Deck is an excellent handheld device with great software, sufficient performance for most games, and overall optimization by Valve, I personally found the performance limitations of the Deck to be a deterrent. However, with the ROG Ally, the performance enhancements are significantly noticeable, and combined with other hardware upgrades, it piqued my interest. When I was given the chance to review the ROG Ally, I eagerly accepted, and here’s my take on this impressive handheld device.

## **ROG Ally Specifications**

The ROG Ally is equipped with the powerful AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme APU, a custom 8-core, 16-thread processor with a TDP range of 9-30W. It has a maximum boost clock speed of 5.1GHz. What sets this APU apart is its ability to act as both the CPU and GPU for the handheld device, providing high-performance integrated Radeon graphics with a measure of 8.6 TFLOPS. Let’s take a look at the complete specifications:

– Processor: AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme 4nm processor (up to 5.10GHz, 9-30W TDP)
– Graphics: RDNA 3 Graphics with 12 CUs, 2.7GHz clock speed, 4GB VRAM
– RAM: 16GB LPDDR5 6400MHz Dual Channel
– Display: 1920 x 1080, 120Hz refresh rate, 7ms response time, 500-nit IPS panel, 100% sRGB, 10-point touchscreen
– Storage: 512GB M.2 2230 Type NVMe Gen 4 SSD
– Expandable Memory: UHS-II microSD slot
– I/O Ports: 1x 3.5mm Audio Jack, 1x microSD Card Slot (UHS-II), 1x ROG XG Mobile Interface with USB Type-C 3.2 Gen2x2, 20Gbps, DP 1.4 Support
– Audio: 2 x 1W Speakers with Dolby Atmos, Dual Microphone
– Connectivity: WiFi 6E, Bluetooth v5.2
– Battery & Charging: 40Wh, 65W USB Type-C Charger
– Weight: 608 grams
– Dimensions: 11.02 x 4.37 x 0.83 x 1.28 (inches)

## **ROG Ally: What’s in the Box**

When unboxing the ROG Ally, you’ll find the ASUS ROG Ally handheld console and a 65W Type-C charger, along with the support documentation. The white packaging showcases an outline of the ROG Ally handheld on the top of the box. Upon opening the box, the console is revealed, accompanied by an instruction guide. It’s worth noting that the box does not include a Type-C dock; it only contains the charger. ASUS has not released an official dock for the ROG Ally, although there is an official Asus charger that doubles as a dock with HDMI output. Unfortunately, this particular charger is not available in India and some other countries, leaving ROG Ally buyers to find alternative dock solutions.

## **ROG Ally: Design & Build Quality**

ASUS has invested considerable thought into the design of the ROG Ally. Let’s begin by discussing the external design and build quality of this handheld device, and later we’ll delve into the internal cooling system. The exterior of the ROG Ally is made from high-quality plastic, specifically reinforced white polycarbonate, as confirmed by ASUS. This material ensures that any scratches or dings will not expose a different color underneath, as the device is not painted. The front of the handheld features a screen with the ROG logo at the bottom bezel. The design is clean and showcases gaming-themed elements. The thumbsticks are equipped with Aura Sync RGB, which can be customized using the software and synced with other ASUS peripherals. The curved edges provide a comfortable grip, and I can attest that the handheld device is ergonomically designed for comfortable gaming. Additionally, using the touchscreen with one hand is possible due to the ROG Ally’s weight of 608 grams. Examining the back of the device, we can observe some interesting design elements. The air intakes are positioned above the macro buttons, with one of them featuring an ROG logo design. The exhaust vents are located above the air intakes, designed intelligently to prevent the cooler’s operation from affecting your hands. The part of the device where you grip it boasts a triangular pattern that offers a grippy texture, ensuring it won’t slip from your hands. Furthermore, there is a holographic strip on the back that beautifully reflects light, although it should be noted that it is not an RGB strip.

## **ROG Ally: Durability**

In terms of durability, the ROG Ally impresses with its sturdy build. Throughout the week of intensive use during our testing, the device did not sustain any noticeable damage. I used it in various environments, including public transport, cars, and even while lounging in bed binge-watching Netflix. The Ally was kept inside my bag alongside a 15-inch laptop, headphones, USB-C docks, a mouse, and various chargers, yet no visible marks were left on the device, except for some dust buildup on the chamfered edges. The grippy texture does tend to accumulate dust and grime, requiring regular cleaning with a microfiber cloth and cleaning solution. Overall, based on our experience, the ROG Ally boasts a durable build.

## **ROG Ally: The Controller Experience**

The controller input of the ROG Ally performs excellently and offers a comfortable gaming experience across all the games we tested. The shoulder buttons (RT and LT triggers) are customizable and can be set to actuate instantly, providing an advantage in FPS games. The macro buttons at the back can be programmed to perform actions such as reloading or jumping while allowing you to aim with the thumbstick. Typically, this feature is found on more expensive custom Playstation and Xbox controllers, making its native implementation in the ROG Ally a noteworthy inclusion. The thumbsticks themselves are pleasant to use, and ASUS informed us that they are designed to be repairable, which is reassuring. These thumbsticks have a looser feel compared to traditional controllers, and while this was an intentional design choice by ASUS to enhance usability in Windows, it also offers advantages in games. The looser thumbsticks provide a wider coverage, enhancing your gaming experience.

## **ROG Ally: Display Performance**

The display of the ROG Ally is impressive, featuring a 7-inch 120Hz IPS display, courtesy of ASUS. Gamers often prioritize the response time of a display to avoid ghosting in gameplay, and color performance is equally critical. To evaluate the ROG Ally’s display, we utilized the Datacolor SpyderX Pro to assess color space coverage and response time. The screen of the Ally is coated with Corning DXC, which provides a hybrid texture between matte and glossy, reducing reflections to some extent. However, it does not offer the benefits of a matte screen, such as fingerprint resistance. Operating the handheld device at approximately 80% brightness does not result in smudges, although the touchscreen does accumulate dirt if used for navigating Windows.

## **ROG Ally: Color Space Coverage**

The 7-inch display of the ROG Ally supports 100% sRGB color gamut. In our internal tests, the sRGB color space coverage measured at 96%, falling within the margin of error. Additionally, the Ally’s display covers 75% of both Adobe RGB and Display P3 color spaces. Based on our evaluation, the Asus ROG Ally delivers excellent color space coverage and boasts a bright and vibrant display, perfect for gaming, especially when combined with the 120Hz refresh rate and FreeSync Premium support.

## **Conclusion**

The ROG Ally from ASUS proves to be a worthy competitor to Valve’s Steam Deck. With its powerful AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme APU, impressive display, comfortable design, and durable build quality, the Ally delivers a remarkable handheld gaming experience. The enhanced performance and hardware upgrades make it a compelling choice for gamers who prioritize power and versatility. While the ROG Ally may have its own unique features and advantages, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. Nevertheless, this handheld device clearly showcases that the era of gimmicky handhelds is long gone.