April 21, 2024

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Asus ROG Ally hands-on: laptop gaming reimagined

It’s been a long time since mobile gaming has been around vapor surface in the valve to Panic Playdate, Analogue Pocket, and even an OLED Nintendo Switch. The latest entry in this growing category is from PC maker Asus, and it’s called the ROG Ally.

Like the Steam Deck, the Ally (ROG is Asus’ “Republic of Gamers” trademark) is a handheld gaming PC. Unlike the Steam Deck, Ally runs Windows 11, rather than the Linux-based Steam OS from the Steam Deck. I recently got a chance to get a brief working demo of Ally, and while skeptical, as I had originally been with Steam Deck, I came away cautiously impressed. Both handheld gaming consoles run on AMD hardware for both their CPU and GPU, which is also similar to what you’d find on the PS5 or Xbox Series X.

The Asus ROG Ally should be available sometime in mid/late May, and while pricing and configuration options haven’t been announced yet, I expect it won’t be much more than that from the Steam Deck, which ranges from $399 (£349) to $650. American.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Variations on deck

The biggest immediate visual difference between Ally and the Steam Deck is that Ally lacks one of Steam Deck’s big features, which are a pair of small touchpads that help control PC games, keyboard and mouse, and generally help with navigation. Instead, Ally relies on the standard gamepad design of dual analog sticks, triggers and bumpers, four face buttons and a directional pad.

video: First look at the Asus ROG Ally

I was able to use the correct analog stick to navigate within Windows, and as a neat touch, there is a multicolored circular light around each of the analog sticks. The Steam Deck also has two sets of paddle buttons on the back, a pair for the left hand and a pair for the right, while the Ally has one paddle for the left and one for the right.

Another difference is how lightweight and portable Ally is compared to the Steam Deck. The difference isn’t much on paper, 608g for the Ally vs. 669g for the Steam Deck, but the size and shape distributed the weight well and it felt easier to hold for long periods of time.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

The biggest limitation of the otherwise excellent Steam Deck is that it’s locked to playing Steam games from the Steam storefront, unless you jump through a series of hoops to install and configure things like the Epic Game Store, GOG apps, or browser-based access to Xbox Game Pass games.

On the other hand, Ally had pre-installed software to access each of these gaming platforms. In my brief hands-on period, I found navigating the system a bit unintuitive, but I’ll have to spend a little more time with it to see how natural it feels after a little practice. This interface is a customized version of Asus’ Armory Crate software package, which appears on gaming laptops, and includes performance mode toggles, a game launcher, and a bundled 90-day trial of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Sharper screen

The Steam Deck and Asus Ally both have 7-inch screens, but the Ally version is more impressive on paper, and looks even better in a hands-on demo. The Steam Deck has a resolution of just 1,280 x 800 pixels which tops out at a 60Hz refresh rate. This isn’t great for gaming, but it definitely helps with both battery life and performance (playing at lower resolutions is easier for the device to handle).

The Ally has a more standard resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels at 120Hz, and a brighter resolution of 500 nits. Personally, the Ally screen certainly stood out, but that can also have an impact on both battery life and performance, although you should be able to dial in both as needed.

Asus Ally vs Steam Deck

Asus Ali

valve vapor surface

CPU/GPU

AMD Ryzen Z1, Zen 4 CPU / RDNA 3 GPU

AMD Zen 2 CPU / RDNA 2 GPU

ram

Up to 16 GB RAM

16 gigabytes

OS

Windows 11 operating system

SteamOS

storage

Up to 512GB SSD

Up to 512GB SSD

display resolution

1,920 x 1,080

1,280 x 800

Refresh rate display

120 Hz

60 Hz

Weight

1.3 lbs

1.5 lbs

price

unknown

$399 – $649

Desktop ready

The last demo I tried with the Asus Ally was to use the device as a desktop computer. Connect a Bluetooth keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and Windows 11 can function like a mini PC. The Steam Deck can do the same, if you’re comfortable using Linux (or want to force Windows on it).

Dan Ackerman/CNET

But Ally does something else unique. Since Asus makes its own line of external GPU boxes, Ally includes the proprietary connector required to use one of these boxes, called the Asus XG Mobile. It’s available in both Nvidia and AMD versions, and we’ve previously tested it with the Asus X13 Flow and X16 Flow laptops and the Asus Z13 tablet. Depending on which version you get, the XG Mobile can cost $1,200 to $2,000, much more than Ally itself. When plugged in, they replace the Ally’s GPU itself, providing access to much more graphics power.

We’ll fully rate the Asus Ally when we have a review unit, and while Asus hasn’t revealed an exact price or release date, expect it in the next month or two, at a somewhat higher price than Steam Deck.

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