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Asus Rog Ally Review: The Next Logical Step for Gaming?

The Ally opens the door for PC gaming on the go.

Jeremy Proome

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There have been some forays into the handheld gaming PC market over the years, but every time, the releases have always felt a bit premature or unrefined. Well, thanks to the popularity of the Steam Deck and some other devices out there, the handheld segment feels finally ripe for the taking, and many brands are delivering what they envision as the ultimate PC-based gaming device. Asus is the latest to throw its hat into the ring with the ROG Ally, a Windows-powered handheld that has the specs, price, and look to shake things up.

What is it?

If a ROG gaming PC and a tablet had a baby, you’d get the ROG Ally. It’s a compact handheld gaming device powered by an AMD Ryzen Z1 series processor, 16GBs of LPDDR5 RAM, and RDNA 3 graphics. The device is available in two variants: 256GBs and 512GBs. With an ergonomic design, it features a 7-inch, 1920×1080 IPS LCD display with 120 Hz, and weighs in at 608 grams.

The ROG Ally runs Windows 11, meaning gamers can access all of their publisher libraries and game streaming services on a single device, so you’ll be able to access games on Xbox GamePass, Steam, EA Play and others.

Is it any good?

While the Ally is essentially a portable gaming PC housed in a compact (and admittedly fantastic looking) shell, it’s hard not to see it as something ‘new’. Its design is solid and, in terms of size, fairly larger than something like the Playstation Vita, veering closer to the experience you get on a Nintendo Switch, for example. But, it has its own unique trademark ROG design, making it feel and look like something entirely fresh.

Its solid build-quality and firm triggers definitely make you feel like you’re getting some bang for your buck, and the face buttons, D-pad, and analogue sticks will be immediately familiar for anyone who’s played a console in the past ten years. It’s comfortable to hold for extended periods, and thankfully, the 7-inch screen is large enough to see from a little distance, so you won’t need to be holding it right next to your peepers, allowing you to sit in a relaxed position while you enjoy some high-end gaming on the go.

As for its general functions, it’s admittedly weird to switch on a gnarly-looking portable gaming device and see the Windows 11 desktop pop up. Of course, it also makes any PC user feel right at home, and with an unintuitive and responsive touch-screen, you’re able to navigate your way to Steam, Xbox GamePass, or whichever gaming service you chose to use.

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While you can double-up on the Ally’s offerings and use it for media streaming or viewing, most people already have multiple devices which do so. However, having that as an option too is great and if it acts as that for you, you’ll get a slick and clean experience with the device having no problems with WiFi connectivity and video playing. Watching a movie or Netflix series on it doesn’t feel out of place.

But of course, consumers willing to tackle the price-tag want to know what the gaming experience is like, and it’s safe to say it’s good. Like, really really good.

Booting up Steam or Xbox GamePass takes a few seconds (as it does on any PC), but seeing those interfaces and game libraries on a portable device really is a neat moment. In action, the Ally is able to run some pretty demanding games without any hiccups, mostly.

Testing it with the likes of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Hi-Fi Rush, and Forza Horizon 5 (all pretty fast, demanding titles), the Ally looked as slick and clean as it does on a home console, barring some slightly less refined details and optimisation. It does play games in 30 FPS, but on such a gorgeous display, it’s hard to fault the Ally, as some concessions for its size and capabilities have to be made.

Seeing such high-end titles running on something that’s sitting in your lap or the palm of your hand does feel like a step forward for the gaming industry, and having the ability to play triple-A, big studio titles on the go is an impressive feat. Some mouse-and-keyboard-orientated games do need a bit of tinkering to remap the controls if they feel out of place, but thankfully, Asus’ built-in customisation tool also allows you to do that on-the-fly.

Of course, it has its limits. While installing another game simultaneously in the background during a game session, there was a slight frame drop and slower load time, but that was really asking a lot of it. Generally speaking, with the Ally, you’re getting something that will be your gaming go-to or at least a complimentary device to your primary PC.

Battery-wise, the Ally’s 40Wh lithium-ion battery was able to deliver around two hours of solid game time, but was able to charge beyond 50% with its 65W charger in just half an hour. Those numbers will mean things to different people, but it’s good to note that anything with the hardware within the Ally will undoubtedly be taxing on the battery. If you’re happy with a two hour gaming session (or happy with your Ally plugged in for a top-up while you play), it’s not a bad trade-off.

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Asus Ally vs PS5 vs Xbox Series X

There’s no doubt that people will compare the Ally to what’s out there on the market from the console manufacturers.

Without going into too technical of a breakdown, from what’s under the hood of the Ally, you’re getting an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 laptop GPU, so a pretty hefty piece of hardware to pull from. It of course isn’t what you’ll get in something like a PS5, which has a custom-designed AMD Ryzen Zen 3 CPU and AMD Radeon RDNA 2 GPU, giving Sony’s machine a notable performance advantage over the ROG Ally. The same goes for the Xbox Series X. Also, with modern consoles having more RAM, it allows them to run more demanding games at higher settings.

The long and the short of it is: while people will compare the Ally to console options (given the similar price-point), they’re not exactly for the same type of user. The Ally is essentially playing in a new segment, and providing a portable option for PC gamers, or perhaps a gateway for those been peering over the fence at the PC world for a while. Furthermore, doing it at a reasonable price given that you can take the Ally wherever you go (you won’t exactly be taking your PS5 on a plane).

Verdict

As emphasised, the Asus Rog Ally is essentially a new beast on the market. It’s not going to woo the console gamers necessarily, and may not appease the PC rig-hardened fans, but there’s no doubt that all types of gamers will appreciate what it can do.

For those PC gamers looking for a little-brother device to continue their quests on the road or on the couch, it’s pretty awesome; and for those console enthusiasts who’ve been eyeing some must-play PC exclusives over the years, it may just be the simplified gateway you’ve been looking for, giving you a slick, well-made gaming machine without all the complexity of setting up your own rig. Plus, load-shedding will be a whole lot less boring.

Price

The Asus ROG Ally is priced at R15,999, and will be available on 15 June 2023. Gamers can also pre-order in South Africa from Asus and Makro.

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