ASUS ROG Ally Review: Flawed, fascinating, fun

ASUS ROG Ally Review: Flawed, fascinating, fun

Since the Steam Deck came out, I’ve been wanting to play on a mobile PC console for years now and thanks for ASUS, I have. The Ally is fascinating. At best it’s a fast mobile console capable of running games far beyond what you expect. At worst it’s inefficient, fiddly and user-unfriendly in places. Can something be great and not great? Sure, look at the ROG Strix 18. If this is ASUS’ thing, I’m down with it. Their concepts have given us some food for thought. While not all successful, they’ve all been interesting.

We received the standard ROG Ally. Most of us know it: It has a Ryzen Z1 APU, 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD. The 7″ touchscreen sports a 16:9 ratio and 1920×1080 resolution at 120hz. The joystick, button and trigger layout copies Xbox controllers. It also has subtle RGB in thin strips around the device. It’s not even that heavy at 607 grams. It’s like no other game console I’ve ever used that warrants a deeper look.

I received the Ally unconfigured, which gave me insight into how it’s set up. While it’s running Windows 11, ASUS catered the DPI scaling on the device to work with the smaller screen. That said, the Ally was never designed to be a PC. It’s no more obvious in the places where I’ve strained my eyes looking at Windows setup prompts. It’s once you install the Armoury Crate and ASUS’ other utilities that you see the screen work better. The setup took around 3-4 hours to get done on my home fibre internet connection of 1GBPS. Most of the smaller games I wanted to play were set up in this short period. Anything bigger took another day or so because of their sheer size.

How did it perform? This depends on the mode you’re going to use it on. Three modes are available: Silent, Performance and Turbo. Silent is more for streaming or watching movies. Performance and Turbo opens the taps as you choose the higher modes. On Silent most undemanding games will run well at 60 frames per second. Platformers like Cuphead and Rayman ran perfectly as expected. Dishonored 1 had barely any frame drops on 1080p with high details. Dying Light 2 ran well on low details at 1080p. Doom Eternal could run at a comfy 30fps with some details set to medium.

That’s blazing performance for an integrated GPU and CPU combo considering the demanding graphics from the likes of Doom Eternal or Dying Light 2. A fair warning: Don’t expect the Ally to stay cool during demanding gaming sessions. The vents, while effective, did release way more heat than I anticipated.

To complement the competent (and not highest end for the Ally series) hardware, the Ally’s 7″ screen is easily the best I’ve seen on a handheld. The brightness was adjustable via a button on the left that triggered power saving, joystick and performance options that could be quickly set. I did find that the options didn’t always appear in some games like Quake Remastered and FEAR which was a bit of a pain. I tended to play during load shedding hours at night, and in the dark, turning down brightness on the fly would’ve been great. Aside from this software snag I found no issues with the screen.

The joysticks had a high deadzone which made coming from a PS4 or PS5 controller. That means getting used to this. I didn’t feel as much nuance on the sticks as I was used to from my console controllers. The triggers, though inspired by Xbox controllers, didn’t have haptic feedback which felt strange, but they were functional and worked well. I couldn’t fault the ABXY and start buttons.

You’ll see I mentioned software issues. There are unfortunately a few bugs we encountered. The glitchy overlays necessitated a restart of the armoury crate software. I also found some issues with some intermittent adjustment issues on screen brightness. I also had to calibrate the joysticks once set up. I also had to play around with joystick modes to get the best out of some PC games. That being said, these were the worst of the issues.

What about battery life? I achieved 2 hours and 30 minutes on average in performance mode and around 3 hours on silent. The APU is hungry for power, so is the beautiful screen. I truly think that generation 2 of the Ally will be something special since there will likely be efficiency and performance improvements.

The question for me is this, would I consider a Steam Deck after this? Probably not. Windows 11 is a great OS. If ASUS addressed the thermals, power efficiency and battery size the Ally could be incredible. As a proof of concept, it’s easily their most fascinating, utilitarian and fun devices I’ve played with. Do I want one? Absolutely! Do I want one more after a second generation of hardware improvements? Much more.

Flawed, fascinating and fun. The best bit is that your kids can enjoy it too. It’s compatible with your Windows games, emulates Xbox controllers, has an amazing screen for its size and performs very well for its size. Just carry a good power bank to charge it if playing for longer sessions and be sure to use your Big Picture and Xbox apps to get the best out the display.