As I mentioned in part one, one of the reasons I wanted a gaming handheld was that I had some work trips coming up, one to the US, and one to Europe. Part one only covers the unboxing and setup experience, so part two will cover a few days of day-to-day use at home before my trip, my usage during my trip, and a few weeks thereafter.
This review is not meant as a comparison against any other handheld gaming PC available in the market. I covered why I got a ROG Ally in part one. If the Steam Deck prices weren’t so massively inflated locally, I would have preferred that, but Valve just didn’t come to the party.
Games I played
I’ve owned the ROG Ally for about a month now, which I think is a good time to spend using something. For my trip, I only installed a couple of games on the ROG Ally, but I primarily played Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order (now the 5th time), Injustice 2, and Darksiders, the Warmastered Edition. I do have some more modern AAA games I want to try out at some state, but they’re huge, and I wanted a selection in case I got bored playing JFO again.
Narrator: he did not.
When I got home, I uninstalled JFO and installed, played, and then uninstalled Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (I suck at that game), Full Throttle Remastered, and the original Splinter Cell. I also installed the Batman Arkham trilogy.
The elephant in the room
Before we dive in, I need to acknowledge that the ROG Ally is a power-hungry little beast. It can play almost anything, but the battery does not last all that long.
The device has three power modes, a 10w Silent mode, a 15w Performance mode, and a 25w/30w (unplugged vs plugged in) Turbo mode. The Silent mode is meant for general “desktop” use like browsing or streaming, and Performance or Turbo is meant for gaming.
I set the charging mode to Battery Care Mode, which helps the battery life by only charging to 80% and I found that when playing most AAA games in Performance, I get around 2 hours of game time.
That having been said, it charges really fast, even when I only had the in-flight USB port to charge from, which I’m pretty sure is not outputting the same 65w that the official charger does. What I did was game for an hour or so, then break to let it charge for 30 minutes to an hour, and then game again. This worked pretty well and kept me busy during the shorter flights. The longer transatlantic flights had proper power sockets, so I could just game with the device plugged in all the time. I rarely had to use Turbo mode on anything I played, opting to rather set the graphic settings to lower levels if needed.
Before I dive into gaming, I have a few comments on the general user experience.
As I mentioned in part one, the device is a Windows 11 handheld. So what this means is that if Asus wants to add any specific features, this has to be tackled via software, instead of being able to bake it into the OS, as would be the case with the Steam Deck running SteamOS.
This means you have Windows settings to configure for things like wifi and Bluetooth, as well as any Windows updates, and the MyAsus app for the above-mentioned Battery Health Charging mode setting or any other device-specific settings. On top of that, you have the Armory Crate software, which is essentially a control panel for installing and launching your apps and games, as well as tweaking your hardware configurations.
It’s all a bit of a mess really, and I would have appreciated it if Asus had somehow integrated everything into Armory Crate so that I could control both Windows, the hardware, and all the installed software from one place.
On the plus side, Armory Create works well, and once everything is installed and configured, it’s just a case of using the special Armory Crate buttons to switch power modes or launch games.
One small bug I found is that the controls sometimes stop working or don’t work properly after booting the device. Sometimes I also found that buttons would fire randomly in the game. This seems to be a software-related issue, and switching the Control mode from Auto to Gamepad seems to sort this out.
During gameplay, sometimes I would accidentally hit one of the extra macro buttons on the back of the device, which would make the Windows menu pop up over my game. I had to do some digging into the Armoury Crate software to figure out where that could be turned off.
Finally, every now and then the left controller stick light flickers after booting, which seems to be another common problem. I noticed after turning the Aura settings to Dark as detailed in one of the comments on that thread it stopped, but it comes back sporadically from time to time.
Those are about the list of issues I have with the device, and once you figure out all the workarounds, you can really start to enjoy it.
Boot time is fast, I can be booted up from a full shutdown in around 15 seconds, and gaming within another 5. I could probably speed that up if I defaulted Steam to load on startup, but while most of my games are in my Steam library, there are a few others in other game libraries I like to play from time to time.
It’s fairly light and comfortable to hold, whether you’re sitting on the couch, in bed, or in an economy seat on an airplane. The build quality is good, it doesn’t feel plasticy at all. One of the things that many folks comment on is the speaker quality, which I have to agree is really solid. I never found it to get really hot, except for one time that I left it in-game on a bed while I was taking a call. With the fact that the main cooling vents are at the back, this proved to be a bad idea.
Of all the games I tested it on, Injustice 2 was the only one I really had to tweak to get it running smoothly, everything else just played at either medium or high settings at the 1080p resolution. That being said, I’ve really not tried to play any more recent AAA titles, but the stuff I do want to play ran smoothly and without any hiccups.
What was fun was being able to play some older games like Full Throttle or Splinter Cell. Splinter Cell was interesting because the original PC version defaults to a resolution of 640×480 and doesn’t have controller support. I did manage to get it running smoothly and started mapping keyboard buttons to controller buttons/combinations but I still have to figure out a few of the key/button combinations in order to play. It looks like Armory Crate offers key/button templates, so I’m hoping I can find one for Splinter Cell I can just use. Otherwise, I’ll just have to map everything manually.
Update: as it turns out I own Splinter Cell on GOG and Steam, and by installing the Steam version, I could make use of the default Steam controller mapping configuration, which works really well.
As I don’t do a lot of benchmarking, I tested the performance by running the same Unigine benchmarks that I ran on my home and workstation PC’s when I last upgraded them earlier this year.
Asus ROG Ally Unigine scores
I would have thought this would have been higher, but even with Turbo on the 1080p medium setting score wasn’t as high as the Home PC with GTX 1060. I then thought what I might need to do for a valid comparison is run 3D Mark on all three, however, when I did some digging it turns out that 3D Mark isn’t supported for handhelds like the Steam Deck or the ROG Ally.
What was enlightening was that the difference in scores between Performance and Turbo was only around a 10% increase, while the difference between Silent and Performance was between 80% to 100% increase, so unless a game is really resource hungry, it’s probably best to leave it at the Performance setting.
In order to get a better feel for how it compares to a gaming PC, I ran the UserBenchmark tool. UserBenchmark is a site I often used to compare hardware products when I’m building or upgrading a PC, and was the easiest way to compare the ALLY to my other PCs.
The percentage values for each item are how the hardware compares to all the other benchmarks run using this tool.
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 5 3600||91%|
|GPU||Nvidia RTX 3060||101.5%|
|SSD||Transcend TS120GSSD220S 120GB||76.2%|
|HDD||WD Blue 1TB (2012)||66.5%|
|RAM||Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 3000 C16 4x8GB||88.7%|
|MBD||Asus TUF GAMING B550M-PLUS (WI-FI)|
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 5 2600X||77%|
|GPU||Nvidia GTX 1660-Ti||76.3%|
|HDD||SK hynix SC308 SATA 128GB||172.5%|
|HDD||WD Blue 1TB (2012)||66%|
|RAM||G.SKILL Ripjaws V DDR4 2400 C15 2x8GB||75.8%|
|MBD||MSI X470 GAMING PLUS|
|CPU||AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme||88.7%|
|GPU||AMD Radeon Graphics||33.8%|
|RAM||Unknown K3LKBKB0BM-MGCP 4x4GB||111.7%|
|MBD||Asus ROG Ally RC71L_RC71L|
|CPU||AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme||90.3%|
|GPU||AMD Radeon Graphics||47.6%|
|RAM||Unknown K3LKBKB0BM-MGCP 4x4GB||90.7%|
|MBD||Asus ROG Ally RC71L_RC71L|
I certainly didn’t expect the ALLY to perform close to either of the desktop builds, nor be anywhere up there with any other benchmarks being performed around the world, but the results were enlightening. It seems the weakest point in the ALLY is its graphics capabilities, which is sort of ironic given that this is meant to be a gaming device! That being said, I’ve always been of the opinion that solid gameplay beats eye-watering graphics any day, and I doubt I’ll be playing any games that need that level of graphic detail any time soon.
What I did take away was that the ALLY performs at about 30% of the workstation’s capabilities in Performance mode, and at about 50% of the workstation’s capabilities in Turbo mode, and comes close to the home PC’s capabilities in Turbo mode. That’s honestly pretty cool for a device that weighs just over half a kilogram.
As a lightweight, portable gaming PC, I do like the Asus ROG Ally. I’m sure I would like the Steam Deck as well, but the Ally is especially nice for me as I can play games I own across multiple platforms without any workarounds. It’s so good, I’m considering selling my home PC and just using the Ally at home.
Besides my list of minor annoyances, the one other big complaint I have is the local availability of accessories, like a decent carrying case or the ROG Gaming Charger Dock. They’re not available at all, not from the official Asus South Africa store, or any of the retailers that stock the device. I do hope this is resolved in the near future. I really want to try this out hooked up to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, especially if I replace my home PC with it.
That all being said, the device is actually allowing me to enjoy my gaming hobby again. I’ve already finished JFO and Batman Arkham Asylum one more time, was able to successfully try out Sekiro, and confirm that I am indeed too old to “git gud” and I’m finally making a solid stab at playing through Batman Arkham City.
So if nothing else, it’s given me one of my favorite hobbies back, in a way that doesn’t interfere with my work or personal life.