The Ally is lighter than the Steam Deck, with a better screen, and it runs Windows 11 out of the box.
It's been a big couple of years for handheld gaming, from Valve's Steam Deck to the Panic Playdate, Analogue Pocket and even the 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" brand) is a handheld gaming PC. Unlike the Steam Deck, the Ally runs Windows 11, instead of the Steam Deck's Linux-based Steam OS. I recently got a chance to get a brief hands-on demo of the Ally, and while I went in skeptical, much as I originally did with the Steam Deck, I came away cautiously impressed. Both handheld gaming PCs run AMD hardware for both their CPU and GPU, which is also similar to what you'd find in a PS5 or Xbox Series X.
The Asus ROG Ally should be available sometime in mid/late May and while the price and configuration options have not been announced yet, I expect it to be not too much more than the Steam Deck, which runs from $399 (£349) to $650.
The biggest immediate visual difference between the Ally and the Steam Deck is that the Ally lacks one of the Steam Deck's big breakthrough features, a pair of tiny touchpads that help control keyboard-and-mouse PC games and generally aid in navigation. Instead, the Ally relies on the standard gamepad design of twin analog sticks, triggers and bumpers, four face buttons and a directional pad.
I was able to use the right analog stick to navigate within Windows, and as a neat touch, there's a multicolored ring 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 just one left and one right paddle.
Another difference is how light and easy to carry the Ally feels compared to the Steam Deck. The difference isn't much on paper, 608 grams for the Ally versus 669 grams for the Steam Deck, but the size and shape distributes the weight nicely and it felt easier to hold for long periods of time.
The biggest limitation of the otherwise-excellent Steam Deck is that it's locked in 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 or GOG apps, or browser-based access to Xbox Game Pass games.
The Ally, on the other hand, had preinstalled software for accessing each of these game platforms. In my brief hands-on time with it, I found the system navigation a little unintuitive, but I'll have to spend more time with it to see how natural it feels after a little practice. That interface is a customized version of Asus' Armoury Crate software package, seen on its gaming laptops, and includes performance mode toggles, a game launcher and a bundled 90-day trial of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
Both the Steam Deck and the Asus Ally have 7-inch displays, but the Ally version is both more impressive on paper, and seemed better in my hands-on demo. The Steam Deck has only a 1,280x800-pixel resolution that tops out at a 60Hz refresh rate. That's not great for gaming, but it certainly helps with both battery life and performance (playing at lower resolutions is easier for the hardware to handle).
The Ally has a more standard 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution at 120Hz, and at a brighter 500 nits. In person, the Ally screen definitely stood out, but that can also have an impact on both battery life and performance, although you should be able to dial both down as needed.
|Asus Ally||Valve Steam Deck|
|CPU/GPU||AMD Ryzen Z1, Zen 4 CPU/RDNA 3 GPU||AMD Zen 2 CPU/RDNA 2 GPU|
|RAM||Up to 16GB RAM||16GB|
|Storage||Up to 512GB SSD||Up to 512GB SSD|
|Display refresh rate||120Hz||60Hz|
|Weight||1.3 pounds||1.5 pounds|
The final demo I tried with the Asus Ally was using the device as a desktop PC. Connect a bluetooth keyboard, mouse and monitor, and the Windows 11 system can function like a micro PC. The Steam Deck can do the same, if you're comfortable using its Linux OS (or you want to force Windows onto it).
But the Ally does something else unique. Because Asus makes its own line of external GPU boxes, the Ally includes the required proprietary connector to use one of these, called the Asus XG Mobile. They're available in both Nvidia and AMD versions, and we've previously tested them 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, far more than the Ally itself. When hooked up, it replaces the GPU in the Ally itself, offering access to much more graphics power.
We'll fully benchmark the Asus Ally when we have a review unit, and while Asus hasn't revealed the exact price or release date yet, we expect it in the next month or two, priced somewhat higher than the Steam Deck.