After My Experience with the Asus ROG Ally, I’m Ready to Say Goodbye to My Steam Deck

While I take pride in owning a Steam Deck, it’s a system that I hesitate to recommend wholeheartedly to my friends. Its bulky size, limited battery life, and inconsistent game compatibility can make it a frustrating handheld, especially when compared to the reliable boot-up experience of a Nintendo Switch. Typically, I tell people to wait a few years for Valve to release an improved version of the Steam Deck that addresses these issues. However, that advice might change now that the Asus ROG Ally has arrived. This new device stands as the first true competitor to Steam’s revolutionary system. The Ally manages to pack the power of a high-performance gaming laptop into a handheld form factor. On paper, it impressed me with its impressive specifications, but trying it out in person completely convinced me. After just an hour of tinkering with it, I’m ready to cast my Steam Deck aside and never turn back.

At first glance, the Asus ROG Ally resolves nearly every problem I have with the Steam Deck. It boasts a more comfortable design and a significantly improved screen. Unlike other devices of its kind, the Ally doesn’t feel like an experimental first attempt. With the right price point, this could mark the real beginning of the handheld PC era.

A More Portable Option

The moment I held the Asus ROG Ally, I immediately felt a sense of relief. It feels much better in my hands compared to the Steam Deck. It’s thinner and lighter, finding a sweet spot between the Steam Deck and the Nintendo Switch. Moreover, it’s more comfortable thanks to a button layout that aligns itself naturally with a modern Xbox controller. While I have a few nitpicks about the placement of back buttons and the D-pad, it’s a notable improvement overall.

The Steam Deck edges ahead in terms of button quality, though. The ROG Ally feels more like a third-party controller in certain areas rather than a premium product. I wasn’t particularly impressed with its flat face buttons, and its perfectly level triggers and bumpers felt a bit awkward. I’m left with some concerns about the durability of certain parts and their potential replacement cost in the long run.

A man plays High on Life on an Asus ROG Ally.
Image used with permission by copyright holder.

This is the only aspect where the ROG Ally falls short, but it surpasses the Steam Deck in all other aspects. Asus seems to have put significant effort into making it genuinely portable. Its smaller size contributes to this, but other factors play a part as well. Although it’s difficult to fully gauge the difference in a crowded showroom, the Ally appears to have a quieter overall system. Better yet, I could easily switch on a silent mode with just a tap, eliminating any excess noise (although this caused Forza Horizon 4’s frame rate to drop from 60 to 30, as expected).

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Despite its flashier white design, I feel much less self-conscious about using the ROG Ally on an airplane or subway train. It’s more discreet overall, and it doesn’t sacrifice any power.

Customization Potential

One area where the ROG Ally excels is customization. It employs a customized version of Asus’ Armoury Crate tool found in their laptops. Pressing the dedicated button on the device brings up a quick pop-out menu that allows users to manage performance settings and more with just a few taps. In the middle of a game, I could easily adjust my frame rate cap, resolution, refresh rate, and other settings in a matter of seconds. The menu itself is customizable, allowing me to add additional options for video recording, airplane mode, performance overlay, and more. As someone who doesn’t enjoy delving into complex sliders, this feels like a faster and more intuitive way to tweak settings on the go.

Of course, I can delve even further into the Armoury Crate app itself. From there, I can fine-tune everything from the directional pattern of the microphone to the RGB lights’ exact color under the joysticks (fortunately, these bright lights can be turned off by simply setting the brightness to 0). While it may not offer the same level of granular control as the Steam Deck, there’s still a considerable amount of customization available.

An Armoury Crate edit menu appears on an Asus ROG Ally screen.
Image used with permission by copyright holder.

What catches my attention the most is the control customization potential. Each button on the Ally can be remapped to serve as a controller, mouse, keyboard, or numpad function — and these can be mixed and matched. Furthermore, each button can be assigned a secondary command, allowing me to turn my right trigger into a shift key when pressed in conjunction with a back button. Even better, buttons can be programmed with more complex keyboard commands. For example, I can set it up so that pressing a back button brings up the system’s task manager, minimizes a window, or displays an on-screen keyboard. This makes navigating browsers feel less intimidating compared to the Steam Deck.

It also helps that the ROG Ally runs a familiar version of Windows 11 that integrates seamlessly with the system’s touchscreen. As someone who struggles with Linux, this is another win for Asus, although personal preferences may vary. While I appreciate Valve’s clean SteamOS, its absence on the ROG Ally is not a significant loss since Steam launches in big picture mode, functioning quite similarly. The only downside is a less customizable software screen, though it allows for sorting games by the launching app (Xbox, Origin, Steam, etc.).

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Unquestionable Specs

All the previously mentioned advantages of the ROG Ally are great, but the real selling point for most consumers lies in its performance and power. From that perspective, the ROG Ally surpasses the Steam Deck with ease. The most noticeable difference is its 120Hz 1920 x 1080 display, a major improvement over Valve’s 60Hz 1200 x 800 screen. Even before comparing the two directly, the difference was apparent. Games like Minecraft Legends and Moving Out displayed clear and vibrant colors, avoiding the washed-out look I often experience on the Steam Deck. Additionally, Armoury Crate offers a range of color temperature profiles that take full advantage of the screen’s capabilities. While it may not reach the level of the Nintendo Switch OLED, it’s far from a compromise.

A Steam Deck, Asus ROG Ally, and Nintendo Switch OLED sit on a table.
Image used with permission by copyright holder.

To fully gauge its performance superiority, I would need more time with the system. However, I’m already impressed. The Ally, powered by a Zen 4 processor compared to the Steam Deck’s Zen 2, offers a significant boost. The custom AMD chip appears more than capable of running current games like High on Life with relative stability. I could put it to the test by enabling Turbo mode in Forza Horizon 4. Suddenly, I was achieving a consistent 120 frames-per-second (fps), and the Ally seemed unfazed, thanks in part to its dual cooling fans. Admittedly, Forza Horizon 4 is a game from the previous generation, but achieving such smooth performance on a compact handheld like this is still highly impressive.

Will the additional power make the ROG Ally a longer-lasting system compared to the Steam Deck? Perhaps, but the difference isn’t substantial. It feels like the Ally is about a year ahead, which might not be enough of an incentive for current Steam Deck owners to switch loyalties. However, if you’re willing to invest in the Asus ecosystem, you can get even more out of the Ally. It is compatible with the XG Mobile, ROG’s external GPU that houses an RTX 4090, allowing players to easily dock the device to their PC for an additional power boost. At a demo station during the event, I saw Dying Light 2: Stay Human running flawlessly on the Ally, connected to a PC.

For me, the most important aspect is how the Ally could resolve the software headaches I currently face. The Steam Deck’s most frustrating aspect is its unpredictable game compatibility. Due to Steam’s Proton layer, I’m always unsure if a downloaded game will actually run on the system unless it’s explicitly verified. In the past year, I’ve encountered instances where a game’s cutscenes wouldn’t play or, even worse, the game wouldn’t boot at all. With the Ally running Windows 11, it already feels like a much more polished device. Every game I tested worked effortlessly. I’ll need to confirm this with a wider selection of titles, but this alone could be enough to convince me to upgrade, especially since the improved power offers greater reliability for modern games.

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Forza Horizon 4 runs on an Asus ROG Ally.
Image used with permission by copyright holder.

The only lingering question mark for me is the battery life, although the Ally seems to be on par with the Steam Deck in that regard as well. Asus estimates that the Ally’s battery can sustain up to eight hours of playtime, matching the top end of the Steam Deck. Naturally, this estimate will vary depending on the chosen specs. When pushing Forza Horizon 4 to its limits, it seemed like the battery would last for about an hour. This is certainly respectable, considering that many high-end games on the Steam Deck reach a similar limit, but with significantly lower performance. Overall, the prognosis is good, as long as you’re willing to lower some settings when playing on the go.

After my hands-on session, I found myself reflecting deeply. Although I’ve grown fond of my Steam Deck over the past year, I can’t envision a scenario where I would prefer it over the ROG Ally based on what I’ve witnessed thus far. The Ally offers a superior screen, improved performance, more portability, extensive customization options, and a more refined Windows operating system. Ultimately, my decision will hinge on the price, which remains an important unknown that Asus is keeping under wraps. If the price is reasonable, I’m ready to pack up my Steam Deck and embrace the future with the ROG Ally.

Editors’ Recommendations

Please note: The content and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the views or opinions of OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

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