As a fan of handheld gaming, I was ecstatic when the Steam Deck was revealed last year; that excitement was quickly eliminated when Valve forgot that Australia exists (again) and hasn’t officially released its latest piece of technology down under. Asus, realising that Aussies like to buy overpriced technology as much as U.S. markets, released the Asus ROG Ally has released their competing device in Australia. I’ve been using this device daily for about two weeks; while it is everything I expected it to be, it’s not without some teething issues.
Software, Setup and First Impressions
When the delivery man arrived with my Ally in hand, I sprinted down two flights of stairs in my apartment building like a kid on Christmas morning. Nothing gets this 29-year-old child more excited than brand-new toys.
Setting up a new Windows device is a long, drawn-out hassle every time. As a P.C. and Windows user, I expected Asus’s Windows-based device to be no different (Steam Deck uses Valve’s custom Linux-based SteamOS). While you’ll have to go through the initial Windows setup screen, Asus has installed all relevant drivers and it’s Armoury Crate software by default, so you can hit the ground running after a couple of reboots to update drivers in the MyAsus app. The next step, which I highly recommend everyone do on any Windows device, was uninstalling all the typical Windows bloatware that comes with Windows. Office 365? Microsoft People? Calendar? News? I’m here to game; sorry, uninstall.
Installing game launchers and games is another story, an advantage of the Ally because of its Windows O.S.; you need to install every required game launcher for all your games. As every significant publisher feels it necessary to have their launcher, this process is more complicated than Thanos collecting infinity stones as you frantically navigate to seven different websites, download their launcher, install them and then begin downloading the games you want. Asus helps this process with links inside Armoury create directly to websites where you can download launchers, but this is still an annoying process to go through before you can even hit play on a single game.
Gaming and Build Quality
Plenty of benchmarks and game comparisons are already available online; I’d recommend Digital Foundry‘s benchmarks. Here, I’d instead like to focus on the experience of playing with the device. Booting the device and jumping into games from Armoury Crate or Steam’s Big Picture has been quick and straightforward. I’ve been playing AAA titles, Diablo IV, Cyberpunk 2077 and cute indies, like Dave the Diver -which you should play- and have had zero issues as long as I’ve selected the correct TDP mode and spent the time to check the graphical settings. Small indie titles and emulation feel perfect for a device like this; I’ve also set up Emudeck and have done some light emulation. Playing Cyberpunk 2077 handheld, running at over 30 FPS in 1080p, feels like living in the future.
This is the most flexible yet powerful gaming device I’ve experienced. The freedom of being able to access any PC or emulated title anywhere or even connect an external monitor, keyboard and mouse for a traditional PC experience is baffling. I spend almost 10 hours a day sitting at my PC -yes, I know it’s bad- and grabbing the Ally and relaxing on the couch when I need a break has been a godsend.
My only gripe with gaming is that the gamepad buttons feel cheap, specifically the ABXY and joysticks. The device itself is solid and very comfortable to hand, thanks to the contoured corners in your hand.
Ally’s biggest Pro is also its biggest Con.
Despite Microsoft’s efforts over recent years to make a tablet friendly-version of Windows, navigating its U.I. or typing with the on-screen keyboard can sometimes take time and effort. It’s easily overlooked by the complete freedom you have with this device, from access to Xbox Game Pass, GOG Galaxy or any Emulation you could want, there is no shortage of games to play, and the impressive hardware in the device ensures that anything will run with at least 30fps.
This, however, is only sometimes positive; if you are unfamiliar with P.C. gaming or Windows in general, you will struggle with this device. Any P.C. gamer will tell you that the first time you boot a new game, you immediately jump into the settings and tinker with video settings, and pray the game has a benchmark tool to find that perfect configuration to get the best performance and graphics with your available hardware. With a typical P.C., you can sometimes ignore this process; with the Ally, it’s a fundamental requirement that with every new game, you spend the first 30 minutes tinkering with in-game settings, display resolution, AMD’s RSR, and TDP settings to find that solid performance. TDP will be your biggest concern here as the more wattage (TDP) you give to the device, the more FPS or graphical fidelity you can push out of a game, but in turn, the already limited battery life will drain faster.
I love tinkering with settings and performance, but if you love the plug-and-play nature of console gaming, where everything is handled for you, this will be incredibly charring and frustrating if you struggle with the minutiae of graphical settings.
While Asus has regularly updated Armoury Crate and the BIOS for the Ally, there is still a need to be solved. The primary issue is the reported SD Card failure by several users in the ROG Ally community. You need to know that the S.D. card port is directly next to the exhaust fan, so when the device runs hot, on Turbo mode, you can reach temperatures above 90 degrees Celsius; this can and has been frying S.D. cards to extreme temperatures. Asus has acknowledged the issue and is working on a solution. You can use a custom fan curve to prevent temperatures from getting this high, but it’s an ongoing issue you should be aware of.
Should you buy an Asus ROG Ally?
While it is possible to get a Steam Deck in Australia via alternative methods, the primary reason that kept me away was the lack of official support and potential warranty dramas if something needs to be fixed. This alone is a crucial factor anyone should consider when purchasing new technology, especially tech at the bleeding edge like this. If you’re a Windows gamer and like the freedom of a handheld device, you can’t go wrong with the Asus ROG Ally. It’s become a part of my daily routine, as I can cram in some extra gaming hours on the couch or in bed. This is an exceptional device, and I’m excited to see more companies compete in this handheld gaming market.
Asus ROG Ally Tech Specs
OS: Windows 11 Home
CPU: AMD Ryzen™ Z1 Extreme Processor
GPU: AMD Radeon™ Graphics
Display: 7-Inch, FHD (1920 x 1080) 16:9, 120hz, Touch screen.
Memory: 16GB LPDDR5
The Asus Rog Ally is available now from the Asus Estore or JB Hi-Fi.
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