I've always been a huge fan of handheld gaming — there's something about being able to curl up on the couch or bed and game away that makes some games so much more appealing! A recent blessing in disguise came in the form of tendinitis, which has stopped me from being able to play on the handheld Nintendo consoles I used to love and has caused me to veer instead towards the much bigger and Steam-connected ROG Ally from ASUS.
This recent competitor to the beloved Steam Deck got my attention for many reasons, but I would be lying if I said the slick look wasn't the first thing that caught my eye. The ROG Ally is gorgeous, particularly thanks to the customisable LED on the thumbsticks! And with that comes probably one of my favourite features — the Armoury Crate SE. This nifty little program can be accessed by one of the buttons, and it is the hub for customising everything from the colours of the joysticks to the button mapping. As I previously mentioned, I have tendinitis, so having templates for games that can easily be swapped or customised is fantastic, and it feels much less convoluted and clunky than even the one on Steam.
That ease of accessibility is found everywhere, as with just one click, you can access these settings at any time and swiftly change anything from the brightness of the screen to the battery mode. This makes it easy to jump from different intensity titles without having to go digging for the settings to save battery or get better performance. These menus can even be customised in Armoury Crate SE so you can choose which ones to access quickly, meaning you'll be able to tinker with things like FPS limiter, AMD RSR, the resolution, refresh rates, and more, either way!
If none of those things mean anything to you, don't worry — that's not the only way the ROG Ally is accessible. For those of you who have games across many libraries, the Armoury Crate SE does a fantastic job at also working as a central hub for all of your accounts. Steam, Xbox Game Pass, EA... you'll find a lot of them here, and once a game is installed, every time you boot up, you'll see a selection of titles available for you to click and play! And if you're still growing your library, there's also a feature that shows you game deals and even recommendations.
Although I've not ever played on a Steam Deck, I am lucky enough to own a Switch, and I feel like the ROG Ally is much more comfortable to play on, thanks to the chunkiness of the grip. While Nintendo's handheld might be lighter, it definitely feels like my hands cramp up during particularly intense fights with Bokoblins, but I find myself missing ASUS’ comfortable feel even when playing with my Xbox controller. That being said, however, I've heard that it pales in comparison to the Steam Deck's ergonomic design, but I wouldn't know how much.
Thankfully, for those who might not like playing in only handheld mode, the ROG Ally can also be used as a miniature computer, which works phenomenally for those who are used to Windows. Whilst I haven't used it as a PC for work or usual browsing, I have plugged it into the TV through a deck to watch anime on Crunchyroll or even play visual novels with my wife before bed. This has worked quite fantastically, as it feels just like having a laptop plugged in, and it doesn't require any sort of extra setup to get it to work — you just plug and play/watch!
Another great feature I've loved has been the audio. The way the speakers are built in really makes the sound boom at and around you, and although I was sceptical about the supposed surround-sound-like audio, I really did pick up on it! That being said, though, this also means some of the more annoying and repetitive sounds in games can become a bit obnoxious, especially if they're very high-pitch, but it's as simple as lowering the volume and making it much less overwhelming.
It's not all perfection, of course; everything has a caveat, and I can think of two that I encountered and one of them might be a big deal-breaker to some — the battery life. Since I have a monitor I absolutely adore, I don't play a lot of big, intense, or graphically gorgeous games on my ROG Ally; instead, I usually pick up relaxing indie games to curl up with my dog, and yet I have to be near a plug socket because it won't be long before I have to connect it. This problem isn't that big of a deal to me since I don't use it to travel, and I appreciate that there's a setting that protects the battery, but it's definitely a prominent issue.
The second downside has been the screen quality. Although it doesn't look bad or ugly, I did notice a big difference when I booted up Disney Dreamlight Valley; most notably, the colours were ugly in comparison to my Samsung Odyssey Neo G9 monitor, and the quality felt much lower. This is also not a big deal to me, especially since you can plug it into monitors and TVs, but it does make it harder to play prettier titles without the prickling that you might be wasting its beauty.
Overall, I couldn't be happier with the ROG Ally. It feels like ASUS really did have gamers in mind as they built everything from the comfortable two new buttons at the back to the way the Armoury Crate SE works. This is by far one of my favourite purchases, and I couldn't recommend it more if you're looking for a handheld.
ROG Ally Review
I love the ROG Ally — it’s comfortable to play on thanks to both its physical and software aspects, and if you’re looking for a handheld, I couldn’t recommend it more.