Asus ROG Ally Review – Flawed but fantastic

The Asus ROG Ally isn't perfect by any stretch – but it's still a solid handheld gaming PC.
asus rog ally handheld gaming pc

The Asus ROG Ally arrives with perfect timing in the Australian market. Not only does it launch without major, affordable competitors (namely, the rival Steam Deck), post-pandemic lifestyle changes make it an incredibly appealing new console. After years of working from home or in hybrid settings, there’s nothing worse than standing up from the ‘office PC’ to sit back down for another few hours gaming at a ‘home PC’ – with this screen-to-screen transfer melding the bridge between home and work life. The Asus ROG Ally presents a worthy, robust, alternative setting for playing PC games.

This handheld gaming PC can play nearly every title you throw at it – from The Sims 4, to the latest Hitman, to retro games like Freddi-Fish and Putt-Putt, breezing through gameplay with solid performance. As a handheld Windows machine, it can handle games from any platform – The Epic Games Store, Steam, EA, GOG, Xbox Game Pass – and load them easily via Asus Armoury Crate, which serves as the console’s main hub.

You can also spend time browsing or streaming TV and movies using the device, which works cleanly, but the main appeal for the ROG Ally is in its capabilities as a handy, comfortable, and very portable gaming device.

Asus ROG Ally: Comfort and Convenience

asus rog ally steam library
Image: GamesHub

The Asus ROG Ally is an impressive and good-looking console, from an aesthetics standpoint. The white chassis is rather fetching, and features an ergonomic design perfect for hands of all sizes – and it maintains a balanced, fair weight despite its meaty innards. It’s slightly heavier than the Nintendo Switch, for reference, but it does feature tapered handholds that make it more comfortable and easier to hold.

In my time gaming for hours on the device, I never experienced discomfort or felt the device was too heavy – in direct opposition to my standard gaming laptop, which performs about as well as the ROG Ally at quadruple the weight. The device is very portable, easy to handle, and clearly designed with thought.

Read: Asus’ ROG Ally ended its five-year journey with perfect timing

Little touches add up – like the console’s fans being slightly angled to the back – or the speakers being positioned just out of reach of the handholds. There’s also the fun RGB lights at the front that constantly spin in pleasant rainbow colours (unless you turn them off) – and the fact that the charging cable is at the top of the device, so you can plug in and still play games without altering your positioning, even when the battery runs down (more on this later).

Generously-sized, plush buttons and customisable controls are also notable features that make the ROG Ally a fetching and easy-to-use gaming companion.

Asus ROG Ally: Game Performance

asus rog ally gaming performance
Image: GamesHub

In my time with the console, the Asus ROG Ally was able to reliably play every game in my library, with smooth gameplay aided by a lovely Full HD 120Hz display.

Games are colourful on this screen, with my current flavour of the month, Cassette Beasts, looking sharp. When it loaded up via Xbox Game Pass, the ROG Ally’s control inputs were also instantly recognised with haptics engaged, making for a smooth ride.

Putt-Putt Goes To The Moon was equally snazzy, and looked pixel-perfect. It’s no surprise that a 20-year-old game ran well on the ROG Ally, but being able to revisit it, and other retro Humongous titles like Freddi-Fish and Spy Fox while bundled in a warm rug at home was a nice throwback to childhood.

Hitman: World of Assassination was another bright point. Even with Agent 47 sneaking through Sapienza to destroy a virus against a sweeping backdrop of gorgeous and detailed Italian scenery, the ROG Ally powered through with zero framerate hitches.

Notably, the console’s fans also remained in check during Hitman and The Sims 4, which are both more intensive games. While they lightly whir in the background, they aren’t disruptive in the slightest – and the speaker’s booming, crisp audio drowns them out completely. These fans do a great job, too – in my time with the console, the chassis of the device never overheated or felt particularly hot to touch.

During The Sims 4 and Hitman, the back plate maxed out at ‘lukewarm’ on Ultra game performance settings.

Performance Settings

There are three main performance modes for the ROG Ally: Silent, Performance, and Turbo – each of which increase the capability of the console. Personally, I never needed to hit Turbo mode, as every game I played was perfectly fine on Performance or Silent modes, with no obvious lag, frame rate drops, or overt disruption from the console’s fans.

The Sims 4 ran particularly well on the Asus ROG Ally, and it was the game I spent the most time with – mostly because I’ve pined for a handheld launch on the Nintendo Switch for so long. Despite the game being somewhat graphically demanding, the ROG Ally was more than capable of handling it in the mid-range Performance mode.

With smooth movement and easy control input, gameplay was a breeze – and the novelty of getting to play The Sims on the couch remained delightful throughout my time with the console. That said, The Sims 4 is also where the Asus ROG Ally revealed one of the console’s less-than-impressive features: its meagre and ungenerous battery.

Asus ROG Ally: Battery Life

battery life asus rog ally
Image: GamesHub

Battery life varies wildly with the Asus ROG Ally, depending on a variety of factors: which game mode you utilise, what type of games you’re playing, and the brightness of the console’s screen. At a stretch, it can run for a maximum of around 5 hours in regular gameplay – but at its worst, it ran for just 1 hour 42 minutes.

Here’s a brief rundown of battery tests, where a single game or type of game was played for the entire duration of the console’s battery life, at 1/3 screen brightness:

  • The Sims 4 – Lasted 1 hour, 42 minutes.
  • Hitman – Lasted 2 hours, 2 minutes.
  • Cassette Beasts – Lasted 3 hours, 40 minutes.
  • Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish – Lasted 4 hours, 45 minutes.

This extreme variance means individual experiences with the ROG Ally are likely to differ by a major degree – although the advertised 2-5 hours of total battery life while gaming is an accurate estimation, based on my time with the console.

If you’re a particular fan of retro or classic PC games, you’ll likely get a significant amount of gameplay out of the Asus ROG Ally. Those more interested in playing modern AAA games will need to consider its maximum 2-hour battery life running these games.

Personally, I found the battery manageable for my needs – as while The Sims 4 did run it down every two hours, it has a brisk charging time that reduced the impact of this short life. You can get a full charge from a drained battery in about 1 hour, 20 minutes.

That’s enough time for a short break, a TV show episode or two, or perhaps a walk. You can also just plug in the device and keep playing, given the unobtrusive placement of the charging port at the top of the unit. This design feature dampens the impact of the poor battery – leaving the console’s biggest flaw to shine in its own right.

Asus ROG Ally: Windows Compatibility

asus rog ally windows problems
Image: GamesHub

The biggest flaw with the Asus ROG Ally is in its reliance on Windows 11 Home – which is frequently buggy on the device. In my time with the console, I thankfully avoided any major, ground-breaking issues but I did notice countless, random quirks that popped up as I played through a number of games.

Many titles were slow to load and initialise. Console and software updates frequently disrupted gameplay, forcing window minimisation. When streaming Redfall (which, incidentally, was very smooth), the ‘full screen’ mode left a see-through gap to the desktop.

I wasn’t able to input the happiness cheat in The Sims 4, because the console’s on-screen keyboard didn’t allow press and click input. You can plug in additional accessories via the console’s USB-C port – and I was able to input the code by briefly attaching my Razer keyboard – but it’s a notable quirk that can prevent you from doing things you expect to be able to do when playing certain games.

This version of Windows 11 also refers to the ROG Ally as a PC or computer only, giving the sense that the OS isn’t really designed for this sort of application (it isn’t). Most of the time things are fine, but there’s no denying the range of quirks that disrupt the experience. It certainly isn’t seamless.

For another example, at a recent preview event for the console, the ROG Ally unit I was testing got stuck in a Windows restart loop when it tried to update software, taking around 15 minutes to properly start up.

Recent reports from other Australian journalists reviewing the ROG Ally indicate my experiences were relatively fortunate. One journalist reported losing access to Windows graphics drivers, which led to the console being unable to play games. Another told me their device briefly lost all control functionality, with buttons being rendered useless. While these experiences don’t match my own, they’re worth considering – as it appears the Asus ROG Ally is still contending with a number of software-based bugs that impact consoles at random.

There is hope these issues will be addressed prior to the console’s public launch, but just weeks ahead of its 13 June 2023 release date, bugs are still very much present.

Final Verdict

retro games asus rog ally
Image: Gameshub

Quirks with Windows 11 aside, the Asus ROG Ally is an impressive, well-designed device with endless potential. Its lack of stability may inspire caution for some – but should software issues be sorted by launch, there’s plenty of novelty and enjoyment to be squeezed from this fantastic handheld.

As someone who sits at a desk every day, the capacity to get up, grab the ROG Ally, and sit or walk anywhere with a hearty catalog of PC games on board, is an absolute joy. I spent the majority of my time with the console sitting in a living room, sharing time with family – getting to enjoy my favourite games without cloistering myself in my room. While gaming solo is not a particularly social activity, the console’s portability had the added benefit of letting me spend at least a little more time with loved ones.

Even frequently having to get up and charge the device didn’t diminish my enjoyment of it. While frustrations with the software may cause some concern, in my experience, the Asus ROG Ally is a solid and very convenient handheld gaming PC great for casual or unfussy PC gamers.

The Asus ROG Ally launches for AU $1,299 on 13 June 2023.

An Asus ROG Ally was provided on a temporary loan for the purposes of this review.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.