Hands-On With The ROG Ally
The Steam Deck has been setting the world on fire with its promise of PC gaming on the go. The things sell out all across the globe and have proven to be a bonafide hit for Valve. Except, of course, in Australia where they haven’t been released yet. Unless you want to jump through some hoops (which I did) or trust a grey importer, getting a Steam Deck in Aus is not possible. This is a mistake that ASUS and their gaming arm Republic of Gamers (RoG) are not going to repeat because their answer to the Steam Deck is coming to our shores day and date with the rest of the world and that date isn’t far away at all.
The RoG Ally is the name of this little beast, (and I do mean beast) and as a part of its global launch, the local team invited a few media types folks to come to their office in Sydney and go hands-on with it. I was lucky enough to be one of those folks. For a couple of hours, I had my mitts on what is undoubtedly an impressive bit of gear and one that could very well take the land down under and our long white cloud cousins by storm and not just because its chief competitor isn’t out here yet. I have a feeling, that should it hold up over time, the Ally could be the market leader in this emerging handheld PC space.
The first thing I noticed was the weight and size. There was much hullaballoo made in a presentation made by RoG at the event about how they got the device down to 608 grams. They talked about engineered plastics, ultra-lightweight aluminium and spacings on the different cooling vents, all of which is just white noise to the average consumer, but it does translate to an amazingly light piece of gear that sits comfortably in the hand while not feeling flimsy or cheap. It is clear the team engineered the heck out of this bad boy, with everything feeling reliable and sturdy. Of course, time will truly tell on this score, but at this point in time it feels like this is going to be a reliable bit of gear.
In my playtime with the RoG Ally, there were a couple of things that really impressed me. The first is heat. My Steam Deck gets pretty hot, not unbearably so, but there is no mistaking that the machine is working hard. In my time with the Ally, a machine that had been on for twoish hours playing a mix of Halo Infinite, Minecraft Legends and FIFA I could barely notice any heat at all. There is clearly a great cooling/venting solution that has been put in place. The other great thing I noticed was the thumbsticks. The Nintendo Switch is notoriously terrible for FPS games and frankly, the Steam Deck, while better, still isn’t great. Playing Halo Infinite on the Ally was great, with none of the fine control issues I encounter playing on other hardware present.
A big question with these sorts of devices is always battery life and in our situation, it was impossible to make a call on that. I will say however that the machines the media were all playing were on for at least two hours before we left, so that does give credence to RoG’s claims of 2-3 hours of AAA gaming. Battery life will of course be dictated by a million little things and it will always vary depending on use, but at that 2-3 hour mark, it sits on par with the Steam Deck so it isn’t losing any ground there. That is an impressive feat in itself considering the significantly more powerful hardware the Ally is running.
Perhaps the biggest thing the Ally has going for it is Windows 11. Unlike the Steam Deck which runs a custom version of Linux, the Ally is a native Windows machine so basically everything that works on your PC will work here. That means Gamepass, Epic, Battlenet, EA and Ubisoft Connect will all work without jumping through a bunch of hoops. This really means your entire PC library can be with you on the road, not just the games you have in Steam. It does however bring me to my biggest concern and that is the overlay software. A custom-built frontend called Armoury has been built for the Ally and it grabs all the games installed, no matter the storefront, and puts them in a nice, easy-to-use screen. In theory, it sounds perfect, but in reality, it was a little bit fiddly and missing some features that PC users would expect. That said, this is the sort of thing that usually gets improved upon with patches quickly so I’d imagine most of the quirks will be sorted out within 6-12 months.
In all these are just early impressions from a short play session, but that said things are looking promising. I hope to get my hands on a review unit before the RoG Ally is released on the 13th of June so I can do a proper deep dive into everything, but for now, my expectations have been set quite high. If you don’t want to wait you can pre-order The RoG Ally from JB HI-FI or the RoG Website. Stay tuned for more on this exciting bit of gaming