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Asus ROG Ally Review: Almost There, But Not Quite

Mar 25, 2024

Asus is one of the most prominent names in the PC hardware market, so it's no surprise they're the first major hardware maker to release a handheld gaming PC. While smaller boutique brands from China have jump-started the whole handheld gaming PC craze, it is up to the industry giants to make the commandeering push and fling handheld gaming PCs into the mainstream.

Valve has managed to captivate the broader gaming public with the Steam Deck, despite the company's limited experience in creating hardware products. Can Asus pick up the torch from Valve and persuade the masses that handheld PCs represent the future of PC gaming? Let's explore this in our Asus ROG Ally review.

Design-wise, the Asus ROG Ally looks unapologetically gamery. If the dual analog sticks aren't clear enough hints then sharp corners, speaker grilles cut at acute angles, RGB rings around the analog sticks, and holographic stickers on the outer corners of the device featuring the ROG logo should remove any doubt about the main purpose of the handheld.

Luckily, Asus didn't go overboard; designers made sure the corners weren't too sharp for comfort and, luckily, the two RGB rings are the only RGB elements on the Ally. At the top, we find shoulder buttons and triggers and the selection of ports, while the backside hosts two paddle buttons, dual air intakes, and another holographic sticker. On top there are also two wide air exhausts.

We like the design of the Asus ROG Ally, but we'd like it even more if the color of choice was black.

While the white color does lend the device an air of luxury, it may ultimately produce the opposite effect once the yellowing process begins. Nonetheless, we can appreciate why the designers at Asus chose this color, as the contrast between the bright body and the darker hues of the screen, its bezels, and the controls is quite attractive.

Build quality is superb. The device is sturdy and doesn't flex or emit any creaking noises, no matter how much you try to twist it. The sensation of holding a well-constructed piece of hardware doesn't diminish when you grip the device. The ROG Ally exudes an aura of being substantial and dense, with the slightly textured plastic feeling very comfortable to the touch.

Six Phillips head screws secure the bottom panel and are relatively easy to remove. However, one of the screws was slightly scuffed even before we handled it with a screwdriver, suggesting that the screws used might not be of the highest quality. Opening the bottom panel exposes the sleek red PCB, the 40Wh battery, the dual-fan cooling setup, and the only M.2 slot filled with a 512GB PCIe Gen4 NVMe SSD made by Micron. Replacing the internal SSD is straightforward, unlike on the Steam Deck. Kudos to Asus for keeping it simple.

Weighing in at only 1.34 pounds, the ROG Ally is impressive considering all that's housed within the chassis. The device is also relatively slim for a handheld gaming PC, with its thickest point measuring up to 1.27 inches. A slightly thicker body could potentially provide a more substantial grip, but it's still manageable as it is. At 11.02 inches wide, the Ally is quite slender compared to most other handheld gaming PCs, though it's still wider than, say, the Nintendo Switch OLED.

In addition to the Ally itself, the package includes a 65W charger, a stand made of somewhat flimsy plastic adorned with the ROG logo, and multiple documentation booklets. Another perk, this time in software form, is a three-month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription that owners can redeem when they log into the Xbox app for the first time.

The ROG Ally retails for $700. For that price, you get a 7-inch 1080p screen, the Z1 Extreme APU which includes an eight-core Zen 4 CPU, and a 12-CU Radeon 780m iGPU based on the RDNA 3 architecture. The device comes with the aforementioned 512GB NVMe SSD and 16GB of dual-channel memory running at 6400MT/s.

Despite the sharp corners, the ergonomics of the ROG Ally are not compromised. The device is very comfortable to hold, and we did not experience numbness in our fingers or arms during prolonged gaming sessions, provided we supported our elbows on a slightly soft, elevated surface.

The device doesn't feel overly heavy in the hands, and we didn't find ourselves needing to shift the weight between hands every 20 minutes during long gaming sessions, which is sometimes the case with the Steam Deck.

As we mentioned earlier, the grips could have been slightly thicker. Don't get us wrong, the ROG Ally provides a reassuring and stable hold, but more substantial grips would enhance comfort. For instance, the sizable grips on the Steam Deck make it feel as though the only way the console could slip from your hands is if someone purposely tried to pry it away.

While holding the Ally feels comfortable and allows for a relatively firm grip, we don't like the placement of the two paddle buttons on the bottom of the device. If you tend to grip controllers in a way where you rest your fingers on bumpers or between bumpers and triggers, you'll find the bottom paddles positioned right between your middle and ring fingers, which isn't ideal.

The only way for us to have the paddles sit right below our middle fingers is when resting our index fingers on triggers; but then, bumpers become hard to reach, forcing us to move our index fingers between triggers and bumpers in any game that maps frequently used controls to one or both bumpers.

Now, you may think that you can simply remap bumpers to the bottom paddles and call it a day. Unfortunately, that's not possible if you plan on using secondary functions on the controller – actions such as launching the Windows Task View feature or summoning the on-screen keyboard – a must-have feature in our opinion, considering just how poor Windows works on devices without a keyboard nor a trackpad.

We like the super-long charging cable very much. It's perfect for couch and bed gaming sessions, and the included rubbery peg allows users to secure the cable and allow it to simply drop down when gaming and charging instead of bending downwards, which also puts a slight force on the device and makes it ever so slightly less comfortable to hold when plugged in.

The Asus ROG Ally sports the usual combination of controls and inputs found on many other handheld gaming PCs. These include dual analog sticks, four face buttons, Start and Select buttons, two additional buttons for opening the Command Center panel and Armory Crate, a D-pad, a pair of shoulder buttons on each side, two bottom paddles, a power button that incorporates a fingerprint scanner, and a volume rocker.

Let's begin with the dual analog sticks, an essential component of any handheld gaming PC. While the analog grips feature a comfortable concave shape and provide excellent grip, the sticks themselves feel somewhat cheap. This is due to their lack of the distinctive resistance when moved, a characteristic found in the sticks of Xbox One, DS4, or 8BitDo Ultimate controllers.

Still, precision-wise, they are miles ahead of JoyCon sticks on the Switch and provide fairly accurate input when gaming. The two analog sticks are mechanical and not of the Hall Effect variety, meaning they're prone to developing stick drift sooner or later. At least they're quite easy to replace. All you have to do is unscrew the two daughter boards and then unscrew the stick mechanisms. No soldering required.

The four face buttons feel great on touch, are flat and quite wide. The letters are etched below the plastic so there's no way the markings will fade over time. On the flip side, they wobble a lot and rattle a bit when pressed. Not a great showing, with multiple users and some reviewers reporting their buttons got stuck. While we haven't encountered the issue we do believe Asus could've done a much better job in this department.

Next up is the D-pad, and we can say that the Ally features one of the best D-pads we've ever used. It's very precise, features nice mechanical feedback, but at the same time doesn't require too much force to register input. Diagonal input is accurately registered most of the time, and while there were some occasions when we'd accidentally pressed down instead of left or right, these cases were few and far between. We've played hours of Lumines Remastered and Dead Cells with the D-pad, and we really like it.

Concerning the buttons at the sides of the screen, you've got the usual start and select buttons along with a button that launches the Armory Crate app and the quick menu Asus calls Command Center. The four buttons are clicky and require a bit too much force to register input and are, in that regard, very similar to the four bottom paddles on the Steam Deck. We'd like more if they were your regular conductive rubber buttons instead.

The two bumpers are also clicky but much easier to press. They're fine, but nothing to write home about. The two analog triggers feel great, are very precise, and feature Hall effect technology, which means they won't ever develop drift. Finally, the two bottom paddle buttons feel cheap and feature hollow clicky feedback, like DS4's touchpad. At least they aren't too easy to press; there's a small chance you will activate them by accident.

The biggest omission and one of the most serious downsides of the Ally is the lack of trackpads. Even a single trackpad, like the tiny optical one found on the GPD Win 4, would do wonders for navigating Windows UI, which isn't optimized for devices that don't feature a keyboard nor a trackpad. Yes, you've got the 7-inch touch screen, but navigating the OS with a trackpad is an immeasurably better experience than the torture of combining inaccurate analog sticks and the touch screen that's hard to use due to Ally's form factor. If Asus decides to release a successor to the ROG Ally, adding a trackpad should be at the top of the list of new features.

Connectivity options include Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2. Wireless performance is great, and we'd often see download speeds maxing out our 500Mbps internet plan. Performance in multiplayer games is also spotless. When it comes to Bluetooth performance, our Xbox and 8BitDo Ultimate controllers work perfectly when paired with the Ally.

The stereo speakers present on the Ally are amazing for a handheld gaming device. They're extremely loud yet clear, even at maximum volume. They include a healthy amount of bass with impressive stereo separation that's much better compared to the speakers found on our Steam Deck.

Regarding the ports on the Ally, you've got a single USB-C port that's part of the XG-Mobile interface. The USB-C port tops out at 10Gbps and features DP-Alt mode (DisplayPort 1.4). The aforementioned ROG XG Mobile interface allows owners to connect one of Asus' XG Mobile external GPUs, which can bring a massive performance boost, but even the most affordable XG Mobile eGPUs cost as much as the Ally itself.

Other ports include a 3.5mm combo audio jack and a microSD card reader that supports UHS-II memory cards. All ports are located at the top of the device, which is unfortunate because placing the XG Mobile interface including the USB-C port at the bottom would be much better for moments when you want to game when plugged in. Still, the aforementioned rubber peg on the charging cable helps with ergonomics when gaming while the device is plugged in.

As soon as the ROG Ally was released, reports began to emerge about the SD card reader corrupting memory cards. Over time, an increasing number of owners reported that their Ally had outright destroyed their memory cards, rendering them unusable in other devices. Occasionally, they were able to format the card on their PC and restore its functionality, but in most instances, the damage caused by the reader was irreversible.

The number of reports continued to rise steadily, leading Asus to acknowledge the issue in mid-July. The company confirmed that it was aware of the SD card reader damaging cards, stating that under "certain thermal stress conditions," the reader could malfunction. Meanwhile, Asus released a BIOS update (BIOS update 322) that increased the minimum fan speed for every power mode. However, the SD card issue persists.

If you check the ROG Ally subreddit, you'll find a number of posts in which users report that the latest BIOS update hasn't remedied the issue, so it looks like high thermals might not be what's causing the problem after all.

A thread on the ROG forum talks about issues with the SD card reader controller potentially stemming from voltage instability or too fast mount times. Interestingly enough, the same card reader controller that caused issues on MacBooks back in 2021 is found inside the ROG Ally. Apple fixed the issue with a software update so we hope Asus will come up with a similar, software-based solution.

We've tested the SD card reader for almost two weeks by slotting a SanDisk SD card into the reader and installing two games on the card: Dave the Diver and Dead Cells. We'd then move the games between the card and the SSD and back once a day. We've also played Dave the Diver for about 20 hours and Dead Cells for about a dozen hours, and at the time of writing this review, we haven't managed to reproduce the issue.

It's worth noting that we've mostly been using a custom power mode with aggressive fan curves along with the AutoTDP mode available in a third-party app called Handheld Companion, so our Ally hasn't experienced 90+ degrees Celsius temperatures that were common in Turbo performance mode (25W on battery and 30W when plugged in) prior to the BIOS 322 update.

The 7-inch, 1080p IPS display with touchscreen capability on the ROG Ally is one of the device's standout features, along with the Z1 Extreme APU. It's incredibly bright, with Asus citing a maximum brightness of 500 nits. The display offers 100% coverage of the sRGB color gamut and produces vibrant, punchy colors. It's a delight to view during gaming, and we are truly impressed by it.

The screen is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus and features a glossy screen coating that's highly susceptible to fingerprints. A few touches can leave visible smudges. Given the absence of trackpads and the analog sticks' inaccuracy when navigating the Windows UI, we found ourselves needing to clean the screen quite frequently.

Maximum brightness is high enough to comfortably use the Ally outside, as long as you aren't in direct sunlight. On the other hand, the minimum brightness could've been lower. Gaming at night while lying in bed isn't uncomfortable, but a slightly lower minimum brightness would've made the experience even more enjoyable.

The 120Hz refresh rate and support for AMD FreeSync Premium are great additions, especially since frame rate in most demanding games can fluctuate all over the place, where VRR makes all the difference. The 1080p native resolution looks super crisp, and how would it not be, considering the screen density of 314 PPI, which is in the range of mid-2010s flagship smartphones.

Games look wonderful at 1080p but when we turn the resolution down to 720p to play with higher details it's noticeable just how worse 720p resolution looks on the Ally as opposed to a device with a 720p native display, like the Steam Deck.

If the display is one of the ROG Ally's standout features, Windows 11 is unfortunately one of its worst. Windows simply isn't optimized for devices with small screens that lack keyboards and trackpads. Navigating the Windows UI with the right analog stick and a touchscreen becomes frustrating from the moment you first power on the device. Another complaint we have is that the operating system comes pre-loaded with all sorts of applications that have no place on a handheld gaming device, such as Office 365, and various other bloatware, including Instagram and WhatsApp.

The first time we powered on our Ally, we were met with a barrage of updates. We spent a significant portion of the first day updating Windows, Armory Crate, and the MyAsus app, and the process seemed endless. We weren't able to start gaming until the evening. After that, Windows kept behaving like, well, Windows, asking us to update the system every few days despite us pausing the updates for four weeks, the maximum amount of time available in the Windows Update menu.

The frustration with Windows persisted when we attempted to activate the auto-login option via WinAero Tweaker, which functioned perfectly for an entire afternoon. However, when we powered on the Ally in the evening of the second day, we were met with the login screen. This time, it requested a password instead of a PIN, which we had deactivated, believing that the auto-login feature would suffice. Considering my password is comprised of 12 characters, including numbers and symbols, I had to take out my phone, open Bitwarden, and then spend several aggravating minutes typing the password on the unwieldy on-screen keyboard.

Once we did that, we disabled auto login, created a PIN, and scanned our fingerprint, hoping that would solve our issues. But the fingerprint reader on the Ally isn't that good, and Windows only allows two or three attempts of scanning the fingerprint before temporarily disabling login with the fingerprint and asking for the PIN. This was immensely annoying at first, but we had no choice than to get used to it.

If Microsoft plans for Windows to become a system suited to handheld gaming PCs, they better develop a mode optimized for devices with a controller. Aside from being super handy to have on a handheld gaming PC, a controller-friendly Windows mode would also make navigating Windows when projecting your desktop to your TV much more pleasant. We hope that the rumored Windows Handheld Mode ends up being more than a mere hackathon project. That, in addition to bringing Xbox Quick Resume to Windows, Microsoft is also at work creating a controller-friendly mode for their OS.

The second component of the software package on the ROG Ally is Asus' Armory Crate. This application includes a somewhat unattractive but functional game launcher that's very easy to update with newly installed games. It also provides a plethora of settings for tweaking desktop and controller mappings, power profiles, game profiles, custom fan curves, RGB lighting, and more.

The app generally works well, and we haven't encountered significant bugs aside from the occasional failure to launch. However, its performance could be better. Despite the powerful CPU within the device, the app can be sluggish at times.

The good news is that you can create a separate profile for each game inside Armory Crate. The bad news is that the app automatically creates game profiles even for apps such as Xbox Game Pass or Steam, which can result in the device using the 30W Turbo profile when inside a certain app because that was the active profile when you first opened the said app.

This can lead to sudden battery drains if you start downloading games on Steam while the Turbo power profile is active, which can be pretty frustrating. The solution is to manually tweak the profile of each game and app listed in Armory Crate to avoid issues like these, or to access apps via desktop and not via Armory Crate.

Armory Crate also drives the handy Command Center feature, which is essentially a quick settings window that you can activate with the press of a dedicated button. Command Center provides a variety of options that allow you to switch between power profiles and control modes (desktop and controller), activate the FPS limiter (which, despite multiple Armory Crate updates we've received during the two weeks of testing, still doesn't work), navigate to the desktop, take a screenshot, or exit the active application. Unlike Armory Crate, Command Center operates exceptionally well and is very quick to launch, even in-game.

By default, users cannot use the two paddle buttons at the bottom as extra inputs because Asus decided to give them the role of secondary function buttons used to activate various shortcuts in combination with other buttons. These shortcuts include jumping to desktop, launching Task Manager, taking a screenshot, or showing Task Viewer.

Some of these shortcuts, such as showing Task Viewer or summoning the virtual keyboard, are very useful, meaning that if you want to keep using them, one paddle will be unusable in games. This is far from ideal, and we'd like if Asus introduces an option to remap shortcut activation to a long press of the Armory Crate or the Command Center buttons in one of the future Armory Crate updates.

Moving on to performance, the Asus ROG Ally packs an AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme APU. This combo is made of an 8-core Zen 4 CPU with a base clock of 3.3GHz and a max boost clock of up to 5.1GHz, and the Radeon 780M iGPU made of 12 RDNA 3 compute units sporting a max boost clock of up to 2900MHz. The CPU is a beast, and we reckon that even a six-core unit would be more than enough to keep up with the Radeon 780M.

The GPU is also pretty darn impressive for an integrated solution, allowing for 1080p gaming even in the latest and greatest AAA titles. The Z1 Extreme can work at TDPs ranging from 10W up to 30W, with short bursts that go north of 40W when plugged in and with 30W Turbo mode active.

In Cinebench R23, the Z1 Extreme attained a multi-core score of 13,012 (the average result after three 10-minute runs) and a single-core score of 1,752, which is impressive for a mobile CPU with a peak of 30W TDP. The 512GB Micron SSD managed to reach read and write speeds of 4,323 MB/s and 1,823 MB/s, respectively.

For gaming benchmarks, we tested five games at 720p and 1080p resolutions while plugged in, using the following three power modes: 10W Silent, 15W Performance, and 30W Turbo. Please note that Turbo mode is limited to 25 watts when running on battery power. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor might seem outdated in 2023, but we included it to evaluate the Ally's performance with older AAA titles.

We used the most recent BIOS version available (BIOS 322). Lastly, each power mode on the ROG Ally features a temporary power boost that exceeds the maximum TDP value listed in the Armory Crate. For example, when plugged in, Turbo mode can surge to nearly 50W for a few minutes. We ran game benchmarks until each power mode stabilized at its nominal value and then began recording results. This approach might explain why you notice our results differ from those found in other reviews, in addition to the fact that many reviews tested games with older BIOS versions.

The results are impressive for a handheld gaming PC, as long as you're using Performance or Turbo modes. In Silent mode, which tops out at 10W, the Z1 Extreme is far less impressive, especially when compared to the Steam Deck, which is optimized for sub-10W TDPs. Silent mode is enough to run 2D pixel art games at 60fps or even 120fps in the case of Dead Cells.

Performance mode is best for games with simple 3D visuals, such as Dave the Diver, at 1080p or older AAA games at 720p. Finally, Turbo mode is needed if you want to achieve 60fps in modern AAA games at 1080p. Regarding the differences in performance in Turbo mode on battery (25W) and when plugged in (30W), we saw 3-4 frames more in Forza Horizon 5 at 30W vs. 25W. The good news is that you can use AMD Radeon Super Resolution (RSR) coupled with 720p resolution in games without FSR support to get performance boost. You can easily turn RSR on in Command Center.

Another interesting tidbit is that while Forza Horizon 5 benchmark shows outstanding numbers with the High preset at 1080p, the real-world performance isn't as impressive, mostly due to only 16GB of system memory found in the ROG Ally. For example, playing the game with High preset works great when driving around the open world, for about a minute. After that, the game would always show a warning notifying us the device is running low on system memory, after which we'd start to experience noticeable stutters every few seconds.

We dropped textures and environment geometry quality settings notch by notch until we arrived at a combo made of low textures and medium environment geometry quality. This combination was the only one that didn't cause stutters during longer, hour plus, gaming sessions. At the end of the day, yes, gaming performance is mostly impressive, but the lack of memory can be a limiting factor in certain scenarios.

In the initial days of testing, when our Ally was operating with BIOS version 319, activating Turbo mode, both on battery (25W) and when plugged in (30W), resulted in the Z1 Extreme rapidly hitting approximately 90 degrees Celsius in games and remaining there. Despite the impressive dual-fan cooling solution, Asus initially chose low fan speeds, which led to extremely quiet performance but also exceedingly high thermals.

With the 322 BIOS update, Asus adjusted the default fan curves for all power profiles, resulting in a barely noticeable increase in noise but a dramatic drop in thermals. Instead of exceeding 90 degrees Celsius in Turbo mode with BIOS 319, the Z1 Extreme reaches the high 60s or low 70s with BIOS 322 while gaming. The thermals can still momentarily hit 90 degrees Celsius when Turbo mode is active, but after a few minutes, temperatures drop to approximately 75 degrees Celsius or lower and stabilize. This is an impressive result, given the ROG Ally's dimensions and form factor.

However, the most striking demonstration of the fantastic performance of the ROG Ally's dual-fan cooling setup was when we created a custom fan curve in the Armory Crate. We implemented an aggressive fan curve that kept temperatures below 70 degrees Celsius even in CPU-demanding games. The noise was noticeable, but just barely, with the speakers set to about 20 percent. Raising the volume to approximately 30 percent almost entirely masked the noise from the two fans.

The 40Wh cell within the ROG Ally is adequate but far from impressive. At default settings, with screen brightness set to 40%, the battery expired after 2 hours and 42 minutes with Silent mode active, while playing Dead Cells and Lumines Remastered. The battery lasted one hour and 58 minutes while playing Dave the Diver with Performance mode active. Finally, with Turbo mode active, playing Forza Horizon 5 resulted in 58 minutes of battery life. Given the 40Wh capacity, the battery life could have been better, especially in Performance mode.

The charging time is reasonably fast. Our Ally went from zero to 100% in about an hour and a half. As for idle battery drain, Asus puts the device to sleep rather quickly after turning the screen off. Even after not using it for a day or two, you should find the battery has only lost a percent or two of its charge.

We managed to significantly improve battery life after disabling CPU boost, preventing the CPU from exceeding its base clock of 3.3GHz. For example, at 15W in Dave the Diver, the battery life increased from less than two hours to over two and a half hours. Limiting the frame rate to 40 frames per second in RivaTuner gave us an additional 20 minutes of battery life. The good news is that disabling CPU boost did not affect gaming performance in most games we tested. Our Forza Horizon 5 result at 30W and at 1080p resolution remained steady at about 60fps. Note that you need to turn CPU boost on to achieve optimal performance in certain single-threaded games, such as Cassette Beasts, and emulators.

Another way to extend battery life and reduce thermals is by using the AutoTDP feature. While AutoTDP sets the TDP just high enough to maintain the current frame rate, which can lead to slowdowns during sudden demanding scenes such as explosions, we noticed that setting AutoTDP at five frames above our desired frame rate almost completely eliminated sudden performance drops. If you want to try these two options yourself, check out Handheld Companion. The app isn't the epitome of stability, and it can be quirky at times, but it works pretty well most of the time.

Before we wrap up this review, let's address the elephant in the room: how does the Asus ROG Ally compare to Valve's Steam Deck, and which one should you buy?

When it comes to size and ergonomics, we slightly prefer the Steam Deck. While it's heavier than the Ally, it's more comfortable to hold during shorter gaming sessions, thanks to its large grips and gentle curves. However, for multi-hour gaming sessions, the Ally is the better choice.

We also find the analog sticks and face buttons on the Deck to be of noticeably higher quality. But do remember to get silicone grips for the Deck's analog sticks because they lack grip. Finally, the Deck features four bottom paddles instead of Ally's two, and you can use all four, unlike only one on the Ally, if you want access to secondary functions.

In terms of performance, the Ally has a clear advantage at TDPs higher than 10W. However, if you're not playing AAA games or have a gaming PC from which you can stream games locally via Moonlight, which works excellently on both the Deck and the Ally, the Steam Deck would be a better choice. The software competition isn't even close; Valve's handheld decisively outperforms the Ally in this category.

Regarding the screen and the audio setup, the ROG Ally is the clear winner. The Ally's screen significantly outshines the Deck's, and while we have no issues with the 720p resolution on the Deck, the Ally's superior colors and higher contrast make a significant difference. The Ally's speakers are also markedly better. They're louder, have more bass, and a more pronounced stereo effect.

In terms of battery life, the Deck takes the crown. At its maximum 15W TDP, our Deck can last significantly longer than our Ally. And if you really want to optimize battery life on the Deck, you can achieve four or even five hours of playtime in 2D games by manually adjusting the TDP, reducing screen brightness, and limiting the fps to 40 or 30 frames per second. The only win for the Ally in this category is the charging time, where its 65W brick surpasses the Deck's 45W charger.

Apart from gaming performance, another category where the Ally takes a resounding win is wireless performance. The Wi-Fi chip inside the Deck is arguably the worst feature of Valve's handheld. For instance, wireless performance often drastically slows while downloading games. We left the device plugged in to download games on multiple occasions, only to discover that the download speed dropped from 400Mbps when we left, to less than 10Mbps upon our return hours later, with no games downloaded.

Before we recommend which of the two handhelds to buy, we must first provide a disclaimer. Until Asus provides a satisfactory solution to the SD card issues, whether through a hardware revision or a software update, we cannot, in good conscience, recommend purchasing the Ally. Therefore, please consider this as a recommendation only after Asus resolves the SD card reader issues.

If you are a fan of AAA or esports games, the Ally is the better option not only because of its superior performance but also because many esports titles aren't available on the Deck. Additionally, the PC Game Pass does not function on the Deck, so if you're keen on playing games available on the PC Game Pass, the Ally is your only option.

For gamers who primarily play 2D titles and older AAA games, and those looking for an emulation machine, Valve's handheld would be a more suitable choice. While the ROG Ally outperforms the Deck in emulating PS3 and Xbox 360 games, games from most other systems work just as well on the Deck. When it comes to Switch emulation, both devices perform decently.

For gamer parents who can't dedicate more than 15 minutes at a time to gaming, the Deck is a better choice because it features a game suspend feature that operates very similarly to the Quick Resume function on Xbox. You can also get the suspend feature on the Ally if you install the Handheld Companion app, but if you're looking for a device with an out-of-the-box suspend feature, the Deck is the superior choice.

As we've already stated, the issues related to the SD card reader on the ROG Ally are real, well-documented, and widespread. As of writing this review, Asus hasn't offered a viable solution for these problems, except for releasing a BIOS update that increases the fan speed; nevertheless, many users continue to report damaged memory cards, even with the latest BIOS installed. For this reason alone, we cannot recommend the ROG Ally until the matter is fully resolved.

Looking at the device without the shadow of the SD card problems looming over it, we can say that the ROG Ally is a classic case of "almost, but not quite" syndrome. The build quality is exceptional, but the analog sticks and bottom paddles feel cheap, and the face buttons are a bit of a letdown. The hardware in the Ally is largely fantastic, but the 16GB of system memory fails to keep pace with the Z1 Extreme APU in certain gaming scenarios.

The outstanding display with VRR support and the audio setup are top-of-the-line for a handheld gaming device, but battery life leaves much to be desired. The cooling setup is a highlight; we have nothing negative to say about it. Conversely, the decision to omit a trackpad is something we find perplexing.

Then, there's the software experience, which is the single worst aspect of the ROG Ally. Windows is not an operating system designed for handheld devices without a keyboard or trackpad. The preloaded software, quirks, bugs, and lack of any optimizations or added options (such as enabling users to turn off CPU boost from the Command Center panel) only exacerbate the problem. It's also worth mentioning that, over a month and a half post-release, the ROG Ally has yet to receive a single graphics driver update, which is mildly concerning.

As a first-gen device, the Asus ROG Ally is by no means a bad handheld gaming PC. The gaming performance is mostly impressive, and we can imagine many owners ending up loving the device. However, the abundance of drawbacks, quirks, and issues suggests that Asus should've kept the Ally in the oven for a few more months.