Asus ROG Ally X hands-on: It’s got a new black color, but can it beat the Steam Deck?

I adore my Steam Deck OLED, but the Asus ROG Ally X has a case as the gaming handheld you should have your eyes on right now.

Announced on Sunday, this new iteration on 2023’s ROG Ally is far from a ROG Ally 2. It doesn’t have significantly enhanced horsepower nor a dazzling new display, but Asus made a bunch of small-but-important upgrades to everything in the margins.

Based on a brief hands-on demo of the ROG Ally X, anyone who’s been on the fence about jumping into the handheld gaming PC market should give this $799 device, which can be found at Best Buy, some serious consideration.

Asus ROG Ally X: specs and upgrades

To be perfectly clear, again, this is not a straight up sequel to the ROG Ally.

Asus ROG Ally X on a table

Asus ROG Ally X
Credit: Joe Maldonado / Mashable

Anyone who bought that device a year ago should not feel an imminent need to upgrade right now. To demonstrate why, here are the Ally X’s basic specs, with differences noted:

  • 7-inch 1080p display with 120Hz refresh rate

  • AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme processor

  • AMD Radeon GPU

  • 24GB LPDDR5 on-board memory (up from 16GB on ROG Ally)

  • Up to 1TB of SSD storage (up from 512GB on ROG Ally)

  • 3.5mm audio jack

  • MicroSD card reader

  • Two USB-C ports (up from one on ROG Ally)

So, on the surface, we’re looking at a device with the same display, the same CPU, and the same GPU as the current $699 model. And yes, it runs Windows 11 just like the previous model did.

That part is important because it gives Asus an inherent, out-of-the-box advantage over Steam Deck, a device that runs a custom version of Linux — unless you go in and tinker with it yourself. Having Windows 11 pre-installed gives users increased access to games from storefronts like the Epic Games Store and Xbox Game Pass. Steam Deck owners, on the other hand, have to work harder to get those things.

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Asus ROG Ally X

Asus ROG Ally X
Credit: Joe Maldonado / Mashable

But if you thought the upgrades only amounted to more RAM, storage, and another USB-C port, you are sorely mistaken. Asus redesigned the motherboard to include a M.2 2280 slot so users can more easily upgrade the device’s storage themselves. Perhaps most importantly, there’s now an 80Wh battery powering the device, literally twice as big as the battery inside the older ROG Ally.

Asus was able to do all of that while redesigning the exterior, giving it a new black colorway and a slightly more ergonomic button layout. The new analog sticks are expected to last longer (Asus claims they can survive 5 million cycles), the back buttons are smaller to reduce the possibility of accidentally pressing them during gameplay, and the analog sticks and face buttons are now placed at a marginally more friendly angle, so moving your thumbs from one to the other should be more comfortable.

Asus ROG Ally X: hands-on

My actual hands-on time with the Ally X was brief — and there wasn’t an original ROG Ally nearby for the sake of direct comparison. But even in just a handful of minutes toying with the device, it was clear that this is a more substantial upgrade than originally expected.

Asus ROG Ally X on a table with ports showing

Credit: Joe Maldonado / Mashable

For starters, the new ergonomic button placements feel very comfortable, regardless of how they compare to the original design. Sliding my thumbs from the sticks to the face buttons never felt awkward, and the grips on the back help give it a steady center of gravity. I didn’t ever feel like I was in danger of dropping it or anything like that. And no, I never accidentally pressed one of the back buttons, which is something I have done on my Steam Deck.

Asus ROG Ally X on a table with ports showing

Credit: Joe Maldonado / Mashable

Asus says the ROG Ally X is only 0.15lbs heavier than the original (for a total of 1.49lbs) despite its internal improvements — and I can confirm that the weight is not a distraction, at least in the short term. One thing Asus promises about the Ally X that couldn’t really be tested in a quick hands-on is that it’s supposed to have better thermals to reduce the odds of the device running hot after a long session. That will be something to keep an eye on as units ship out to customers later this year.

As for game performance, you shouldn’t really expect any major differences from the original ROG Ally (the CPU and GPU hasn’t changed). More RAM theoretically helps out, but we’ll need to wait for detailed benchmarks for really hardware-intensive AAA games like Cyberpunk 2077. The only game I got hands-on time with was 2020’s Battletoads, a 2D beat-’em-up with visuals that looked sharp, punchy, and impressive on the ROG Ally X’s display. It was running at well above 60 FPS, too, which is good, but not really surprising.

Asus ROG Ally X on a table with ports showing

Credit: Joe Maldonado / Mashable

With a price point that’s $100 higher than the existing high-end ROG Ally, it’s hard to make a case for someone to run out and upgrade from that device to the Ally X. However, this is a case study in why early adoption is occasionally for suckers. It may not be the ROG Ally 2, but the Ally X seems like the device the original version should’ve been. A handful of thoughtful internal and external changes give it real potential, especially in a suddenly crowded handheld gaming PC market.

The fact that it just has Windows from the jump is huge, too. Honestly, that should be the selling point, even with how much I love the Steam Deck.


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