Thursday, July 25, 2024

Asus ROG Ally X Hands-on Impressions: Upgrades That Matter

When the Asus ROG Ally made its debut last year, it came with certain caveats. Yes, the gaming performance was solid, but the same didn’t apply to its battery life. And while the design and build quality held up to the competition, the thermal management did not. Asus’ handheld was surely a positive entry in the segment, but it came with crucial limitations that held it back from truly challenging the heavyweights. The ROG Ally could be an alternative to the Steam Deck, but never a replacement.

Fast forward a year, and Asus is back with another gaming handheld. The Asus ROG Ally X made its debut on June 2, just ahead of Computex Taipei. The portable gaming PC attempts to address the apparent flaws of the ROG Ally with tweaks and improvements across the board. The upgrades are small, but meaningful — the handheld’s battery capacity (80Whr) significantly improves on the original’s (40Whr), it packs more memory and more storage, and is said to have better cooling than the ROG Ally. There are other changes, as well, that make for a better handheld altogether.

Two days after its launch, the Asus ROG Ally X was present at the company’s booth on the Computex floor, where Gadgets 360 got the chance to try it out for an extended period of time. It’s hard to tell how the spec bump translates into real-world performance improvements from an early and brief hands-on experience, but first impressions can go a long way. The first thing that strikes you is the new colourway that makes the ROG Ally X — well, ironically — less striking. Now in jet black, the handheld gaming PC blends with the competition (the Steam Deck, MSI Claw A1M, Lenovo Legion Go — all come in black). The original Ally’s white colourway, while more prone to dirt and grime from your hands, did convey a distinct aesthetic.

asus thumb rog ally x

The black colourway makes the ROG Ally X less striking

The ROG Ally X retains the design of its predecessor and there’s little that’s changed on the front. It offers the same 7-inch full-HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) IPS touchscreen display that refreshes at the rate of 120Hz and goes up to 500 nits of brightness. The D-pad sports a more pronounced design and a new matte finish — Asus says it has a more tactile feel, as well. The face buttons are the same, too, but the company claims they are “springier.” The Taiwanese firm has fitted the handheld with new joystick modules that are said to provide more control while aiming, a smoother feel and improved durability.

Changes are more apparent when you view the console from its sides and back. Because of the bigger battery, the Asus ROG Ally X is slightly thicker than the ROG Ally, going up to 1.45 inches compared to its predecessor’s 1.28 inches. With gripping handles that are rounder and fuller, the new handheld is more ergonomic, as well. I picked up and played on both the Ally X and the original Ally in my hands at Computex; the new handheld feels a little beefier and more robust in your hands. It’s just a shade heavier, too. But it’s impressive how Asus has kept the new handheld at 678 grams (The standard Ally weighs 608 grams) despite the bigger battery and larger handles. The shoulder buttons have been updated too, with wider, more ergonomic triggers. The back buttons, on the other hand, are now smaller to prevent accidental presses. These changes certainly improve the in-hand feel for the portable PC.

ally thumb ally x

The Asus ROG Ally X fits more ergonomically in your hands

Bigger changes are, however, under the hood. The ROG Ally with its 40Whr-rated battery couldn’t last two hours while playing demanding PC titles. Its under-powered battery was perhaps the biggest flaw and prevented it from becoming a truly portable handheld. The ROG Ally X addresses that shortcoming with an 80Whr battery that should result in longer gaming sessions. Playtime numbers are not clear yet and Asus hasn’t provided details on battery performance, but these should be clear once the device is in for a detailed review.

The handheld’s memory gets an upgrade, too, the ROG Ally X gets more RAM — 24GB at faster speeds of 7500MHz, out of which 16GB will be allocated for the system and 8GB for the GPU. This should likely result in better gaming performance in general, but don’t expect a big improvement as the Ally X still runs on AMD’s Ryzen Z1 Extreme Zen 4 platform with RDNA 3 graphics, same as the 2023 ROG Ally. The new handheld also comes with bigger storage out-of-the-box — 1TB SSD with support for the more common M.2 2280-sized drives, instead of the 2230 standard used in the ROG Ally.

Ports have been repositioned, as well, and Asus has ditched its proprietary XG Mobile port for two USB Type-C ports, one of which supports Thunderbolt 4. Asus also claims it has redesigned the cooling system on the handheld. The ROG Ally X uses smaller fans, which make space for the bigger battery, but result in better airflow — about 24 percent more than the previous model, according to Asus. This is also claimed to bring down the touchscreen temperature by up to 6 degree Celcius. The 2023 model did struggle with heat management, so this is a welcome change. But real-world thermal performance would only be clearer upon extended use.

rog ally ports rog ally x

Ports have been repositioned and the ROG Ally X now features two USB Type-C connectors

The one big thing that held back the Asus ROG Ally and works against the new model as well is the OS. The ROG Ally X comes with Windows 11, which while offering flexibility and versatility, remains an unwieldy and unintuitive touch interface for touchscreens. Sure, it allows the handheld to work like a pocket PC with attached controllers, but it pales in comparison to Steam Deck’s SteamOS, which brings a smoother, console-like UI. Asus has, however, packed a new version of Armoury Crate SE software this time around, which promises a more customisable interface and game library with easier navigation.

At Computex, Gadgets 360 tried out games like Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, Palworld, and Tekken 8. The titles were running smoothly, and we did not notice overheating issues in the short time with the handheld. This stood in contrast to the hands-on experience with the Zotac Zone, another new handheld seen at Computex. Zotac’s Windows-based portable crashed while running Horizon Forbidden West and showed signs of overheating. A detailed review will shed more light on the new Ally X’s gaming and thermal performance, but considering the improvements brought to an already decent handheld, the ROG Ally X could become the easiest to recommend among its Windows-based peers.

rog ally x computex rog ally x

The ROG Ally X is held back by Windows OS

The upgrades, however, also come at a cost. The Asus ROG Ally X costs $799 (roughly Rs. 66,700), up a $100 from the Z1 Extreme version of the 2023 model. India pricing should be available closer to launch here, which Asus has said should happen later this year. And while all the upgrades bring meaningful improvements, an OLED screen, too, would have been a nice addition. But, taking the price point into consideration, it seems Asus has made all the right choices for a mid-gen refresh of its handheld. The verdict can wait until a detailed review, but the ROG Ally X left us impressed in our hands-on time with the handheld. It might not be a true successor to the 2023 model, but it looks like a success.

Disclosure: Asus sponsored the correspondent’s flights and hotel for the event in Taipei.

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