While handheld gaming consoles are increasingly becoming popular in several markets such as the US and China, they have not been well-received in India. That could be because the gaming industry in the country is still on the rise and would take more time to mature to the point where the demand would necessitate the sale of unconventional gaming gear. For a market that prioritises smartphones as a medium to play most games — take the example of BGMI or Free Fire, handheld gaming may seem ahead of time. But Asus does not think so. Asus took a risk by launching the ROG Ally handheld gaming console in India a few weeks back.
The Asus ROG Ally is the first officially launched handheld console in India, priced at Rs 69,990. That is a few thousand rupees less than the price of two Xbox Series S consoles and around the price of a good gaming laptop. It is clearly meant for a niche audience that would care to spend that kind of money on a device with a new form factor and may come across as a novelty to some. Currently, there is no data to tell you the demand for portable gaming devices in India, but there are a handful of people who are early adopters. Consider the demand for Nintendo Switch, even though it was never officially launched in India. Asus ROG Ally is targeting them but is it worth the money? I spent about two weeks with Asus ROG Ally and I have an answer for you.
The Asus ROG Ally follows the design of handheld consoles where a screen is flanked by controls. It looks like an Xbox controller was cut in half and a screen was sandwiched between the halves. The look of the console is also very similar to that of an Xbox controller, maybe because Asus wants you to be familiar with the device in a rare case if you have held the controller before. That makes sense because at the heart of the device is Windows, which in a different form runs Xbox consoles. And that is not a bad thing because the design looks premium and gives the sense of holding a futuristic gaming device.
Since the console is meant for holding, Asus has tried to keep it lightweight. However, I felt prolonged usage did begin to cause some discomfort. It is not for continued usage and you may feel like taking breaks from gaming on the ROG Ally. The console has several buttons — some on the back and on the shoulder. These buttons — or pads — are well positioned so my fingers rested naturally on these buttons when holding the console horizontally. The speakers of the console are on the front, one on each side of the display, so there is no chance you will muffle the sound. These speakers are impressively loud — although I do not see a reason why you would use the built-in speakers during gaming and not go for earphones. During the times when you are watching a Netflix movie or a YouTube video or just listening to music, these speakers do the job. ROG Ally’s stereo microphones work well as long as you are not using earbuds when gaming.
The display of the Asus ROG Ally is one of the main attractions. It is big enough to play most games, watch movies, and navigate around. But there were times when I felt the size could have been slightly bigger. For instance, I felt like overlooking important elements in the game visible on the screen but indiscernible to my eye. That is the case with a few games, which you may not play. For most games, this screen size is fine. But I cannot say the same for the overall navigation. Even though Windows has powered several handheld devices before, it still feels half-baked — at least for the ROG Ally. Most of the time, I was retapping a button because some elements were too small to register my finger tap. Other times I was closing apps that I accidentally fired up. And this is when the device is fully set up. During the Windows setup, I found it very difficult to navigate. It’s not the console’s issue. It is Windows.
There are certain navigation buttons meant to minimise the issues like these with software. But even they were not too much help because remembering which button does what needed practice. The buttons, otherwise, are tactile and easily reachable. The dedicated Command Centre button helps when you want to quickly change some settings or just jump to the desktop. The ABXY buttons sit flush and have good feedback when you press them. But these buttons are mostly meant to aid you in gaming — and sometimes they fail (more on this later). They are not there to help you interact with Windows. It is a shame because Microsoft is a partner for the Asus ROG Ally. That means if there is any device that can give you the best of Windows on a small-screen gaming device, it’s the ROG Ally. The outcomes left me wanting more. Let me explain.
There is obviously no physical keyboard attached to the device, so you know you will have to make do with a virtual keyboard. That should be fine because we are used to using that on our phones and tablets. That’s what I thought until I used the keyboard on the ROG Ally. Because reaching a few letters on the virtual split keyboard was a task using my thumbs. Keeping the console on a surface and then typing on it was easier at the expense of extra effort, especially when I was required to type during a gaming session. I could not so much as type in letters with the left joystick or D-pad either. Scrolling through websites and documents using the joystick is a hit or miss. Sure, I could use my fingers to scroll up or down on the touchscreen, but it was not a nice experience when I was holding the device. And, most importantly, why would I want to touch the screen when the joysticks are present?
I am not nitpicking here and these are some issues you will be annoyed with over your usage with the ROG Ally. Maybe Asus will fix these through a software update.
The display, otherwise, is good for watching movies if you are not feeling like gaming on it. The colours are not great but not bad either. The videos play at HD quality, which is enough for a screen this size. The only problem you would have is while navigating Windows to open a website or download an app.
This is one of the beefiest portable gaming machines you can buy on the market. That means you would hardly face issues while playing games. I am saying that because I did not — as long as I was playing games through the Armoury Crate. FIFA 23, Call of Duty, Valorant, and NFS Heat run as smoothly as they would on a non-portable console. Since the controls are all too similar, you will not feel alienated from the experience. That means you will almost instantly like playing games on the ROG Ally. The joysticks and ABXY buttons work as they should but sometimes they would not register the hits for some reason. But I would not call it a big issue because it happened randomly with select games. The controls of most games are mapped correctly to the keys but for a few games, I needed to redo most of the controls. That is because I know what buttons do what rather than an entirely new system.
By now you know Windows is not just sitting right with this device, but there is one department where it is actually a smart choice. Gaming. Because ROG Ally does not run proprietary software like that of Steam Deck or Nintendo Switch, you have the flexibility to download and install games from several different sources. You could go to the Xbox Store and download games. Or just download the Epic Store and install games from there. You could download Steam and begin with gaming. Heck, you can even access Google Play Games for PC on the ROG Ally — although with a workaround. You can even sideload games like you do on a PC. All of that means a wide variety of games. And all these games appear in the Armoury Crate so you do not have to go from app to app to look for a downloaded game.
By default, most games run at 1080p but at the regular 24-30fps. To make animations and gaming smoother, you ought to dial it down a notch to 720p, which is when games run at as high as 120Hz. The refresh rate depends from game to game, but also on the power source. On battery, there is some performance throttling but when you connect ROG Ally’s bulky charger, it gets its full strength.
It is common for laptops but for a device that is meant to be portable, it does not sit well. I doubt anyone would go through the trouble of finding an AC power source on the go if they want to play an intense match on the console. The whole idea of portability is to ensure people have as less as possible to rely on power sources. That might not seem like a big issue because there are hundreds of games that do not need that kind of power, but that is not what this machine is for. It is not targeted at casual gamers after all. And speaking of portability, there is no cellular connectivity on the ROG Ally, so your only option for wireless internet is Wi-Fi. That does not sound very convenient for people who want to play games on the go.
You can change the power modes manually but the 30W Turbo Mode works only with the charger. That means the only USB-C port on the ROG Ally will remain busy as long as you need it to work at full capacity. You will realise the paucity of ports if you want to connect accessories to the console or just connect it to a desktop monitor or a TV. That is because Asus says ROG Ally is not just a gaming console, it is a mini-computer. Sure, it has got the brawns and the brains but I find it hard to believe that anyone looking for a PC would go for the ROG Ally. Over my time with the ROG Ally, I never felt the need to use it as a PC. Yes, I have a laptop and a desktop at home, but the idea of connecting a console with a TV or monitor to use Windows sounds a bit weird to me.
Okay, maybe I do not find it quite practical, but even those who would have to face a few challenges. First, you do not have enough ports to connect so many devices at once. You will have to get a dongle. If you have a desktop monitor or a TV, you will need a keyboard and mouse to use it as a PC. Connecting the console to an external output will consume the battery faster, so you need to keep the console connected to a power source the entire time.
Battery, particularly, is average on the ROG Ally. It lasted about two hours on a single charge with me playing games mostly on it. That is just acceptable because even though the hardware inside the console is power-hungry, it does not change the fact that this is a portable device. The 65W charger helps fill the juice faster though.
For what it is worth, the Asus ROG Ally is trying to create a category of gaming devices that are hardly popular in India. It is a novelty to some, dare I say. Most gamers and even people enthusiastic about new gadgets will fancy the ROG Ally. But that is it. As a shiny and maybe futuristic gadget, ROG Ally wins all points, but it is far from becoming a mainstream gaming device.
I am not saying it is not a sensible product. It is, but only if Asus and a few other companies that offer handheld consoles are able to convince gamers that it is the machine they should choose over a gaming laptop– which may cost about the same as ROG Ally’s price or even less — or a gaming console — which costs less. It is also a powerful machine, which hardcore gamers will appreciate but I find it hard to imagine why they would choose ROG Ally over other gaming options that are not held back by the software. Windows is what makes this device less utilitarian — at least for now, and it is a shame for this kind of hardware.
If you are planning to buy the Asus ROG Ally, make sure you understand what you are getting into. Especially when you are spending about Rs 70,000.
Author Name | Shubham Verma