I’ve always been enthralled with portable gaming devices. As a child, I clearly remember seeing a Game & Watch in the wild for the first time, amazed at the idea of playing games anywhere I wanted. After getting my hands on the ASUS ROG Ally for several days, I’ve found that childlike wonder welling up once again.
Since first surfacing last month, the ASUS ROG Ally has received a lot of buzz: are the specs for real? If they are, what’s it going to cost? The details are hitting now, and if you want the verdict from someone who does this all the time, you’ve got your pick. For me, the most tantalizing aspect of the ROG Ally is the promise of taking the expansive Game Pass library anywhere I go, so I’m focusing on that angle here. (To see if your favorite Xbox games support Xbox Play Anywhere, allowing you to pick up where you left off on another Xbox or Windows 11 PC, check out the official Xbox Play Anywhere site here.)
The ROG Ally’s differentiator from most other handheld gaming devices is that it runs the full version of Windows 11. As soon as I signed in, the ROG Ally seamlessly detected that I’m a Game Pass Ultimate member, and even automatically connected to my home Wi-Fi – it’s the little things! Of course, it’s the big things too, like access to all the games I’ve previously purchased from the Windows Store, seamlessly syncing my progress thanks to Xbox cloud saving, and access to Steam, Epic, Battle.net, Ubisoft+, EA Play, and much, much more. If your gaming PC can play it, the ROG Ally probably can too.
I can’t overstate how exhilarating it is to load up a brand-new device, launch the Xbox app, and immediately have so much to play. Ghostwire: Tokyo, let’s do it. The Last Case of Benedict Fox and Ravenlok just dropped; added to the queue! Vampire Survivors on the go is a must. And Persona 3 Portable is actually portable once more!
In addition to the hundreds of titles available to Game Pass members, you may find yourself surprised at how many games you have access to, even if you’ve never played on PC. I (re)discovered dozens of titles waiting for me under the Xbox Play Anywhere umbrella that I’ve purchased through the years: Cuphead, Hades, the excellent Haven, and Like a Dragon: Ishin! (you can find the full list of XPA titles here). And, of course, I can pick up right where I left off in all of them.
After going shopping in my closet, if you will – downloading games that felt well-adapted for portable or shorter sessions – it was time to actually play. First thing to jump out at me is the Ally’s 7-inch screen; incredibly sharp, bright, and smooth up to 120hz, I was quickly sucked into the vibrant scenes in titles like Tetris Effect, Ravenlok, and Grounded.
As a console gamer primarily, I’m not one to spend time tweaking settings beyond inverting the Y-axis (I know, I know), and I spent precious little time doing so. If the game looked great off the bat, cool. On a couple of titles, I lowered the overall graphical settings a notch to boost frame rates, and off I went. Of course, this is a handheld Windows PC – if you want to tinker, you’ve got every opportunity.
For my fellow Xbox console players, most of the buttons are where you’d expect them to be. Even the Menu (or “Hamburger Button,” if you prefer) and View buttons use the same icons. You’ll also find two handy buttons just underneath these: one pops out a guide-like overlay to change brightness, toggle the framerate counter, snap screenshots, or a number of other quick-hit functions; it’s fully customizable. The other button offers quick access to Armoury Crate, ASUS’ touch-friendly interface where all of your games just… show up – it’s a fantastic way to bring all of your myriad PC game libraries into a single place.
The Armoury Crate interface also offers quick access to the most important features on the device: those pertaining to performance and battery life. Players can select the ROG Ally’s “Operating Mode;” pre-set profiles from “Turbo” through to “Silent,” or manually adjust settings to balance CPU and GPU performance with energy use and fan speed. Armoury Crate is also where players can adjust the lighting effects around the sticks (or turn them off entirely), and access a comprehensive list of display pre-sets optimized for different game genres or other functions such as watching video on your ROG Ally.
While the primary appeal of the ROG Ally is the ability to download and play games natively on the device, this is Windows, so Xbox Cloud Gaming is easily at hand: launchable from the Xbox app or by entering Xbox.com/play into the included Edge browser, you’ll be streaming games just a few seconds later. On my “pretty good but hardly Wi-Fi 6” network, Forza Horizon 5 played smooth and responsively. I very quickly forgot I was streaming, and even placed 1st in a technically demanding Rally Adventure race – something I’d consider an accomplishment on any device.
My Forza Horizon 5 cloud gaming experience doubled as a great reminder of the excellent speakers on the ROG Ally: the sounds of revving engines, skittering gravel, and Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” came through in a way that enveloped me in the game… and volume was only at 40%.
The ROG Ally’s A/V capability feels packed with power for such a small package; it’s got brightness, decibels, and overhead to spare, such that I kept turning them down. Considering you’re untethered from the wall, that’s not something I’d expect to say about a handheld, ever. Battery life tests are covered more rigorously by reviewers, but I was able to comfortably play Vampire Survivors during the length of my kid’s soccer practice without searching for a place to plug in.
If my time with the ASUS ROG Ally has shown me anything it’s that you’re going to want to bring this thing with you wherever you go, and for that, I’d highly recommend a protective case. I threw my tester in the laptop pocket of my backpack, and I found myself wishing I had another layer of protection for the screen. But that’s something I’ll worry about when I get my own ROG Ally. And I will be getting one; with my test unit back with ASUS, there’s a handheld-shaped hole in my gaming routine.
ASUS ROG Ally pre-orders are live now, and include 3 months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.