I initially didn’t intend to purchase the ROG Ally, but when my Steam Deck struggled with playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I decided to get one, especially since the Ally’s 30W performance mode was available on JD.com. After using it for a day, I’d like to provide a comparison between it and the Steam Deck.
I’ll focus on various aspects like hardware performance, design, and the operating system, even though my time with the Ally has been limited.
The ROG Ally boasts clear advantages in hardware performance. It can smoothly run demanding games like the Halo Master Chief Collection and supports WiFi 6E, offering lightning-fast download speeds. In fact, this is the first hardware that has the potential to max out my home’s gigabit speed. The Ally also supports fingerprint unlocking, which is particularly useful for parents as it provides a more secure way to unlock the device compared to entering a password.
The Steam Deck also has good hardware performance. Valve and AMD collaborated to develop the Van Gogh chip, which uses the previous generation RDNA 2 graphics architecture. This partly contributes to the Steam Deck’s relatively lower price point. Despite this, the Steam Deck can still run The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim at 60 frames per second, highlighting the importance of game optimization for hardware.
It’s important to note that both of these devices have a hardware limit. After conducting performance tests on various games, I found the key difference between the two devices is that the Steam Deck can smoothly run games at 720p, while the ROG Ally can easily handle 1080p games.
In terms of design, the Steam Deck offers greater comfort. Its ergonomic design, touchpad, and rear buttons make it more user-friendly. Although the initial button layout might seem odd, it only takes about an hour to get used to. The ROG Ally, on the other hand, has a relatively conventional design. The initial feel of the casing is nice, but the grip is quite flat, which can lead to discomfort during long gaming sessions. Additionally, the rear paddle buttons on the Ally feel somewhat uncomfortable, as they protrude from the surface rather than being integrated into the casing, potentially causing fingers to get caught underneath.
Moreover, the design of the ROG Ally has sparked controversy. During extended gaming sessions, its SD card slot and hardware are affected by heat, resulting in hardware malfunctions.
The Steam Deck runs its custom SteamOS, with a highly impressive Big Picture Mode interface optimized for TVs and handheld devices. The ROG Ally, on the other hand, uses Windows, but its custom interface, Armory Crate, feels less intuitive. Navigating the interface with the touchscreen and thumbsticks can be cumbersome.
The Ally also lacks a crucial hardware component: a touchpad. The Steam Deck’s touchpad allows for easy navigation in desktop mode. Modifying games or adding applications on the Ally isn’t as smooth as on the Steam Deck.
Furthermore, Windows’ on-screen keyboard occasionally pops up, which can be annoying.
Another annoying aspect is that the Ally frequently causes games to exit when it enters sleep mode. In contrast, SteamOS is built from the ground up, and when the Steam Deck goes into sleep mode, it can correctly resume games, even for purely online games, without disrupting the gameplay.
For a handheld device, this means that the Ally cannot be easily set aside to perform other tasks. However, this issue is mainly due to Windows.
The Steam Deck is easy to adapt for, and once optimized for the Steam Deck, 30W performance becomes equivalent to 15*2. The ROG Ally’s adaptation is generally average. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim runs at 30W but only reaches 45 frames per second at 720p, and it feels rougher compared to the Steam Deck. At 15W, it’s far behind the Steam Deck, and at 10W, the sound from the speakers becomes distorted and unplayable. At 1080p and 30W, it barely manages 30 frames per second, but the experience is much better. I’ll see if there are better adaptations in the future.
In conclusion, let’s analyze the design philosophies. Valve focuses on software development, similar to Nintendo. They control the price well, don’t chase after high-end hardware, and the result is a device that is user-friendly, easy to pick up, and optimized to run most games smoothly using adaptation methods. Asus, on the other hand, focuses on hardware, similar to Sony. They aim for various cool features and top-tier hardware, resulting in a higher price point. However, software adaptation takes longer, and it can take several days to achieve smooth performance. Steam may not be putting in much effort for compatibility, especially for hardware-intensive games, but the results can be impressive. However, for the majority of games that don’t require high-end hardware, the efficiency may not be as good as the Steam Deck.
Apart from hardware differences, it ultimately depends on the type of games you want to play. If you need to play games like Destiny 2 anytime, anywhere, then the ROG Ally is more suitable. However, the overall design of the Steam Deck is more complete. Although its compatibility is not as good as the Ally due to system reasons, for games in the playable list, the Steam Deck offers better usability and experience.