IfIf you want a handheld gaming PC, there are only two legitimate options. In theory, the choice should be simple.
You could pick Valve’s Steam Deck, which established this entire hardware niche last spring, or its first legitimate challenger, Asus’ ROG Ally, which is hitting stores this summer. It’s a battle between the established industry leader and the sleeker, more powerful, and slightly more expensive upstart.
The trouble is, both the Steam Deck and Ally are excellent handhelds. There’s no obvious winner. Making the choice depends on what you need from these expensive portable PCs. The ROG Ally Z1 Extreme will be available for sale worldwide on June 13 for $699.99, and pre-orders should now be live.
When I reviewed the Steam Deck, I called it “my favorite video game console.” A year and change later, I’m even more certain of that belief. I wager that I spent more than half my time gaming last year with it, whether on my couch, in the airport, or at the cafe down the street. For all its greatness, however, the Steam Deck remains a first draft. The device is big, the battery life is small, and a handful of its boldest design choices (it runs on Linux and has a console-like user interface) double as its biggest hindrances (it doesn’t run Windows out of the box, making everything outside of Steam a headache at best and a nonstarter at worst).
a lake in the mountains in Forza Horizon 5 running on an Asus ROG Ally gaming handheld, lying on a blue-gray rug, photographed from above
Photo: Chris Plante/Polygon
This is where the Asus ROG Ally comes in. It’s a bizarro Steam Deck, often excelling in what the Steam Deck can’t do, but struggling with what the Steam Deck can. First and foremost, it comes with Windows right out of the box, like some funky-shaped gaming laptop. Anything built for Windows — basically 99% of software — works here. Want to download games from Xbox Game Pass, the Epic Games Store, GOG, or Itch.io? Go for it! Want to make use of decades’ worth of emulation software? That’s cool. Want to plug a USB-C dongle into the gaming handheld, then connect a monitor, mouse, and keyboard so that you can use it as the weirdest little work PC? You’re my sort of weirdo — go ahead and be yourself!
And yet, just like with the Steam Deck, the choices that elevate the ROG Ally occasionally chop it at the knees. The Ally isn’t like a gaming PC; it is a gaming PC. And Windows 11 isn’t designed to be navigated on the personal computing equivalent of a Nintendo Switch.
All of this is to say that neither the ROG Ally nor the Steam Deck is without its flaws, and none of those flaws are deal-breakers. So the best way to make a pick, in my humble opinion, is to focus on the positives.