The ASUS ROG Ally Z1 Extreme PC gaming handheld grabbed gamers’ attention when it arrived in June 2023, and since then, the company has released a slightly cheaper version of the device: the ASUS ROG Ally Z1. At first glance, the only difference between them is the “Extreme” on the end of the name, but there are some big changes to the hardware worth noting.
Now, I’ll preface this review by saying that I’m a big fan of what ASUS is doing with the ROG Ally Z1 series. I’m also a enamored by what Valve has been doing with the Steam Deck. With this review, I’m aiming to compare the two from a user standpoint. Sure, looking at the specs on paper can tell you something about the device, but ultimately, how the device performs in your everyday gaming is what matters.
The specs and price
While my review won’t spend a lot of time on the numbers, the specs are important when it comes to making comparisons to other handhelds out there.
The ASUS ROG Ally Z1 lists for $US599.99, and comes with 512GB of internal storage, 16GB of LPDDR5 memory, and a 7-inch 120Hz capable screen with full HD 1080P resolution. The processor on the ROG Ally Z1 is an AMD Ryzen Z1 Extreme, and it offers six Zen 4 CPU cores and four RDNA 3 GPU cores.
These are huge cutbacks from the ROG Ally Z1 Extreme, and that really shows when you’re comparing the two devices side-by-side.
The ROG Ally Z1 is built for less demanding games
Don’t get me wrong: Despite what might sound like a negative opinion of the specs on the ROG Ally Z1, it is a solid gaming device. It’s more than powerful enough to run indie games, and while it will run some AAA games, you’re going to get performance similar to, and slightly lower than, what the Steam Deck offers. Of course, like any computer system, some games play better than others, and that’s very apparent on the ASUS ROG Ally Z1, as certain games that run decently on the Steam Deck do not work well on the Z1. One of the biggest culprits was Starfield, which I couldn’t get to run beyond 15-20 FPS on the Z1. (For additional context, I’ve played the same areas of the game on the Steam Deck, and while it doesn’t run perfectly, it is at least playable.)
Of course, hiccups are bound to happen when you’re pushing a big AAA game onto one of these handhelds, since they just aren’t as powerful as full-sized desktop or gaming laptops. Other games faired better on the ROG Ally Z1, with Red Dead Redemption 2 running at a solid 30 FPS after some tweaking to settings.
Indie games like Hades and Dinkum work fine, but they aren’t nearly as processor-intensive as triple A games, so that’s to be expected. I mostly use my Steam Deck for indie games anyway, so it wasn’t that big of a deal that the ROG Ally Z1 didn’t exceed it in any way.
Overall, the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 isn’t going to set any records for how it performs as a handheld. But it does fine enough that there isn’t any real reason to complain. Sure, it could be better, but mobile gaming on handhelds like this is still a few years away from desktop-class experiences.
The ROG Ally Z1 is easy to use and runs Windows 11
This device sports a full version of Windows 11. Overlaid on top of that is ASUS Armory Crate software, which lets you access different games and software from an easy-to-navigate interface.
I was pleased with how easy it was to get around the device using the Ally Z1’s various joysticks and buttons, and the ability to easily navigate Windows 11 on a handheld is certain something worth commending. However, if you don’t like the added complexity of having a full-fledged operating system on your handheld, then you’re going to find some annoyances with the Windows 11 inclusion here.
Installing certain apps requires you to back out of the Armory Crate window, for example, making you interact directly with Windows 11. There are also multiple places where you have to go to adjust different settings, and it can be a bit difficult to navigate if you don’t already have experience with Windows 11.
Beyond that, though, installing games and getting them running is pretty easy. Armory Crate and the other shortcuts that ASUS includes on the handheld make it simple to change different settings and try to achieve better performance from your games. I also liked connecting to Steam and Xbox, so I could easily move between the different services that I wanted to use.
And, since you’re using Windows 11, you can pretty much install anything. There’s no worry about whether or not it supports Steam Deck’s Linux-based operating system, or whether it is Steam Deck certified. It’s also easier to sideload apps on the ROG Ally Z1 than the Steam Deck, though I do prefer Valve’s SteamOS overall.
Long term support
It’s hard to justify spending this much on something if you aren’t sure it’s going to last a long time. While the ASUS ROG Ally Z1 isn’t exceptionally powerful for a handheld, it is a solid option for those that want to get into the handheld world without relying on Valve’s Steam Deck.
However, there are longstanding concerns about how the support for the ROG Ally Z1 will go, as ASUS has struggled to keep up with software support in the past. Hopefully, that won’t be the case with the Ally Z1 and the Z1 Extreme, and certainly the company is off to a strong start with its handheld offerings. If it can continue to offer meaningful upgrades going forward, I have no doubt the Z1 will grow into an even stronger option for handheld gamers.
While it’s true that AAA performance is lacking at the moment, the Steam Deck also suffered from similar performance issues when it first launched. Some of those issues are locked to the hardware of the device, but software updates can also make a big difference.
The ASUS ROG Ally Z1 isn’t the best handheld on the market. But, if you want the full Windows 11 experience in your handheld and support for both Steam and Xbox marketplaces, then it is worth considering.
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