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Two (mainstream) handheld gaming PCs stand out at this point in time: Valve’s Steam Deck and the ROG Ally from ASUS. There’s the Lenovo Legion Go as well but, based on numerous different reports, it’s nowhere near polished enough to warrant a spot in this discussion — for the time being, at least. It’s also a lot more niche given its hybrid nature which, while certainly interesting and unique, lessens and diminishes its mainstream appeal.
Up to this point, there wasn’t that big of a dilemma: if you wanted incredible performance (a more novel iGPU and a higher TDP), lower fan noise, Windows as opposed to SteamOS, and a high refresh rate display (that’s a lot more color accurate), then you had to go with the ROG Ally — budget permitting, of course.
The Steam Deck always offered a more user-friendly, console-like experience, in addition to better battery life and a more fervent community of both users and developers. It lacked power, though, at least for AAA games which most folks are drawn towards. Those with a penchant for indies and emulation had a blast since day one but, if you ever wanted to run something truly demanding, Valve’s offering often couldn’t deliver — which is only natural given its frugal SoC and (comparatively speaking) meager power draw.
Now, though, with the release of the Steam Deck OLED, all other handheld gaming PCs no longer have as big an upper hand as they did just a few short weeks ago.
Steam Deck OLED vs ASUS ROG Ally — What’s the Difference?
The Steam Deck OLED is still, essentially, a Steam Deck. It’s not a device that’ll chew through AAA games as if it were nothing. It’s not an all-in-one gaming console that’s going to replace both your PC and your PlayStation 5.
It is, however, a much improved revision, and it brings a few truly vital additions over its predecessor, along with a couple of wholly unique bells and whistles.
Valve’s OLED Steam Deck Has Bridged the Gap
It features a revised cooling solution which results in lower temperatures and much less fan noise. It has faster RAM and a myriad of different (and highly thoughtful) quality of life improvements. But two of the biggest and most noteworthy upgrades are its screen and its vastly improved battery life.
Those two changes alone make it worth the asking price. It still has about the exact same performance, but it’s not as loud, it lasts for up to 30-50% longer on a single charge and, when combined with its 90Hz HDR-capable OLED display (which supports up to a 1000 nits of maximum brightness), it’s easy for one deem it the absolute best handheld gaming PC on the market.
Valve’s Steam Deck has always been the most well-rounded option. If all your games are tied to Steam and you’re not particularly tech-savvy, then Valve’s OLED-imbued offering is, without a doubt, the device to go for. And if you are tech savvy and don’t mind doing a bit of “grunt work,” you can easily tweak and tune your Steam Deck to run all sorts of game launchers, emulators, third-party software, and everything in between (even Windows).
ROG Ally — Powerful But Flawed
The ROG Ally, despite its many incredible strengths and merits, can at times be incredibly janky, and most of it is tied directly to Windows. You get the ability to run whichever game launcher you like at the expense of the overall user experience. To some, a worthwhile trade-off; to others, an absolute nightmare.
Its battery life is simply atrocious, and while it can run games better than the Steam Deck, that performance often comes at too big a cost runtime-wise. If you’re okay with two-to-three hours of battery life, then you’ll love the Ally and all that it brings — if you’re okay with dealing with certain bugs and software-related issues.
When it comes to software and firmware updates, ASUS has done a bang-up job over the last six or so months, and that deserves to be mentioned. The ROG Ally is still far from perfect, but it is now a lot more polished than one would expect.
Steam Deck OLED vs ASUS ROG Ally — Which Should You Buy?
If you’re after the highest level of performance — and are willing to accept a few wholly specific strengths and weaknesses — then you essentially have to go with the ROG Ally. If the games you want to play aren’t extremely demanding, however, then the Steam Deck OLED will undoubtedly provide a better, more well-rounded experience. It’s easy to use, easy to tweak and mess around with, it works as advertised ten times out of ten, and has a much better display than any other handheld gaming PC on the market.
Those are no small benefits. And while the ROG Ally is a worthy competitor — if not even a flat-out better option for certain use-cases and scenarios — it nonetheless isn’t on the same level when it comes to the overall user experience. And sure, you might scoff at such a thing if you’re a seasoned tech guru, but you will need ample patience once Armory Crate starts bugging up, or when there’s a seemingly endless list of firmware updates and patches of all sorts and kinds, be they for Windows, MyASUS, Armory Crate, or something else entirely.
And, needless to say, the battery life deserves ample attention as well — it is, at best, painfully mediocre and, at worst, laughably bad.
So if you don’t need the absolute best performance (for, say, some AAA gaming on the go), then you might as well save yourself a few hundred dollars and go with the Steam Deck OLED. It’ll not only offer a more seamless user experience, but its screen and battery life won’t leave you wanting in any which way. And, moreover, Valve’s offering performs admirably well at various different stages up to its maximum TDP of 15W; so much so that it often ends up outperforming the ROG Ally, the likes of which only starts picking up steam and creating a lead for itself past that 15W mark.
The Steam Deck OLED is, without a doubt, the better option for most people — an option that’s less buggy, more well-rounded, with a better display, more input options, sufficient performance, and some truly impressive battery life.