I touched a prototype Asus ROG Ally X, and it felt better

On June 2nd, Asus will formally announce the ROG Ally X, a semi-sequel to its handheld gaming PC with a way bigger battery. We exclusively revealed the broad strokes last Thursday, but I’ve now touched an early engineering sample, too — and I’m pleased to say it’s far more comfortable to hold.

Asus has made a whole bunch of ergonomic changes that make it practically melt into my hands, in the exact way the original did not. While I still prefer the Steam Deck’s beefier grips and symmetrical thumbsticks, the Ally X could easily be my runner-up.

First, a disclaimer: this is not what I’d consider a proper hands-on. Asus wouldn’t let me power it on, play any games, or show you any photos. I couldn’t bring the old ROG Ally into the room or use any tools. The company even covered its ports with black electrical tape to keep me from sleuthing too much!

But I figure you’ll appreciate a discussion of the design changes anyhow. Let’s get into it, shall we?

The original ROG Ally, below the original Steam Deck.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Imagine a black ROG Ally — a black version of the white handheld you see in the image above. That’s how the ROG Ally X looks from the front: same big screen bezels, same glossy cover glass, same button layout, same speaker placement, almost the same exact shape throughout. But instead of palm rests with bumpy corners, you now get smooth curves.

Flip it over, and those curves dominate the handheld’s rear grips, with no more unnecessary edges. Asus no longer makes you try to wrap your fingers around embedded versions of ROG’s trademark diagonal slash — though the iridescent foil slash design mark itself is still there.

The back of the original ROG Ally, as a visual aid. The Ally X back buttons and grips are quite different.
Photo by Monica Chin / The Verge

The new back buttons no longer embody the slash, either; they’ve been shrunk down to small, almost heart-shaped pebbles and moved further away from the grips. The grips aren’t as beefy as the Steam Deck’s, but there’s enough to get my fingers around.

Add it all together, and I can now pick up this handheld and hold it above my head without any edges digging into my fingers or palms. It’s easier to grip, and the back buttons no longer get in the way — they’re there if I need them, not if I don’t.

It’s not a light handheld. The bigger battery will make it a thicker and heavier one, and the engineering sample definitely had more heft than the original. But I wouldn’t say it felt heavy, either, thanks to the added comfort when holding it.

I won’t guess at its weight, but I can give you an educated guess at thickness: maybe a third of an inch thicker at most.

How can I tell? I used my index finger as a ruler! The handheld’s “tablet” portion is roughly as thick as the length of my index fingertip, and the grips add roughly the thickness of my index fingernail. Since my fingertip’s about an inch long (27mm), and my fingernail’s about half an inch long (13mm), the Ally X is roughly 1.5 inches and 40mm thick in total. Meanwhile, the original ROG Ally is 1.27 inches (32mm) thick, and 0.83 inches (21mm) of that is its tablet region.

While I mentioned earlier that the Ally melted into my hands, I do feel saying that is a bit premature: the engineering sample I saw was an entirely unfinished, smooth, cheap-looking piano black, and Asus plans to stipple and texture its grips before launch.

So that’s the sculpt… what about the rest? It’s pretty hard to judge without actually playing a game, but here’s what I think I noticed playing around:

  • The ABXY face buttons feel like they’ve nudged slightly southward, closer to the analog stick, so that the B button now slightly intersects the grip
  • The face buttons are a little less rattle-y, though they still do pleasingly rattle
  • The joysticks now have a nicely tacky rubber coating in the middle, like the Steam Deck OLED — their throw felt slightly tighter, too
  • The D-pad now has eight-way indicators and felt very slightly floatier
  • The triggers maybe have a touch more throw and still have a nice smooth pull
  • There’s still just two back buttons
  • It still uses Phillips head screws
  • You still get RGB LED ring lights around the sticks; I couldn’t tell if they’d been added to the buttons, but they’re still double-shot
  • I could see through vent gaps in the chassis that there’s still a pair of fans inside

That’s all I was able to glean — but if Asus manages to nail comfort and battery life without a much higher price tag, this’ll definitely be a handheld to watch. Leaker @MysteryLupin claims it will cost $799 and come with 1TB of storage, 24GB of RAM, and up to eight hours of battery life — but if I recall correctly, Asus claimed the original Ally had up to eight hours of battery life, too.

I guess we’ll find out in June!

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