When Asus seeded the first units of its handheld ROG Ally gaming PC to reviewers back in May, it’s fair to say that the results were... not overwhelmingly positive. Some reviewers loved the product, while others were broadly unhappy. But across the gamut, there was one thing that pretty much everyone agreed on: the battery life sucked.
The Verge’s Sean Hollister saw a maximum of four hours from the device, whereas his ceiling on the competing Steam Deck (which has a battery of the same size) is closer to seven.
The criticisms rippled through the online sphere. Preorders were canceled left and right — around 10 percent of original buyers, by Asus global marketing director Galip Fu’s recollection, backed out soon after the initial wave of reviews.
“We think that’s okay,” Fu says. “We know that we need to focus on the critical items that we need to fix.”
“We know that we need to focus on the critical items that we need to fix.”
Following the first wave of reviews, Fu and his team held “some very serious meetings.” “We really spent a good amount of time looking into the issue and trying to figure out the solution,” Fu recalls.
The issue, the team eventually determined, was misplaced priorities. Asus had spent too much time and energy on fine-tuning the Ally’s performance in 15W and 30W scenarios (an area where it did, in our testing, outperform the Steam Deck) at the expense of optimizing power consumption at lower wattages. The latter, it turned out, was something that both reviewers and potential buyers cared an awful lot about.
“Where the Steam Deck did a really good job was optimizing the overall power consumption in super, super low wattage, even below 9W, below 7W,” Fu says. “That is their strength. We know that is something we definitely need to improve.” Youtuber Dave2D has tried some of the newer software updates already and reports that performance in some games also improved by up to 20 percent while the Ally is running at 9W or 15W.
Ever since those serious meetings, Fu promises, Asus has been hard at work on the battery life issue. He estimates that those who receive the device in June will see a 10 to 20 percent improvement in battery life over what they would’ve seen in May, owing to various software tweaks his team has made.
All told that’s a somewhat modest increase in power that could very well still leave the Ally dying well before the Steam Deck does. (Fu acknowledges this — “We don’t want to overpromise,” he clarifies.) Still, given the disaster that many reviewers saw in the Ally’s battery life, any step toward more efficiency is a step in the right direction — and the Steam Deck has certainly shown how much software updates can do to improve our impressions.
As far as the specific changes that were made? Fu names one: by the time customers get the Ally in hand, they’ll have the ability to turn off some of the AMD Z1 Extreme processor’s eight cores during gameplay. This feature wasn’t available to early reviewers, and it’s easy to see how it would lower the CPU’s power consumption. Still, the benefit of a feature like this would seem to depend heavily on the implementation — if it requires booting to the bios, for example, that will make it a less appealing and less power-saving prospect than it will be if it can be done from a menu while the device is on. We’ll certainly continue testing the device as software updates roll out.
“We don’t want to overpromise”
Still, the mechanics aren’t as interesting to Fu as the messaging. First and foremost, he wants Ally skeptics to know that their criticisms are heard and that he’s working on them.
“The whole team, they are into all the community discussion across all the different subreddits, all the important forums, the Facebook groups, Discords, WhatsApp groups. We’re trying to get to know what the end user and fans think,” Fu says. On the widespread battery life concerns: “They are fair.” And though it may take some time, he’s determined to release a product that rivals the Steam Deck. “We are all big fans of Valve and also Steam Deck because they are the centerpiece of the PC gaming industry,” he says. “We’re trying to keep up for all the supporters we have of ROG Ally. We will not let them down.”
Ah, but what about sticking a bigger battery in the thing? (It certainly looks like there’s enough space inside for one). Nope. That’s off the table. “We need to keep it as small and compact as possible,” Fu says decisively. “Adding a slightly bigger battery would improve the battery life by 10 or 15ish percent, but you would drastically increase the overall weight of the device.” So there’s that, too.
Correction, Wednesday, May 31, 11:18PM: An earlier version of this article misquoted “15W” as “50W”. We regret the error.