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The ASUS ROG Ally X improves on the original in all the right ways

ASUS was the first major PC maker to try its hand at making a gaming handheld. And despite a few issues like a wonky microSD card reader, the succeeded at giving people a powerful way to take their games on the go. But after about a year on the market, ASUS’ portable is getting a major revamp and it feels like it’s becoming the device we wanted all along.

Now just to be clear, the Ally X isn’t a true sequel to the original, it’s more of a mid-cycle refresh similar to what back in 2019. Except I’d argue ASUS has done more to boost the new model’s capabilities. That’s because while the Ally X has the same Ryzen Z1 Extreme chip and 7-inch 120Hz LCD screen used in its predecessor, nearly everything else on the system has been tweaked or improved in some way.

Inside, ASUS doubled the size of the Ally X’s battery to a whopping 80Wh, up from 40Wh on the old model. Same goes for storage, with the handheld featuring a 1TB M.2 SSD (up from 512GB). Unlike before, it’s a full-size 2280 module, so anyone planning on adding a larger drive later on will have lots of options for third-party add-ons. Even its memory is getting a big bump up to 24GB (up from 16GB) of faster LPDDR5X 75000 RAM. And to keep everything cooled properly, ASUS installed a new fan system that the company says is 23 percent smaller while delivering 24 percent better airflow.

The ASUS ROG Ally X gaming handheld leaning against some cubic ornaments, with the Windows home page on its screen.

Sam Rutherford for Engadget

Now all this would be a more-than-welcome change, especially when it comes to performance and battery life. But ASUS didn’t stop there. The Ally X also features a new black exterior and it’s a touch thicker than before, which allows for more pronounced grips and a slightly more ergonomic button layout. There’s also a new precision D-Pad, which is something I’m happy to see as the previous one felt a bit numb and spongy. And while ASUS didn’t opt for Hall Effect joysticks, the company says it switched to stiffer springs, which should increase durability and make them feel more responsive.

Finally, around back, the Ally X features smaller rear paddles that should be harder to press by accident. However, one of my favorite changes is that in addition to a new third vent on top, ASUS also ditched its proprietary XG mobile connector in favor of a second USB-C port. And because this one supports both and Thunderbolt 4, it’s fast enough to use with an external GPU (if you’re into that kind of thing) while leaving the other jack open for charging or other wired accessories.

In a lot of ways, it feels like ASUS has finally made the Ally X the handheld I wanted all along. The bigger battery solves one of the main issues with the previous model, which often conked out after a little more than an hour when playing modern games. Then there’s the addition of a second USB-C port, which makes the system a lot more versatile and better equipped to pull double duty as a pseudo desktop in a pinch. And I can’t say enough about the larger grips. That’s because even though the X is only a few millimeters thicker than before, it’s way more comfortable, which is obviously super important for any handheld device.

The ASUS ROG Ally X gaming handheld leaning against some cubic ornaments. ON its screen is a selection of providers like Xbox Game Pass and Steam.The ASUS ROG Ally X gaming handheld leaning against some cubic ornaments. ON its screen is a selection of providers like Xbox Game Pass and Steam.

Sam Rutherford for Engadget

But potentially the biggest impact of all this is that ASUS is turning its first mover’s advantage into an even bigger lead. Because while rivals like the Legion Go are still on their first model (not to mention others like the that arrived way late to the party, stayed tuned for my review coming coon), ASUS is already iterating on its handheld. And that’s coming from a device with a solid foundation. For anyone who has been as enamored with the recent wave of gaming handhelds as I have, it’s really encouraging to see these devices mature so quickly. Plus, starting at $800, which is just $100 more than the original Ally, the Ally X feels very reasonably priced.

The ROG Ally X is available for pre-order today from Best Buy, with official sales set to begin sometime in July.

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