I have the three greatest PC gaming handhelds: the Lenovo Legion, the Steam Deck, and the Asus ROG Ally. I absolutely love all three of these and just this whole new era of handheld gaming. I can take these on planes and trains, and to bed with me, I don’t have to sit over there at my desk with my desktop PC. But the question is which one of these handheld is best? Which one should you actually buy?
Read Also: Asus ROG Ally VS Nintendo Switch OLED
Design and Build
So in these handheld do have a fair amount in common. We have big, high-refresh touch screens, We get USB-C charging, headphone jacks, micro SD card slots for expanding your storage, dual joysticks, haptic feedback, and plenty of options for tweaking performance. And they all play PC games well, But apart from that they are all actually quite different.
Steam Deck OLED
So first the Steam Deck (review) has kind of been the benchmark for these handheld PCs, right? it was the OG; it was the one that sort of spawned new Legion Go on the Block. And now we have the Steam Deck OLED, which is essentially a Steam Deck 1.5, the new larger 7.4-inch 90Hz OLED screen looks fantastic. The battery life is significantly longer, up to double in some cases. We get more consistent performance, so games feel smoother especially with that higher 90Hz refresh.
We have a new 1TB storage option, and it is basically the same price as before. It is as comfortable to use as ever; lots of people swear by the trackpads, especially for RPG games. And with SteamOS and Steam verified settings and controls, it is by far the easiest just to pick up and play.
Asus Rog Ally
The Asus ROG Ally (review) is like the sleekest, the lightest the most pocketable of the three, despite showing the same size screen as the Steam Deck OLED. But this gets a sharper 1080p 120Hz IPS display, and like the Legion Go, these use the Zed1 Extreme Ryzen processor from AMD, which is anywhere between 20 and 50% faster than the Steam Deck.
Although we’ll come to performance in a second, and that’s also partly thanks to a higher TDP that can scale even higher when plugged in. After a recent price drop Ally costs about the same as the Steam Deck OLED, although the storage does top out at 512 rather than the terabyte. And also you can pop in a Micro SD or even open it up and swap out the SSD. We get some nice go-faster RGB.
I do quite like the offset position for the joysticks, which we also get on the Legion Go. Although, the Ally does lose the touchpads and also a couple of rear paddle buttons versus the Deck. Although, we do get this XG mobile connector port thing at the top.
Best Part of it is the USB-C, but there’s also this XG mobile connector so you can actually plug it into ROG’s own GPU dock, external GPU if you want to. Well, just spend a ton more money and get better graphics performance. You will be bottlenecked by the CPU, but you have the option.
Lenovo Legion Go
Now we have the Lenovo Legion Go which is by far the biggest and also the most versatile of the three. The 8.8-inch Quad HD Plus 144Hz screen is faster, sharper, and about a third bigger, which makes a big difference to how immersive your games feel. We have a kickstand, which I absolutely love and wish these guys also had.
We have RGB thumbsticks, a single touchpad, plenty of paddle buttons on the back, and also a second USB 4 Port so you can actually charge and connect extra peripherals if you want to use this more like a desktop PC. Most impressive though, or at least most interesting, is the fact that we have the detachable controllers very much like the joy-cons on the Nintendo Switch.
This is certainly a unique feature compared to the rivals handhelds. But wait, there’s more because this is a puck; drop a controller into it, and it becomes a sort of mouse for FPS games where you can shoot by clicking the scroll wheel on the back or just navigating the desktop.
So the Go is the biggest and the chunkiest and the heaviest, but it also kind of feels like the most well-made, the most sort of premium out of the three handheld. But in terms of pocketability and that these are supposed to be handheld gaming device, I would probably say the most comfortable one is the Steam Deck, then the ROG Ally, then Legion Go.
Steam Deck OLED
The first one you’ll definitely be drawn to is the Steam Deck OLED. It is the only one of the three to have an OLED panel, giving you those deep inky blacks and rich colors, and surprisingly impressive brightness. This can hit 600 nits in SDR and 1,000 nits in HDR-enabled games, versus just 500 on the other two.
While it is only 90Hz, it’s still a big upgrade over the 60Hz LCD on the old deck. Like the 800p 16×10 resolution, it’s a good fit that suits the power on offer. However with a lower resolution you do lose some detail, and you get more alias edges making text look a little bit grainy.
Exclusive to this one-terabyte model of the Deck OLED, we have this anti-glare etched glass, which is still pretty reflective. It does a similar job to what we have on the original deck, and to be fair, bright lights are less intense and a bit more diffuse than on the other two. It’s kind of like going from a glossy to a slightly mattified screen, although you do lose a little bit of that OLED contrast.
ROG Ally and Legion GO
But the 16×9 1080 screen of the ROG Ally and especially the 16×10 1600p display on the Legion Go are just so much sharper, and it kind of makes it hard going back to the Deck. They still get fairly bright, and colors and viewing angles look fantastic. But as I say the Legion Go’s much bigger screen is a sight to behold, and it gets the highest Quad HD resolution and the smoothest 144Hz refresh rate.
Even if you choose not to game at their native high refresh rates, no, not refresh rates, resolutions, and you drop the res to like 800p or whatever or 720p, then the extra performance on tap allows you to crank up the graphic settings, so your games do end up looking better on these 3 PC handhelds.
Also, Steam Deck is 90Hz, ROG Ally is 120Hz, and the Legion Go is 144Hz. So, if you are playing older or less demanding games and you can get those higher frame rates, then it will look smoother on these as well.
Software and UI
Now, in terms of actually using them, the experience and how many times they want to make you tear your hair out, SteamOS on The Deco is by far the easiest to use. It’s so simple and easy to navigate and you can access the Linux desktop via the power button. From there, you can install other game launchers or console emulators.
Whereas Windows 11 on the Lii and the Go means we get better compatibility. It’s easier to access non-Steam game stores, although definitely at the expense of a less slick and less curated experience. Windows really needs a dedicated handheld mode.
Now, to be fair, all three did experience launch issues with the Steam Deck originally. There just weren’t that many games optimized for this sort of handheld form factor. That’s got better especially with the Steam Door and this verified list with the Ally.
Annoyingly actually when we reviewed this like a week or two later, AMD pushed out a driver update which boosted the performance by like 10 to 20%, which was really annoying for everyone who had reviewed it.
Lenovo Legion Go
And the Legion Go, this is the most recent to launch, and it does have some problems. We’ve got dead zone issues with the touchpad and the controllers. We’ve got the sort of orientation problems, full-screen issues with it, and a fair amount of crashes and games that simply don’t work although that also applies to the Ally as well.
It will get better with time, but certainly early adopters have had their fair share of issues with all three. Although I think right now, the Go does need a few tweaks so it might be worth holding out on this guy a little bit for more updates to come out and also for the price to drop a little bit.
Asus ROG Ally
So, the Ally has the Armory Crate, and we have Legion Space on the Go, both acting as hubs for all your settings and your linked game libraries. From here, you can open the relevant launchers, including SteamOS.
Outside of Steam, though, you do miss the control compatibility modes which Valve implements in its Deck-verified and playable listed games, and their curated Great on Deck list really helps to know how well a given game will work on a handheld.
In each case, there are unsupported games or games that simply won’t work at all. So, it is worth checking to see if your favorite game has decent support, and you can use any of them like a more traditional desktop PC if you wanted.
Although obviously, you’ve got Linux here, Windows 11 on these two, and if you hook them up to a compatible Dock and maybe video out to a monitor, you can plug in other USB peripherals, maybe an RJ45 Ethernet, and turn them into a bit of a PC.
Also, these things are a great way to emulate your old console or ancient PC games, and Steam Deck is a great place to start. It’s designed for the Steam Deck, but it does work on the others.
Okay, let’s talk about performance, and straight away, ROG Ally and Legion Go, these two are at an advantage because they have the much newer and more powerful AMD Ryzen Zed1 Extreme processor.
Although technically the Ally does come with the regular Zed1 as an option; it’s a bit cheaper, but I would probably avoid that. Roughly speaking, it’s 20 to 50% faster than Steam Deck.
The Steam Deck OLED does use the same processor as the original one, but it’s now on a more efficient smaller 6-nanometer process. So it’s more efficient a little bit cooler runs more consistently smooth.
I’ll come to that in a second, but certainly in terms of raw performance, Ally and Legion Go are definitely out in front. To give you a rough idea, both are good for 30 to 40 FPS in the latest AAA games at full HD with medium settings. In fact, they can manage TTP at about the same frame rates as the Deck OLED can running at 800p.
They also offer different power modes. Now, I tested the Steam Deck OLED with its 15-watt performance mode versus a custom 15-watt mode, which is similar to the default balance mode on the rog Ally and the Legion, respectively as I reckon this gives you the best balance of frame rate and battery life. But obviously, you can change and tweak this whereas the Deck OLED’s performance is fixed, so games will run the same no matter what.
So kicking off with Cyberpunk in Steam Deck mode, the Ally and Legion’s performance were basically the same, though the Deck OLED wasn’t that far behind at 800p.
In Spider-Man Remastered, both the Legion and the Ally kept frame rates above 60 at 800p using FSR 2 Balanced in default custom mode, which is a solid 12 FPS ahead of the Deck.
So I reckon 1080p on the Ally, the Legion is best. It’s sharper you get a lot more detail but you’re still getting a very playable mid-40s frame rate, although I did see some frame dips, especially on the Legion.
Boulder’s Gate 3 is pretty demanding, and it’s much more playable on the Ally and the Legion, although perhaps not at their higher resolutions like 1600p on the Legion. But it’s still very playable on the Deck, and that OLED screen looks fantastic.
But then in Rocket League or any other less demanding game, it really shows how much higher refresh rates can make a big difference because at 720 or 800p, I’m getting 120 FPS on the Ally on the Legion, which just looks and feels great. F1 2023 performance was solid, and by the way, looks amazing playing on a handheld like this.
Racing games, in general, work really well on handhelds. Lastly, in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the Ally and Legion frame rates were about the same and around 23% higher than the Deck can manage, even on low settings at 800p. But crucially, on the Ally and the Go, I can crank the TDPs up to 25 watts, giving me up to a 50% increase in frame rate versus the Deck across the board.
Although at a serious cost of battery life, although on any of them, you can limit the frame rate to 60 or 30 especially more demanding games, to avoid the bigger frame drops.
And also if you can play plugged in definitely do it because Turbo Mode boosts the power from 15 up to 25 watts on the Ally and 30 watts on the Legion Go, where performance has improved massively, and it feels almost like you’re getting a full gaming laptop experience.
Now obviously, being handheld portable gaming devices, battery life is pretty important as well. In terms of the size of the batteries, Legion Go and Steam Deck have a 50 Whr cell, ROG Ally is 40Whr so the Ally has the smallest battery and it does last the least amount of time.
But without question, the best battery life is a Steam Deck partly because it has the biggest cell like the Legion Go, but it’s just simply not as powerful, and also it’s on that smaller, more efficient 6-nanometer chip compared to the original Steam Deck.
For example in Reg Fest the Deck OLED managed a massive three and a half hours versus just under two hours on the Ally and 2 hours 10 on the Legion Go. Although dropping down to Quiet and Balance mode added an extra 50 and 30 minutes respectively, but then the gameplay was a lot choppier.
In each case limiting the refresh rate to 30 FPS extends the battery life massively. Do that in a less demanding game on The Steam Deck OLED and I reckon this will get you to 4 hours.
Which one should you buy?
Well, I’m just going to go and say straight away, I do really like Lenovo Legion Go. I think it’s the most versatile. I love the kickstand detachable controllers, the puck thing’s a cool idea, and that big screen is a sight to behold. It’s lovely, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just too expensive.
Because this has just launched, it’s about 200 thereabouts more than these guys and also there are quite a few bugs and issues. So I reckon I would give ROG Ally and Steam Deck a little bit of time to mature, come down in price a touch, and then it’ll be a lot more competitive and could end up being the best one.
But right now, this would probably be my third-place option. So, it really is a toss-up between these two, and then it’s a question of how much do you value the slightly sleeker, nicer design the much better screen much better performance of the Ally versus the very nice OLED display.
And also the much longer battery life and arguably the smoother, nicer experience of Steam OS with the Steam Deck. I would say for most people, Steam Deck OLED is your best bet. It’s just a nice, smooth, easy experience.
But if you want a higher-end gaming experience and easier access to non-Steam game libraries, then I think the ROG Ally is probably the best all-rounder, and right now I would say is the one I would buy. It’s not perfect; they all have pros and cons.
think for most people, the Steam OLED is the one to go for, but I would probably pick this for now. Hopefully, we see this drop in price soon. Although if you do get the Deco Leed, I reckon the one terabyte model is worth paying the extra 90 quid, as you’re getting double the fast SSD storage.
Also that anti-glare coating and the case comes with a liner that doubles as a more compact travel case. And again for the Ally, I would definitely go with the Z1 Extreme model. But which one would you go for out of the three and if you already own one, share your experience.