Aya Neo Air Review: "Almost The Perfect Handheld"
The Nintendo Switch brought a breath of fresh air back into the handheld gaming market, filling that gap of a more home console-like experience that you can simply pick up and play on the go. Now, we're seeing new handheld gaming devices popping up from a plethora of companies both big and small with giants like Valve trying to take the market by the scruff of the neck.
One of the more lesser-known handheld manufacturers that is trying to disrupt the market with its high-powered devices is Aya Neo. With its large scale crowdfunding campaigns and high attention to detail, it is attempting to provide a variety of gaming handhelds to serve a multitude of budgets.
In this review, I'm taking a look at one of its most recent devices that aims to bridge the gap between a more affordable handheld and one that is also able to run AAA titles. Here are my thoughts on this compact OLED machine.
Aya Neo is getting a bit of a name for itself when it comes to console design and with each new iteration of its handheld gaming devices, the design is only getting more and more refined. With the Air, I'm happy to report that the design is nothing short of stellar. There has been a real care and attention gone into most if not all aspects of the console. From the button placement to the ergonomics, to the actual material of the body, it appears that Aya Neo has left no stone unturned.
Furthering this, because there has been such care and attention, the Air itself is simply aesthetically pleasing. Whether you opt for the White with green to pink gradients or the Polar Black with a more subtle midnight blue gradient, it just oozes premium.
Looking to the buttons, triggers and joysticks, these, again, felt of a premium nature. The buttons and directional pad were clicky enough and had enough travel in them to have consistent registers with no issues. The triggers were really nice also, having a more 'Xbox-like' feel to them curving upward at the end.
One other thing to note here is the accompanying case that you can get with the Air. It comes from a collaboration with tomtoc and sports a nice-looking gradient similar to that of the console. This, coupled with its durability just shows that Aya Neo is going the extra mile to keep your device safe in a stylish way.
As alluded to in the introduction, yes, the Aya Neo Air has an OLED screen, the first Windows device in the world to have one according to the company.
While some may think that OLED vs an IPS isn't much of an upgrade, you can't appreciate how stark the difference is until you see it for yourself. The colours are so vivid, it feels much sharper, and the brightness goes far and above that of your traditional handheld screen. I'm sure those with an OLED Switch wouldn't be able to go back and I certainly feel that here with the Air.
The screen itself is 5.5 inches, which is a respectable size, and large enough to view everything with ease. When playing FPS games, it might get a little hard to see far-away enemies but this is a handheld device that is meant for portability so it is to be expected. One change I would've probably made though would have been the large bezels. For me personally, they're too thick and you could have probably squeezed an extra inch of screen in that space if made available.
Surely such a compact handheld wouldn't be able to run AAA games at a smooth framerate right? Well, with some tweaking and a couple of compromises, you can get some of today's AAA games running at respectable levels on the Air. Don't get me wrong, you're not going to get the same experience than what you would from your Series X or PS5, but this is a tiny handheld device. In my tests, I used Elden Ring and Spider-Man Remastered as benchmarks for the upper echelon on AAA titles that I thought the Air would be able to run. Elden Ring at 720p low settings did run with slight slowdown in parts, but Spider-Man Remastered did surprisingly well at 720p on both low and medium settings. For this performance, I had to push it to either the 15W or 18W TDPs that come with the bundled AyaSpace software.
Emulation on the Air, however, is where this device truly shines. I was able to play anything from the oldest retro consoles all the way up to Nintendo Switch which was an absolute joy. Being able to boot up the likes of Windwaker HD for the Wii U era with little to no tweaking at all was fantastic and something I will be doing for the foreseeable. I was able to run most games between 8W and 12W both helping with battery life and decreasing the sound pumping out from those fans. If you're an emulation enthusiast, this may be the device for you now, and in the years to come.
There are two core versions of the Aya Neo Air though - the base model and the Pro. I tested the basic model which contained the AMD Ryzen 5 5560U and 16GB RAM whereas the Pro model has the more powerful AMD Ryzen 5 5560U and 32GB when maxed out. So even though I had some good results in the more demanding games, I can only imagine that the best option here is to opt for one of the Pro models for a more longer-lasting unit as the games of today are only getting more resource heavy.
I've talked about the huge positives this new Aya Neo handheld has but the battery life of this device is unfortunately where you're going to feel a little letdown. It has a 7350mAh battery which on the face of it, you might expect to do the job, but as the Air is such a powerful handheld Windows machine, you'll soon be scrambling for that charger.
You're looking at an average of 1 hour 30 minutes play time which is extremely low when compared to the mainstream handhelds like the Nintendo Switch or Valve Steam Deck. I initially thought that this wouldn't be too much of an issue with charger ports on public transport etc. becoming more and more frequent but in practice, it almost negates most of the portability that the Air has which is extremely unfortunate. The Pro model has a slightly larger battery coming in at 10050mAh, but I expect this will only extend it by 20-30 minutes.
Previous Aya Neo handhelds have been scrutinised over their price, coming in far and above many peoples' budgets. However, with the Air, it may be the most wallet-friendly handheld yet.
The base Air comes in at around £500 which in my eyes is pretty respectable when you consider you're getting an OLED screen and enough juice to run some AAA titles and almost all emulated games. There is also a Lite model that drops the RAM to 8GB and that base price by around £60. The Pro version, however, can reach up to over £1200 when maxing the specs out making it once again out of most peoples' ranges which is slightly frustrating.
When compared to the likes of the Steam Deck, it isn't surprising that you get more value for money with Valve's machine. The fact they are getting mass produced at a much larger scale and the company making more losses that get made up with software sales, Valve has an extreme luxury that up-and-comers simply can't compete with.
To me, the Aya Neo Air is almost the perfect gaming handheld at this current time. The flawless OLED screen, the ability to play AAA and emulated games on the go, and the console's ergonomics make it an unbelievable overall handheld experience. Yes, the screen could be a little larger, and a little more internal power for AAA games would be nice, but where it falls short is that lackluster battery life.
It really limits that portability, giving you less than two hours play time which some may even argue that if you don't have a charging point close by or at your next destination, it almost renders the Air obsolete when compared to the likes of the Nintendo Switch OLED.
Despite that less-than-ideal battery life, I would highly recommend the Aya Neo Air, especially to those that want to game on the go on both newer titles, and are also keen emulation enthusiasts. The screen is so nice, and most games need little to no setting tweaks to run at comfortable frame rates, simply making it a pain-free experience all-round.
If you want to get an Aya Neo Air for yourself, head over to the dedicated Indiegogo page.