It’s an exciting time to be a PC gamer, and not just because the best graphics cards are currently more affordable than they’ve been since launch. Handheld gaming PCs have finally come into their own, making portable PC gaming a much more convenient and appealing possibility. So far, we’ve looked at the Steam Deck and Ayaneo Next, but while both offer impressive gaming performance, they’re bulky and can be harder to travel with than Nintendo’s smaller Switch handheld.
That all changes with the Ayaneo Air, which is all about portability. With a design that’s only a hair larger than the Nintendo Switch Lite, it’s able to slide into a bag with ease, keeping you game-ready wherever you may go. Starting at $499, it’s also the cheapest Ayaneo to date. We were sent the standard Ayaneo Air and higher-powered Air Pro, and though their small size limits performance somewhat, they’re absolutely worth a closer look.
Ayaneo Air – Photos
Ayaneo Air – Design and Features
Coming from the boxy form of the original Ayaneo or the “Switch on Steroids” that was the Ayaneo Next, the Air is altogether more refined. The design is all about being thin and light, gentle contours instead of hard angles, and a look that takes more than a little inspiration from the Switch Lite.
It’s a gaming PC you can carry in your pocket, and that’s not something you can say about most of its competitors. Relative to its small size, it packs some impressive specs.
- Display: 5.5-inch AMOLED touchscreen
- Resolution: 1920×1080
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5560U (6C/12T) to Ryzen 7 5825U (8C/12T)
- Memory: 8GB to 32GB DDR4X-4266
- Storage: 128GB to 2TB NVMe (expandable via MicroSD)
- Battery: 28 to 38 Whr 60W PD Charging
- Connectivity: WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.2
- I/O: x2 USB Type-C (top and bottom), audio combo jack
- Security: Fingerprint Scanner
- Dimensions (LxWxD): 8.8” x 3.5” x 0.7” inches (Air), 8.8” x 3.5” x 0.9” inches (Air Pro)
- Weight: 398g (Air), 450g (Air Pro)
The Air is available in three different versions that scale up in price and performance. The entry level Air Lite features the most basic configuration with a Ryzen 5 5560 processor (6 cores/12 threads), 8GB of DDR4 memory, and 128GB of built-in NVMe storage for $499. The Standard edition bumps the memory up to 16GB and gives you more options for built-in storage up to 512GB for $599. Cranking it all the way up to the Pro model nets you even more options, including up to 32GB of memory and 2TB fast SSD storage, as well as 10 extra watt-hours on the battery, up to 38mWh. The Pro model also offers you the option of upgrading to the faster Ryzen 7 5825U processor for improved gaming performance and a boost to 8 cores and 16 threads. Fully speccing out the Air Pro doesn’t come cheap, however, and will set you back $1,249 – or approximately two 512GB Steam Decks.
What is especially surprising about this array of options is that, even fully kitted out, the Air Pro is nearly identical in size to the Air and Air Lite. In fact, the only difference is that the Pro is 3.6mm thicker to accommodate its more powerful CPU. Compare that to the Ayaneo Next, which dwarfs the Air Pro, despite having less powerful hardware and only being a few months older. That small size has a few important trade-offs, though, which I’ll get to soon.
But being tiny isn’t the only thing the Air has going for it. The screen has also received a facelift, shrinking to 5.5 inches to fit the new design and bumping the number of pixels to 1080p, as opposed to the Next’s 800p resolution. Aya has also upgraded the panel from the usual IPS to a gorgeous, color-rich AMOLED display. Blacks are darker than they’ve ever been, which makes the screen’s vivid colors and enhanced dynamic range pop. The screen also supports five-point touch, so you can tap, click, and drag in games and when using it as a normal PC. If you’ve seen the Nintendo Switch OLED, you already know how nice this type of screen can be, and the Air lacks nothing next to its console counterpart.
The layout is largely the same as last time, which is a plus if you’re already familiar with gaming on a controller, but with a couple important changes. It still features all of the traditional gamepad inputs, as well as a pair of shortcut buttons below the left joystick to show the desktop and launch the configuration software. There are now two customizable shoulder buttons alongside the bumpers that remember tap and hold commands. By default, these are mapped to displaying the on-screen keyboard, launching the Windows Task Manager, pressing Escape, and triggering Task View to quickly change apps. Aya has also brought back speed gestures, which add four commands to the D-pad for things like taking a screenshot.
All of those extra inputs might seem excessive, but being able to navigate Windows without a mouse and keyboard is no small task. These shortcuts and the touchscreen are necessities that make using the Air as an actual PC possible. This lets you control a mouse pointer with the joysticks and type using the on-screen keyboard, so all of the basics are covered. That said, if you plan to use it for any kind of actual productivity or to replace a laptop you should definitely invest in a dock and full-size peripherals. Touchscreen typing is slow.
The other big addition is that every model of the Ayaneo Air now includes a MicroSD card slot for expandable storage. This feature was reserved for the official dock on previous models and is a long overdue but welcome addition to the Air lineup. I installed a 512GB microSD to double the memory for only $60 and had no trouble installing or launching games once it was formatted. Load time differences were noticeable, but all within five seconds of the built-in SSD.
Aya didn’t cut corners with the traditional inputs, either. The joysticks and triggers both use the company’s improved Hall Effect sensors, which use magnetism instead of mechanical dials to track your inputs. The inputs feel fantastic to use — clean and smooth — and as a side bonus, the limited mechanical contact makes the traditional causes of joystick drift impossible. The travel on both is good, but the triggers are especially impressive. They have an surprisingly deep range of motion for the console’s size and are impeccably smooth.
The other face buttons use membrane switches like other controllers, but they’re tactile and well done. The D-Pad in particular is remarkable in its crispness and accuracy. I would have preferred split directionals, but I didn’t have any trouble with missed inputs or mushiness.
There is a bit of a learning curve if you’re not used to gaming on a device this size. The sticks have a good amount of travel, but it’s less than a full-size gaming controller. The Air would dramatically benefit from functional gyro controls, which it has, but as of this review they do not work by default in Steam.
Around the back, you’ll find your grips and a large vent to exhaust the heat from your CPU. The Air gets hot during normal use, so if you block it performance will suffer. Thankfully, those high temps stay mostly centered and don’t transfer into the grips very much. That means that holding the Air is more comfortable than either the Steam Deck or Ayaneo Next, even with its warmer back.
When I first unboxed them, I was actually worried the handhelds might be too compact, but Aya has nailed the ergonomics. The sticks and buttons are well-placed and the grips are perfectly contoured for its size. Holding it naturally lines your fingers up with the triggers and controls. Users with bigger hands may find it to be too compact, but the design fit my hands like a glove.
When you’re gaming with it, it feels natural in the same way the Switch Lite does. Laying in bed or reclining on the couch, I didn’t find myself needing to change positions to give my arms a rest. You sacrifice some performance to achieve this small form factor, but its well worth it for usability in more situations.
The speakers, on the other hand, aren’t great. The sound is thin and tinny, and it doesn’t get very loud. They’ll work in a pinch, but you’ll definitely want to connect a pair of headphones or earbuds for any gaming or movie watching you plan on doing.
Like most handhelds, connectivity isn’t the Air’s strong suit. It features a single USB Type-C port on the top and bottom, both of which can be used for charging using the included 65W PD adapter. Aya includes a pair of USB Type-C to Type-A adapters in the box for connecting peripherals in a pinch, but I found Bluetooth 5.2 to be much more convenient for connecting a mouse and keyboard. For wireless networking, the Ayaneo Air supports WiFi 6E for the fastest wireless connections currently possible. Even though it lacks an ethernet adapter, the Air is able to deliver consistently speedy connections for downloads and streaming.
Aya is also releasing a set of accessories to accompany this launch. It’s partnered with TomToc on a zippered carry case that’s quite nice. It uses a stitched exterior over its protective semi-hardback shell. Inside, the Air is cradled in a soft, velvety fabric to keep it safe from scratches. For just under $30, it’s a solid buy to protect your sizable investment into the device. There’s also a GaN charger that adds some additional outputs for powering multiple devices, and a custom version of the Nuphy Air75, which is one of the best low-profile mechanical keyboards available today. (I was only able to test the case for this review, but own an Air75 of my own and can attest to its reliability over Bluetooth.)
Ayaneo Air – Software
The Air is customized using the Aya Space app. It comes pre-installed and configured so you can begin using the device right away, but you’ll want to spend some time learning its ins and outs. For gaming alone, you could easily use it as your main launcher and not worry about tapping programs designed for mouse and keyboard. It’s not as polished as SteamOS but it does give you access to all of your games and system configuration options, and is noticeably improved from even a few months ago when we tested it with the Ayaneo Next. Aya Space runs smoother than ever before, recognizes games more quickly, and offers more customization options for mapping controls — big jumps for only a few months of development time.
Aya Space can be used in two forms: the full-fledged launcher or as a pop-up panel to make quick settings changes. The settings panel can be called up at any time by tapping the Aya button. There you can adjust the console’s TDP and fan modes, change the resolution, brightness and volume, and access a set of customizable quick commands for functions like enabling FSR, bringing up the on-screen keyboard, or backing out of menus with the Escape key.
By holding the Aya button, you can bring up the full software suite. From the Home and Games tabs, you can one-tap launch any games or apps installed on your system. The Assistant tab allows you to customize button shortcuts and calibrate the controls. It works very well overall, but there’s a level of quirkiness here that shows there is still room to grow.
For example, Aya has developed a new Master Controller module that provides you advanced control over the console’s inputs. You can adjust joystick dead zones, trigger sensitivities, haptic feedback, and Gyro controls, all with a 360-degree 3D model of the console. All of this is hidden by a menu you access by simply tapping an arrow. The problem? That arrow doesn’t work consistently. To access it on my Ayaneo Pro review unit, I have to first swipe left to bring up the notification panel and then tap the button. On the Standard review unit, it worked with a normal tap. The Master Controller module also doesn’t allow you to customize any of the Air’s additional inputs, which is an odd omission given how in-depth it is for the other controls. That functionality is in a separate configuration menu.
Despite its quirks, Aya Space gets the job done. Once you have it configured, you’ll rarely need to revisit any of the customization screens, so any friction by its in-development status is pretty minimal. Instead, you’ll spend most of your time with the launcher and the pop-up panel to change TDP, both of which work well.
Ayaneo Air – Performance
Portability and customization don’t mean much if the device you’ve carried around and tailored to your liking struggles to deliver playable frame rates when you go to actually play something on it. And considering that even the cheapest Ayaneo Air costs as much as a PlayStation 5 and $100 more than the lowest-tier Steam Deck, it’s reasonable to have high expectations.
As anyone who has used a Steam Deck or other handheld gaming PC already knows, describing expected performance can be tricky. There are lots of ways to tweak performance and visual fidelity that need to be balanced with battery life. For the formal benchmarks, I used the highest preset TDP for both machines (12 watts), but both can be manually adjusted higher to increase frame rates at the expense of battery life (15 watts for the Air and 18 watts for the Air Pro, equivalent to the Ayaneo Next). It’s best to view performance as a sliding scale with our results being one notch below the battery-slaying maximum.
Since the Air features a 1080p screen where most competing handhelds still use 720p or 800p resolution, we’ll begin by showing the lower resolution results. Bear in mind that our standard test practices use max settings for easy comparisons, but in real life you’ll most likely be playing on low to medium and achieve much higher FPS.
In terms of sheer horsepower, both Ayaneo Air models lag behind the Ayaneo Next and Steam Deck. This is no surprise, as their slim size limits the maximum power available to the CPU. Performance expectations on a device this much smaller are expectedly less.
Let’s see how each performed in our tests at 1080p vs 720p, and then we’ll get into what performance is like at the settings you’ll actually be playing at.
Making the jump to 1080p brings both models of the Ayaneo Air to their knees. While the Ultra settings used for our comparisons are higher than what you’ll actually be playing at, they demonstrate the kind of performance hit you’ll experience if you actually try to game at native resolution. If you’re playing major games with demanding graphics, 720p will deliver a much better gaming experience. For games with less demanding graphics it can be an option, but that’s mostly older games and indies.
Like all handheld gaming PCs, it’s important to really consider what they’re designed for and capable of. Throughout its campaign and marketing, Aya has really emphasized that the hardware inside the standard Air is best suited for indie games. Sure, you’ll be able to play major games at 30fps using low settings most of the time, but it’s in those less demanding indies where you’ll really find its value.
And they’re right. At 720p, was able to run Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered at 30 FPS on low settings and Doom Eternal a bit higher, but Ori and the Will of the Wisps stayed locked at 60. I lost hours to Rogue Legacy 2 and replaying Super Meat Boy, Hard West, and Hotline Miami. If you don’t want to spend extra for the higher-powered chip in the Air Pro, you can bump the TDP all the way to 15 watts and turn on AMD’s FSR upscaling and push those more demanding games within reach. It’s a stretch getting those to run much more than 40 FPS, but they’re certainly playable – and that’s a feat on a device as thin and light as this.
The Air Pro is much more powerful. Our review sample included the Ryzen 7 chip and 32GB of DDR4 memory, making heavyweight games much more playable. Not at Ultra settings, of course, but dropping to low or medium and 720p resolution turns that on its head. Doom Eternal held steady at 45-50 FPS; Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, and Spider-Man Remastered were all playable at 30-40 FPS. I was even able to push Spider-Man up to Medium settings and lock it to a stable 30 FPS with the help of FSR 2.0.
Full HD 1080p is best left for indies, older games, and movies. The bump in resolution has a big impact on performance, and with such a small screen, you don’t see the kind of improvement you would on a normal gaming monitor. For games right on the edge, FSR can be an effective middle ground, but 720p is almost always the better option and you may not even see the difference in actual gameplay.
Given its slim size, heat is an issue. In a pre-review note, Aya recommended not pushing the TDP higher than 15 watts to avoid thermal throttling, but even at 12 watts the console becomes quite warm. Tap the touchscreen and you’ll be surprised at how toasty it becomes after just 30 minutes of game time. I didn’t notice thermal throttling throughout my review testing, but I would be wary of any dust making its way into the system to prevent it in the future.
On the plus side, the device really doesn’t get very loud. It’s much quieter than the Steam Deck and puts the average gaming laptop to shame. At their highest setting, the fans are audible but not distracting. I would like to see Aya provide the option for a custom fan curve, allowing users to balance heat with noise on their own terms, but like the rest of the design, the default curve is all about portability.
The Achilles’ heel for both versions is battery life. The standard Air features a 28 wHr battery while the Pro version bumps that to 38 wHrs. In real world terms, on the Balanced TDP setting, the Air will last about two hours while the Air Pro will net you three.. Naturally, the actual battery life depends entirely on how you’re using it and the games you’re playing. More demanding games eat up the battery more quickly, as does playing at full brightness and using the speakers. For being so portable in every other way, it’s disappointing to have to carry a charger or bulky battery pack with you, but is part of the trade-off for such a thin and light design.
The big question, in a post-Steam Deck world, is whether the Ayaneo Air is worth paying extra for. For sheer performance, the answer is no. The Steam Deck holds the crown on performance per dollar and isn’t likely to lose it anytime soon. But as a day one-buyer of the Steam Deck, I’m here to tell you: there are reasons you might want to choose the Air over the Deck that range beyond its more pocktable size.
For starters, compatibility just isn’t an issue here. If a game runs on Windows, it will run on the Air. There is no compatibility layer to translate a Windows game into a Linux/SteamOS game. It just works. That same quality also makes Ayaneo a viable option to use as your daily computer for everything else. A simple docking station will allow it to connect to a normal monitor and peripherals, and it can completely replace a laptop or low-powered PC and then be thrown in your bag when you’re done.
Like the Ayaneo Next, the highest-performance Air is still expensive enough to make your eyes water at $1,249. But if all you want is the highest frames-per-second number the Air Pro can achieve, the first model with the Ryzen 7 5825U is only $899 and will rack up nearly identical results with 16GB of memory and a 512GB SSD. Or, you could save hundreds more by dropping settings and taking advantage of FSR on compatible games and go for the Ryzen 5 model (though you will be more limited on bigger games).