Review cover AYA NEO (Hardware)
Official GBAtemp Review

Product Information:

Up for review is the AYA NEO handheld gaming PC. Starting as a single person's dream to have a more capable Nintendo Switch-like handheld, is it really the non-Nintendo Nintendo Switch Pro?

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After having spent some time with the AYA NEO, I can now elaborate more on my thoughts on the device, address the requested features to be tested and give my verdict. However, I would highly recommend you to check out my first impressions piece of the AYA NEO published some weeks earlier as it is still very much relevant and I won't repeat what's already been said there. So be sure to check it out before diving into this review!

A challenger approaches...

First of all, the AYA NEO is a niche device. On Indiegogo, the limited, 42 unit Super Early Bird perk for the 500 GB model went for $699, so you should expect it to cost more post-crowdfunding. For that price, you can always buy a cheaper laptop, build your own PC or buy a new console which would give you better gaming performance and visuals than the AYA NEO does. The specs below can give you an idea regarding how it compares to other devices:

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However, the AYA NEO targets another demographic, one that wants to have access to the latest PC games on-the-go, without the need to be tied to a desk/chair. Or simply if you want a system ready to play such games without the hassle of sourcing your own parts or being bulky. Although relatively small, there is a demand for such devices on the market considering GPD’s successful yearly crowdfunding campaigns, One Note venturing with its line of OneGx handheld PCs and AYA NEO’s Indiegogo campaign selling out. And for this niche demographic, there's much to like about the AYA NEO.

It has a similar form factor to the Switch but is understandably heavier and is comparable to a Switch with a power bank attached to it. Even with that extra weight, it's still perfectly usable as a handheld. I myself have grown fond of this handheld convenience to indulge in some night-time gaming on the device.

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In my impressions piece, I compared the build quality to be akin to that of the Switch and it holds true, except for the triggers which feel a bit odd. They are fully functional, even if they feel a bit spring-y and borderline wonky and cheap.

Other than that, I'm overall satisfied with the build. The keys are ergonomic and easily accessible. However, I am still not a fan of the positioning of the power and volume keys. They are next to and feel the same as each other, so one can easily be mistaken for the other. I'd also note here that the rumble can be quite loud, which could attract some unwanted attention. Such hiccups in the hardware design can be attributed to the team being new to the game or just that they've been trying a bit too much to replicate the form factor and button layout of the Switch.

Unlike its competitors, the AYA NEO lacks a keyboard, so setting up your Steam account and such will be a bit awkward with the touchscreen. To make navigation on Windows easier, the AYA team has thankfully made available some apps and drivers to optimize your experience with the device. There's Joyxoff that lets you use the control sticks as a mouse and there's also a dedicated button to call up a virtual keyboard. These options work, although not giving an ideal experience, but the lack of a physical keyboard also helps making the device less bulky and less heavy.

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Also unlike its competitors, the AYA NEO features an AMD architecture and is the first to do so on a dedicated PC gaming handheld. We’ll take a look at how it performs in the next section.

Gaming on the non-Nintendo Nintendo Switch Pro

AYA NEO’s AMD Ryzen 5 4500U processor and Radeon graphics means that the performance is among the best in the handheld PC gaming market as the ones that have been available so far like the GPD Win Max and OneGx relied on inferior processors. But of course, you'll have to keep your expectations in check with such a device. If you're looking for constant 4k60fps across all titles, you will not find it with the AYA NEO. Even its screen (which is really gorgeous to look at by the way) has a resolution of 800p. If you're fine with such resolution and lower FPS performance, the AYA NEO will handle the latest PC games you throw at it.

I got Outriders at an average of 23 fps on low/medium settings. At similar settings, Cyberpunk 2077 would run at around 15-20 fps while Horizon Zero Dawn would even reach 30fps. While playing those PC games, I did not encounter significant or noticeable dips in performance nor any audio issues. Additionally, the AYA NEO's 7-inch H-IPS 215ppi screen does help in enhancing the experience as it delivers gorgeous visuals throughout every gaming session with the device. So really, it’s only the FPS that isn’t what you’re used to on a desktop PC. 

You can have an idea about the performance of these AAA games on the device in the videos below, where you can also see the settings at which each game is being played at.

 

These are games that are meant to be played on home consoles and PCs, but being able to play them on the go, from start to finish, does deliver a wow factor. Battery life will depend on several factors like the settings you’re playing at and other system features like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, but on average, I would net between 1.5 to 2 hours of game time. As for charging, you should account for around 1.5h to juice up the device again.

But overall, being able to play titles like Horizon Zero Dawn (originally a PS4 title!) and Cyberpunk 2077 with the convenience of a handheld is really something I personally favor, even if that means a compromise on visuals and performance. Playing AAA PC games on-the-go was the AYA NEO’s main goal and marketing edge and it succeeds in that endeavor. 

But, of course, you won’t stop at PC games with the AYA NEO as its AMD architecture gives it an edge as a more than decent emulation device. So, next up, I threw some retro games at it to see how it would handle different systems. 

For PlayStation systems, I played PS2 titles via PCSX2 and got Ratchet & Clank to run at a stable 50-60 fps while Shadow of the Colossus would have a performance varying between 30-60 fps. The AYA NEO also handles PSP titles well with Ridge Racer running at a smooth 60fps while Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker stays at a constant 20fps due to the game being intrinsically capped at that performance on PSP.

 

Timestamp: 0:00 - Ratchet & Clank, 5:23 -Shadow of the Colossus, 13:06 - Ridge Racer, 17:57 - MGS: Peace Walker

Following my impressions piece, I got a request to test Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots on the AYA NEO with RPCS3. I managed to get it to play, but with some occasional stuttering and no in-game BGM, save for steps and gunshots (cutscenes and Codec calls work fine). However, MGS4 is a notorious title to emulate that has been unplayable until recently. I could reach till the point in the video below and then it’s just a black screen from there. To play it, I tried both the custom build from rajkosto and the official canary patch with similar results. With the canary patch, I could get in-game audio but there would be issues with the textures and weird pop-ins like a headless Snake or hovering guns due to enemies being invisible. The latter aren’t ideal in a stealth game like MGS but maybe there’ll be more patches down the line.

In the next video, you’ll see a compilation of how this handheld PC fares with emulating Nintendo systems. With Dolphin emulator, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes runs stably at 60 fps while The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess plays at 30 fps due to its original performance cap. Skyward Sword on the Wii was also locked at 30 fps and that’s how it plays on the AYA NEO while Super Mario Galaxy plays at a constant 60fps.

Wii U emulator Cemu offers mixed results with Breath of the Wild performing at around 15-20 fps, with some occasional dips in frame rate. Splatoon on the other hand fared better, with performance even hitting the 60 fps bar.

Now for something meta, I threw some Switch games on the AYA NEO, a device that was itself inspired by the Nintendo Switch. I was not expecting much out of it but I was pleasantly surprised to find games that I tested to be more or less playable (this term is, again, rather subjective). With Yuzu, Super Mario Odyssey would hit around 20-30fps and experience stuttering audio during cinematics. But in more confined areas, I could even occasionally hit 50-60fps. Pokémon Sword plays at a rather stable 30fps indoors while in the overworld performance dips to between 15-20fps. Battles also aren't bad, running at 30fps and occasionally dipping to 22fps during some battle animation. 

I wouldn't buy the AYA NEO based on whether or not it emulates Switch games but its ability to manage to do so still impresses. 

Timestamp: 0:00 - MGS, 6:58 - Twilight Princess, 10:07 - Super Mario Galaxy, 15:51 - Skyward Sword, 19:44 - Breath of the Wild, 24:17 - Splatoon, 26:42 - Super Mario Odyssey, 33:05 - Pokémon Sword

EDIT: Added some pictures of the 3DS' Resident Evil Revelations and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater running on Citra. Resident Evil Revelations plays at around 20-23 fps at up to 75% speed but with occasional stutters and lagging audio. MGS3 on the other hand performed much worse at around 11 fps or lower at around 50% speed and with lagging audio as well. But of course, 3DS emulation performance will depend on the titles you throw at the emulator and those were relatively demanding games.

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Hopefully, these videos helped give you an idea of what the AYA NEO is capable of. It’s worth noting again that it’s an on-the-go PC gaming device first and a competent emulation system second. Emulation should be considered add-ons and the AMD architecture makes them as really nice add-ons. You can expect to play PS2 titles and up to some Wii U games on it at playable speed. And if you have no other means to play Switch games on, emulating some on Yuzu can be bearable. But PC games, and especially the latest ones, are totally playable on AYA NEO which delivers some crisp visuals on its excellent screen to boot.

You should really consider getting the AYA NEO if you want a handheld gaming PC rather than a laptop replacement. Even if it functions as one, it’s a bit fiddly to use as it has only USB-C ports, which would need adapters (two are provided) to work with other devices. The AYA team also listed a dock among its Indiegogo perks and this could enable you to plug in more peripherals easily and better use it as a laptop/mini PC.

But again, it’s a niche device and if you’re in the target market, you’ll indeed find lots to like in the AYA NEO. It’s a shame that the clear shell model isn’t available overseas as it is my personal favorite but I hope to see it going up for sale after the crowdfunded units ship!

And beyond

In recent years, we've seen a fair share of indie video game developers crafting memorable games like Undertale and Stardew Valley or even AAA-styled titles like Bright Memory. These were created thanks to the sheer dedication of those small teams or even a single person. Such endeavors have encouraged countless others to pursue their vision and thanks to this, we're able to have within our games library more experimental yet memorable titles like Telling Lies and Tales from Off Peak City rather than set templates from risk-averse AAA developers.

We have been acclimatized to such indie developers when it comes to software but not so much when it comes to hardware. However, we seem to now be entering an era where similar experimentation is possible with hardware; and the AYA NEO perfectly represents this.

This project was publicly unveiled via the video shared below which showed an early prototype that was literally held by Lego bricks. In it, Mr. Song Zheng or "Uncle A", a person with no prior background in such handheld PC production, outlined his vision of building a handheld device that could handle the latest AAA games. He acknowledged that the Switch could be what comes to mind for such a concept but he wasn't totally satisfied with the device's performance, especially for AAA games that get ported to the device. 

So the idea was clear: make a more powerful Switch-like device. The prototype, first termed  as AYA EVE, looked as such, but packed a more capable AMD Ryzen processor and was shown to be running games like GTA V and Doom Eternal. This video picked up steam online and Uncle A built a small team of equally passionate members to bring such a handheld into the hands of gamers.

Recall that all this happened while a pandemic was raging; and in less than one year, the AYA team was shipping AYA NEO Founder Edition units in China and sold out on Indiegogo as the number of backers (2600+) hit the manufacturing limit. So the demand for such a handheld, although niche, is palpable.

Why I’m concluding with AYA NEO’s unlikely origin story is to point out how it could be indicating a change of tides in the handheld gaming PC industry. Now that a previously-unheard of Uncle A put such a powerful device on a market that has been so far practically single-handedly dominated by GPD (due to a blatant lack of competitors), other players might be encouraged to follow a similar path of their own. 

Just like it has been the case with indie games, we could be seeing more indie devices delivering performance that gaming giants like Sony and Nintendo aren’t even considering to put out there. But following Uncle A and the AYA team’s efforts, we could see a Cousin C or Brother B (you catch my drift) come out of nowhere to shake up the market. Even if AYA does not turn out to be successful (there have been concerns before that it might be the next Smach Z or PGS, and these concerns surged again after Uncle A sold the company, but the new CEO assured his commitment to running the startup professionally), others might pick up the torch.

EDIT: Following the publication of this review, I got the confirmation that Uncle A indeed sold and left the company. The startup is now 100% owned by an entrepreneur named Zhang Ao, also known online as Uncle Tail or Arthur Zhang.

This blip in the hardware market radar might even make bigger players consider developing one such device of their own (recently we’ve seen concepts from Alienware and Lenovo and even a patent from Tencent for handheld gaming PCs). Among such competition and experimentations, there is one clear winner and that’s us; the consumers, the gamers.

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Previously, GPD was practically the only one in the handheld gaming PC market and would make the market dance to its tune with its own pricing and devices. Lately One Netbook has been presenting itself as GPD’s competitor with its OneGx line, but the AYA NEO promised something different with its AMD architecture which is more capable on handheld systems. This device even pushed GPD to start working on its own AMD-based handheld and this is the type of competition that breeds innovation. Whether the AYA NEO succeeds or fails, this is the legacy that it will leave behind.

But this concept of a legacy and of an unknown player disrupting the market should not be what sells you on the device. It’s the performance and quality of the device put forward that should; and after reading this review (and the first impressions piece too!), I hope you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about the device when it goes on sale again. That is, if the AYA team holds its end of delivering the goods to customers. Caution should always be advised for crowdfunded products but with AYA, it seems like delays are eventual but do end up delivering. However, it remains to be seen how they handle it for 2600+ backers. 

As the startup’s first device though, they hit strong as the AYA NEO surely impresses with its performance as a handheld, its quality and the overall experience it delivers. Their first foray into the handheld gaming PC market already puts the company as a strong contender to lead this niche industry, should they keep up with the standard (and ship their product). And they might have set the bar for AMD handheld gaming PCs (by default) as the AYA NEO really is the closest we have to a Nintendo Switch Pro for now.

Verdict

What We Liked ...
  • AMD-based handheld gaming PC
  • Great handheld PC gaming experience
  • Gorgeous display
  • Well-suited to handle loads of emulators
  • That clear shell!
What We Didn't Like ...
  • Quality and feel of triggers
  • Power and volume buttons are close and can be mistakenly pressed
  • Loud rumble
  • Crowdfunding uncertainties
8.8
out of 10

Overall

From a single person's vision to create an ambitious gaming handheld, the AYA NEO promised a lot and the actual product does deliver on its promise.
*Quality and feel of triggers

*Power and volume buttons are close and can be mistakenly pressed

*Loud rumble

That... That's a deal breaker for me.

Either a NVIDIA Shield on sale or a used model feels like a better option to use an an emulation machine.

Granted is not portable but whatever.
 
This has been on my radar for a while. Glad to hear that it's competently made, save for the triggers and unfortunately placed volume control. Looks like AMD's APU's and SOC's open the doors to a bright future for ultra portable computing.
 
*Quality and feel of triggers

*Power and volume buttons are close and can be mistakenly pressed

*Loud rumble

That... That's a deal breaker for me.

Either a NVIDIA Shield on sale or a used model feels like a better option to use an an emulation machine.

Granted is not portable but whatever.

This is being produced a couple years after the Shield. So would I be incorrect in assuming the Neo has significantly better specs for Gamecube era and newer games?
 
This is being produced a couple years after the Shield. So would I be incorrect in assuming the Neo has significantly better specs for Gamecube era and newer games?

It does but it has the problems that I quoted and is more expensive.
 
the price is too premium for AMD radeon PC. Ok, I know you buy for the design, but I would rather to wait for a low-power dedicated GPU one that doesn't boil the handheld. for the price, I would like to think this as a mini portable computer with an integrated GPU.

if you have a dedicated GPU, it is likely you have AMD radeon 6 GPU as your igpu. you can try use that igpu to run your games in 1280x720 resolution and low settings, and see if the performance could convince you to buy this handheld. I don't.

if you are looking a way to play video game consoles emulator, well, maybe you want to buy xiaomi poco series instead. I could run gamecube games hitting 60 fps using xiaomi poco x3 there (not that I use it for gaming though).
 
this is silly. The Aya Neo is so much more powerful it's not even funny

The Switch has like a 7-year-old Tegra chip inside it, and it's underclocked to hell by Nintendo
True, but i already have a gaming PC (two of them) for my PC games and stuff... yeah it's cool like i said, would love to get one if i never bought the switch before hand.

If you want it over the switch, that's fine by me plus the switch has loads of exclusives, some of it's PC ports has full gamepad support at least unlike it's PC original with it's partial pad support self.
 
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True, but i already have a gaming PC (two of them) for my PC games and stuff... yeah it's cool like i said, would love to get one if i never bought the switch before hand.

If you want it over the switch, that's fine by me plus the switch has loads of exclusives, some of it's PC ports has full gamepad support at least unlike it's PC original with it's partial pad support self.
honestly I'd totally get the GPD Win 3, it's better in every way

except that 5.5" screen whyyyyyyyyyyyy :(
 
this is silly. The Aya Neo is so much more powerful it's not even funny

The Switch has like a 7-year-old Tegra chip inside it, and it's underclocked to hell by Nintendo

The thing is this it's like $800 if the price was lower it would be a good competition for the switch I can't see many people buying this when you can buy a entry level gaming laptop with more power
 
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The Emulation is definitely what will sell this Form Factor for Mainstream, including myself.

If just PC Gaming, then my previous opinion on the Form Factor remains the same seeing all my Titles are those that you sit at a desk to play with a Mouse or Trackball and Keyboard. Most other Emulation that Smartphones can do will probably be better served on them.

But to have current Emulators that are too heavy for Smartphones on this, plus the advantage of augmenting that Library with those from other Emulators, would be the logical flow of appeal for me.
 
@darkshadow1997 The only way that's going to happen and maintain a long battery life and not turn into an unintentional handwarmer is if they use a lower end video card like the GTX 1050 Ti, which would certainly be better than AMD's iGPU, but would cost a whole lot more to produce, engineer (and AYA NEO cheaped out on some stuff as Prans mentioned in his review, and honestly, given the history of these devices with GPD and all of their WIN PCs, seems to come with the territory for all of these handheld gaming PCs), test, and just be all-together a product that could sell to people who:

1. Have the time to play video games.
2. The desire to play video games with no compromises. Mobile offerings do not satisfy these people. They want the full experience, irregardless of how it makes them appear in public.
3. Make enough money to where they could afford such an investment.
4. Go out and about enough to where they'd get a lot out of this device's main gimmick that separates it from even gaming-capable laptops. And knowing how things are in the world right now, do you really think people are gonna be heading out more often going forward.
5. Have enough games to justify such a huge investment.

When you consider the customer base that this would appeal to, it's not exactly a growing amount; a lot of people who might be playing console games today with a traditional controller is a number that's gonna be dwindling in the coming years as they get older, reality sets in, and for those who are married, they may not be interested in buying the games for themselves, but for their kids to play with as the parents are so busy with work and other things that they're not gonna have time to teach their kids how to beat World 1-1. Instead, the kids will be handed what is likely the parents phone or a tablet with some games that use the touchscreen, and let it be a distraction for said kids while at the store, doctor's office, wherever in public.

That's not to say that traditional gaming is gonna leave, though. It's simply a statement on where I see the growth potential for this kind of market, and this idea has customers who will buy these items. Thing is, will the operation ever be profitable to the point where the companies producing these handheld PCs will make them to where people aren't as concerned with the build quality on all of them given past experiences not just with the product idea, but also the companies managing the promotion and coordination of all of the various pillars that support the entire operation and their country of origin thanks to a reputation that products made in China have gained over the years compared to that of older products that weren't made in China that still function perfectly today.
 
Using an NVidia GPU is currently unworkable in this form factor - their SOC's are ARM-based and wouldn't support the x64 Windows kernel natively. They'd have to use two separate chips and rework the entire cooling solution, not to mention waste double the real estate on the board. AMD's embedded chips are fire, they have zero competition in this space besides Iris-equipped Intel chips which tend to be far behind in compute in the same power envelope. Aya is about as good as it gets without big corporate money accelerating development - the less capital you have the longer it takes to put a device on a store shelf.
 
Using an NVidia GPU is currently unworkable in this form factor - their SOC's are ARM-based and wouldn't support the x64 Windows kernel natively. They'd have to use two separate chips and rework the entire cooling solution, not to mention waste double the real estate on the board. AMD's embedded chips are fire, they have zero competition in this space besides Iris-equipped Intel chips which tend to be far behind in compute in the same power envelope. Aya is about as good as it gets without big corporate money accelerating development - the less capital you have the longer it takes to put a device on a store shelf.
so what exactly is the GPD WIN 3 doing?
 
Ok, did some edits to the review:
  • Clarified that performance is based on 15W TDP
  • Added some pictures of Citra performance of Resident Evil Revelations and MGS3
  • After receiving confirmation myself, I have mentioned that the original founder, Uncle A, has left the company and the new owner/CEO Zhang Ao (aka Uncle Tail or Arthur Zhang).
The most interesting part was the video on emulation. Thanks for that. :)

No problem! I thought those would be particularly of interest :)

Well done and detailed review.
Good work!

Thanks! Glad you liked it ^_^

Would this run Neos VR well? In screen mode as well as VR mode?
This device is not VR compatible nor does it have Thunderbolt port for eGPU support (due to an AMD thing)
 
Ok, did some edits to the review:
  • Clarified that performance is based on 15W TDP
  • Added some pictures of Citra performance of Resident Evil Revelations and MGS3
  • After receiving confirmation myself, I have mentioned that the original founder, Uncle A, has left the company and the new owner/CEO Zhang Ao (aka Uncle Tail or Arthur Zhang).


No problem! I thought those would be particularly of interest :)



Thanks! Glad you liked it ^_^


This device is not VR compatible nor does it have Thunderbolt port for eGPU support (due to an AMD thing)
Ah, okay. I would be using Virtual Desktop so I wouldn't need to plug it into the headset, but if the GPU won't work, then eh. Does it have Ethernet?
 
I feel like there's another one of these handheld gaming PC's that get hyped up on blogs every 6 months or so. Everyone posting about it gets so excited about it (the usual blogs and usual YouTubers), and then a few weeks later after it gets released, (almost) no one buys it. Maybe there's a reason for that.
 
I feel like there's another one of these handheld gaming PC's that get hyped up on blogs every 6 months or so. Everyone posting about it gets so excited about it (the usual blogs and usual YouTubers), and then a few weeks later after it gets released, (almost) no one buys it. Maybe there's a reason for that.
Probably because most of the interested people bought it before launch for a cheaper price lol.
 
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With future AMD SoC's on DDR5 and RDNA2 (and Intel a fab drop off a competitive SoC as well), I think I'll sit this gen out because whats coming next should really lift performance. But by golly, good retro emulation in a handheld is tempting.
 
Don’t really care about PC gaming. Just looking for a top shelf handheld emulator. Any other devices I should consider?
 
Any chance at more alternatives for GameCube?
For GameCube you'll be looking at Snapdragon-chipped devices, essentially phones. For gaming oriented ones, I'd recommend the MOQI i7S for the physical controls or the recent Black Shark 4 for new specs (and at least it has physical triggers). But these are expensive devices while the Anbernic ones are more affordable, more or less around $100, depending on the model.
 
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Err not to sure can you guys give me one free & i will try it out :) ..looks great wish i had one !!!!!
 
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