AYA NEO Handheld Gaming PC First Impressions
It’s here. After less than a year since it was announced, AYA NEO, the AMD-based handheld gaming PC is a reality; at least as far as the review unit that has been provided attests to. Understandably, when news first broke about this device, a lot of people were skeptical. Everything shown was from prototypes and the project came from a fresh startup headed by someone known as Uncle A without prior experience in manufacturing handheld devices. Was this shaping up to be the next Smach Z or PGS already?
But against all odds, the AYA team maintained their progress and delivered. They have been shipping the first units to customers in China and are now gearing up for the overseas market following a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $2.4 million and already sold out its perks. However, the path that they took to reach this point wasn’t exactly a steady one. Following delays and internal disputes, questions about their reliability emerged every so often. But it looks like with team AYA, delays should be expected (delayed shipping of units in China, delayed launch of their Indiegogo campaign) but eventually, they seem to deliver. But of course, caution should be advised as with every crowdfunding product.
That said, the team was kind enough to provide a review unit to GBAtemp but unfortunately, due to current public enemy No.1, COVID-19, shipping was delayed and my review will be posted later than expected, as compared to other outlets that have already been sharing their coverage of the device. But that might be a good thing as you could ask me to check the performance of a specific game or emulator that hasn’t already been publicly tested. I can then include some of those in my full review which is planned to be published in a few weeks’ time. As for this article, it will include my first impressions of the device after having had it for less than a week.
As you can see from the pictures, the unit provided is the clear shell, Founder Edition, that was available only in China and includes a final mould, as opposed to a CNC one that some reviewers had access to. I must say that the clear shell on this unit packs quite a look and is my personal favourite out of the others that will be released internationally (black Dark Star and the white Light Moon). I can also see it appealing to others as it’s reminiscent of retro handhelds with a similar clear shell which hasn’t been very common in recent generations. Seeing through the device’s internals while gaming is indeed something to behold; more so with the lighting effects available in the Founder Edition.
Flipping it over, you can see some green tags or markings that indicate some of the hardware features of the AYA NEO such as the fan, heatsink and processor. I thought that these would have been printed on the inside of the shell (as I would have preferred it) but they are on the outside, meaning that they could be subject to wear with time.
AYA NEO’s build is pretty good for the first product of the company. If you have a Switch, you’ll have an idea about the build quality already and the weight is more than twice (650g for AYA NEO vs 297g for the Switch) but somewhat akin to a Switch with a power bank attached at the back. In fact, the AYA NEO was inspired by the Switch itself in design and even packs the same pair of joysticks! But that’s not unheard of as other handhelds from China use the same ones as on Anbernic retro handhelds and the BittBoy PocketGo S30. But unlike some of the latter, the AYA NEO has no loose hardware buttons that cause any rattling and there’s no light bleed on the sides of the screen either. The buttons layout is asymmetrical, akin to the Switch, but the buttons themselves are from a different source. For one, the AYA NEO packs a proper D-pad and the face buttons (A/B/X/Y) have a font similar to the one used for the device’s logo. And yes, there’s a membrane underneath these, making for smooth, satisfying presses. As for the shoulder and trigger buttons, they deliver more audible clicks than the face buttons and it should be noted that the trigger buttons aren’t analogue ones.
You might notice that there are additional face buttons on the AYA NEO. On the right, you’ll find a dedicated lighting key, start, select and an Xbox key. And on the left are the Task Manager, Windows, Keyboard (to summon a virtual keyboard). These are easily reachable and quite handy, especially since the device does not feature any physical keyboard.
At the top of the device are two USB-C ports (there’s a third one underneath the device too), a headphone jack, volume +/- keys and the power button. I found the volume and power buttons to be a bit too close and similar to each other, with the + button being right next to the power button. Once, I missed the + key when trying to raise the volume and hit the power button instead and this put the AYA NEO to sleep. It might have been better to include a traditional volume rocker or placing the volume buttons at the other end.
Other than this hiccup, I’m happy to say that the AYA team did a solid job on the hardware side. It’s sturdy, of a build quality akin to what you expect from a major console manufacturer itself and feels polished. It also helps that the AYA NEO was inspired by the Switch as some accessories are compatible across both devices. For instance, I can fit the AYA NEO in the carry case of the Satisfye SwitchGrip Pro just fine and Switch joystick caps are of course also compatible. AYA has official, dedicated accessories in the works for their handheld like a dock, grip and carry case but these aren’t available yet. What was provided with this review unit was a tempered glass screen protector. It was the first thing I did after opening the package and it was easy to install and fits the device’s screen perfectly.
Regarding the screen, the 7-inch H-IPS display really delivers gorgeous images. And it’s not only for games but also for videos where the colors look vibrant and warm. I was positively surprised by the quality it offers the first time I streamed a YouTube video on it. Same goes for games, images are crisp and the screen does justice to games with detailed environments.
As for performance, if you keep your expectations in check and don’t need 4K, 60 fps gameplay anywhere and everywhere, then you can appreciate that this device does what it set out to do: play AAA games on-the-go. I’ve played some of Cyberpunk 2077 with settings set to medium/low and could get it running with a framerate of around 20 per second, although some details can appear grainy at times. Outriders also performs similarly and fares better overall but details further off in the background look blurry.
I also tried emulating Breath of the Wild on Cemu and got it to run at around 20 fps. I have yet to try other games and emulators but that’ll be for the full review. Personally, I prefer using it to play PC games and those are very much playable and enjoyable on the AYA NEO. I’m particularly fond of the landscape orientation which makes for a more comfortable experience as opposed to something like the GPD Win Max.
While gaming, the fan does cause a faint, yet audible whirl which is easily drowned by a pair of headphones or turning the volume up. Along with the copper piping heatsink, it does the job at preventing the AYA NEO from feeling like a lava rock. The speakers, located on the underside of the device and on either side of the third USB-C port, do a decent job at delivering clear and quality audio.
After having used the AYA NEO for a couple of days, it gives a pretty solid impression as being a competent handheld gaming PC. This is especially the case given that it’s the first product of an otherwise unknown startup and also the first AMD-based handheld gaming PC. I will have a full review where I share more of my thoughts, along with video performance of some games/emulators in a few weeks’ time after having had more time with the device. In the meantime, do let me know if there are any aspects of the AYA NEO that you’d like to learn more about!