Chinese hardware maker Aya Neo moves at such a breakneck pace that it's often hard to keep up with developments; it only feels like yesterday that we were praising the Aya Neo Air and Air Pro, and now, a few months later, we're getting to grips with the successor to those systems – the Aya Neo Air Plus, which was announced late last year and will retail in a wide range of different variants, starting at $600 and going all the way up to $1400.
We're looking at the high-end AMD Ryzen 7 6800U version ($979), which is towards to the top end of the spec. Is it worthy of investigation if you already own the Aya Neo Pro, and should Steam Deck owners be thinking of an upgrade? That's what we're here to find out.
Aya Neo Air Plus - The Hardware
At first glance, the Aya Neo Air Plus looks very similar to the Air Pro; the basic designs are identical, with all of the buttons being in the same place on both units (well, almost – the volume and power buttons have moved from the right side of the system's upper edge to the left side). However, when placed side-by-side, it becomes evident that the two devices are not a direct match for one another. The Air Plus is ever-so-slightly larger, mainly thanks to the larger display.
The Air Pro had a 5.5-inch panel, but this newer edition has a slightly roomier 6-inch screen. There's also a higher-capacity battery inside the unit, moving from the 38Wh version in the Air Pro to a 46.2Wh power cell. Under the hood, the system is rocking the Ryzen 7 6800U chipset (again, a step up from the Ryzen 7 5825U chipset used in the Air Pro) and comes with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of internal storage (there's a single MicroSD card slot for boosting the latter – like the power and volume buttons, this has also shifted position when compared to the 2022 Air Pro model, mysteriously moving from the left side of the bottom edge to the right). We've also got two USB-C ports on the top and bottom edges of the device.
It's worth circling back here to discuss the display a little more; while it's larger, it has the same 1920 x 1080p resolution of the Air Pro's screen. It's also an IPS LCD rather than an OLED – something many people might consider to be a downgrade when compared to the older unit. While it's true that black areas on this display aren't quite as deep and convincing, the Air Plus' panel is still bright and vibrant – and the fact that it's moderately bigger makes for a more pleasurable experience. We'd loved to have seen it retain the OLED tech, but it's a tradeoff we can just about live with.
The twin analogue thumb sticks use Hall Effect sensors, so there shouldn't be any danger of them developing drift over time. These are surrounded by fancy LED discs which change colour depending on specific parameters; for example, when the battery level is low, they turn from the default blue to red. You can customise the colour to suit your personal preference.
It's striking just how tiny the Air Plus is – it's smaller than the Nintendo Switch, in fact, and more readily compatible with the Switch Lite. When placed alongside the Steam Deck, it looks positively tiny – yet it houses more powerful internal tech, amazingly.
Aya Neo Air Plus - The Software
Like the other members of the Aya Neo family, the Air Plus is effectively a Windows-based PC in a Nintendo Switch-style form factor. This is both the system's greatest strength and perhaps its biggest weakness – but let's get the former out of the way before we focus on the latter.
Because it's running Windows 11, you can expect an astonishing degree of freedom and flexibility with the Aye Neo Air Plus. It will run any Windows app or game you would usually install on your desktop or laptop computer, which means you can play AAA titles, old-school PC games and (of course) a range of emulators that cover almost the entire history of video games. If there's a vintage system out there, chances are a Windows-based emulator for it exists in some form – and the raw power residing under the hood of this portable powerhouse means you'll be getting a pretty solid experience, too. We tested everything from the humble Game Boy all the way up to the PS3 and Wii U, and while not everything ran smoothly, it's remarkable to consider what this machine is capable of in this respect.
The Air Plus can also run Steam, as you'd expect. That transforms this device into an even more appealing proposition, as you can instantly unlock your Steam library or gain access to one of the most content-rich digital storefronts on offer. The rival Steam Deck will run Windows games, but it requires some legwork – with the Air Plus, you can play Windows titles and Steam games without any fuss. You can also download the Xbox app and leverage your Game Pass subscription, again, without having to jump through any hoops configuration-wise.
The catch is that the Windows 11 interface isn't really built around touch control. While you can purchase an optional dock and use the Air Plus like a computer, the majority of the time, you're going to be using your fingers to interact with it, and that's something of a nightmare with Windows. Aya Neo is clearly aware of this as it has been shipping its portable gaming PCs with its own custom app, Aya Space, since the series kicked off with the original Aya Neo handheld. Aya Space pulls together all of your installed games into a single menu which is easy to navigate using either touch or the physical controls, and it also allows you to tinker with elements such as resolution and power consumption.
The main issue here is that Aya Space is still in beta, and has always felt very unfinished and buggy; despite getting regular updates, that feeling hasn't gone away – even in 2023. It's not usual to change settings and then find them mysteriously revert back for no good reason, and the inconsistency becomes exhaustive after a while. We imagine part of the issue is the fact that Aya Space is an app which sits atop Windows and overrides particular settings, which can lead to clashes with the OS. Whatever the reason, using Aya Space never feels as 'comfortable' as using, say, SteamOS on the Steam Deck – but this is a complaint you could level at any Windows-based handheld PC.
Aya Neo Air Plus - Performance
When we reviewed the Aya Neo Air and Air Pro last year, we stated that they were excellent systems for both modern and retro gaming – and that summary is equally applicable to the Air Plus.
Despite issues with using Windows and Aya Space, when you get this system playing games, there's little reason to grumble. It's capable of handling almost anything you can throw at it, with some obvious caveats. Really intensive modern games are never going to run as smoothly as they would on a top-end desktop PC, but with some time and effort, you can get things moving well enough that the experience is almost the same.
You need to be prepared to put the effort in, however, as finding that sweet spot for many AAA games requires you to mess around with various settings, all easily accessible during play thanks to the Aya Quick Tool. From this pop-out menu, you can change things like the resolution, fan speed and the system's power consumption.
The latter is perhaps the most important option; low-level games and emulation will run full-speed at around 5W of power, but you'll need to boost that when you're running more demanding games. The higher the Thermal Design Power / TDP rating, the faster you're going to drain the Air Plus' battery, so there's definitely a balancing act in play here.
As you can imagine, running the Air Plus at full pelt will drain your battery super quickly; you could be looking at an hour of play, in fact – maybe more, maybe less. However, if you dial back the power consumption and stick to low-level tasks – such as, say, SNES emulation or playing undemanding 2D games on Steam – then you might find you get over four hours of usage from a single charge, if not more. There's a lot of management and tinkering required here, so if that's something you're not keen on, then you might be better off looking elsewhere for a more 'frictionless' experience.
Aya Neo Air Plus - Pricing
Aya Neo is releasing multiple variants of the Air Plus, each with different chipsets.
|Aya Neo Air Plus Model||Pre-order||Price|
|AMD Mendocino / Ryzen 3 7320U APU / 8GB RAM / 128GB Storage||$549||$599|
|AMD Mendocino / Ryzen 3 7320U APU / 16GB RAM / 512GB Storage||$599||$649|
|AMD Mendocino / Ryzen 5 7520U APU / 16GB RAM / 512GB Storage||$649||$699|
|Intel Core i3-1215U / 8GB RAM / 128GB Storage||$599||$649|
|Intel Core i3-1215U / 16GB RAM / 512GB Storage||$699||$749|
|AMD Ryzen 7 6800U / 16GB RAM / 512GB Storage||$889||$979|
|AMD Ryzen 7 6800U / 16GB RAM / 1TB Storage||$969||$1049|
|AMD Ryzen 7 6800U / 32GB RAM / 1TB Storage||$1089||$1219|
|AMD Ryzen 7 6800U / 32GB RAM / 2TB Storage||$1289||$1399|
Aya Neo Air Plus - Conclusion
The Aya Neo Air Plus certainly feels like an evolution of the existing Air and Air Pro, rather than a totally fresh device, as is the case with the Aya Neo 2. That's no bad thing, as this is a svelte, almost pocket-sized powerhouse that gives leaves the Steam Deck in its wake when it comes to pure processing power.
We love the design, and the shift from OLED to IPS LCD isn't as big a drawback as you might expect. Other notable elements, such as LED lights on the sticks and a fingerprint scanner, round out the package, and the fact that you can run pretty much any big-name PC game on this thing (with some compromises and adjustments) makes it an incredibly appealing device.
The catch? Well, there's more than one. As we noted with the original Air – and pretty much any portable PC we've seen so far – stamina is a genuine concern. While the battery is one element which has been improved in the Air Plus, you're still going to struggle if you want to play the latest AAA games with decent settings. Secondly, there's the price; for the top-end variant, you're looking at $1400 – an astonishing amount of money and way more expensive than the most feature-packed SKU of the Steam Deck.
This is where the cheaper variants of the Air Plus come in; starting at $600, the AMD Mendocino models are easier to stomach in terms of cost, but you're naturally going to be getting a much weaker piece of hardware as a result. We haven't had a chance to test these models, so we can't say exactly how far behind they are compared to the AMD Ryzen 7 6800U variant we have, but you're naturally going to get a less impressive experience.
Even with the negatives taken into account, the Aya Neo Air Plus is an amazing device. We still can't get over how small it is, and the design has a truly premium feel to it. It's also stunning to have a handheld that can play God of War, Hi-Fi RUSH and Resident Evil 2 Remake on the go, as well as opening up access to decades of gaming history via a dazzling number of emulators. The price might be intimidating and the Steam Deck could well be a more sensible option for those of you who don't want to spend hours tinkering with settings, but the Air Plus nonetheless sets something of a benchmark for portable gaming PCs in 2023.
Thanks to Aya Neo for supplying the unit used in this review.