Aya Neo Air 1S Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

When you've created a design that works, you may as well stick with it – it's something Nintendo did with the original Game Boy, and Apple has arguably pulled the same trick in more recent times with its iPhone and iPad lines.

Chinese company AYANEO clearly has the same view when it comes to its Air range of handheld gaming PCs; it all started with the original AYANEO Air a few years back before moving to the Air Pro, Air Plus and – for its latest trick – the AYANEO Air 1S.

Is AYANEO's faith in this super-small design warranted, or does familiarity breed contempt in this case? Let's find out in our AYANEO Air 1S review.

AYANEO Air 1S Review - Design & Display

Aya Neo Air 1S Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

As we've just alluded to, the AYANEO Air 1S has the same basic design as the original AYANEO Air – which is no bad thing at all. This is one of the smallest handheld gaming PCs on the market and is comparable to the dinky Switch Lite in terms of footprint – it's much, much smaller than the Steam Deck, despite out-gunning Valve's device in terms of raw processing power.

The Air 1S boasts a wonderfully ergonomic design and is lightweight to boot, tipping the scales at 450 grams. The two analogue sticks use Hall Effect sensors, so drift shouldn't be an issue – on the downside, they're quite small when compared to the sticks on devices like the Steam Deck and OneXPlayer 2. They have LED rings which can be customised using the AYASpace 2 software (more on that shortly); we've found that these 'gamer' lights are an acquired taste, with many people hating them. We quite like them, but they can be disabled entirely if you wish.

The D-pad is excellent, although it's set relatively low on the face of the unit, making it tricky to reach if you have larger-than-average hands. The four face buttons are responsive, while the shoulder triggers (also blessed with Hall Effect sensors) are easy to reach and comfortable to use. Finally, there are buttons on the face that act as 'Start' and 'Select', as well as an AyaSpace button which brings up the system's custom software, and a button which returns you to the Windows 11 desktop.

There are two USB-C ports on the AYANEO 1S – one on the top edge and one on the bottom – as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack, also located on the bottom edge. Annoyingly, this means if the unit is docked, then you can't plug in a pair of wired headphones – unless, of course, you're lucky enough to have a dock which has its own 3.5mm jack. Also on the top edge of the device is the volume rocker and power button, the latter of which houses a handy fingerprint sensor – something that has been a common feature of the Air range since its inception.

It's worth reiterating just how small the AYANEO Air 1S is – a remarkable achievement when you consider that it's packing AMD's Ryzen 7 7840U (with a Radeon 780M GPU based on RDNA3) inside its svelte frame. Compared to the Steam Deck, it looks positively tiny. A consequence of this is that the unit gets very hot when it's running at full pelt; this is something pretty much all handheld PCs of this type are guilty of, but the smaller frame of the Air 1S makes it particularly noticeable. Despite the massive fan inside the unit, there's a lot of heat being generated by its internal hardware.

The system's 5.5-inch AMOLED screen has a resolution of 1080p, which is another big plus point over the Steam Deck. Putting the two side-by-side, it's remarkable how much better the display on the AYANEO Air 1S looks; the colours really pop, and the contrast between light and dark areas is stunning. The Steam Deck's LCD screen was criticised when it first launched, and it has become more of an issue as time has passed and rival devices put it firmly in the shade. Honestly, after spending some time with the Air 1S, it's very, very hard to go back to the Steam Deck's dull and lifeless display.

AYANEO Air 1S Review - Specifications

Aya Neo Air 1S Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension
Display 5.5 inches
1920 x 1080 pixels
404 ppi
350 nits
109% NTSC, 99″ DCI-P3, 100% sRGB, 96% Adobe RGB color gamut
Processor AMD Ryzen 7 7840U
8 x Zen 4 CPU cores / 16 threads
3.3 GHz base / 5.1 GHz boost
20MB cache
15 – 25W TDP
GPU AMD Radeon 780M
12 x RDNA 3 computer units
RAM 16GB to 32GB
Storage 512GB / 1TB / 2TB / 4TB
M.2 2280 SSD
Ports 2 x USB4 Type-C (full function)
1 x 3.5mm audio
1 x microSD card reader
Wireless WiFi 6E
Bluetooth 5.2
Sensors Dual 6-axis gyroscope
X-axis linear vibration motor
Fingerprint sensor (integrated in power button)
Joysticks with hall sensors
Linear triggers with hall sensors
Software Windows 11 Home
AYA Space 2.0
Battery 38 Wh
10,050 mAh
Power 5 – 20 watt TDP (on battery)
5 – 25 watt TDP (plugged in)
Dimensions 224 x 89.5 x 21.6mm
Weight 450 grams
Color options Aurora White
Polar Black
Retro Power

AYANEO Air 1S Review - Software

Aya Neo Air 1S Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The AYANEO Air 1S runs Windows 11 and acts like a typical PC in almost every respect. That means you can do anything you'd normally do on a PC – install apps, load up games, play emulators; you name it. If your laptop or desktop can do it, so can this handheld device.

AYANEO has, however, created its own custom launcher called AYASpace. This has been present on pretty much all of the company's handheld PCs and, in its previous guise, offered a less-than-ideal user experience thanks to its buggy nature and somewhat unfinished state. The AYANEO Air 1S ships with AYASpace 2.0, a revised variant of the software which not only looks better – it also fixes some of the key issues we've seen with the 1.0 version.

AYASpace 2.0 can be configured to boot up the moment you switch on the device, presenting you with a more uniform and gaming-focused UI. All of your installed games are shown in a single library, regardless of where you've downloaded them from. So, Steam games will be placed alongside those installed from the Epic Games Store, for example. This unified library is a big plus point, but AYASpace 2.0 also allows you to control other elements of the hardware, such as the LED rings, power output, button configuration and much, much more.

You can, of course, opt to ignore AYASpace 2.0's UI, but you'll always want it running in the background, as it's essential when it comes to controlling the system's overall power output. By pressing the aforementioned AYASpace button, you can bring up a pop-in menu which allows you to select the TDP (thermal design power) setting based on the task you're doing. AAA games, for example, will need the maximum 20W TDP setting, but if you're playing less demanding games, you can drop this down and prolong your battery life.

Mastering this element of the AYANEO Air 1S is utterly essential if you're looking to get the most out of the machine, so if you're used to the commendably streamlined experience offered by the Steam Deck, it might come as a bit of a shock.

AYANEO Air 1S Review - Performance

Aya Neo Air 1S Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

With its Ryzen 7 7840U chipset running the show, the AYANEO Air 1S is offering cutting-edge power in an almost pocket-sized frame, and that means you can play AAA titles like Elden Ring, Resident Evil 2 and Cyberpunk 2077 on the go.

Given that, at $899 for the lowest-spec model, the AYANEO Air 1S is considerably more expensive than the Steam Deck, you'd expect superior performance – and you get it. Take Baldur's Gate III as an example; on Valve's machine, it runs well enough but with huge graphical compromises; the resolution is lower, character detail is sacrificed, and some of the visual splendour of Larian's RPG masterpiece is diminished. On the Air 1S, it's possible to play with higher graphical settings and 1080p resolution – both of which enrich the experience massively.

For some titles, you might need to tinker with graphical settings to get the optimum level of performance, but for the most part, we were able to boot up a wide range of games and start playing without any issues or hitches. With the power of the 7840U chipset, it really does feel like AYANEO has refined overall performance with this new model. The downside is that, with such a small frame, dissipating heat is a problem, and both the front and back of the Air 1S can get very hot, even after a short period of time.

Emulation is another big selling point of this unit. Windows is blessed with a great many retro gaming emulators covering practically every gaming system you could mention, and the processing grunt of the AYANEO Air 1S means you can run them without any problems.

RetroArch is a good point of call if you want a hassle-free experience, but we found that downloading individual emulators for certain systems was also a good idea, as some platforms are not currently supported by RetroArch.

We were running Saturn, PS2, Dreamcast and even Xbox 360 games at blistering rates during our review period, which illustrates just how potent an emulation platform this device is.

AYANEO Air 1S Review - Battery Life

Aya Neo Air 1S Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The AYANEO Air 1S has a 38 Wh / 10,050 mAh battery, which, as you might expect, doesn't go very far when you're pushing the hardware to the max.

This is where those TDP toggles come into play because striking the right balance between performance and stamina is tricky. While the higher setting of 20W TDP is going to give you the best overall experience when playing modern AAA games, it is possible to reduce that to 15W TDP in some cases – especially if you're willing to also drop from 1080p to 720p resolution (the lower setting honestly doesn't look that bad on a 5.5-inch screen). When possible, going as low as 10W TDP is recommended, as this is going to give you even more playtime.

As a rough guide, running the AYANEO Air 1S at 20W TDP will give you around an hour of battery life. 10W TDP effectively doubles that time, with the 15W TDP setting predictably landing in the middle. Even at the lower end of the power scale, it's clear that the AYANEO Air 1S has a battery life problem – but this is something that has plagued pretty much every handheld gaming PC so far. Until battery tech improves, the only solution to this is packing in larger batteries, which means heavier, bulkier units.

AYANEO Air 1S Review - Conclusion

Aya Neo Air 1S Review
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

It's been interesting to watch the evolution of the AYANEO Air range of handheld gaming PCs over the past few years. We've seen multiple revisions of the same concept, with each one offering faster internal technology.

With the Ryzen 7 7840U chipset beating at its heart, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Air 1S is the most capable member of the Air family yet, and we were honestly blown away by the fluidity of its overall performance when it came to running AAA games and handling retro gaming emulators.

The downsides with the Air 1S are common across all members of the Air range so far: price and stamina. While it comfortably outperforms the Steam Deck in processing power, the Air 1S is also more than twice the price ($1179 for the 32GB / 2TB model we were sent for review – the lowest spec model is $899). That's likely to be a major sticking point for many people. Battery life is also disappointing, but no company operating in this particular space has managed to solve that problem as yet.

Ultimately, if you're looking for a small gaming handheld which offers the flexibility of Windows alongside cutting-edge power, a fantastic screen and an excellent design, then the AYANEO Air 1S really has no rival at the moment. It's stunning how the company continues to add power to this pocket-friendly design, and if money is no object, then we'd thoroughly recommend this for AAA gaming on the go.

The AYANEO Air 1S is currently on IndieGoGo.