Review: AYANEO Flip KB - A Nintendo DS-Style Handheld With A Full Keyboard 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Clamshell portables have a long history; Nintendo kicked things off with its dual-screen Game & Watch range and continued the trend with the popular GBA SP, Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS – a selection of systems which sold hundreds of millions of units worldwide.

There's certainly something pleasing about a device you can close after use, and Chinese manufacturer AYANEO is tapping into this with two new products: the Flip KB and Flip DS.

The Flip DS, as the name suggests, mimics the twin-screen approach of the DS and 3DS, but the Flip KB – which we're reviewing here – swaps out that second, smaller display for a full QWERTY keyboard.

Given that most people will be interested in the DS-style device, is the Flip KB worth a look? Join us as we find out...

AYANEO Flip KB Review: Design

Compared to AYANEO's other handheld Windows PCs, the Flip KB is chunky. That's because, as well as accommodating the AMD Ryzen 7 7840U (or the 8840U, which is also available at a higher cost), it also has to make space for the 45Wh battery and the aforementioned clamshell mechanism – all of which results in a degree of thickness that we're not accustomed to seeing in AYANEO's traditionally svelte range of handhelds.

The review unit we were sent by AYANEO – which, we have to stress, is an early pre-production model and is subject to change – came in black, and the bad news is that it's an absolute fingerprint magnet.

Smudges and marks show up almost instantly, and while you can wipe them away with a cloth, there's no getting around the fact that this device is going to look very messy after each play session – you might want to opt for the white version if this bothers you.

On the top edge, you'll find the MicroSD card slot, dual USB-C ports (one 4.0, one 3.2) and an Oculink port. This allows you to hook up an external GPU if you crave some additional processing grunt (we were sadly unable to test this aspect during our review period).

While AYANEO has done an excellent job of making the rear of the Flip KB ergonomic and comfortable to hold (you can even remove the textured grips on the back and replace them with a different pair included in the box), the clamshell design results in a sharp edge on the upper surface, where the insides of your hands rest during use.

The same issue is present in the Nintendo DS, but because that's such a smaller, thinner device, it never becomes a problem. The Flip KB, on the other hand, is seriously thick and (ahem) fills the hand, so you can't help but experience discomfort from those sharp, angled corners.

AYANEO Flip KB Review: Controls

The unit opens up fairly easily, revealing the suite of physical controls within. As well as the aforementioned keyboard (which has backlit buttons), you have dual Hall effect analogue sticks, a digital pad, four action buttons, a fingerprint scanner / power button, an optical mouse, volume controls and several other function keys. Outside of the six shoulder buttons, AYANEO has placed all of the physical inputs around the keyboard, which results in a convenient (if somewhat cluttered) arrangement.

Because of the clamshell design, AYANEO has had to make some compromises when it comes to controls. The screen has to close on top of the controls, so they've been heavily recessed into the body of the unit; this means that the analogue sticks effectively reside in little 'pits', which can sometimes make them tricky to use. The D-pad, too, is very flat with very little travel; this isn't too much of an issue in most games, but, like the pad on the GBA SP, it's not ideal for playing titles that require flowing inputs, like 2D fighters.

The keyboard is handy, for sure, and easy to use. We found that we could just about reach all of the buttons using our thumbs, but it's more comfortable to rest the Flip KB on a table and type with your fingertips instead. As we said with the AYANEO Slide, having a physical keyboard on a portable Windows PC is certainly welcome, as it means you don't have to endure the awkwardness of an on-screen equivalent.

AYANEO Flip KB Review: Display

The AYANEO Flip KB's 7-inch, 1080p IPS panel has a refresh rate of 120hz. The screen itself is bright and punchy, but we miss the vibrancy of the OLED panel seen on the likes of the AYANEO Air 1S.

The hinge has three angled 'stages', although it's just about possible to have it any angle you wish, with delicate handling. Speaking of which, it does feel a little on the flimsy side, perhaps due to the large screen size and the thin nature of the upper clamshell section; we certainly wouldn't want to put it under any undue stress.

AYANEO has stated that it is still working on perfecting the hinge mechanism, so this may change for the final production version.

When the unit is closed during use, it places the Flip KB into hibernation mode – but it's not as instantaneous as it is on, say, the Nintendo 3DS.

There's a short pause while the screen remains on, and the sound continues to play; it eventually shuts down after a few seconds. When you next open it up, you have to press the power button to wake the device.

The whole process isn't as elegant as it is on Nintendo's clamshell portables, but this has more to do with the fact that this is using a Windows OS.

AYANEO Flip KB Review: Performance

AMD's Ryzen 7840U is a reasonably potent processor, and it gives the Flip KB the kind of performance levels that the Steam Deck can only dream of.

We were able to get a host of AAA games running at 1080p with silky-smooth framerates – and, in those cases where performance felt off, we simply dropped the resolution and graphical detail down a little to achieve 60fps. It's worth noting that you can also get the Flip KB with the slightly more powerful 8840U if you wish, but the unit we were sent has the 7840U inside.

Given the amount of raw power on tap, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Flip KB handles emulation with ease. You can emulate right the way up to the Nintendo Switch, with anything older than that running perfectly. The number of emulators available on PC is staggering, giving this device a significant advantage over the Steam Deck in this field. The fact that it has a physical keyboard and an optical mouse means it's also great for playing old-school PC titles, too.

Like many portable PCs, there is the issue of heat generation. Even with a huge (and loud) fan included, the Flip KB becomes incredibly hot when it's under heavy load – and quickly, too. We wouldn't say it became so toasty as to be uncomfortable, but it certainly warmed up our hands on a cold morning.

Battery life is always a weakness for these devices, and despite having a 45Wh power cell, the Flip KB is sadly no exception. Even for light gaming, you're looking at around two hours of stamina with brightness and volume settings at a typical level, although it's possible to get more if you really cut back. AAA gaming, however, won't give you much spare change from an hour.

AYANEO says it's still working on the audio side of things when it comes to the Flip KB, but we found the speakers to be pretty powerful. They're located on the bottom edge of the device and are so punchy they practically fill the room with sound when on maximum volume.

AYANEO Flip KB Review: Specs & Pricing

CPU RAM / Storage Early Bird Price Price
AMD Ryzen 7 7840U 16G + 512G $699 $899
AMD Ryzen 7 8840U 16G + 512G $739 $939
AMD Ryzen 7 7840U 32G + 2TB $959 $1129
AMD Ryzen 7 8840U 32G + 2TB $999 $1169
AMD Ryzen 7 7840U 64G + 2TB $1199 $1399
AMD Ryzen 7 8840U 64G + 2TB $1239 $1439

AYANEO Flip KB Review: Conclusion

AYANEO isn't the first company to create a clamshell Windows gaming PC, but we applaud its commitment to covering all of the bases regarding form factors. There's certainly a lot to like about the Flip KB, too; the keyboard is genuinely helpful, and we love the fact that, when closed, it protects the screen from damage. The amount of power available for AAA gaming and emulation is also excellent.

On the downside, the controls feel compromised by the design, with the analogue sticks, in particular, feeling awkward to use because they're recessed within the bodywork. The clamshell design also results in sharp edges where you grip the device, making it slightly uncomfortable to use for prolonged periods.

Review: AYANEO Flip KB - A Nintendo DS-Style Handheld With A Full Keyboard 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Ultimately, though, the biggest gripe we have with the Flip KB is that it exists alongside the more appealing Flip DS; while that physical keyboard is nice, we're more excited about the prospect of having a second screen for DS, 3DS and even Wii U emulation. Given that the Flip DS and KB are practically identical beyond this difference, we'd argue that the dual-screen model is the more sensible purchase – unless you're keen to have a full keyboard, of course.

Naturally, all of this debate is somewhat moot if you're shopping on a budget; the Flip KB starts at $900 ($700 early bird) for the 16GB RAM / 512GB storage version and tops out at $1439 ($1239 early bird) for the 64GB RAM / 2TB storage version (with the faster 8840U processor). That pricing is going to put this device out of contention for many people, who will almost certainly view the likes of the Steam Deck and ROG Ally as more sensible options.

Thanks to AYANEO for supplying the Flip KB used in this review.