Aya Neo Pocket Air
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Up until now, Chinese firm Aya Neo has focused firmly on creating handheld gaming PCs which push the envelope when it comes to raw power, ergonomic design and cutting-edge components. With devices like the Aya Neo Next and Aya Neo Air, the company has successfully challenged its rivals with beautifully crafted portable gaming powerhouses – but at a cost.

These products cost much more than the likes of the Steam Deck, and this is likely to be the main stumbling block when it comes to convincing consumers to take a chance on an Aya Neo device, especially if they're primarily concerned with emulating vintage games.

That all changes with the Aya Neo Pocket Air, the latest member of the 'Air' family, which includes the Aya Neo Air, Aya Neo Air Pro, Aya Neo Air Plus and – most recently – the super-powerful and very expensive Aya Neo Air 1S. While it retains the same basic design as its Windows-based siblings (and many of the same internal features, too), the Aya Neo Pocket Air is powered by Google's Android operating system, and that brings with it a host of benefits.

Ultimately, though, the headline here is that, with a starting price of around $300, the Pocket Air costs a fraction of what you'd expect to pay for a full-fat, Windows-powered Aya Neo product – but is it too good to be true? Let's find out.

Aya Neo Pocket Air Review - What's In The Box

As well as the Aya Neo Pocket Air itself, you get a USB-C to USB-A cable and a sheet of instructions. There's no power brick in the box, but you can use any USB power source to charge the device.

Aya Neo Pocket Air Review - Design

Aya Neo's pitch with the Pocket Air is simple: take the knowledge gained from its Windows-based handhelds and apply it to a cost-effective Android-powered product. That means the Pocket Air benefits from a wonderfully comfortable and portable design, an amazing screen, Hall Effect analogue sticks, a massive battery and even a Windows-grade cooling system.

Sticking with the design for now, the Aya Neo Pocket Air is a close match to the other members of the product family. It's thinner and lighter than the Aya Neo Air 1S (17mm at its thinnest point, with an overall weight of 380g) and boasts a different colour scheme. The white-and-red combo is certainly eye-catching, but it's perhaps not as joyfully nostalgic as the Game Boy DMG-01 colourway that the aforementioned Air 1S is sporting. We've had a few people comment that the Pocket Air looks a little cheap when compared to its siblings, but all in all, it's certainly not an ugly device.

Those no-drift 'Hall Effect' analogue sticks (which have a rubber texture that makes them look a bit dirty, annoyingly) still have customisable LED light rings, and these can be controlled via the custom AyaHome launcher, which comes pre-installed (you can turn them off completely if you find them distracting). The button layout, too, is largely unchanged from the other Air handhelds, as is the spongy yet responsive D-pad – which, by the way, is utterly brilliant for one-on-one fighting games (we tested it with Capcom vs. SNK 2, and it worked like a dream). Given the strong retro focus of the Pocket Air, we'd argue that it would have made more sense for the pad to be situated above the left analogue stick, but this is probably a case of personal preference.

Looking around the rest of the unit, things will seem very familiar to existing Aya Neo Air owners. The back is mostly featureless, save for the large fan grille, into which cool air is pulled and then ejected from a vent on the top edge of the device. Also on the top edge is the power button (which includes a fingerprint sensor, something of a trademark for the Aya Neo Air range), as well as the volume rocker. You'll also find the LB and RB shoulder buttons, alongside the LT and RT shoulder triggers, which also use Hall Effect sensors. Two additional buttons, neatly hidden on the top edge next to the shoulder inputs, grant additional button options, such as opening menus and the like. The second USB-C port, which is present in this general location on the Windows-based Aya Neo Air models, is absent.

The bottom edge is where you'll find the unit's single USB-C port, for charging and data transfer. This is accompanied by a 3.5mm headphone socket and a Micro SD / Nano SIM card slot (this slot can also accept two Nano SIMs if you choose to forgo inserting a Micro SD card). Also on the bottom edge are the stereo speakers, which fire downwards rather than directly at the player's face.

Aya Neo Pocket Air Review - Display

Another carry-over from previous Aya Neo Air models is the Pocket Air's bright and vibrant AMOLED screen. Boasting a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a pixel density of 404 PPI, it's pin-sharp and puts the 720p panel seen in the Nintendo Switch OLED model to shame – even if, at 5.5-inches, it's a little smaller in terms of overall size.

Aya Neo Pocket Air
The Pocket Air's AMOLED screen has some real punch — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Because it's using AMOLED technology, the Pocket Air's screen offers superb colour replication and deep, convincing contrast. Viewing angles are also completely rock-solid, making this one of the best screens we've ever seen on a handheld of this type.

The company boasts that the Pocket Air's display has 185% sRGB colour gamut volume, 109% NTSC colour gamut volume, 100% sRGB colour gamut coverage and 96% Adobe RGB colour gamut coverage.

Aya Neo Pocket Air Review - Software

The Aya Neo Pocket Air is running Android 12 alongside a very subtle AyaHome custom launcher created by Aya Neo itself. If you've ever used Google's massively popular OS, then you'll know what to expect here. You've got a UI experience largely built around touch control, which immediately makes the Pocket Air's interface feel easier to navigate than the Windows-based one seen on the other Air handhelds. The device wakes instantly from sleep, just like a smartphone or tablet – which, given the OS, shouldn't come as a shock.

The obvious upshot of using Android is access to a massive range of apps and games, all available on the Google Play Store. Given the gaming focus of the device, it's perhaps best to highlight this aspect; there's over a decade of games on Android, many of which come with support for physical gaming controls built-in.

In more recent years, there's been a trend for big-name releases to launch on Android soon after coming to console and PC – so, if you fancy it, you can play the likes of Streets of Rage 4, Slay The Spire and Dead Cells, as all of these – and many more – now have native Android versions. Furthermore, many retro classics (such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Grand Theft Auto III and Dragon Quest VIII) also have Android editions.

Aya Neo Pocket Air
The Pocket Air's UI will be instantly familiar to anyone who has used an Android phone or tablet in the past few years, and comes with the subtle AyaHome custom launcher — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Another big bonus is that Android has a wealth of emulators covering almost the entire history of video gaming – and many of these have been in development for over a decade, which means they're mature, feature-rich and often on par with their equivalent apps on Windows and Mac. We'll cover these a little more in the performance section of this review, but, suffice it to say, because it's running Android, the Pocket Air can play anything from Atari 2600 titles all the way up to PlayStation 2 and GameCube.

We've already mentioned the AyaHome launcher, but it's worth circling back to discuss it in a little more detail. Like its Window-based equivalent, this custom launcher streamlines the user experience, along with some other cool options. By pressing the Aya Neo button on the front of the unit, you can summon a pop-in 'Quick Tool' menu on the right of the display, which allows you to toggle things like performance, controls and other features. From here, you can enable 'Game' mode to enhance overall power, change the screen brightness and even turn the fan on and off.

Aya Neo Pocket Air
Thanks to its use of Android, the Pocket Air can run Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass app with ease, opening up access to a wide range of amazing games via cloud streaming technology — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

In addition to this, there's a dedicated AyaSpace app, which is more geared towards offering you a detailed view of your retro collection, making it feel more like a curated selection rather than a bunch of ROM names. You can import your existing library data from the retro gaming frontends Pegasus or Emulation Station, filling the Pocket Air's internal library with cover artwork, game descriptions and screenshots. Aya Neo has stated that, over time, the AyaSpace app will be able to pull this information from the internet automatically, but for the time being, a little bit of effort is required to get things working perfectly. The end result, however, makes the Pocket Air feel more like a 'proper' games console.

Aya Neo Pocket Air Review - Specifications

At the heart of the Aya Neo Pocket Air is Mediatek's Dimensity 1200 chipset, a powerful smartphone-level solution announced back in 2021. The chip has a Cortex-A78 CPU core (clocked at 3 GHz), 3 x Cortex-A78 CPU cores (2.6 GHz) and 4 x Cortex-A55 CPU cores (2 GHz), and also includes a Mali-G77 MC9 GPU.

Size 224 x 89.5 x 17mm
Weight 380g
Screen Size 5.5-inch, 1080p AMOLED
CPU MediaTek Dimensity 1200
Storage / RAM options 6GB + 128GB
8GB + 256GB
12GB + 512GB
Memory LPDDR5
Storage UFS 3.1
Motion control Dual six-axis gyroscope
Battery 7350mAh
OS Android 12
Connectivity WiFi 6 / Bluetooth 5.2 / 4G (with SIM)
Analogue Stick Type Hall Effect sensor
Vibration X-axis linear motor
Interfaces USB-C 3.2
3.5mm headphone jack
Nano SIM & Micro SD slot

Aya Neo Pocket Air Review - Price

The Aya Neo Pocket Air is sold in three SKUs. Depending on which SKU you purchase, the chipset is accompanied by 6, 8 or 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM. The MediaTek Dimensity 1200 chip is common across all three options.

  • 6GB + 128GB - $319 ($299 'early bird' on IndieGoGo)
  • 8GB + 256GB - $429 ($379 'early bird' on IndieGoGo)
  • 12GB + 512GB - $519 ($459 'early bird' on IndieGoGo)

Aya Neo Pocket Air Review - Performance

While you're losing a little bit of processing grunt when compared to the Windows-based Aya Neo handhelds – which are powered by AMD Ryzen silicon – there's no denying that the Pocket Air is an absolute beast when it comes to emulation.

Sure, it might not run Baldur's Gate 3 or Armored Core 6 like the $1000+ Aya Neo Air 1S, but for that lower cost, you're getting a device which is capable of running pretty much any classic game you throw at it. PlayStation 2 emulation is especially impressive; using the peerless AetherSX2 emulator, we were able to enjoy a wide range of PS2 classics at almost full speed.

Aya Neo Pocket Air
PS2 emulation is nigh-on perfect — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Even the Sega Saturn – which is traditionally quite a stubborn monster when it comes to emulation, thanks to its complex internal architecture – runs well on the Aya Neo Pocket Air using the Yaba Sanshiro 2 emulator. There are some audio skips, but the gameplay is smooth and the 3D visuals are even upscaled, making things look a lot sharper.

GameCube emulation via Dolphin requires a little more effort to get running well, but with a bit of tinkering, you can achieve relatively smooth performance. Naturally, anything older than the PlayStation 2 will also run perfectly on this device, either via the excellent RetroArch or by using one of the many emulators already available on the Google Play Store.

Outside of emulation, the Aya Neo Pocket Air also handles native Android games with ease. Titles like Asphalt 9: Legends and Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes all boast visuals which are close to what you'd experience on the likes of the Nintendo Switch, and they all run as smooth as butter in the Pocket Air.

Of course, with this being Android, you have the option of playing games via cloud-based platforms, such as Xbox Game Pass. Your mileage will naturally vary depending on the speed of your WiFi and your proximity to your wireless router, but it's a handy option if you're missing the thrill of AAA games and want to play them away from the television.

Oh, and the Pocket Air runs Fortnite, which we thought was worth mentioning.

Aya Neo Pocket Air Review - Battery Life

The Aya Neo Air's 7350mAh means this device fixes one of the critical issues we've had with other Aya Neo devices: stamina. Obviously, this unit uses a less powerful chipset which is focused on mobile use, but even so, it's shocking how long the battery lasts between charges – especially after we've become so accustomed to charging our Aya Neo Air 1S after an hour of AAA gaming.

Aya Neo Pocket Air
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Using PS2 emulation as a test, we found that in the system's 'Balanced' gaming mode (and with the screen at close to full brightness and the audio at a relatively high volume), the battery would last around three-and-a-half hours on a single charge. Less demanding emulation tasks are clearly going to push that number up, so, on average, you'd be wise to expect about four hours of use per charge. Likewise, if you switch to 'Game' mode (the most demanding option) and put the fan on full speed, you can expect stamina to drop.

Aya Neo Pocket Air Review - Conclusion

Just as it has shaken up the world of handheld gaming PCs, Aya Neo's first Android-based portable raises the bar when it comes to design, features and power.

It leaves similar Android consoles from companies like Retroid and Anbernic in the dust thanks to its superior internals, outstanding display and intelligently designed custom software. Of course, all of this comes at a cost; the Aya Neo Pocket Air is comfortably more expensive than its rivals, so you really do get what you pay for.

Aya Neo Pocket Air
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Some might grumble that, by switching to Android for this variant, Aya Neo has removed the ability to experience AAA games on the go, but that's rather missing the point. The company has positioned this product as a retro gamer's dream come true, and it certainly delivers in that regard. And, while it's more expensive than its direct competitors, it's cheaper than its Windows-based siblings by some margin despite sharing many of the same hardware features.

With its sleek looks, eye-catching screen, powerful chipset and intuitive, touch-friendly Android OS, the Aya Neo Pocket Air redefines the standard for emulation handhelds, both Android-based and otherwise. The key sticking point for many people will be the cost as there are cheaper alternatives out there if you're looking for a pure emulation handheld – but ultimately, we feel the additional expense is more than worth it.

Review unit kindly supplied by Aya Neo.