Aya Neo Next Advance Review

Aya Neo Next Advance Review

If the Steam Deck has done anything, it’s shine a light on the world of handheld gaming PCs. Portable gaming PCs aren’t new, but one of the most exciting, the Aya Neo Next Advance, is fresh out of the gate and aims to impress. The first-generation Aya Neo handheld launched in 2020, but has received a major upgrade and a minor facelift with this latest version. I’ve spent the last two weeks with this Switch-like gaming PC and am ready to tell you whether it earns its $1,265 to $1,465 asking price.

Aya Neo Next Advance – Design and Features

The Aya Neo Next is an interesting device in a whole slew of ways. The design reminds me of an extra-large Nintendo Switch. Everything from the button and joystick placement to the headphone jack and lower USB Type-C port make crystal clear where the company (also called Aya Neo) found the inspiration for its design. The Aya Neo Next is a substantially larger device than its console counterpart, packing a 7-inch screen and thicker body to make room for extra ventilation. This isn’t a pocket PC by any stretch, but it’s one you could drop in a bag and carry through the day fairly easily.

Aya Neo Next Advance – Photos

While perhaps not the most inspired, the familiar layout and larger size are very good for its playability. Compared to the Switch, it delivers an experience that’s much closer to holding an actual controller. The added thickness of its controller grips and the extra space in the layout makes for fewer hand cramps, even over multiple hours of use. The joysticks, shoulder buttons, triggers, and D-pad are all designed to be roughly the same height and size to a normal gamepad, so it immediately feels familiar – but there is still a learning curve to first-person aiming with these sticks.

Like any gaming PC, there’s far more to the Aya Neo Next than its inputs. This is a full-fledged gaming PC with specs to match. Here’s a rundown of its internals:

  • Display: 7-inch IPS touchscreen (5-point capacitive touch)
  • Resolution: 1280×800
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5800U (8-core/16-thread)
  • CPU Speed: 1.9GHz base clock, 4.4GHz boost clock
  • GPU: Integrated AMD Radeon Vega 8 (2.0GHz)
  • Memory: 16GB DDR4X-4266
  • Storage: 2TB NVMe
  • Battery: 47 Whr (2-6 hours gaming), 60W PD Charging
  • Connectivity: WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.2
  • I/O: x2 USB Type-C (top and bottom), audio combo jack
  • Security: Fingerprint Scanner
  • Dimensions (LxWxD): 10.5 x 4.4 x 1.2 inches

This particular configuration is the Advance version, and is available directly from Aya Neo for $1,345. Only 300 of this particular configuration were made. The standard version will feature the same config but have the option of a 1TB SSD for $1,265 at launch and $1,315 at retail. The 2TB version will cost $1,365 at launch and $1,465 after. A Pro version will also be available and upgrades the processor to a slightly faster Ryzen 7 5825U CPU, 32GB of RAM, and 2TB of NVMe storage.

With the Steam Deck starting price at $399, those prices are extraordinary. That money nets better hardware (with the exception of the memory), and slightly better performance in many games… but not all. What really sets the Aya Neo Next apart is that it’s a Windows handheld, where the Steam Deck uses Linux. That’s an important difference in more ways than one. First off, it means that it’s instantly compatible with any Windows game you might like to play – assuming it supports controller or you don’t mind plugging in a mouse and keyboard. The downside is that games will lack the same kind of optimization that Deck Verified games might have, which is why some games will still run better on the Deck, even though the Next offers the better overall hardware.

And make no mistake, by investing in the Aya Neo Next, you’re investing in that better hardware too. The added expense gets you a faster, higher core-count CPU. The Steam Deck has a custom 4-core/8-thread custom AMD APU that tops out at 3.5GHz. The Next uses a powerful Ryzen 7 5800U with double the core and thread count and peaks almost a full gig faster at 4.4GHz. The GPU portion of that processor is also faster, peaking at 2GHz instead of 1.6GHz on the Steam Deck. Valve’s portable has much better memory, however, with 16GB of cutting-edge LPDDR5 memory clocked at 5500MHz while the Aya Neo is still using DDR4 at 4266MHz. The Next nets another win in battery, however, with a 47 watt-hour capacity versus the Deck’s 40 watt hours.

Compared to the last generation Aya Neo, the Next brings with it a suite of other improvements. The biggest and most noticeable are the new joysticks and triggers. Rather than use traditional mechanical components, the Next’s analog inputs are driven by magnetic sensors. There are no mechanical contacts within either to wear out over time and both feel clean and smooth to use, while also having a satisfying tension and resistance.

The D-pad and ABXY buttons all use standard rubber membranes under the surface, but they’re well done and satisfyingly tactile. They’re not as nice as the triggers or joysticks, but they don’t feel mushy and pop back instantly after each press. The D-pad is a single unit instead of the split-directional of the original Aya Neo, which feels like a step back, but it works fine and didn’t confuse any of my presses.

A few other things have changed since the last generation, all in the name of streamlining the experience. While the original Aya Neo had four extra buttons on each controller to navigate Windows, the Next cuts this in half and instead relies on the Aya Space software and quick access commands. The big button on the right launches the Aya Space quick menu (a pop up menu with frequently used commands and options) when tapped and the full application when held. The smaller button holds a pair of custom commands, such as launching the keyboard or taking a screenshot. The buttons on the left controller mirror the Xbox’s Guide and Change View buttons for games.

You might think that navigating Windows with fewer buttons would be a setback, but the impact isn’t as severe as it might seem. Aya Space’s quick menu has room for three immediate shortcuts you can tap to access and six more if you tap to open its mini-menu. These include common functions like launching the mouse pointer (controlled with the left joystick), the Escape button, taking a screenshot, putting the device to sleep, changing desktops and more. The D-pad is also used for navigation with four of its own shortcuts that can be launched when the right bumper and trigger are held. Right now, these are locked to core features like launching the Task Manager or the on-screen keyboard, but with Aya Space being under active development, it’s possible these may be unlocked in the future.

Even with those shortcuts, navigating Windows using the Aya Neo is cumbersome without a mouse and keyboard. The touchscreen works well in most situations, but on such a small screen, tapping drop-down menus isn’t always easy. In these cases, you can use the joystick to move the mouse cursor, but it feels fairly sluggish to slide around the screen. Text input is handled by Windows’ on-screen keyboard, and it gets the job done, but isn’t suited for more than short inputs. If you’re planning on using the Next as a normal PC, it’s worth investing in the Super Power Docking Station or a good bluetooth mouse and keyboard.

The display on the Aya Neo Next is quite nice. It features an 800p resolution (1280×800), and while that might seem low, it looks crisp on the 7-inch display. It also means that games will perform better since the integrated GPU won’t need to push as many pixels. It’s plenty bright for gaming in moderate sunlight and seems exceptionally luminous indoors. The touchscreen is also very responsive, so chicken-pecking away at the touchscreen keyboard isn’t as painful as it might otherwise be.

Unfortunately, the screen lacks the premium feel of smartphone glass and smudges easily. My fingers had noticeably more drag when moving icons around on the desktop and left fingerprints right away. I’m not particularly worried about scratches, but I ordered a tempered glass screen protector just for the smoother, fingerprint-resistant coating.

The top of the device is where you’ll find the speakers, combo audio jack, volume buttons, power button and fingerprint reader, and top-mounted USB Type-C port. The fingerprint reader is one of the fastest and most reliable I’ve used, logging into the system incredibly fast. It’s a tiny game changer that makes using the device feel more fluid.

The speakers are also surprisingly good. The added thickness of the handheld has allowed Aya Neo to use more powerful stereo speakers that actually manage to sound full – for a handheld, at least. They still won’t compete with a good gaming headset, but they’re sufficient for hearing everything you’ll need for quality portable gaming and even enjoying a good Netflix binge.

There’s a good reason those speakers need to get loud: they’re competing with the powerful fan tasked with cooling the system’s APU. The Aya Neo Next isn’t going to beat your gaming laptop in overall levels of loud, but it’s not quiet. You can hear the fan obviously ramp up, and when it’s under full load, you may find yourself reaching for a pair of earbuds like I did.

The Next supports the latest and greatest in WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. Since there’s no built-in ethernet port, Aya Neo has outfitted the Next with WiFi 6E connectivity for ultra-fast wireless. I don’t have Gigabit internet, but it easily maxed out my 200MB/s connection. For Bluetooth, it supports version 5.2 for improved reliability and power savings. I was able to connect my earbuds, as well as a mouse and keyboard with no problem.

Taken as a whole, Aya Neo has delivered an impressive handheld gaming PC.

Battery life is much more mixed and depends on how you’re actually using the device. Aya Neo claims its 47Whr battery will offer anywhere from 2-6 hours of gaming. How much you’ll actually see will depend on how demanding your games are, the TDP you choose (how much power the CPU is allowed to draw), screen brightness, and more. I was able to get 2-3 hours of Forza Horizon 5 in on the Balanced power setting, which is impressive for a handheld of this caliber. Playing less demanding indies and rolling back the brightness let me extend that to 5 hours, but your results will vary. I was happy to see USB-C charging and data ports on both the top and bottom, so I wasn’t locked to one side for charging.

Taken as a whole, Aya Neo has delivered an impressive handheld gaming PC. I was concerned about how difficult navigating Windows would be, but once you master the shortcuts and get used to combining touch with mouse movement, it’s really not bad. It’s a high quality package and feels like every bit of its high asking price.

With that in mind, here’s what you’re not getting: Any kind of case to keep it safe while you travel. A screen protector to protect your investment. A kickstand to prop it up and play with a proper controller. The company does include two adapters to turn the USB-C ports into USB-As, but you’re probably better off just buying a hub or docking station if you want to connect peripherals. For a device at this price, a case and screen protector should definitely have been included.

Aya Neo Next Advance – Software

The Aya Neo Next is married to its software suite, Aya Space. This tool allows you to customize the device, launch games, and control key parameters which directly impact performance, like the power setting for the CPU and fan speed. Other features include letting you review screenshots you’ve taken, program the multifunction buttons, and calibrate the triggers and joysticks.

Aya Neo Next Advance – Software

Aya Space is still in active development, and it shows. Accessing core boot options (like whether mouse simulation should be turned by default) isn’t obvious, as it’s hidden in a settings menu you access by clicking your profile icon. If you need to update firmware, it’s not immediately clear whether or not you’ve downloaded anything or if it’s installed. Firmware does not install from Aya Space, by the way. You have to reboot the system and enter an Update Mode by holding a special key combination, none of which is explained in the app. Making certain changes often requires confirming with a button press, but which button that is isn’t consistent across every menu. The software works in the ways that matter most (customizing the buttons and changing key settings), but it’s clear this is a beta state and will take time to bring to its full potential.

Aya Neo Next Advance – Performance

Now we get to what matters most: how well does it run games? Since it looks so much like a game console, it’s easy to forget that the Aya Neo Next is actually a full-fledged computer, and a powerful one at that. Its Ryzen 7 5800U processor, 16GB of memory, and NVMe SSD are a potent enough combination that you could use it as your main PC with a docking station. That’s beyond impressive for a device this size.

For this review, I ran dedicated PC benchmarking software, swapped between MSI Afterburner and Nvidia Frameview for real-time monitoring, watched Netflix and YouTube, cranked out emails with a Bluetooth keyboard, and even kept Discord open to chat with friends while I browsed and played games. I used normal Steam, not Big Picture, and enjoyed the snappy performance that only fast hardware and a responsive touchscreen can provide. All on a device that looks like a Nintendo Switch.

As someone who runs an RTX 3090 on his main PC, I was worried about the kind of performance the integrated GPU could provide and whether or not I’d be able to enjoy my favorite games at low settings. Squeezing a full-blown gaming PC into the handheld form factor has unavoidable trade-offs, graphics and performance at the top of the list.

I didn’t need to worry: PC gaming is where this device shines. Thanks to its 1280×800 resolution and powerful APU, Aya Neo Next is able to deliver playable frame rates even in modern, demanding titles. Red Dead Redemption 2, Forza Horizon 5, Hitman 3, Borderlands 3: every one of these games was playable and still managed to look great on the Next’s 7-inch screen at low settings. Blow that up on a full-size gaming monitor and the low resolution and graphics settings would be much more noticeable, but at 800p on a 7-inch screen, I was surprised by how good they looked and how smooth games played.

Here’s how they broke down using the highest 20-watt TDP mode, with games on Low settings:

What really surprised me here is that some of these games even had headroom to raise graphics settings if you don’t mind playing below 60 FPS. Forza Horizon 5 hit 56 FPS on low settings, but kicking it up to the medium preset still averaged 43 FPS. It was a little harder to achieve the same using the stock presets on other games, but by dropping shadows and anti-aliasing, those higher graphics options could often be customized to work with the Aya Neo Next. During all of this testing, the CPU hit a peak temperature of 74C using the “Wild” fan setting. That’s impressive considering that it had been under multiple hours of gaming load at that time.

It’s also worth noting older games and less demanding indies are no trouble for it whatsoever. Not pictured in the graph above are a slew of smaller games I tested anecdotally just to see how playable they were. Super Meat Boy, Pillars of Eternity, Disco Elysium, Hades, Divinity: Original Sin, Portal 2: each of these games easily caps out the display’s 60Hz refresh rate.

For those games that are “on the edge” for performance, AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution can swoop in to save the day. For games that don’t have FSR coded in by the developer, a driver-based version can be toggled on and off and theoretically works with any game that can be launched within Aya Space. I say theoretically, because I did encounter some issues where it would randomly not work, like Doom Eternal and Wolfenstein: Youngblood

This version works a bit differently than the version used with desktop graphics cards, but has a similar impact on improving frame rates by upscaling lower resolutions to the display’s 1280×800 default. For games that might be too demanding to run at the Next’s native resolution, you can launch them in windowed mode at a lower resolution (similar to what normal FSR does). FSR can then be toggled on through the quick menu, upscaling the game and keeping it as close to 60 FPS as possible. There are no quality presets with this mode to balance graphics with performance. The quality really depends on the resolution of the rendered mode. The lower the resolution, the worse the results will be. The results aren’t as crisp as desktop FSR, and I noticed more flickering of background objects using it, but it’s an effective way to play just about any game you’d like to, even if it would normally be unplayable on the handheld.

Gaming on the Next was an unexpected amount of fun, but had its share of quirks and challenges.

Gaming on the Next was an unexpected amount of fun, but had its share of quirks and challenges. Every now and again, the controller would glitch out when loading a game and the left stick would stick pointing upward. In Portal 2, the D-pad would become unresponsive if I minimized the game and tried to go pack to. If I tried to keep playing, random trigger pulls would send portals where I didn’t want them. These experiences highlight how important Valve’s Deck Verified program can be to the user experience. Trying a new game always felt like a roll of the dice. It was usually fine, but sometimes it would throw a curveball and force me to restart.

Random glitches aside, it takes some time to get used to gaming on the Aya Neo Next. The joysticks feel great under the thumb but there’s a learning curve to mastering them. They feel touchier and trickier to maneuver in first-person shooters, and there’s clearly still some refinement needed with the dead zones and acceleration of each stick. This could be remedied with gyro control like the Nintendo Switch, and the Next even supports it, but it doesn’t work natively on Steam yet and requires a community work-around to use. That’s a shame because it vastly improves the aiming experience.

Despite these issues, I’ve fallen in love with the Aya Neo Next Advance. Being able to have that full PC gaming experience in a handheld is intoxicating. Since the version I was sent was an early unit, the issues I encountered will likely be improved over time, but even if they aren’t, I have no plans to set the Aya Neo Next aside any time soon. There’s an excellent balance of features and performance here that make it eminently usable and a whole lot of fun.

While I certainly can’t ignore the quirks and areas the Next can still be improved, I’m more inclined to be forgiving. Compared to a game console that needs to do one thing well (gaming), this is a full-on Windows gaming PC and brings so many more elements to the user experience.

That said, it also lacks some of the refinement that comes with one-purpose game consoles. Whether or not games will work as well when waking up from sleep mode varies from game to game – just like Windows. Games won’t download in sleep mode, just like Windows. The operating system experience also pales in comparison to the Steam Deck. Valve was able to craft a UI specific to that one device, making navigation smooth and intuitive. Here, you’re stuck with a touch screen, mouse emulation, and pecking away at an on-screen keyboard. There also aren’t any games that have been “Optimized for Aya Neo” like there have been for the Steam Deck.

Even with those trade-offs, what the Aya Neo team has accomplished here is extremely impressive. If you’re willing to make those sacrifices, you have a full gaming PC experience in your pocket. Using Windows, and implementing the hardware around it, removes many of the considerations that go hand in hand with the Steam Deck. There’s no need to figure out how to dual boot. There’s no worry about whether a game will run or not. There is no walled garden whatsoever. The sole concerns are whether a game will run on the hardware and whether or not it has controller support (and if it doesn’t, you can plug in a mouse and keyboard). And if you’re interested in having it double as a computer, you won’t have to learn Linux to make the most with it; just plug it into a docking station, connect a display and peripherals, and boom, you have a full-fledged Windows PC with all of the app support and functionality you would expect.

But there’s one thing that can’t be looked past, and that’s the price. There’s no way around it, this is an incredibly expensive device. With the Steam Deck starting at $399, even the entry-level Aya Neo Next begins at triple the cost. The higher price nets you better hardware, but is nowhere close to offering triple the performance. As you can see in the chart above, the results are very close and in some cases, Steam Deck outperforms it (particularly in the 3DMark tests). If all you’re looking at is gaming performance, the Aya Neo Next just isn’t going to feel worth the investment.

Instead, the real reason to choose the Next is precisely because it is a Windows PC and not a Steam Deck. While the Steam Deck is impressive in its own right, the Windows experience on the Steam Deck leaves a lot to be desired, should you choose to install it on your own and depart from SteamOS and the limited, but actively growing, game selection. That may improve over time, but right now, there are big gaps in its game catalog: if a game requires a Windows launcher or Windows anti-cheat programs to run, that game may simply be inaccessible on the Steam Deck. The Aya Neo Next doesn’t have any limitation: if it can run on a PC, it can run on the Next, even if it uses other other launchers, like GOG, Epic, or Itch. The Aya Neo is a fully functional Windows gaming PC, just in a different form factor. The improved processor and big SSD also help justify that price. Connect the Next to a docking station and it transforms into a computer that can compete with full-size desktops (sans GPU).

Even with these benefits, it’s a pricey proposition. The reality is that the Aya Neo Next, just like the GPD Win Max and Onexplayer, are produced by smaller companies who can’t afford to sell their consoles at a loss. That’s not a mark against Aya Neo or any other brand, it’s just a reality of the market and one that will be hard for any of them to overcome, even with the wider compatibility of native Windows support.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.