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The Aya Neo Air Plus Is A Powerful, Smaller, And Pricier Steam Deck Alternative

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Aya Neo's latest Windows handheld packs the company's most powerful tech into a compact shell.

If you follow the portable gaming PC scene at all, you've probably heard of Aya Neo. The Chinese manufacturer has quietly made a name for itself since 2021 with high-performing handheld Windows PCs. In that short window, Aya Neo has released a bunch of different handhelds (with several more on the way), which could be considered both a good and bad thing. On the negative side, it means that customers who buy an Aya Neo may feel like their handheld is outdated in a few months. But on the positive side, Aya Neo's handhelds just keep getting better. The latest example of this is the Aya Neo Air Plus, which takes the impressive internals of the flagship Aya Neo 2 and squeezes them into a compact form factor. The Aya Neo Air Plus is a superb machine with great performance and a premium build that feels and looks fantastic.

As with all other Aya Neo models, the Air Plus comes in several configurations that vary widely in price and specs. Prices range from $600 to $1,400, and there are three different colors to choose from: Glacier Blue, Starlight Black, and Classic Gray. On the low end of the scale, you're getting an AMD Ryzen 3 7320U processor or an Intel Alder Lake i3 1215U. To get the type of performance you're probably looking for, the AMD Ryzen 7 6800U configuration is the marquee Air Plus. Though I didn't test the lower-end models, their specs suggest they wouldn't perform favorably compared to the Steam Deck despite costing more. The Ryzen 7 6800U units start at $980 and can outperform the Steam Deck. I tested the model with the 6800U, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. If you really want to go all out, the Air Plus tops out at 32GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD. That said, the Air Plus has a microSD card slot to expand your storage, which I found to be a convenient way to increase the storage space while maintaining solid performance.

The Air Plus falls between the Aya Neo 2 and last year's Air/Air Pro with its size and form factor. It's larger than the original Air models and has a 6-inch touchscreen display instead of the 5.5-inch, but it's noticeably smaller than Aya Neo's 7-inch handhelds. And placing the Air Plus next to the Steam Deck makes the latter appear comically large and clunky. Fortunately, the compact size doesn't stop the Air Plus from being ergonomically friendly: It feels natural to hold, and the rounded back handles keep the experience comfy for hours.

Aya Neo Air Plus running Aya Space
Aya Neo Air Plus running Aya Space

The overall size and the screen are the only real differences between the Air Plus and its older siblings when it comes to the build. The Air and Air Pro had OLED displays whereas the Air Plus is fitted with a 1080p IPS screen. It's a tad disappointing to take a step back in display tech, but the IPS panel used here (1000:1 contrast ratio) is very nice –it was honestly hard to tell the difference between the two screens when I compared them, which is perhaps why Aya Neo ditched the OLED panel.

SpecsAya Neo Air Plus
ChipsetAMD Ryzen 7 6800U
Storage512GB, 1TB, or 2TB SSD + microSD slot
Display6-inch IPS
Resolution1920 x 1080
Dimensions9.3 x 3.6 x .91 inches
Weight525 grams
Ports2 USB-C, 3.5mm audio
Battery46.2Wh (PD 3.0 65W fast charger)
Battery lifeUp to 4 hours

Everything else on the Air Plus is the same, so you're getting the high-quality components I raved about in my Aya Neo Air review. It has Hall Effect analog sticks and triggers, which eliminate the possibility for stick drift and strongly reduce the possibility of the triggers wearing down over time. The sticks and triggers on Aya Neo handhelds are some of the best around, not just compared to other handhelds but also standard controllers. Customizable LED rings surround the analog sticks to add some additional style to the look. The D-pad is fantastic, hitting the sweet spot between "clicky" and "mushy." The face buttons are still good, though making them a bit larger than their current Switch Joy-Con-esque size would have been helpful. The flat face buttons are the only inputs on the Air Plus that I don't prefer over the Steam Deck. It is worth pointing out that, unlike the Steam Deck, Aya Neo handhelds do not have back buttons (or trackpads), so you do lose some versatility with controls if you jump from Steam Deck to Air Plus.

Like the last few Aya Neo devices, the Air Plus has a fingerprint scanner built into the power button. Unfortunately, it still has issues and only registers my fingerprint about 50% of the time when trying to sign in to Windows, so the easiest way to unlock a password-protected screen is with a four-digit pin. The Air Plus also has the same four menu buttons below the controls (two on each side), including the all-important button with the Aya Neo logo on it. This brings up Aya Space, the proprietary software and user interface that Aya Neo created so you don't have to fumble around with the Windows desktop using the touchscreen/analog stick and digital keyboard when you just want to play games. Aya Space lets you navigate through your game library using regular stick and button controls.

When you first boot up the Air Plus, you are prompted to set up Aya Space. You can add game clients such as Steam, Epic Games Store, GOG, etc. Then you can launch them straight from Aya Space and install your games. Much like Steam Deck's gaming mode, games show up as tiles in Aya Space, allowing you to directly launch them without needing to first open Steam or another app.

Aya Space is also where you can tinker with important settings like TDP (thermal design power) and screen resolution. And since these are things that Aya Neo owners may adjust often, it's nice that there's a widget you can use rather than completely switching windows while you're playing a game. You can also use Aya Space to alter stick and trigger sensitivity (and LED lighting effects/colors) to fit your preferences.

Additional storage is available via the microSD slot
Additional storage is available via the microSD slot

Aya Space, while a welcome inclusion, is not without problems. It's technically still in beta, and it's common for setting changes to fail to register on your first try, or for the search feature--which finds installed games to add to your library--to fail to find a game you installed. Or sometimes it fails to pull the box art for the games you add to your library. Other times, button inputs wouldn't register at all. I also had it crash on me several times. Aya Space has great potential and it's certainly usable (and better than navigating Windows) in its current form, but just be aware that you're bound to experience some quirks while using it.

When I say you're going to adjust your settings often, I really mean that. Much like playing PC games on a gaming laptop or desktop, finding the optimal settings, both in-game and on the device itself, is part of the fun (and frustration, at times). Whereas the Steam Deck is a mostly pick-up-and-play device like a console, the Aya Neo Air Plus is more of a tinkerer's device. Depending on the type of game you're playing, you'll want to adjust the TDP, which you can set at 5, 10, 15 or 20 watts. If you're playing a side-scrolling indie game, for example, you can usually get away with lowering the TDP to 5 or 10W and still get ideal performance while conserving battery life and allowing the handheld to run quieter. For graphically intensive AAA games like Forza Horizon 5, Ghost of Tsushima, and Elden Ring, you'll need to set the TDP to 15 or 20 and adjust various graphical settings in-game to get the best performance. Just like with previous Aya Neo devices, to achieve even better graphical settings across the board, dropping the resolution from 1080p to 720p (if the game allows it) can be very helpful. Considering the small size of the screen, the resolution dip isn't that impactful, so it can be worth the compromise, especially if you're looking to increase frames per second.

All of the games mentioned above as well as plenty more (Grand Theft Auto V, Ghostwire: Tokyo, Hi-Fi Rush, Death Stranding, and Doom Eternal, to name a handful) can run at 30fps and usually higher on the Air Plus. Whether you're gaming on low/medium/high settings can vary based on the game, the TDP you're set at, and your chosen resolution, but overall, the Aya Neo Air Plus can offer smoother, more visually impressive performance at higher frame rates than the Steam Deck.

Aya Neo Air Plus compared to Steam Deck
Aya Neo Air Plus compared to Steam Deck

Cranking the TDP up to the max comes at a big cost, though: battery life. Unsurprisingly, the 46.2Wh battery can drain extremely quickly when playing graphically intensive AAA games at 20W TDP. I drained the battery in about an hour while playing Halo Infinite without a frame rate cap, while similar strenuous conditions can send your Steam Deck's battery from 100 to zero in 1.5 hours. I found that two hours was about the average for AAA games when locking the frame rate to 30fps on the Air Plus, which is less than what you can get on Steam Deck in comparable scenarios. But where the Air Plus really struggles in comparison is best-case battery life. The most I was able to get out of it was about four hours when playing a couple of pixelated indies at 5W TDP. Meanwhile, it's possible to get around eight hours on the Steam Deck. And while that top-end figure is only possible with select game choices, it's still a couple-hour gap between the two on average when playing less intensive games. That said, the Air Plus does offer better battery life than the Air and Air Pro, and you can supplement the battery by purchasing an appropriate battery pack (one that supports 65 watts or more).

To be clear, maxing out the Aya Neo Air Plus' TDP isn't the only way that it offers better performance than the Steam Deck–that's just how you can really notice the power difference. It's not really practical to game at the highest possible TDP, unless you don't mind being tethered to a wall outlet. Most of the time, the sweet spot for performance is at the 10 or 15W TDP settings. For example, at 15W TDP in Elden Ring, I was able to run it at high settings and still stay above 30fps. The cooling fans are louder than the Steam Deck's, but it's nothing that's too distracting; you can always use a pair of Bluetooth headphones or take advantage of the 3.5mm headphone jack to block out the fan noise. After all, most handhelds benefit in the audio department when using headphones. The speakers on the Air Plus are crisp and can get pretty loud, but decent headphones unsurprisingly offer a marked improvement.

I haven't tested the Aya Neo 2, so I can't offer a direct comparison on how each one utilizes the Ryzen 7 6800U processor. However, it's worth noting that even though the Air Plus has the same processor, it won't hit quite the same level of performance as the Aya Neo 2. The larger handheld should disperse heat better and can be played at a higher TDP (33W). You'll likely see better top-level performance with the Aya Neo 2, but it's still impressive that Aya Neo managed to fit all this power into such a small shell.

Aya Neo Air Plus running Cuphead
Aya Neo Air Plus running Cuphead

Since the Air Plus runs Windows 11, you also have a substantially larger library of games compared to the Steam Deck. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the Air Plus and Windows handhelds in general: You don't have to worry about compatibility disclaimers and verified status. If a PC game offers controller support, chances are the Air Plus will have no problem running it. This is particularly nice for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers, as you're gaining access to a great library of games out of the box. Yes, you can stream Game Pass games via the cloud on Steam Deck, but performance won't be the same for many games. Technically, you can install Windows on the Steam Deck, too, but Valve's handheld does not play especially nicely with Windows (it's not recommended for it). This also means you can play online multiplayer games that don't work on Steam Deck due to its lack of anti-cheat measures.

The Air Plus is obviously a gaming-first device, but you can also use it as a Windows desktop PC by purchasing the official dock (which I didn't test) or third-party options like a USB-C hub. Alternatively, you can just use a USB-C to HDMI video cable and plug the AC adapter into the other USB-C port (there is one port on the top and bottom). However, a hub will allow you to use peripherals that connect via cords or 2.4GHz dongles. When using the standard Windows OS on any Aya Neo device, it's really helpful to use a regular keyboard and mouse setup. If you're away from the desk, a mini keyboard and mouse combo like this is great to have. Though the Air Plus is only comparable to a budget gaming laptop or desktop, it's more than capable of functioning as a conventional PC when docked. Viewing the Air Plus in this way adds value to your purchase, too.

The Aya Neo Air Plus is launching at an interesting time for Windows handhelds. Asus recently announced its own 7-inch gaming handheld that launches on May 11. The Asus ROG Ally looks to offer Steam Deck-comparable performance in the $600-$700 price range. Previously, Aya Neo was only competing with other start-ups in the Windows handheld scene. It's possible that the ROG Ally will make Aya Neo devices sound even more expensive. Aya Neo's 7-inch devices might become hard sells if the ROG Ally offers comparable performance for hundreds less.

Regardless, the Air Plus (and the Air/Air Pro) still occupy a unique space in the market because of their size. If you think the 7-inch Steam Deck, ROG Ally, Aya Neo 2, etc. are too large, the Aya Neo Air Plus is a great choice if you want high-end performance.

If you can get the Aya Neo Air Plus with the 6800U processor at the same price as the 512GB Steam Deck, the Aya Neo would be the better choice for a lot of users. As has been the case since the first Aya Neo launched, the premium price and battery life are the only real limitations here. Granted, Aya Neo always has early bird prices on Indiegogo that have made handhelds like Air Plus come in at close to the price of the Steam Deck, so that's something to consider in the future.

Nevertheless, the Aya Neo Air Plus is another stellar entry in this ever-expanding line of premium handheld gaming PCs. Superb performance in this small of a package is an incredible feat. If you want a Windows handheld, the Air Plus should be near the top of your list.

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Steven Petite

Steven Petite is GameSpot's lead commerce editor. He covers gaming and tech deals, preorder guides, and best lists. Follow him on Twitter @steven_petite

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