A little bit more performance goes a long way for Ayaneo's latest handheld gaming machine.
The Ayaneo Air Plus is a smart tweak on a winning formula
The Ayaneo Air Plus combines a Nintendo Switch-like form-factor with the library and performance of a Steam Deck. That might make for a pricey combination, but it's also a winning one.
Aussies are still holding out for the Steam Deck to get a local launch, but Ayaneo continues to crank out competitors to Valve's portable PC at an alarming rate.
Between now and our last Ayaneo review, the company has unveiled the Ayaneo 2, the Ayaneo Next 2, the Ayaneo Slide and the Ayaneo Air Plus. Since that last one is the most approachable and affordable alternative to these high-end and high-concept handhelds, it's the one that we were most keen to check out.
Less than a year has passed since we reviewed the original Ayaneo Air. That's not a lot of time to make big changes. Fortunately, the original didn't have that many major issues beyond those intrinsic to the nature of the beast. All it really needed was a few tweaks and a performance bump, and that's exactly what the new Ayaneo Air Plus delivers.
How much does Ayaneo Air Plus cost in Australia?
If you're looking to pick up the Ayaneo Air Plus, you're looking at spending at least AU$739. That's the price of the cheapest possible spec variant (Ryzen 3 7320U with 16GB of RAM & 512GB of storage) with an early bird discount on the Indiegogo page for the machine right now.
However, if you're seriously considering putting in a pre-order for the device then I'd strongly recommend opting for one of the Ryzen 6800U model instead. At the time of writing, full pricing for the Ayaneo Air Plus is as follows:
- Ayaneo Air Plus with Ryzen 3 7320U w/ 16GB and 512GB of storage (early bird special) - $739
- Ayaneo Air Plus with Ryzen 3 7320U w/ 8GB and 512GB of storage - $812
- Ayaneo Air Plus with Intel Core i3-1215U w/16GB and 512GB of storage (early bird special) - $873
- Ayaneo Air Plus with Intel Core i3-1215U w/8GB and 128GB of storage - $888
- Ayaneo Air Plus with Ryzen 7 6800U w/ 16GB and 512GB of storage (early bird price) - $1169
- Ayaneo Air Plus with Ryzen 7 6800U w/16GB and 1TB of storage (early bird special) - $1316
- Ayaneo Air Plus with Ryzen 7 6800U w/32GB and 1TB of storage (early bird special) - $1465
- Ayaneo Air Plus with Ryzen 7 6800U w/32GB and 2TB of storage (early bird price) - $1772
Given that the Ayaneo Air eventually found its way to local retailers like JB Hi-Fi, EB Games, Amazon and The Gamesmen, it's probably a safe bet that if the follow-up will meet the same fate.
Right now though, the only place you can buy the Ayaneo Air Plus in Australia is through Indiegogo.
Ayaneo Air Plus design and features
Like its predecessor, the new Ayaneo Air Plus takes more after the Nintendo Switch Lite than it does the Steam Deck. The centerpiece here is a 6-inch IPS touch display. It's not as crisp or colorful as the OLED on the Galaxy S23 Ultra, but it's a notable inclusion nevertheless. The on-screen action is that much more readable and immersive than it was with the original Ayaneo Air.
The overall layout of the buttons here is otherwise identical to that of the previous model, though Ayaneo has swapped the heat vent and power buttons around. As well as being larger, the new handheld is also slightly thicker and heavier. It's still fairly comfortable to hold and handle, at 525g but there's no mistaking this thing for a Nintendo Switch Lite.
Even in its highest of highs, it's hard to overlook the fact that this device is basically just a graphics card with a screen strapped to it.
The bottom-edge of the Ayaneo Air Plus sports a USB Type-C port, a MicroSD slot and a headphone jack. The top most edge is where you'll find the fingerprint sensor-slash-power button, the volume controls and a secondary USB Type-C input.
For all that this new handheld shares with its forebearer, there are a few smart touches that Ayaneo has made to elevate the good things it already has going on. These changes are minimal but meaningful. For instance, the material design here is just a little bit more premium, with silver accents aplenty.
If you're coming to things fresh, you'll probably be mostly satisfied. The Ayeneo Air Plus isn't an icon in the making or a major breakthrough for handheld design, but it doesn't make any major real missteps either.
The ergonomics of using it aren't that much of an improvement on those of the Nintendo Switch, but they're rarely worse. It's got a little bit of flair for those who look closely, but the biggest selling point here remains the performance.
Ayaneo Air Plus performance and battery life
The specs of the Ayaneo Air Plus model that we reviewed included a Ryzen 7 6800U processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage. That's far from the only spec configuration on offer, but it's definitely the one we'd recommend. It has as much RAM and memory as the most expensive Steam Deck does, plus a more recent processor.
Without a Steam Deck on hand, it's difficult to do a side by side comparison of the performance differential between it and the Ayaneo Air Plus. However, the most obvious difference between Valve's handheld and Ayaneo's latest has little do with hardware.
Rather than rely on the Linux-based SteamOS, the Ayaneo Air Plus runs on Windows 11 out of the box. Post-unboxing, the process of setting the handheld up with all the games you want to play is identical to that of any modern Windows laptop. That said, the lack of a keyboard does make things a little more clunky.
For the most part, you'll be relying on either the joypad or the touch display on the Ayaneo Air Plus to navigate menus and the like. It's not glamorous, but it'll usually get the job done. If Microsoft ever gets around to shipping that new rumored handheld mode it'll be a game changer for devices like the Ayaneo Air Plus. In the meantime, welcome to jank central.
Despite that distinct drawback, the pros outweigh the cons here.
Unlike the Steam Deck, you can install almost anything you want on the Ayaneo Air Plus. The results may vary, but since this thing is basically just a Windows PC it doesn't matter if a game is available on Steam, the Epic Games Launcher, GOG or Itch.io. So long as it has decent controller support and falls within the graphical capabilities of the AMD silicon involved, it should run pretty well on the Ayaneo Air Plus.
Sometimes, I'd find myself toggling the settings to get a few more frames, but where I often found myself defaulting to 720p on the original Ayaneo Air, I was mostly satisfied with the 1080p results that the follow-up was capable of delivering.
For games like Destiny 2, the difference between the gameplay and graphical experience offered was fairly significant. Though Bungie's loot-shooter was plenty playable on the Ayaneo Air, it definitely didn't look anywhere near as smooth as it does here.
Deathloop also showed signs of significant improvement, hovering between 45 and 55 frames per second depending on the environment. Meet Your Maker ran pretty well too, as did Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor.
Unfortunately, these extra frames per second are inseparable from the fiddlier parts of PC gaming. At one point, the Ryzen Mobile GPU inside the Ayaneo Air Plus managed to disable itself for unknown reasons. This was fairly easy to fix, but if that type of troubleshooting is something you're not thrilled by then this might be the right gaming handheld for you.
On the other hand, if you're seeking this out with use cases like emulation in mind then the argument for the Ayaneo Air Plus is easy to make.
The battery life isn't suitable for longer sessions, lasting around 2 hours for less intensive titles like Cassette Beasts and closer to half that with more demanding games. Still, the potential library of games that you could pair with the ubiquitous controller setup built into the design here is sizable.
Don't expect too much help from Ayaneo themselves though. Where the Steam Deck is a fairly seamless experience, the Ayaneo Air Plus feels pretty messy by comparison and you can't rely on the wider Steam community in the same way when it comes to controller profiles and the like.
Worse still, the Ayaneo Space app still feels like a beta product. The game management interface is frequently unresponsive and will sometimes to a different language following software updates. It'd be easier to forgive these quirks if this were a first-generation product but given how fast Ayaneo is cranking these out, it's a little hard to be that generous about it. At the rate at which they are making these handhelds, they should be better at this by now.
Ayaneo Air vs Ayaneo Air Plus
Compared to its predecessor, there's almost no reason not to opt for the newer and more powerful Ayaneo Air Plus. This updated model has a better processor that unlocks new and smoother gaming possibilities, which helps ease out some of the frustration you'll have with the obtuseness that comes with this particular PC gaming form-factor.
Is the Ayaneo Air Plus worth buying?
The Ayaneo Air Plus makes only a few changes to the formula of its predecessor. Fortunately, those little tweaks end up counting for a lot. The bump to performance allows it to handily deliver the kinds of on the go gaming experience that the last model sometimes strained against and while the larger design does subtract a few point from portability the benefits see the overall experience come out ahead.
That said, as with the previous model, the value you're going to get with this particular gaming machine is very dependent on what you like to play and what you want to use it for. If you're looking at a portable emulator, the Ayaneo Air Plus is a fantastic option. It's also a great fit for those looking to chip away at their Steam library or stuff on surf Xbox Games Pass while laying on the couch.
On the other hand, specs junkies looking for a portable powerhouse that fuses the versatility of the Switch-like form-factor and the high-end performance of PC gaming might come away unsatisfied. The tradeoffs made here are smart ones, but that doesn't erase the fact that they're compromises.
So long as you're willing to put up with the finicky realities of a keyboard-less Windows 11, the Ayaneo Air Plus is a standout option in an increasingly crowded field. It's a little more expensive than importing a Steam Deck, but it's not that much more and the upsides are well worth the occasional bit of extra trouble.
How does the Ayaneo Air Plus compare?
|1920 x 1080p
|AMD Ryzen 6800U
|1920 x 1080p
|AMD Ryzen 5560U
|1280 × 800
|Custom AMD "Aerith" Zen2 APU
Aya Neo Next
|1280 x 800
|AMD Ryzen 7 5825U
|1920×1200 or 3840×2400
|Intel Core i9-12900H
|2560 x 1600
|AMD Ryzen 7 5800U
|1920 x 1080
|AMD Ryzen 5 6600U