It’s been a year full of gaming on the go. For a spell, it felt like Nintendo was the only name in town, but it has since become one of gaming’s hottest corners. Today, there are handheld options for everything from AAA to Indie to vintage and beyond. Whatsmore, the current generation of mobile processors means we’re seeing surprisingly capable devices. The main problem now is that the software side of things haven’t quite caught up. There is perhaps no better proof of this than the Ayaneo Air Pro: a perfect example of what can be done, and what needs improvement, in the burgeoning world of laptops.
If you’re not familiar with Ayaneo, that’s understandable. The company hasn’t been around that long, but it’s already making a name for itself thanks to remarkably good hardware that brings PC gaming into the mobile realm. If you fancy a Steam Deck, but with Windows and a fraction of the size, you’re not far away.
Before diving into the gaming experience, the device itself is worth a closer look. The Air Pro is impressively well made. It has a similar footprint to the Nintendo Switch Lite, but is thicker (.85 vs. .55 inches) and heavier (.88 lbs. vs. 55). In terms of build quality, honestly, the Ayaneo feels a lot better. Hall effect analog sticks and triggers are smooth with a good amount of travel. The D-pad is responsive and the buttons are the right kind of snap. The centerpiece is its stunning 5.5-inch OLED display — a first on Windows gaming that Ayaneo has to remind us. It is a pleasure to hold and feels premium in almost all aspects. Even the fingerprint reader in the power button somehow adds a dash of sophistication.
Since this is primarily a PC, there are quite a few different configurations available. Some use the AMD 5560U chipset and others run the 5825U with various amounts of RAM and storage depending on your budget. And you will need a big budget as you will soon find out.
The Air Pro doesn’t have Valve’s venerable Steam Deck grunt, but it runs Windows 11 out of the box and can run a surprising number of high-end games in a more than playable way. And while the Steam Deck beats it in terms of processing power, the Air Pro is legitimately portable without much of a performance trade-off.
In addition to the size and internals, the other major difference is the price. Valve’s laptop tops out at $650 for the 512GB version while the Air Pro Started At $699 (5560U / 16GB RAM / 512GB Storage). You can bump that number up to $1,399 if you want a faster silicon, 32GB of RAM, and 2TB of storage — that’s obviously very expensive. The model we tested was somewhere between middle and higher with the supercharged processor, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage (although all models have expandable memory via a microSD card slot).
There are other Windows gaming laptops out there, but many of them just don’t have enough power to handle lots of bigger games. For example, Anbernic’s Win600 runs on an older AMD Athlon Silver 3050e chipset with Radeon Vega 3 graphics. That’s a significant step down, but the Win600 costs just $375. Ayn’s Odin can also boot Windows, but it’s the ARM-based version that brings with it some compatibility issues. GPD has been in this area for a while, but their Win 3 seems a little flabby now (although Win 4 is coming this month and it looks appropriately fat).
Perhaps most importantly, there are several handheld devices in the works from companies like the aforementioned Ayn and GPD, among others. There’s even a new flagship from the company itself, the Ayaneo 2, that should cause potential Steam Deck subscribers some headaches. These unreleased models all share something in common: AMD’s 6800U chipset. It seems like there has always been an appetite for on-the-go PC games, we just didn’t have the hardware required to play them. Until now.
Technical limitations are one thing, but another philosophical question that needs answering: Why make a mini pocket PC when you can stream loads of AAA games without expensive, power-hungry dedicated hardware? While true streaming is more viable than ever, this approach requires you to have a primarily gaming console or PC or a subscription to something like GeForce Now or Xbox Cloud and is economically inconvenient for many people (not to mention About libraries may not have what you want). Not to mention it relies on a network connection – good luck with that on WiFi as you fly.
Which brings us back to the real problem: Windows isn’t ready to use on small screens nor are many games running on it. Ayaneo has tried hard to improve on this problem by adding its own launcher called Ayaspace. It acts as a front end to all your games and manages to provide an immersive console-like experience. But it isn’t long before the spell is broken and you find yourself using an analog stick as a mouse trying to log into Steam and then using a small on-screen keyboard to pop out your credentials.
Ayaneo has at least tried to solve some of these inevitable problems. The Air Pro, for example, has two buttons along the top (between LB and RB) that pull up the onscreen keyboard, and they’re doubles for ESC and other basic Windows shortcuts for easier navigation. But you will likely need to plug a mouse and keyboard in some Point only to accomplish something simple.
It will soon become clear that AAA games weren’t necessarily made with a small screen in mind. For the most part, games look amazing on the Air Pro’s OLED screen. Even when running games at 720p (the monitor’s 1080p), it still looks amazing – but it’s often a necessary trade-off for performance. You’ll likely find yourself wishing it was this show Just slightly larger. Not least to get rid of those edges, but just for the general quality of life.
Not least for games with lots of text. titles like Disco Elysium, for example, you have a lot of written dialogue – and while it’s easy enough to read most of it, it’s significantly more tiring than if you were on a desktop. Fortunately, the screen is sharp and the resolution is high enough that it all remains very legible, but there’s just this fuzzy feel to a user interface that wasn’t designed for a display this big.
If you’re thinking “why don’t you just run SteamOS on it” you won’t be alone. This has been done with varying degrees of success. The biggest problem may be the practicality (millions of games available, hardware support wide) and the reach of Windows. There are some normal challenges with SteamOS that don’t make it a replacement for these handheld devices. In the first place, the compatibility of the game. If it’s not available on Steam, chances are you can still install it on SteamOS but that might involve flipping to desktop mode or other solutions that break the “console” experience you might have been looking for in the first place.
More importantly, some users are already reporting better battery life with Windows on the Steam Deck even though they expected it to be worse. Claims are that it’s broadly equivalent but in some cases better than Valve’s original OS thanks to a combination of factors. PC games have a lot of variables, so this isn’t necessarily surprising. This won’t always be the case, but at least it’s not a strong incentive to make SteamOS the go-to platform for laptop gaming.
Battery life is especially important with a handheld device and it would be a lie to say it’s something the Ayaneo Air Pro excels at. or even adequately. Depending on what you’re playing and the power drain—usually called TDP—that’s required to run it satisfactorily. More demanding games will need a TDP of 12W or higher and you can hope for around 1 hour 45 minutes of battery life at this intensity. Some games can run just fine at 8W which extends the game time to about 2.3 hours. You can get over three hours of life on the lowest 5W setting but that won’t be enough for anything but the lightest of games but it’s fine for general setup tasks and the like.
Needless to say, this isn’t ideal for a handheld device, especially since your battery pack probably won’t cut it—unless it can deliver 65W, which most can’t.
In short, the Ayaneo Air Pro represents a lot of hope and highlights some challenges. I hope true PC gaming on the go in a pocket-friendly format and on great hardware feels like it might finally be here. It’s the challenges that are a bit more complex. Windows has a lot of advantages, but it also has a lot of practical disadvantages. Whether it’s a hardware adaptation around these, or just a matter of a clever software overlay that gets resolved in real time it seems.
Making a truly “console” experience requires some clever thinking and clever software alike. For its part, Ayaneo is also running its own Linux-based Ayaneo OS as SteamOS. It remains to be seen if this solves some of the challenges, but it’s clearly something that’s being worked on. But this represents only one company. With other manufacturers that have ties to Windows like GPD, there’s a risk that you’ll end up with a mix of styles. Hopefully, however, more innovation will come with more competition (or “borrowing” more ideas).
For some, the exciting part is finally getting more options to enjoy high-end games away from the computer. Not everyone is looking to spend more time at the desktop, or maybe you just want to scratch your Elden-itch itch while waiting for a flight. Whatever your preference, things are about to get a lot more interesting.
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