I keep hearing that the Ayaneo 2 is effectively a Steam Deck Pro. The suggestion seems to be: if only it didn’t cost twice as much, it might be the better pick.
On paper, the Ayaneo 2 does seem better! It’s smaller yet houses a more powerful processor, a bigger battery, and a higher-resolution 1920 x 1200 screen. It comes with Hall Effect joysticks and triggers that aren’t liable to drift, RGB lighting, a fingerprint reader, and a larger, bigger capacity, easier-to-replace SSD. It has not one, not two, but three USB-C ports, two of which have USB 4.0 speeds and which let you charge from the top or bottom while plugging in both a keyboard and mouse at the same time. It comes with Windows instead of Linux for compatibility with more games. The company’s product page is a love letter to geeks like me.
Plus, Valve’s handheld wishes it looked this good. It’s awesome that I can independently light the sticks orange and blue for a Portal makeover.
But after two weeks of trying to replace my Steam Deck with the Ayaneo 2, I’m going to be blunt: price is not the problem. If you offered me a $1,300 Ayaneo 2 in exchange for my Steam Deck, I’d turn you down instantly.
First, the good news:
First, if you’ve got an older game with dedicated gamepad support, one that runs well at 1080p resolution on modern integrated graphics, it can look absolutely phenomenal on the Ayaneo 2. I’ve been waiting years for a good chance to replay the HD remastered Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, which doesn’t yet run on the Steam Deck, and it made me smile to see how good ZOE2 looks on the Aya’s clear 323ppi screen.
Second, the Ayaneo 2 is absolutely more powerful than the Steam Deck. With an AMD Ryzen 6800U processor featuring Radeon 680M graphics, it’s got nearly twice the raw teraflops of graphical performance as Valve’s custom chip — and in practice, that means moving your games up a graphical tier or two. I play Control on my Steam Deck at 800p resolution and low spec, but with the Ayaneo 2, I can move up to 800p high or even 1200p low in many scenes if I give the processor enough juice.
But the Aya is constantly asking for that juice, and there just isn’t enough to go around. In its default 22-watt “game” mode, the battery couldn’t make it to the 1.5-hour mark in ZOE2. In Control, regardless of whether I picked 1200p or 800p resolution, I only managed to play for one hour and nine minutes before it died. That’s half the battery life I expect from my Steam Deck. The Ayaneo 2 does charge far faster — a third of its battery in 20 minutes, 90 percent in an hour — but it also gets hot enough I didn’t feel comfortable recharging it right after a full drain.
Again, that’s at 22 watts; some of the Steam Deck vs. Aya Neo videos you see on the internet push the TDP as high as 33W, draining the battery even faster and making the fan noisier. And while you can tell the Ayaneo 2 to use less power instead of more, I wasn’t happy with the results.
Even with Ayaneo’s Smart TDP app adjusting the wattage for me, I still only managed one hour and 45 minutes of playtime in ZOE2 — and also saw a bunch of weird frame drops in some sections (especially real-time rendered cutscenes) when the algorithm couldn’t keep up. When I tried adding a 40fps frame limiter to normalize that, the gameplay got unbearably choppy.
Manually adjusting the TDP down didn’t help much, either: Control, ZOE2, and even Portal bogged down at native resolution if I dropped down to the “balanced” 15W power setting. (Yes, I’m talking about the Portal that came out in the year 2007, not Portal 2 or the new ray-tracing version.) I’m not the only one seeing this chip underperform at low wattage: dedicated handheld reviewers like ETA Prime have testified that AMD’s 6800U simply isn’t as efficient as the Deck’s custom chip — you’ve simply gotta give it more gas to get going.
AMD’s 6800U isn’t the answer
While it did look like I’d be able to play Portal at 800p resolution for 2.5-3 hours (my test was trending that way), I can’t actually tell you for sure because the game black-screened after I put the handheld to sleep and now black-screens every time I try to launch it.
In my experience, failures like that are all too common. Over the past two weeks, I can count the number of glitch-free gaming sessions on one hand. I’ve had games crash, hard-lock, fail to launch, and I’ve repeatedly watched the Windows handheld spinning on the reboot screen, forcing me to hard reset it. The gamepad controls and mouse cursor sometimes fail to reappear after I put the system to sleep, and I’ve had windows seemingly disappear until I Alt-Tab. I had some of these issues at the Steam Deck’s launch, too, but they’ve long been ironed out.
Even at launch, one of the Steam Deck’s best features was the ability to pause a PC game at any time just by hitting the power button and have it be right there when you return. I simply can’t trust the Ayaneo 2 to do that.
And those are just the issues we might be able to chalk up to Windows and general platform stability. We haven’t begun to discuss the Ayaspace launcher that’s critical to using this handheld.
I get where Aya is coming from: Windows isn’t made for gamepads, and Ayaspace is there to fill the gaps. It turns your joystick into a mouse cursor, lets you summon a Deck-like quick access menu with TDP, fan and resolution settings with the press of a physical button, and serves as a full-screen joystick-friendly launcher for your games, a software update center, and a downloader for Aya’s official FPS counter and other similar apps. It lets you map useful Windows commands to shortcut buttons, like summoning the virtual keyboard or Task Manager or even taking a screenshot. You can adjust the sensitivity and RGB lighting of your joysticks there and the amount of haptic feedback.
But every single part of Ayaspace feels half-baked. It’s slow, sometimes downright unresponsive. Some of the button prompts are wrong. Your changes don’t always save. The only options for joystick sensitivity are 50 percent, 100 percent, or 150 percent, none of which felt like a normal Xbox or PS5 joystick without extra tweaking in Steam or in a game. There’s no option to simply turn off the haptic feedback, which is louder and more annoying at its lowest setting than the Steam Deck’s already-not-great haptic feedback. I couldn’t find a way to keep the RGB stick lights from blinking when they’re asleep. The whole app reverts to Chinese every time you update it, and it’s clear they did not hire a native English speaker to localize the English parts.
It also doesn’t currently have one of the most important features of the Steam Deck: a native, highly customizable controller configurator system so PC games that weren’t designed for a gamepad can still be easy to play. I didn’t expect the Ayaneo 2 to adopt the Steam Deck’s trackpads, but I was surprised to find its controller configurator entirely empty and seemingly unfinished, with no way to map the gamepad controls to keyboard keys.
You can get around that by using Steam itself to create controller profiles — in fact, as of a recent Steam update, the Big Picture Mode now looks a lot like the Steam Deck’s UI. But Steam doesn’t recognize the Ayaneo 2’s extra buttons and gyro, and the handheld doesn’t have a button to summon Steam so you can continually experiment with those controls mid-game.
I had to launch Portal from Steam to play it with the Ayaneo 2’s controls. And while you can use Steam to remap some of them for individual games much like on the Steam Deck, you can’t easily revise them mid-game.
Speaking of the controls, some of them were bright spots in my testing. Buttery joysticks, velvety triggers, smooth bumpers, and tight face buttons — individually, each of them felt better than the Steam Deck to me, though I wish the triggers had some rubber stops so they don’t smack when fully pressed. More important: the gyro in my review unit doesn’t seem to work on the X-axis unless you spin on a swivel chair, making my favorite way to aim with a handheld gaming system almost worthless. I also still take issue with the D-pad’s too-tall pivot point (something my former colleague Sam Byford also mentioned in a previous Ayaneo review) and the combination of an offset right joystick and too little grip for my fingers underneath the system.
While I actually like how the “pillow” grips feel under my hands, I have to shift my grip so much to get my thumb under the right joystick that there isn’t enough room for my other fingers to grab. (I have average-size hands.) Also, unlike the Steam Deck’s grips, they aren’t thermally isolated; they start to get warm after about 20 minutes of play. I also do like the Ayaneo 2’s fan, which is both relatively quiet and effective at ejecting heat — but it doesn’t seem to stop the system from producing an actually painful-to-touch hotspot you can feel through the upper-right-hand corner of the display.
Oh, and the fingerprint reader embedded in the power button didn’t work half the time I used it. Ayaneo advertises that it’s supposed to be a one-touch power+login button. In practice, that means “it scans my finger very quickly and repeatedly before I’ve properly planted it and then kicks me to the PIN screen instead.” I’ve asked the company about a few issues, but I’m afraid it got lost in translation: when I asked about the gyroscope, a rep who goes by Crystal replied, “At present, the operation method of the gyroscope is the same as Switch, which is operated left and right through D-pad.”
If you’ve read this far and are still interested in the Ayaneo 2, the one thing I’ll say is maybe check out the Ayaneo Geek instead. The lower-end configs have an 800p screen, like the Steam Deck, with less than half the pixels to push. That should mean better performance and battery life with the same 6800U chip. I can’t vouch for the quality of that screen, but I can tell you my Ayaneo 2’s screen came with oversaturated colors and — unlike the Deck — doesn’t get dim enough to use comfortably in a dark room. FYI, mine also has a little bit of backlight bleed, though I have a similar amount on my Deck, too.
Aya, meet Osborne
It’s tempting to think the Ayaneo 2’s additional power makes it the right choice for power users, but I haven’t found that to be true. You can effectively tweak far more with the Steam Deck, and it’s easier. I had more fun reviewing the Steam Deck, even in its original messy state, than I did with this handheld.
I’m sure Ayaneo will nail it eventually! The Chinese company has launched nine handheld gaming PCs in two years, with more already announced and on the way. But I can’t think of a single type of person who should buy this particular one. Buy it for the bragging rights? You could have the most powerful portable PC for a fleeting moment, one you can only play for an hour at full bore, before the company makes it obsolete six months from now.
Or you can wait.
Or, you can buy a Steam Deck, a Linux game system that — believe it or not — works better than this Windows machine.