Disclosure: Review sample provided by AYANEO. | To learn more about our review policy click here. | Alternatively, click here to find out why you can trust me. Lastly, you can order the AYANEO Pocket Air here.
AYANEO Is venturing deeper into the world of Android gaming with the Pocket Air. But where does this device fit in a world where the Steam Deck has become the go-to device of choice for many emulation enthusiasts? Can the Pocket Air succeed where other big-name companies have failed? Let’s find out!
Look and Feel.
Pictured: Photo of me holding the AYANEO Pocket Air.
If you’ve spent any time in the world of retro handhelds, you’ll know comfort is one of the main problems. With the smaller handhelds like the Retroid Pocket, they’re pocket-sized but they normally suffer from trying to cram everything into a small area.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got the Steam Deck, a device I love but every time I pick it up I can’t help but feel like it’s comically over-sized.
When I first lifted the AYANEO Pocket Air out of the box, I knew it wasn’t an extreme. It’s not a small device, but it isn’t comically over-sized either. It’s in the same realm as the Nintendo Switch Lite. I don’t want to sound like Goldilocks here, but the size is just right. It’s super lightweight at 380 grams and the screen is the perfect size at 5.5 inches. It’s big enough that I don’t need to squint, but not so big that the device feels like the top half of a laptop.
What’s surprised me most is how well AYANEO has implemented the layout. One of my biggest gripes with retro handhelds is how buttons are often thrown onto the device without any care. If you look at budget devices like the Anbernic RG350 and RG351 series, the trigger layout just … exists. The buttons are there because they have to be rather than they’ve been carefully planned for.
Let me give you an example. When I first held the AYANEO Pocket Air, my index fingers instinctively landed on the upper section of the triggers due to their slightly larger size. These triggers have also been designed with comfort in mind and it shows. By curving the triggers upwards, not only does it feel more natural, the way it slopes leads naturally to the bumper buttons in front of it.
The Steam Deck has a similar setup, albeit sloping in the opposite direction. Out of the two, I prefer the way AYANEO has it set up.
What’s more, as the extra large triggers will be the first part of the device to hit a surface when you lay it down, AYANEO has made the main grips on the device level with the triggers so the device doesn’t sit at a weird angle when it’s flat. Normally I wouldn’t highlight something as simple as that, but I can’t help but be impressed with AYANEO’s craftmanship here.
Pictured: Photo of the left side of the AYANEO Pocket Air showing the maroon d-pad.
This logic extends to other areas, namely the deceptively good d-pad. I play a lot of Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, and Marvel vs Capcom, so I need a good d-pad. As much as I was impressed by the Pimax Portal, I wasn’t a fan of its d-pad. Trying to hit quarter inputs on a d-pad that isn’t interconnected is nightmarish.
On the AYANEO Pocket Air, I was able to hit quarter inputs and full 360-degree rotations with ease. For games like Street Fighter 2, that’s the difference between being able to play as Zangief and not. I’d even go as far as saying the Pocket Air d-pad is my favorite d-pad on a handheld it’s that good!
I found the face buttons on the Pocket Air to be good but not revolutionary. They’ve got the balance of ‘bounce’ right, though. If you’ve used an RG350 handheld, you’ll know just how needlessly resistive the face buttons are. I always end up needing to push harder on the buttons on the RG350 and that’s not a fun experience. The Pocket Air, meanwhile, isn’t so light that the buttons register accidental presses, but I also never felt like I was pressing harder than usual to push them in. As I say, the balance is flawless.
Onto the sticks. If you’ve read any of my handheld reviews, you’ll know I’m not a fan of convex thumbsticks. It doesn’t matter if it’s the AYANEO Pocket Air or the Nintendo Switch, convex sticks just aren’t good for most games. For racing games, when the stick simulates a gear stick of sorts, convex sticks make sense. But for shooters, role-play games, and most sports titles, concave sticks make more sense.
With concave sticks – as seen on the Xbox and PlayStation controllers – we have more control over directional inputs because there’s more of a space to jam an index finger into, meaning I get more control over where the sticks can be pushed.
Now, this isn’t a deal-breaker for me. Most handhelds these days use convex sticks. But, you know, switching out to concave sticks would be a quick and easy improvement.
What I will say while we’re talking about the sticks is AYANEO has gone with hall sensor tech for both the sticks and the triggers. That’s a smart move most will appreciate as it lowers the chance of stick drift to as close to zero as you can get.
Emulation on the AYANEO Pocket Air.
Pictured: Close-up photo of the bottom of the white AYANEO Pocket Air showing the micro SD slot, USB-C, and headphones port.
Now for the part you’ve been waiting for. Emulation on the AYANEO Pocket Air is exceptional thanks to the MediaTek Dimensity 1200 processor. This processor is in a similar ballpark to the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 found in the Pimax Portal, although I should point out the AYANEO Pocket Air isn’t being sold as a VR-ready device.
What does that look like in action? The older retro stuff like SNES and Genesis is going to work without any effort. Just grab RetroArch, switch the USB mode to file transfer, and then transfer your ROMs over via a PC. It’s simple stuff, really.
The AYANEO Pocket Air also makes quick work of the more advanced systems like Dreamcast and N64. Here it’s 60 frames per second heaven, with everything I threw at the device working without any issues.
Moving on to the GameCube era, that’s when things get a little weird. GameCube runs without any problems, as does PS2 for the most part.
I say “for the most part” because during my testing, the Pocket Air had a bizarre issue when playing the original God of War. It works, but you can get random slowdown at the start. I didn’t have this problem on the Pimax Portal, so I’m leaning more toward it having something to do with the AYANEO Pocket Air itself. The good news is the problem should be easy enough to fix and every other PS2 game I tried worked without any problems.
For all of the previously mentioned systems, I was able to upscale the resolution to either 720p or 1080p, complete with widescreen patches enabled, and the gameplay remained smooth and consistent.
Currently on Android, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U emulation isn’t possible. The reality is there simply isn’t an emulator that’s been ported to Android. I was, however, able to get select Switch games running on the device with a modicum of success.
Before I get into it, I need to stress you shouldn’t buy the AYANEO Pocket Air if you’re looking to play Switch games. The Switch Lite is cheaper than the Pocket Air, so there’s little reason to pick up an Air if that’s what you want to play. Still, I had to test because you know how much I love to tinker with this stuff.
New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe was able to run along at a solid 60 frames per second, as did Cuphead, Prodeus, and other lightweight games when using the early access version of Yuzu. Games like Pokemon Legends: Arceas and Super Mario Odyssey still can’t hit a decent framerate, but the fact anything works on the Pocket Air is a huge achievement if you ask me.
Pictured: Close-up photo of the left trigger and the left bumper.
The AYANEO Pocket Air and Pimax Portal share more than just the same Android-based operating system (though the Portal runs Android 11 versus the Air’s Android 12), with both consoles featuring an almost Nintendo Switch layout.
Where things differ is in how you access other apps. Whereas the Pimax Portal plonks all the apps to the far right of the main homepage, the Pocket Air places the same apps directly below the homescreen. This does mean the Pocket Air looks slightly more cluttered, but it’s not enough to be a problem.
Both devices also feature a quick-access menu, although there’s a big difference between the two. The Pimax Portal keeps things simple with a quick access menu that’s essentially just the Android swipe-down bar. On the Pocket Air, AYANEO has given us a bunch of different widgets – like being able to take screenshots or map virtual buttons – and more importantly, direct access to the different performance options. Here you can set the fan speed and how much juice the Pocket Air will pull when playing different games. For emulators, you absolutely want to enable game mode.
You can also enable SoundTAP Magic – the AYANEO answer to vibration feedback in games that didn’t support that feature – but like the AYANEO game library, I wasn’t able to get it working. Presumably, these options are quite ready for public consumption just yet.
Overall, I find the Android 12 operating system to be easy to understand and easy to navigate. I’ve been using Android phones for years, so switching over to a more console version of Android wasn’t that difficult. I’d imagine if you’ve ever used an Android or Apple device before, chances are you’ll understand the Pocket Air operating system just as quickly.
Pictured: Above photo of the AYANEO Pocket Air showing the main Android homescreen.
AYANEO set out to create a high-end Android device that doesn’t cost a bomb. The Pocket Air is, essentially, AYANEO’s version of the AYN Odin, albeit with a much stronger engine.
Is the AYANEO Pocket Air worth the $300 asking price? I’d have to say yes. The form factor is exquisite, the screen is crystal clear, and the sheer breadth of what it can play in terms of emulation and Android gaming is phenomenal. Not just that, but if there’s one example of a retro handheld that does button design right, it’s the AYANEO Pocket Air.
Sure, there are minor issues – like how I prefer concave thumbsticks to convex ones, or how the speakers are slightly underwhelming compared with pricier options like the Steam Deck or ASUS ROG Ally. But those issues aren’t enough to get in the way of how much I love the Pocket Air.
Given we’ve seen a host of quick cash grabs that don’t justify the cost – looking at you, Logitech G Cloud and Razer Edge. It’s good to see there’s companies out there who only care about delivering high-end quality.
The AYANEO Pocket Air isn’t perfect, but if you want the best Android device on the market with a ton of power, and battery life that goes on for hours without needing to be plugged in, you won’t go wrong with the Pocket Air.