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What Can This $1200 Portable PC Tell Us About The ‘Switch Pro’?

Aya Neo 2021 ProImage: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran

Next yr, the Switch might be 5 years previous – a reality which makes the continued demand for the console all of the extra outstanding. Despite being powered by know-how that, even again in 2017, might hardly be described as cutting-edge, the hybrid system has shifted over 90 million items worldwide and exhibits no indicators of slowing down as we transfer into 2022.

Even so, Nintendo is savvy sufficient to know that continuous {hardware} refreshes are a great way of sustaining momentum, and it has already iterated on the bottom Switch mannequin twice (thrice should you depend the model with improved battery life). This yr’s OLED mannequin is probably probably the most important enhancement, bringing with it a bigger, super-bright show, improved audio and superior construct high quality. However, the one factor that many individuals have been hoping for is absent: extra energy underneath the hood. In phrases of processing prowess, it is basically the identical deal because the 2017 unique.

Depending on who you consider, we could nicely nonetheless see a ‘Switch Pro’ subsequent yr, however in the meanwhile, the OLED Model is one of the best we will get. However, there are different moveable gaming programs in the marketplace that boast extra spectacular specs than the Switch, considered one of which is the Aya Neo.

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Originally crowdfunded in 2020, the Aya Neo is a Windows-based handheld PC that runs on AMD’s extraordinarily well-reviewed Ryzen 4000 system-on-chip. This yr, the system was rebooted within the type of the Aya Neo 2021 Pro, which replaces the AMD Ryzen 5 4500U chipset with the extra highly effective 4800U variant. The AMD Radeon GPU additionally will get a spec bump, packing 8 cores and a clock pace of as much as 1.7GHz (in comparison with 6 cores within the unique mannequin and a clock pace of 1.5GHz). Now, PC {hardware} is not strictly our space of experience, so we known as upon Digital Foundry’s Richard Leadbetter to get the lowdown on this gadget. “It’s mainly a longtime laptop computer processor with AMD Vega built-in graphics, operating at a really low energy threshold to present affordable battery life,” he explains.

The 'Retro Power' design is clearly intended to appeal to gamers of a certain vintageThe ‘Retro Power’ design is clearly supposed to attraction to avid gamers of a sure classic (Image: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran)

Aya Neo 2021 Pro: The Design

The Aya Neo 2021 Pro sports activities a really Switch-like design, with the assorted buttons and sticks being in acquainted locations, and is an in depth match to Nintendo’s console when it comes to its total dimensions. However, its controllers don’t detach from the primary unit – a key promoting level for Switch – however you’ll be able to play it on a TV or monitor utilizing a dock which is offered individually. Wired connectivity and Bluetooth help permits for a big selection of non-obligatory equipment, comparable to controllers, mice and keyboards.

While the Aya Neo 2021 Pro shares a terrific many similarities with Switch from a design perspective, it isn’t an entire match. The controls definitely really feel acquainted, with all the typical instructions in the identical locations you’d discover them on Nintendo’s console – however there are a number of exceptions. The four-button cluster on the left-hand facet is a stable D-pad right here, and it is a good one, too, even when it does really feel considerably spongy at instances. Below which might be 4 further buttons, the perform of which varies relying on what sport you are enjoying or the place you occur to be within the system’s UI – these are mirrored by one other 4 buttons on the right-hand facet of the system. In this cluster, one button is ‘Escape’ and is helpful for getting out of sure functions, whereas one other brings up the near-essential on-screen keyboard.

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The Aya Neo 2021 Pro is thicker than the Switch, and somewhat heavier, tooThe Aya Neo 2021 Pro is thicker than the Switch, and somewhat heavier, tooThe Aya Neo 2021 Pro is thicker than the Switch, and somewhat heavier, tooThe Aya Neo 2021 Pro is thicker than the Switch, and somewhat heavier, tooThe Aya Neo 2021 Pro is thicker than the Switch, and considerably heavier, too (Images: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran)

On the underside fringe of the Aya Neo 2021 Pro you will discover the stereo audio system and a USB-C port, whereas on the highest there is a large vent for the fan – in addition to two extra USB-C ports, a 3.5mm headphone socket, the quantity controls and the ability button. There are 4 shoulder triggers right here, too, with LT and RT being analogue in nature, whereas LB and RB are smaller, digital buttons. On the again, there’s one other large vent for the beefy inside fan, which does a good job of retaining issues cool – nonetheless, it does not completely negate warmth build-up, and through some video games, you will really feel the rear of the Aya Neo 2021 Pro getting fairly heat.

The console’s 7-inch, 1280×800-pixel H-IPS display screen is respectable sufficient when in comparison with the LCD panel on the unique Switch – nonetheless, when set alongside the OLED display screen on the newer iteration, it comes off wanting second-best. While the general design of the Aya Neo 2021 Pro calls to thoughts the Switch, it is truly a lot thicker and heavier – an comprehensible consequence of getting to cram all that cutting-edge know-how into a conveyable body. On the plus facet, the ‘Retro Power’ design we’re reviewing right here – which is predicated on the unique 1989 Game Boy – seems beautiful.

Yes, you can play Halo Infinite on this thingYes, you’ll be able to play Halo Infinite on this factor (Image: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran)

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Aya Neo 2021 Pro: The Games

While it will be silly to counsel that the Aya Neo 2021 Pro and Switch are in direct competitors with each other, they’re arguably sharing the identical house on the subject of most of the video games they run. Valve’s widespread digital storefront Steam is full of AAA content material and indie titles, and this can be utilized to populate the Aya Neo 2021 Pro’s 1TB of inside storage (different digital shops are supported, too).

A cursory look exhibits there’s lots of crossover with the Switch eShop; DOOM Eternal, Witcher 3, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Firewatch, Ace Attorney Trilogy, Hades, Stardew Valley, Subnautica, Hollow Knight, FIFA 22, Apex Legends… the record is nearly infinite, and we have not touched upon the various titles which are not on Switch, comparable to Forza Horizon 5, Cyberpunk 2077, Resident Evil Village, Devil May Cry V, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Halo Infinite and numerous others.

Steam is likely one of the hottest digital storefronts on the earth, and a large boon with a tool just like the Aya Neo 2021 Pro – it is also price mentioning that Game Pass members can obtain most of the similar titles obtainable on Steam as a part of their subscription, and Xbox Cloud Gaming can also be supported – however the huge catch is that you simply clearly do not get the video games that most individuals purchase a Switch for: these made by Nintendo itself. That means no Zelda: Breath of the Wild, no Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, no Metroid Dread and no Animal Crossing: New Horizons (until, after all, you are feeling like being very naughty certainly, which we would not condone for a second).

Speaking of naughtiness, it goes with out saying that the Aya Neo 2021 Pro is an emulation powerhouse. It’s highly effective sufficient to emulate consoles as much as and together with the PlayStation 2, and, through the versatile RetroArch utility, gives a vibrant and deeply customisable platform for experiencing previous video games.

Aya Neo 2021 ProImage: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran

What’s The Aya Neo Like To Actually Use?

While there is a diploma of crossover when evaluating the Aya Neo 2021 Pro and the Switch, issues are very, very completely different on the subject of the consumer expertise and interface. Switch has a streamlined and easy-to-parse UI which makes all the things clean and hassle-free (even when it lacks folders on the time of writing), however the Aya Neo 2021 Pro is a extra unwieldy, advanced beast; Windows 10 (which the unit ships with) is difficult to work together with and navigate utilizing simply the contact display screen, and whereas there is a ‘pill’ mode baked into the OS, it is nonetheless extra sophisticated and fiddly than the Switch’s UI. The firm behind the system has no less than tried to make it extra pleasant by together with the ‘Aya Space’ utility, which presents a gaming-focused UI that pulls collectively all your put in video games and lets you simply tinker with settings comparable to throttling (or unleashing) the complete energy of the Ryzen {hardware}, or altering the pace of the interior fan.

Link the Aya Neo 2021 Pro to an exterior monitor through USB-C and you’ve got a fairly highly effective desktop pc

Of course, with the elevated complexity {that a} Windows-based handheld gives comes massively expanded alternative for customisation, and since it is a PC, you’ll be able to join a mouse and keyboard and use it like one. That makes the Aya Neo 2021 Pro an extremely engaging prospect to individuals who desire a gadget that covers gaming, media and PC-related capabilities. Link the Aya Neo 2021 Pro to an exterior monitor through USB-C and you’ve got a fairly highly effective desktop pc, which suggests you should utilize it for all types of issues – phrase processing, picture modifying, media consumption and (as we have already talked about) emulation.

The Aya Neo 2021 Pro is surprisingly fast as well, with just a few seconds separating you from an entire switch-off system to the complete desktop. The inside fan is not as loud as you may count on, though the default ‘wild’ setting is extremely annoying, because it makes the fan fluctuate to the purpose the place we have been genuinely involved that there is likely to be a fault with it. Toggled to the ‘Saving’ mode within the Aya Space utility, it is much less erratic and solely actually will get noisy when the system is doing a little actual heavy-lifting when it comes to processing.

Cyberpunk 2077 runs well on the Aya Neo 2021 Pro, although, like most titles, it's aiming for 30fps rather than 60Cyberpunk 2077 runs well on the Aya Neo 2021 Pro, although, like most titles, it's aiming for 30fps rather than 60Cyberpunk 2077 runs well on the Aya Neo 2021 Pro, although, like most titles, it's aiming for 30fps rather than 60Cyberpunk 2077 runs well on the Aya Neo 2021 Pro, although, like most titles, it's aiming for 30fps rather than 60Cyberpunk 2077 runs nicely on the Aya Neo 2021 Pro, though, like most titles, it is aiming for 30fps somewhat than 60 (Images: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran)

So, what’s it prefer to play on a handheld that is able to operating the critically-maligned Cyberpunk 2077? Performance is definitely surprisingly good, though it is price noting that when operating in-game benchmark checks, many titles counsel the ‘medium’ or ‘low’ graphical settings to maintain issues ticking alongside easily. This is not a lot of a difficulty if you’re enjoying on a 1280×800 pixel display screen, however you do miss out on a few of the extra eye-catching results, comparable to shadows, superior mild and (after all) ray-tracing. Even so, we have been impressed with how nicely a title with a fame like Cyberpunk 2077’s runs on a tool the scale of a Switch, and even Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite have been clean and playable (once more, largely as a result of visuals being toned down). None of those titles hit a clean 60fps, although – 30fps is one of the best you’ll be able to fairly hope for.

While the Switch itself can hardly boast probably the most spectacular endurance, it effortlessly outperforms the Aya Neo 2021 Pro when it comes to stamina

The large catch right here is that regardless of packing three 4100mAh batteries, the Aya Neo 2021 Pro’s stamina is disappointing. While the producer advertises between 5 and 6 hours of play underneath sure settings, we discovered {that a} wildly optimistic determine, particularly when enjoying something even remotely demanding. The extra sensible estimate, additionally given by the producer, is “as much as 140 minutes for demanding AAA gaming”, which matches up with our personal real-world expertise of utilizing the system; two hours is about one of the best you’ll be able to hope for when enjoying comparatively current video games. Granted, you’ll be able to tone down the ability when enjoying less-demanding video games, however it’s clear that whereas the Switch itself can hardly boast probably the most spectacular endurance, it effortlessly outperforms the Aya Neo 2021 Pro when it comes to stamina.

“It’s not likely shocking that battery life is poor,” Leadbetter says when introduced with this knowledge, however provides that any machine promising this type of energy goes to be hamstrung on the subject of battery life. “I’m not anticipating that rather more from Valve’s upcoming Steam Deck. It has a 40Whr battery and the primary chip gobbles as much as 15Whr so as soon as display screen and storage are added to that, that’ll be round 20Whr from a 40Whr battery – which equals two hours. That’s why they’re speaking about 30fps caps and what-not within the advertising supplies to decrease energy consumption and lengthen battery life.”

Aya Neo 2021 ProImage: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran

What Can The Aya Neo Tell Us About A ‘Switch Pro’?

As we have already mentioned, the Aya Neo is not prone to problem the Switch when it comes to pure gross sales figures, and is clearly geared toward a way more area of interest sector of the market – however that does not imply it might probably’t inform us some essential issues about what a future Switch revision might entail.

For instance, it is clear that, regardless of being a bit lengthy within the tooth now, the Nvidia Tegra X1 chipset that powers the Switch was the appropriate tech for the job again in 2017. Its mobile-focused nature has enabled Nintendo to create a platform that’s light-weight, not too power-hungry and – when handled accurately – can ship spectacular visible outcomes. In reality, one of many issues that struck us most of all throughout our time with the Aya Neo 2021 Pro is that, for probably the most half, most of the video games are visually akin to their Switch counterparts. Sure, titles like Witcher 3 and DOOM Eternal look higher, however there’s maybe not the gulf one would count on when you think about the relative energy of the silicon inside every system – particularly when the Aya Neo 2021 Pro prices round $1200 in comparison with the Switch’s extra modest $300 price ticket ($200 for the Switch Lite). That reality alone will put it approach out of attain for many informal gamers, not to mention hardcore console avid gamers.

The balancing act struck by Nintendo is all about fine-tuning that ratio between energy and stamina – one thing the creators of the Aya Neo 2021 Pro have arguably ignored with a view to present as a lot processing grunt as potential. While it gives unimaginable energy on faucet and successfully delivers a PC-style expertise within the palm of your hand, that comes at a large price when it comes to battery life; two hours merely is not going to be sufficient for lots of gamers.

The 'Aya Space' app attempts to make the UX a little more console-like and straightforwardThe ‘Aya Space’ app makes an attempt to make the UX somewhat extra console-like and simple (Image: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran)

The greatest draw of a system just like the Aya Neo 2021 Pro is not essentially the uncooked energy it gives, however the truth that it gives moveable entry to Steam, which is packed to bursting level with video games. This does, after all, place the system in direct competitors with the upcoming Steam Deck, which can also be powered by AMD silicon and has the identical decision show. The catch? It’s round half the value of the Aya Neo 2021 Pro, which is able to almost definitely imply that it’ll cannibalise gross sales when it will definitely arrives in early 2022 – and that is earlier than we even have in mind the truth that the moveable gaming PC panorama is already fairly crowded, what with the GPD Win 3, Win MAX 2021 and ONEXPLAYER all obtainable. “I might count on Steam Deck to be a good bit higher, as it’s utilizing a extra trendy AMD CPU core (albeit with 4 cores), extra environment friendly RDNA 2 structure and a remarkably large reminiscence interface – key to getting probably the most out of built-in graphics,” says Leadbetter.

Nintendo may be very a lot centered on providing a mass-market product that appeals to the widest potential viewers on the most agreeable worth

Of course, it is unlikely that the corporate behind the Aya Neo 2021 Pro expects its machine to have something greater than a distinct segment following, and a profitable crowdfunding marketing campaign exhibits there’s an viewers for this type of gadget – even when alternate options just like the Switch and Steam Deck exist. Nintendo – regardless of providing a machine that covers a lot of the identical floor when it comes to software program – is nearly sure to chart its personal course with the Switch Pro, or Switch 2 – whichever comes first.

Its relationship with Nvidia has been extremely worthwhile for each events, and it is unlikely that Nintendo would think about switching allegiances to a different chipmaker until the advantages have been overwhelmingly apparent (Qualcomm could nicely strive its hardest to tempt Nintendo and others with its recently-announced Snapdragon G3x developer package, nonetheless). It’s additionally price noting that Nintendo may be very a lot centered on providing a mass-market product that appeals to the widest potential viewers on the most agreeable worth, which guidelines out any daring transfer right into a technological arms race; the Kyoto agency hasn’t performed that specific sport because it opted to base the Wii on previous-gen know-how.

While it is tempting to carry up the Aya Neo 2021 Pro – and, certainly, the Steam Deck – as potential blueprints for a future Switch {hardware} refresh, Nintendo has at all times carried out issues its personal approach. “Comparisons to the brand new Switch are going to be difficult,” says Leadbetter. “They’re very completely different. I believe – as at all times – folks hoping for a cutting-edge, tremendous high-end Nintendo handheld might be upset, but when we’re getting a generational leap in efficiency and a few type of DLSS AI upscaling as rumours counsel, it ought to nonetheless be very spectacular.”

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The Aya Neo 2021 Pro unit used on this characteristic was equipped by the producer.

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