It’s been all about the Steam Deck since Valve’s handheld platform came out in 2022 and rocked the PC and handheld gaming world, and it’s easy to understand why. But Valve is far from the first company to dive into this space. For a while now I’ve been watching AYANEO, a company that has been producing premium handheld gaming PCs and recently rose to the Steam Deck challenge, if you will. As part of our developing coverage in this space Prima Games received the newly released AYANEO 2 for review, and I’ve been playing around with it for around a month or two. And I can’t believe this thing is real, to be honest.
AYANEO 2 Review
The AYANEO 2 is a handheld, Windows-based gaming PC that fits the power of a legitimate gaming PC in a shell significantly smaller than a Steam Deck. It’s a luxurious-looking device, which makes sense considering the pretty big price tag on the highest end versions. AYANEO has done just about everything possible to justify the cost however, with a gaming platform so ridiculously classy-looking I expect it to call me a peasant and start screaming at me about Bitcoins if I ever let my guard down around it.
The whole front of the AYANEO 2 is covered in a glass panel that neither feels brittle nor grimy, keeping it looking brand new even after hours of use. The lights under the sticks give it a subtle glow, and even the air vents are placed in such elegant fashion it’s shocking this device even needs them. There’s also a heft and solidity to the entire handheld that feels carefully measured and helps legitimize the AYANEO 2 as a platform you could place next to a product from Nintendo, for example.
In terms of performance, the AYANEO 2 is such a powerhouse I keep forgetting it’s a handheld. It runs almost everything I throw at it, and any issues I collide with are only because I knowingly flew too close to the sun. If you’re used to a Steam Deck or Nintendo Switch, it’s like stepping into a whole new world of handheld gaming you’ve never dreamed of. Of course, there are a few reminders of reality, especially on the software level.
AYANEO 2 is currently powered by two main software components. Windows 11 is the OS of course, and then there’s AYASpace. The former is what it is, with many of the usual quirks you can expect from Windows occasionally making life difficult. I had trouble with things like the docking station recognizing external displays, AYASpace is kind of a proprietary gaming platform, with different ways to display your library from multiple sources and configure things like the controls, TDP, fan speed and even the stick lights.
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When it comes to AYASpace, it more or less does the job it’s there to do. But the problem is there’s only so much you can do with it in English. Many of the apps you can install to do more intensive tweaking are either only in Chinese, or have language options buried somewhere I haven’t been able to find yet. Which is a bummer, because there’s some neat-looking stuff I’m afraid to mess with too much that could potentially make the experience stronger.
That said, there’s a whole community out there for AYANEO users, which has collectively grown to understand the company’s approach and the best practices for making the most of these devices. Once I finally decided to poke around the subreddit for example, I was able to squeeze more quality out of the AYANEO 2 outside the scope of AYASpace, without doing anything weird or difficult. So while there are steps taken to make this device as close to plug and play as possible, it’s still a Windows machine and that means the more you’re willing to tweak and tinker, the better a time you’ll have.
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Now, to be fair, AYANEO is planning to launch a Linux-based OS of its own, similar in scope to Steam OS. This could be a game-changer thanks to all the attention currently focused on Proton. We’re definitely excited to keep an eye on that and check that out when it launches. AYASpace feels a little like a stopgap, despite its clear benefits.
Next to performance, the biggest concern of course is battery life. With the AYANEO 2 it’s admittedly all over the place. Which, I think, is probably the best case scenario, if not close to it. If you’re going to push this thing to its limits, yeah, the battery will not last long. If you’re trying to max out your game you’re gonna want to either stay close to an outlet or use a docking station. But with more reasonable settings there’s not a huge difference compared to, well, the Steam Deck for the most part. It strongly depends on what you’re doing at any given moment.
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The biggest advantage to having Windows as an OS is compatibility. Yes, there’s more of a hands-on effort when it comes to making games and software behave. But compared to the Steam Deck, which has so many tricks and shenanigans involved for non-Steam usage, it’s nice to just be able to download and install things. It’s awesome to have Steam, Epic, Ubisoft Connect, PlayStation Plus and Remote Play (albeit controller shenanigans are once again required for these), even the Xbox app and its bizarre file formats all in once place.
As I noted at the jump, the biggest barrier to the AYANEO 2 is the price tag. It’s unfortunate, but to the company’s credit there is every effort made to maximize the value. The Steam Deck is practically cheating thanks to Valve’s ability to eat losses on hardware, a luxury no other hardware producer will have. But to compare these platforms directly, AYANEO 2 absolutely smokes the Steam Deck in aesthetics, ergonomics, power, compatibility and more.
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If you’re interested in this increasingly competitive space and have deeper pockets, there’s no reason not to consider AYANEO 2 for your gaming needs. It plays damn near whatever you throw at it, looks gorgeous, feels great to play on and has an active user community. There are software squabbles, and Windows really doesn’t seem to enjoy being in a handheld (waking up from sleep is a big ol’ no-no; switch everything to hibernate ASAP). Also it’s expensive. But with a new OS directly competing with the Steam Deck on the way and a new wave of models already on the horizon, AYANEO as a whole is definitely something to pay attention to. And the AYANEO 2 is, for now, my favorite device to play videogames on full-stop.