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[Stiri gaming] I wouldn’t trade my $400 Steam Deck for this $1,300 Ayaneo 2


KingofLion

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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.

Way more screen-to-body ratio than the Steam Deck.

 Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

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

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. 

The Ayaneo 2 comes with Windows 11.

 Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

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. 

Summoning the quick settings menu in a game.

 Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge

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. 

One bright spot: the ability to set custom fan curves and/or ladders. 

Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge

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. 

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