Remember the Aya Neo 2021 Pro, the super-powered and super-expensive portable PC we covered a short while ago? Well, the company behind it is releasing a new handheld this year which boasts a feature that should be very interesting to long-suffering Switch owners.
The Aya Neo Next is a Ryzen 7 5800U-powered device that uses a 'Hall Effect' sensor (named after the person who discovered it) on its analogue sticks and triggers – this is technology that makes use of magnets so the components inside don't actually wear against one another.
It is believed by many that 'Joy-Con Drift' is caused by the components inside the stick rubbing against each other and creating dust and debris, which then causes false inputs and drift. By removing the need for parts to actually make contact with each other, Hall Effect sensors shouldn't (in theory) suffer from drift – and that could mean an end to the problem that has plagued millions of Switch owners.
Hall Effect sensors aren't new to games consoles, by any means – Atari's I, Robot arcade machine from 1984 used this technology, as did the Sega Saturn 3D Controller back in 1996 – but the Aya Neo Next is apparently the first handheld games console to use Hall Effect sensors on both the sticks and the triggers, which should bode well when it comes to overall durability – especially when you consider that modern applications of this technology have gotten to be pretty advanced.
As was the case with the Aya Neo 2021 Pro, the Aya Neo Next is a Windows-based handheld PC, which means you'll be able to run plenty of visually-demanding modern games downloaded via the likes of Steam, Epic Games Store and Xbox Game Pass for PC. We found in our review of the 2021 model that games ran at a playable speed – although most were limited to 30 fps, and the battery life was around two hours per charge. Because the Aya Neo Next has more powerful internal tech, performance is much improved, and if you're willing to boost up the power (to the cost of battery life) then you can enjoy some seriously impressive visuals; this is a Switch-sized portable system that can run Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5 and Cyberpunk 2077 after all.
Also like the Aya Neo 2021 Pro, the Aya Neo Next is an emulation powerhouse. It can comfortably run any game from the 8, 16 and 32-bit eras, and is capable of running many Dreamcast, PS2, PS3 and Xbox titles at full speed and at a higher-than-nativ e resolution. There are even Wii U emulators which run like a dream on this thing.
We've had a prototype sample of the Aya Neo Next for a week now, and while we wouldn't possibly suggest that's a long enough time to properly put the Hall Effect sticks through thei r paces, we can report that they're highly accurate and very comfortable to use.
The design is a lot larger than the small sticks seen on the Switch and the Neo Pro, a probable consequence of the fact that the Hall Effect sensor is a much larger component. Another cool feature is that the sticks are modular, so you can customise them to your own personal preference. The analogue triggers also feel larger, but again, this doesn't impede on their usability. They feel comfortable and give a good range of control, especially in racing games, where we found even the slightest input was recognised in-game.
Elsewhere, the Aya Neo Next boasts other interesting features such as WIFI 6, up to 2TB storage and fingerprint security. While the latter is a feature that is pretty common on smartphones, it's yet to be used on a portable gaming system – and could potentially be another feature we could see on a future revision of the Switch, especially when you consider how flimsy the PIN code security the console currently uses can be. If you're someone who buys a lot of games from the eShop and have your payment details saved on your system, it would be really handy to have more robust security to prevent any==one who uses your console without your knowledge from spending your money.
There's little reason to boost the resolution of a handheld console's screen at this stage because the bump wouldn't be apparent on a panel of this size, but it would result in a negative performance hit that would most definitely be noticeable. It's no shock, then, that the screen is unchanged when compared to the Neo Pro – it's still a 7-inch 1280x800 IPS panel. You can, however, use the system's USB-C to HDMI connectivity to play on your HDTV at higher resolutions. A dock was released for the Neo 2021 Pro, so we may well see the Neo Next get the same treatment, making it an even closer match to the Switch.
The Aya Neo Next is available in three versions: Advance, Next, Next Pro - the "advance" is actually the weakest of the three, power wise, but is like a "prototype" early access deal, which is the one we’ve been playing around with. It's available to order now, and ships at the end of February, with an eye-watering price tag of $1,345. The Aya Neo Next and Aya Neo Next Pro will both include the slightly more powerful Ryzen 7 5825U chipset and will be supported by an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that starts in February, with shipping expected to take place in March. The Aya Neo Next will cost $1,315 for 1TB of storage or $1,465 for 2TB, while the Aya Neo Next Pro will set you back a whopping $1,565. Gulp.
So, could the Aya Neo Advance give us any idea of what to expect from a new model of the Switch? Nintendo will be keen to solve the ongoing issue of Joy-Con drift, which still remains unresolved in the console's fifth year on sale – despite apparent attempts to fix it. If Hall Effect sensors live up to their promise of reliability, then we could potentially see them included in the next iteration of the Switch – which would hopefully mean drift is a thing of the past.
We'd also like to see Nintendo factor in things like fingerprint security and more internal storage space for games – although it's worth pointing out that the Switch and Aya Neo operate at two wildly different ends of the market. Nintendo's machine has a much lower price point, while the Aya Neo Next will cost around well over $1000, even for the base model – which means there's more scope to include new and innovative technologies and high-end components.
Do you think Nintendo will be keeping its eye on systems like the Aya Neo Next when it comes to solving Joy-Con drift? Could we see other features, such as a fingerprint scanner, factored into future Switch iterations? Let us know with a comment.
The Aya Neo Next Advance used in this feature was kindly supplied by the manufacturer.