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Several attempts to construct Android-based game consoles have been made, but none have proved successful. For example, the Ouya was a high-profile Kickstarter success turned commercial disaster. Meanwhile, Nvidia’s streaming-focused Shield matured into a terrific streaming box but did little to improve Android’s gaming platform. It turns out that Google’s operating system isn’t a silver bullet for creating your own ecosystem.
However, the open nature of Android and the ease with which it can be manufactured has recently allowed a slew of smaller Chinese companies to put their own take on the concept. If all you want to do is sell to a tiny group of retro game fans, you don’t need to have big plans to establish a platform ecology. Retroid and Anbernic, for example, are cranking out low-cost, low-power Android handhelds in a range of forms and sizes, with emulation in mind.
The $200–$300 range (depending on configuration) The Ayn Odin is a new Android handheld that takes this idea farther. It’s manufactured by a small Shenzhen business that has no plans to establish a new gaming platform, instead trusting you to run whatever game you want on the device right away. But it’s strong enough to play a wider range of games than any of its Android rivals, and its design and control configuration allow it a lot more flexibility.
- Excellent hardware
- Extremely adaptable
- Outstanding performance
- A clumsy launcher
- Some software tinkering is unavoidable.
- Bad logo
The Odin’s design is obvious: it’s essentially a Nintendo Switch Lite that runs Android. However, as someone who used a Switch Lite for a couple of years, I believe Ayn’s hardware is superior. The 5.98-inch 1080p LCD is bigger and sharper than the previous model. The grips are more comfortable, and the back buttons can be customised. The D-pad appears to be identical to that of the PlayStation Vita, which is good. The sticks have a smaller profile than those on the Switch, but they’re still comfortable and simple to operate.
Overall, the build quality is excellent for a device of this type. The unit I’ve been testing has a nice Super Nintendo-inspired grey and purple colour scheme. I don’t mind the blue LED lighting on the sides of the device and behind the analogue sticks, but I’m glad it can be turned off. A flap covers a microSD card slot and a Micro HDMI port on the top, similar to the one that hides Switch game cards. The weird Odin logo beneath the D-pad is the only serious criticism I have about this device.
The Odin is available in several variations. The $287 Odin Pro includes a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage, which I’ve been testing. The Snapdragon 845 in the $239 non-Pro Odin is the same, but it has half the RAM and storage. The $198 Odin Lite has 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM, but it uses a newer MediaTek Dimensity D900 instead of the Snapdragon. All variants are available for purchase on Indiegogo, while the Lite has only recently begun to order to backers.
Under the sticks and on the sides of the Odin is blue LED lights.
In 2018, major Android phones used the Snapdragon 845 processor, meaning you’re getting the raw performance of a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 or a Google Pixel 3. However, because the Odin has active cooling, it can run the processor at its peak speed for extended periods of time, unlike tiny smartphones, which lack fans and must restrict their performance to stay cool. On its lowest setting, the Odin’s fan is nearly silent, extremely quiet in performance mode, and about as noisy as a Nintendo Switch in high performance mode. It’s not as obvious as the Steam Deck or the Aya Neo Next, which are both portable PCs.
Although a chip found in Android phones from three or four years ago may not sound spectacular, it is significantly more powerful than the MediaTek or Rockchip SoCs found in most other Android handhelds. Those devices are designed to play games from 2D consoles and, to a lesser extent, early 3D systems such as the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. More advanced systems, such as the Dreamcast, PSP, and GameCube, can be emulated by the Odin. Even if you compromise a little performance, it’s a more convenient and console-like experience than using a newer Android phone with an external controller, thanks to its bigger 16:9 screen and built-in buttons.
Emulation is by its very nature hit-or-miss, and your results may vary depending on how you alter settings and whose emulators you use. Overall, I found the Odin did a fantastic job with the three systems described. In general, GameCube games should run at their native resolution and frame rate, albeit generally with a stutter. Not everything worked, though; for example, the GameCube version of NBA Street V3 wouldn’t load past the intro scene, despite V2 (which is superior in any case) functioning properly. PSP games, on the other hand, were a revelation, with the majority of them being able to run at significantly higher resolutions and with far greater performance than the original hardware.
On the back of the grips, there are two buttons.
Sony’s proprietary “Emotion Engine” CPU, with its specific instruction set, makes PS2 emulation more difficult even on more powerful PCs. Although the Odin can run select PS2 games, I wouldn’t buy it expecting a flawless, glitch-free experience with the system’s whole catalogue. If you’re wanting to play something from the GameCube generation, GameCube versions of games are almost always a better option.
The Steam Deck is an obvious comparison, and while I don’t have one in hand to test side by side, I’m confident it will outperform the Odin in terms of emulation. Here’s a video demonstrating that you can get good results on the Deck even with PS3 games, which are notoriously difficult. The Steam Deck, on the other hand, is significantly bigger and more expensive than the Odin (not to mention more difficult to obtain), so it might be overkill for emulation if you’re only interested in older games.
There are numerous ways to stock a gaming library.
As long as you’re within Wi-Fi range, the Odin is a fantastic device for streaming games. It features all of the controls you’ll need, and the large 16:9 display is the appropriate size and resolution. I played a tonne of Xbox Game Pass games on the Odin and found it to be far superior to any phone, even one with a controller. Streaming games isn’t for everyone just yet, but if it fits your connectivity and play style, itworks a good way to extend the Odin’s potential. (One unpleasant note: Sony’s PS4 and PS5 Remote Play apps work properly on the Odin when paired with a DualShock or DualSense controller, but not with the built-in controls.)
Native Android games work fine, and you can download anything from the Google Play Store, which is included. Even though the Snapdragon 845 isn’t the most recent performance, it can handle most Android games with ease. The traditional stress test, Genshin Impact, yielded a solid 30 frames per second at default settings. Games that support controllers will treat the Odin as if it were a pad connected via Bluetooth, while Ayn’s software layer will enable you match touchscreen instructions to the Odin’s physical controls in games like Genshin and Call of Duty Mobile.
Fortnite was the only major game I couldn’t get to run because of “internet lag, your IP or machine, VPN usage, for cheating, or being on an untrusted platform,” which first returned an error message telling me to disable a developer mode I hadn’t turned on, then booted me from any match I tried to enter because of “internet lag, your IP or machine, VPN usage, for cheating, or being on an untrusted platform.” Needless to say, none of the difficulties should have applied, with the exception of the last one.
A power button, a volume rocker, a fan exhaust, and a flap that covers a microSD card slot and a Micro HDMI connection are all found on the top.
The Odin’s software is largely vanilla Android 10 (the Lite model includes Android 11), with Google services and a launcher to choose from. This launcher is good for system-level functions like setting fan speed and LED lighting, but it requires you to manually add all of your games in order to open them, which I didn’t think was worth the work when I could just use ordinary Android for simple activities. Google’s operating system isn’t great for 6-inch landscape displays, but it’s familiar and works as expected.
There is no native Netflix, however there are alternative possibilities.
While Netflix isn’t available in the Play Store, other streaming apps such as Prime Video are, however you may need to turn the Odin on its side to use the phone-style UI before your video begins. If you’re feeling brave, you can use an open-source project designed expressly for the Snapdragon 845 to install the Arm-based version of Windows on the Odin; I didn’t attempt it and don’t believe it’s a good idea for most people, but it’s an option.
Battery life depends on what you are doing with it, as it does with every portable gaming device, but I found the Odin’s to be very good in general. The Pro version has a 6,000mAh battery, which is bigger than any phone that doesn’t make a large battery its main selling point, while the standard Odin and Odin Lite have a 5,000mAh battery, which is still rather large. I didn’t perform any specific rundown tests, but in my time with it, I’ve never found to rush to a charger – it’s not like the Steam Deck, where you’re lucky to get a couple of hours out of newer games. Qualcomm’s Quick Charge up to 4.0+ is supported by the Odin and Odin Pro, while Ayn says the Lite supports unspecified “rapid charging.”
The Odin’s “Super Dock,” a charging stand with a tonne of ports, was another charging-related function I wasn’t able to test. There are four USB-A 3.0 connections, an HDMI out, USB-C, Ethernet, and two Nintendo 64 controller connectors and two GameCube controller ports, which is unique. I’m not sure how well the dock works, but it would be an interesting way to play Super Smash Bros.
I like the Vita-style D-pad, but the logo is a letdown.
It’s difficult to criticise the Ayn Odin for accomplishing its goals. Although Android isn’t the ideal pre-built gaming platform, it has allowed Ayn to develop fantastic hardware, step back, and leave it up to the customer to figure out what to run on it. This will make an certain type of person extremely happy.
Of course, when compared to something like a Nintendo Switch Lite, streaming, standard Android gaming, and emulation are all pretty limited use cases. That’s a $199 system designed only to play Nintendo Switch games, and if that’s all you want, it clearly outperforms the competition. The Odin will not appeal to everyone.
However, there is somethings to be said for incorporating Android’s flexibility into a well-made, powerful portable console and allowing you to do anything you want with it. While Ayn doesn’t have its own games store, the Odin’s attraction is that it does for Android what the Steam Deck does for PC gaming: it compresses the platform into a manageable form factor and says, “hey, go check out what this thing can do.”
Ayn Odin agrees to continue:
Before you can use a smart device, you must agree to a set of terms and conditions — contracts that no one actually reads. We won’t be able to read and examine each and every one of these agreements. When we reviewed the agreements, we started counting how many times you had to touch “agree” to use the devices because these are agreements that most people don’t read and can’t negotiate.
To utilise those built-in apps and services on a device running essentially stock Android with Google Play, you’ll need to agree to some of Google’s rules. This includes the following:
- The terms of service of Google
- Google’s stance on privacy
- Terms of Service for Google Play
However, if you only want to use the Odin as an emulation device and sideload everything like most other Android gaming handhelds, using it without a Google account may theoretically be a lot more practical than using it with a phone. There are no binding terms to agree to in this regard.
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