At this point, Nintendo’s refusal to do the obvious thing like, say, add Bluetooth headphone support to its four-year-old handheld, is straight-up frustrating. The company moves at its own pace, which has done gangbusters for its profits, but the goodwill is running thin these days.
With the OLED Switch already a disappointment to many gamers and outsized excitement for Valve’s Steam Deck, Nintendo has made room for handhelds like the Ayn Odin to step in and offer what “Nintendon’t.”
The Ayn Odin is a new handheld looking to eat some of the Switch’s lunch. It’s something we’ve seen before with consoles like the GPD Win Max, the Aya Neo, and the upcoming Steam Deck. These consoles, however, are exponentially more expensive than the Switch Lite, and while they have better specs to show for it, the market for $1,000 handhelds is not as big as the one for a $300 portable.
Winter 2021 — Thanks to a preview of the crowdfunding page for the Ayn Odin, we’ve been able to glean some information from the handheld. The Ayn Odin will come in three flavors: Lite, Base, and Pro. The lite model starts out at $1,519 HKD ($165); $1,753 HKD ($225) for the Base model; $2,142 HKD ($275) for the Pro. All models will be available as an early bird perk, with savings ranging between 9 to 15 percent depending on the model. The listings show that the consoles will begin to ship in either November or December of this year. According to Retro Dodo, an emulation handheld insider on YouTube, the campaign’s payment page should go live tomorrow, but take that with a grain of salt. Regardless, the estimated ship date is closing in fast, so the campaign could go live any day now.
Also making an appearance is the Super Dock, which Taki Udon previewed on YouTube. The dock has an HDMI out port, as well as one USB-C port and an Ethernet port. The dock has two ports each for Nintendo 64, GameCube, and USB controllers. Just like the Switch, you can slide the console onto the dock to connect it via USB-C. A clear screen sandwiches the console in the dock for a more secure fit, but it’s optional. While you don’t get a boost in performance in docked mode like on the Switch, it beats the Switch Lite’s dockless existence. The Super Dock costs $390 HKD ($50), which is very affordable and, I would say, a worthwhile pickup — it ships this December.
Switch Lite killer? — Specs-wise, the Odin Lite is equipped with an octa-core Dimensity D1000C (2GHz) and an ARM Mali-G57 MC5 GPU — Mali GPUs can be found on many handheld emulators such as Anbernic’s RG351. The Odin Lite comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, with the option to expand via a microSD card. The 5.98-inch 1080p IPS display (16:9) is slightly larger than the Switch Lite’s 5.5-inch screen and has a better resolution to boot. The 5,000mAh battery is considered exceptional for a smartphone, but gaming on a screen this size could drain the battery much faster. The Odin Lite also supports fast charging, but it’s unclear how fast that is. There’s also Wi-Fi and, yes, Bluetooth 5.0 so you can finally pair your wireless earbuds or headphones to it. The I/O is standard: 3.5mm jack, USB-C, and a Mini HDMI for video output. For some reason, the Odin Lite runs on Android 11 while the more expensive versions get by on Android 10.
The Odin Base and Odin Pro models are not too different, though they pack a much more powerful octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (2.8GHz) with an Adreno 630 GPU. The SoC is a few years old, but it’s still plenty powerful for handheld emulation. The Odin Base is similar to the Odin Lite in RAM and storage, but the Odin Pro model comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage. The Odin Pro has a larger 6,000mAh battery, with both the Odin Base and Odin Pro rated for Quick Charge. Other than that, the three consoles are pretty much the same.
While the consoles run on Android via Project Treble, Ayn says that “advanced users” can configure the console to run on Windows to potentially play PC games in handheld mode. I’m skeptical that these consoles could compete with the Steam Deck when it comes to running PC games, but smaller indie titles could be a possibility. Until we get our hands on one, it’s hard to measure the consoles’ performance. And speaking of hands, the Odin should be more comfortable than a Switch since it has sculpted grips instead of flat backsides.
Allfather of Emulation — Formerly codenamed Project Valhalla, the Ayn Odin is probably named after a god for a reason. And not just any god, it’s Thor’s dad. Is that a metaphor for something? I’m not well-read in Norse mythology enough to decipher it, but it suggests the company behind it has some level of confidence (though maybe that’s more arrogance). Not having tried it yet, I can only speculate as to the performance, but it seems that the Odin Base and Odin Pro models are capable of emulating every Nintendo home console up to the GameCube (maybe even the Wii) and every Nintendo handheld up to the 3DS. GameCube and Wii stability will depend largely on the game as the Snapdragon 845 is just over the threshold for GameCube emulation. In Taki Udon’s testing, he mentioned that GameCube and Wii emulation isn’t great yet but that Ayn will release a patch to improve stability.
Since this is an Android device, you can download many emulation apps right from the Play Store such as RetroArch or individual emulators like PPSSPP (PSP), Reicast (Dreamcast), Mupen 64 (Nintendo 64), Dolphin (GameCube), and many others. The Odin Lite’s Dimensity D1000C is untested when it comes to emulation, so it’s unclear what it’ll be able to run. But it’s safe to assume that 16-bit consoles and everything before should be fine. GameCube, 3DS, and PSP emulation functionality will be determined when the console launches.
2021 has been a wild year for handheld consoles, with the Playdate, Steam Deck, and Switch OLED all due to release this year. Then you have the Analogue Pocket, which is in release hell at the moment alongside other vaporware notables such as the Smach Z. If you’re a fan of gaming on the couch, this is the year for you. And if you’re not, what are you waiting for? It’s the best time to jump in. The Ayn Odin sounds like a solid alternative to Nintendo’s line of Switch consoles, especially if you’re into retro games.