More and more, we find ourselves playing an increasingly large variety of remarkably robust games on our smartphones and tablets. As great as these games have become, touchscreen controls just aren't as good as the more traditional console experience for many of these titles. So, what can you do? Is it worth trading in our old games into services like musicMagpie so we can have some extra money to invest in this new form of mobile gaming?
One solution that you might consider is the Nyko PlayPad, a console-style controller that allows you to "control the future of Android gaming." It's wireless and pairs up with an Android device of your choosing via Bluetooth.
Console Gaming on Android
Because it uses Bluetooth, the PlayPad is compatible with just about every reasonably current Android smartphone or tablet. You could use it with your Galaxy Note II, for example, but I find that it is particularly well suited for the larger screens of tablets. This is especially true if you have a tablet stand, making for an impromptu gaming station wherever life may take you. Just make sure you have at least Android 3.0.
Yes, the PlayPad is definitely smaller than an Xbox 360 controller, as shown above. Instead, it's probably closer in scale to an SNES controller. The key difference is that it does take on an almost Xbox 360-like layout. There are dual analog thumbsticks, a direction pad, four face buttons, a "home" button flanked by the start and back buttons, and four shoulder buttons. It should be noted, though, that the analog thumbsticks are closer in feel to the analog "slider" stick found on the Nintendo 3DS than a "real" thumbstick like on the PS3 or Xbox 360.
Like other Nyko products, the build quality of the PlayPad is very good. It has a similar soft touch finish as they have on the Nyko Raven controller.
What's in the Box?
In addition to the PlayPad itself (which houses a rechargeable internal battery), you also get a hard plastic carrying case, a USB-to-microUSB adapter, a kickstand, and the instruction manual. Having this carrying case is particularly handy, since it means that your controller--including the USB connector and kickstand--can be suitably protected during your travels. Just throw it in your bag and you're ready to game on a moment's notice.
Nyko Playground App
Of course, there is some setup that you'll need to do. This is performed via the free Nyko Playground app, which you can find in the Google Play Store. Through this app, you can create different control profiles for different games, as well as find additional games that are natively compliant with the PlayPad.
For many of these, you may choose to use the HID mode for button mapping, but there is also a "mouse" mouse that provides you with an on-screen pointer, plus an iCade mode for iOS devices. I imagine the experience with the iCade mode is particularly robust and satisfying, given the growing size of that community. You don't need the Playground app, but it can make your gaming setup a little easier.
Gaming in HID Mode
In general, after the initial setup, the experience is very reminiscent of true console gaming. This is fantastic for retro games like Sonic CD where the controls are relatively simple. The buttons were responsive, making for a seamless transition from the native touchscreen controls. However, I did find the setup to be on the finicky side, especially if you're switching between using the Nyko Playground app and using your native Bluetooth manager on your Android device. Because the standards aren't really all that standardized for Android controllers yet (not really the fault of Nyko), it can be a little troublesome switching between games.
Another issue I found was with the "slider" style analog thumbstick. I personally found them to be too stiff for comfort. Also, while the four plastic nubs on top are there for grip (not unlike regular Xbox 360 controllers), I found them to be uncomfortable too. I would have preferred a rounded, textured top like what we get with the Evil Controllers Evil Sticks. This is a matter of personal preference, of course.
Gaming in Mouse Mode
But what about games that don't really use console-style controls? It's possible to play these games (and use other apps, for that matter) by flipping the switch over to mouse mode on the PlayPad. There is a simple slider on the back to swap between these modes.
The idea with mouse mode is that you get an on-screen pointer, not unlike what you have on your computer, and pressing the "A" button is just like tapping on that part of the screen. Nyko says this is ideal for games like Angry Birds: Star Wars, but I don't really agree. Let me explain.
First, that thumbstick--as mentioned--is too stiff. Quickly moving from one end of the screen to the other is both too slow and too uncomfortable. It also lacks the same kind of precision that you'd get with the touchscreen or with a "real" mouse. In the context of Angry Birds, for example, I need to not only launch the bird, but I need to tap on a very specific part of the screen at a very specific time to activate that bird's secondary function. Mouse mode just isn't fast or accurate enough for that.
MEGATechie Game On or MEGATechie Game Over?
As far as the hardware is concerned, the Nyko PlayPad is quite good. The quality of materials is top notch and I appreciate the very console-inspired layout. We should expect as much, since other Nyko products like the Power Pak+ for the 3DS, are also well-built. I would have liked the thumbsticks to be far less stiff, though.
In practice, the software side makes this offering less compelling. This isn't necessarily Nyko's fault, as mentioned, simply because of the Android ecosystem and the lack of a true across-the-board standard for Bluetooth controllers. Until that happens, none of these Android controllers will really offer the seamless experience of a standalone console, portable or otherwise. I think this needs to come from Google directly. When it does, Android gaming will be that much better and products like the PlayPad will also be that much better.
The Nyko PlayPad has an MSRP of $39.99, but it can be found online for about $29.84 without too much trouble.