As much as I enjoy living on the bleeding edge of technology, I'm still something of a traditionalist. I grew up playing my games with a physical controller in hand, from the NES to the SNES, from the N64 to the Xbox 360. In fact, it took me some time to give up on hardware keyboards on smartphones, because I wanted that tactile feedback. And as great as mobile games are getting, touchscreen controls just aren't the same.
It seems like such a simple solution, but it also seems like it could be quite brilliant. What you see here are the SteelSeries Free Touchscreen Gaming Controls. It's basically a universal solution that requires virtually no setup, offering you that console-like experience on your favorite mobile touchscreen device.
The main idea here is that you get a set of touchscreen controls that stick straight onto your touchscreen directly via the "micro suction cup technology." Included in the box are the auto-centering joystick, three real buttons, and a handy carrying case, along with the supporting documentatio. That carrying case is definitely needed, as these little pieces are really easy to lose.
Because there is no software involved and these controls are making physical contact with your tablet or smartphone, the setup process is far simpler and more universal than the many Bluetooth controllers on the market. The game doesn't have to be coded to work with the Free and the universality means it'll work with pretty much all touchscreen devices like an Android tablet, iPad, or whatever else you may have.
The Plunger Buttons
Let's start with the buttons. The three buttons each have the SteelSeries logo on top, but they are otherwise unmarked. The design is effectively that of a plunger. After you line it up with the on-screen button in your game, you press down to activate the suction cup and the button reasonably stays in place. The "button" part can then be press, plunging down through the cylinder and pressing the on-screen button.
There are three of these buttons included, so that should be enough for the vast majority of games available on smartphones and tablets. I'd say that the footprint of the buttons is roughly equivalent to the size of face buttons on most regular console controllers, like what you'd find on a DualShock or even an old NES. They are slightly convex and have a rubbery feel to them.
The Wacky Thumbstick Slider
The joystick attaches to your tablet with a series of small suction cups and what you need to do is align the center bit, where you see the SteelSeries logo, with the center of the on-screen joystick. I really liked how springy spiral holding the nub in place gives a sense of resistance too, making for better precision and, well, the auto-centering too.
You do have to bear in mind that the joystick is only being held in place with a series of suction cups and I did find that when I held one direction or another for a little too long, the whole thing could start to slide in that direction. This meant that the it was no longer centered and, thus, no longer useful. This is a particular problem for games like Sonic where you're holding one direction for an extended period of time, as opposed to games where you're constantly moving in different directions.
But I Can't Go Home Now
It's not exactly a deal breaker, but this is something that is well worth mentioning. The joystick does measure about 6cm in diameter (about 2-1/4 inches). When I was playing Sonic, I found that the sheer size of the the joystick effectively obscured some of the other on-screen controls, like the back, home and multi-tasking buttons on my Sony tablet.
The only way I could really get at them was to remove the joystick, but I suppose if you have the joystick on there, you should be gaming for some period of time. If you're playing a FPS or some other game that needs dual thumb sticks, you'll also need to buy two of these kits. And it goes without saying that while this would work on a smartphone, you should probably stick (no pun intended) to only using the buttons for that context.
MEGATechie Gaming Freedom or MEGATechie Sticky Nonsense?
If you're looking for the easiest way possible to have a console-like controller experience on your tablet, then the SteelSeries Free Touchscreen Gaming Controls are something worth considering. This really is about as easy as it gets and I found the relative accuracy and precision to be very good. I definitely had an easier time playing console-style games with these controls than I did without them.
The auto-centering joystick does feel like it's unnecessarily large (even further obscuring your field of vision) and I would have some concerns about it sliding around on you when you exert a little too much pressure for a little bit too long. That being said, while the SteelSeries Free Touchscreen Gaming Controls aren't exactly free at $19.99 for the set, they're not a bad investment for those of us who still want to feel our games. It was particularly fun with X-Men: The Arcade Game. Mutant powers!