Gaming compatibility and performance is fast becoming one of, if not the main selling point of modern smartphones. Whilst casual gaming of the likes of Angry Birds, Temple Run and Candy Crush is still likely to dominate the scene for some time, seriously high quality games are beginning to appear that match or even surpass their home and mobile console counterparts. With developers such as Gameloft producing top drawer experiences with new IP such as Modern Combat, N.O.V.A and Asphalt and older players including Rockstar bringing back catalogue experiences like the GTA series to mobile, the industry is in the process of a very dynamic shift. Now I don’t hold with the idea that mobile will kill traditional console gaming, I believe it will supplement it but likely have a dampening on the amount of time people spend with their console in the future.
The main reason for this I see are the input and screen technologies – simply put many game genres are not suitable for touchscreen input and small screen sizes. Whilst the screen issue will be abated by technologies such as DLNA, Wi-Fi direct / Miracast and others, the input issue is one that only has one viable solution – a separate controller.
There are a number of small Bluetooth controllers available and compatible across devices and operating systems but Moga could be the first to offer a dedicated Android system with an exciting and expanding line up. Moga by PowerA Designs currently offer two controllers; the Pocket and the more advanced Pro, I will be focussing on the Pocket in this review.
First off it needs to be said that not every game you have on your device will be compatible with the Moga Pocket. Only games in which the developer has specified input over Bluetooth HID to be allowed will be compatible and then they will also need to have been approved by Moga for inclusion in their personal store – accessible through the Moga Pivot app. You should therefore view the Moga Pocket like a console in its own right, with a library of games that can be launched and played through it, rather than just a Bluetooth controller. Now you can make the Moga Pocket work with other non-sanctioned games, however this requires the installation of a third party application and possibly the rooting of your device. I will not be commenting on this aside from this mention as it is not the intended use of Moga Pocket.
Looks wise, the Moga Pocket is a tidy little unit, finished in gloss black with a shape not dissimilar to an Xbox 360 controller. The bottom half is wider with protrusions to grip the controller (these also each hold a AAA battery – more on that later). Dual analog sticks asymmetrically adorn the face of the Pocket, 360 style, with 4 action buttons for the right thumb and start / select / home function buttons to the left. Shoulder triggers are situated just right for you index fingers. The centre of the controller features a clip that flips up to hold your phone – this extends with a spring loaded arm so devices up to 82mm wide can be held in landscape orientation.
The build quality is very high for such a cheap unit – at just 30 quid I wasn’t expecting a particularly high finish but I was very pleasantly surprised. The controller itself has a very decent feel in the hand and I didn’t get the kind of hand cramp I normally do when holding my Nexus 4 in landscape for a length of time. The weight is just about right too, counterbalancing the phone perched on top well. There are two major downsides to construction though, which likely stem from the low price point.
First off is the lack of a digital directional pad. Sure enough ‘modern’ games don’t often use the pad as a core part of gameplay, however the extra buttons make mapping useful shortcuts or commands easy and digital input is a much preferred input method in more casual style gaming or the kind of 2D gaming that a lot of indies produce. In fact, the Pocket’s two free games, Sonic CD and Pacman, are perfect examples of where a d-pad would be better than an analog stick. Whilst the sticks work, the delay introduced makes for a less than seamless experience.
My second issue is with the sticks themselves. They are quite stiff and not particularly responsive. In what I assume is an attempt to keep the size down, the sticks are stubby little things on a slider, similar in appearance to the Nintendo 3DS analog pad, but not at that level of engineering. The end result is again something that works, but is not stellar in performance. How well they suit will depend on the games you choose to play. I tried out the free to play multiplayer FPS ShadowGun: Dead Zone and after some sensitivity tweaking in the game’s settings was hitting headshots from across the arena. This can’t be said for other games though. GTA Vice City was rendered almost unplayable with the lack of stick sensitivity causing me to either barely steer or over dramatically swerve when driving. Also with only two shoulder buttons there was also no mapping for the handbrake – vital for decent GTA gameplay. You get what you pay for here and at 30 notes you can’t expect miracles from the hardware. The slightly more expensive Moga Pro features a d-pad, two extra shoulder buttons and full thumbsticks, which according to reports I’ve read are far more responsive and so is definitely the choice for the avid gamer. The trade off for size though makes the Pro much more of a home unit than this portable accessory.
Battery life is the final talking point. Pocket requires two AAA batteries to run (not included), unlike the USB rechargeable Pro. This isn’t a killer, as anyone who remembers the days of pre-DS Nintendo handhelds can attest to, plus investment in rechargeable AAAs is always an option. It is a bit of a disappointment, although this decision probably went some way to keeping the production costs down. With two brand new Duracells I didn’t drain the Pocket during my testing and got a good number of hours during my playtime. Pocket does enter a sleep mode after about 10 minutes of inactivity which can also go some way to avoiding battery drain.
The Moga Pocket certainly fills a niche, the need for better input for mobile games when you are actually on the move. If you’re invested in modern mobile gaming or are looking to get into it with some new purchases, then it’s difficult to recommend the Moga Pocket for regular play unless you are likely to find yourself in situations away from home such as train commuting or perhaps on holiday. The main reason for this is that Pocket’s bigger brother Pro offers so much more quality and better game support with extra button mapping for very little extra cost. That said you could always get both! Pocket exceeds expectations for this price point and admittedly does exactly what it says on the tin so if you think it’s for you then it has my stamp of approval. Moga Pocket for Android can be ordered from Clove HERE for £29.99 + shipping