Today I’m doing a roundup of Bluetooth gaming controllers that play friendly with Android, specifically the Galaxy Note 2. I’ll be comparing controllers from Gametel, ThinkGeek/iCade, SteelSeries, and a natively supported option from Sony. Noticeably absent from the list will be the MOGA from powerA, for whatever reason, PowerA didn’t respond to my requests for them to be included in a comparison with their MOGA controller. The company is either having troubles or releasing a new product at CES because they just had a fire sale were they sold out of there MOGA controllers with a shipping only sale. A big thanks to all the companies that sent units out to evaluate.
We’ll be looking at design, out of the box game compatibility, battery life, size, and ease of use. To start though, a quick rundown of controller and its key selling points.
Fructel Gametel: available for $29.99 from Amazon.com
2nd smallest, rechargeable, built in holder for up to 4” devices, app in Google play store
ThinkGeek and iCade’s 8bitty: available for $29.99 exclusively from ThinkGeek
Stylish, classic NES layout, 2 AAA batteries for power (not included), Mame4droid specific compatibility
SteelSeries FREE: available for $79.99 on Steelseries.com
Smallest in comparison, dual joysticks, rechargeable, app in Google play store
Honorable mention (I couldn’t test this because I do not currently have an OTG cable)
PlayStation 3 wireless controller: available for $27.01 on overstock.com, but you might already own one!
Familiar to most, rechargeable, natively supported in newer android phones
Style/ Design: 8bitty wins!
It’s hard to beat nostalgia once you pass your 25th birthday or so. The 8bitty looks feels and is inspired by the classic original NES controller. It’s a plain plastic rectangle with the same iconic button placement that makes you remember the bros. Mario, power rangers, and teenage mutant ninja turtles. It adds to the nostalgia with some wood grain stickers lining the edge which reminds you of the old wood panel-walled family room at your grandma’s house. The 8 bitty takes it here because in a world of modern curves and matte black finishes, there IS room for a couple warm memories.
Game Compatibility: Gametel wins!
As far as android goes, these are all meant for emulators really. Regular game compatibility is decent but not enough top titles can accommodate these to make something like the 80 dollar steelseries free a viable option at this point. Compatibility is definitely better than iOS but still lacking. A standard needs to be established so all the android devs can get on the same page. The zeemote standard is gaining momentum but something clear and to the point needs to happen. Until then, most games won’t work without a lot of work on your part or at all for that matter.
Battery Life: Steelseries Free Wins!
Gametel is rechargeable through micro usb and boasts 9 hours battery life (which seemed right on)
8 Bitty uses 2 AAA batteries and doesn’t have an official battery life (I’ve tested 8 hours so far and I’ve yet to change them out)
SteelSeries Free is also rechargeable through micro usb and it boasts 10 hours of nonstop play (that also held up in testing)
The gametel and steelseries are tied up on functionality here, with the free just inching past. To be completely honest though, this category said a lot about why I can’t recommend the 8 bitty. The 8 bitty is a disappointment considering today’s mobile gaming standards. It is non-rechargeable, it doesn’t include the batteries that it needs, AND the battery door requires a screwdriver to remove. These choices just perplex me and it’s just unacceptable to be frank. You’d think that the 8 bitty was made by Duracell or energizer? Though the 8 bitty does have a power save mode feature to preserve battery life, rechargeable is a necessity here.
Size and Build: Steelseries free wins!
The free is the smallest of the bunch here; it is precisely engineered to pack a lot into its small package. Not the least of which is it’s rare in the field dual analog joysticks. The Gametel is slightly smaller than the 8 bitty but the gametel includes the built in phone holder. The Steelseries just feels solid. The buttons and joysticks have the right resistance. The gametel feels fine in the hand but the plastic feels cheap and breakable. The 8 bitty is great for nostalgia, but the boxy controller quickly starts to feel awkward in your hand.
Ease of use: Gametel wins!
The included gametel app on the play store has a section with compatible apps, you can quickly click and you’re linked right to the play store to download. Unfortunately a lot of the apps are out of date and show up as failed searches. Also, the Gametel’s built in phone holder works well and as long as your phone is 4″ wide or less you’re going to enjoy this feature a lot.
here’s a video of the holder in use.
Wild Card: Steelseries Free Wins!
You can just tell that so much more engineering and time was put into the free than most any option available on the market. The downside of this is that it’s almost triple the price of its competitors. During actual gameplay though, the free gave me the most faithful recreation of console gaming in emulator apps. At the end of the day, that’s what these are for. App developers are designing games to take advantage of touchscreens, stick with the emulators.
The overall best Android Bluetooth gaming controller in this review is…
The Steelseries Free!!!
If you spent a couple weeks with all three of these controllers you would see that they are very much the same in a lot of categories, but regardless, you’d still reach for the Free. If money isn’t an issue, grab the free and improve your emulator gameplay tenfold. The gametel’s d-pad is just too loose and during gameplay on racing games it can become unwieldy so second choice goes to the 8 bitty. Again, all the controllers have similarities and some of this will be personal preference, but the Free was just the easiest to start playing and keep playing with. Also, since it’s the smallest controller I reviewed, it easily fits in your pocket next to your gigantic Galaxy Note 2 for impromptu gaming on the go.