Hardcore gaming on mobile isn’t easy. Touch screens, it turns out, just aren’t very conducive to dominating death matches or besting fellow racers. That’s why the rise of smartphone and tablet titles largely coincided with the growth in popularity of third-party Bluetooth controllers, which aimed to bring some semblance of precision to first-person shooters and other genres on mobile. The accessories are now ubiquitous — a cursory search on Amazon alone yields 20 pages of results.
So why is Satechi, a San Diego-based company best known for mini routers, desk lamps, and USB-powered fans, putting out a Bluetooth game controller of its own? Because the firm thinks its new mobile accessory, called simply the Satechi gamepad, is more than the sum of its parts.
The gamepad, which looks a bit like an Xbox 360 controller, features an array of buttons and triggers to push and prod. It’s got twin joysticks, one on the left above a tactile directional pad and one below a cross-shaped arrangement of four buttons (labeled X, Y, B, and A), and five switches in the center for cycling between modes (more on those later) and for initiating pairing.
But every third-party wireless controller has buttons, you might be thinking. Not every gamepad, though, has a spring holder: press a release on the back of the Satechi gamepad and a mounting grip for your smartphone emerges. The concept of a grip may not be entirely unique, but the one on the gamepad seems well-executed: it extends several inches in length and, when not in use, sits flush with the rear of the controller.
Modes are the Satechi gamepad’s other differentiator. A special Joystick mode places the inputs in a remappable state, letting you pair the gamepad as a generic wireless peripheral to a Windows-based machine. Cade mode, meanwhile, is programmed specifically for the emulator-powered iCade arcade cabinet for iOS devices — the gamepad ships with pre-defined profiles for games like Pac-Man, Asteroids, Centipede, and Battlezone. And Android mode, as you might expect, puts the controller in a state compatible with Android phones, tablets, and set-top boxes.
The gamepad’s powered by a 220 mAh non-removable battery, and it’s got a power-saving sleep mode for those times when you’re far from a charger. The estimated range is 23 feet — plenty for mobile gaming and just about good enough for living room couch usage, in our estimation.
The Satechi gamepad retails for $34.99, which is comparable to other controllers in its category. It’s available in one color, black, through Satechi’s website and Amazon, and is presently discounted a few bucks on the latter.