Gaming on phones and tablets isn't just about the touchscreen any more – thanks to more powerful processors, we can now play console-quality games on our mobile devices. And entertaining as touchscreen games are, there are some games – particularly console ports like the forthcoming Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – that really benefit from physical controls.
Lugging around an Xbox 360 controller with your phone is a bit counterintuitive, though – so a host of companies have launched compact Bluetooth controllers for phones and tablets. Now Nyko's thrown its hat into the ring with the Tegra-endorsed PlayPad – but is it a small wonder?
Nyko PlayPad for Android review – design and build
Pop the PlayPad out of the box and the first thing you notice is that it's dinky – about the same lengthwise as an iPhone 5. It's lightweight, too – even packed away in the rather bulky carry case. Button placement on the PlayPad is comfortable, considering its size, and it's covered in a grip-friendly rubberised finish. And unlike most Bluetooth gamepads, the PlayPad serves up the full complement of Xbox controls – dual analogue thumb sliders, a D-pad, two sets of triggers and four buttons.
Nyko PlayPad for Android review – set-up
Nyko's teamed up with Tegra to ensure that games from its Tegrazone Android app store will work out of the box – and that the controller has all the buttons you'll need to play games like GTA III and Shadowgun.
Pairing the Bluetooth controller up with our Transformer Prime was a cinch, and sure enough, Grand Theft Auto III and Riptide GT played fine out of the box on our Asus Transformer Prime – though Shadowgun required a bit of fiddling to set up the controls.
Nyko PlayPad for Android review – gaming
The PlayPad is never going to best a full-size controller in the comfort stakes – it's a little cramped for long gaming sessions, and the trigger buttons are slightly awkwardly placed. For mobile gaming, though, it's streets ahead of touchscreen controls. GTA III and Riptide HD played like a dream – the analogue circle pads adding a physical resistance to the controls that you just don't get with a touchscreen.
Those circle pads aren't perfect, though – compared to the smooth rubberised pads found on Nintendo's 3DS, they feel a bit loose – and the four raised bumps on top look like they'll quickly cause blisters. Their limitations became painfully apparent during a playthrough of Shadowgun, delivering awkward, jerky movements on screen and making targeting tricky.
Nyko PlayPad for Android review – extra features
Nyko has created the free Nyko Playground app, which lets you re-map controls for supported games and create new control setups for unsupported games. Currently in beta, the app's a little clunky to use at the moment – you have to unpair your PlayPad and re-pair it through the app to use it. A future update will, Nyko promises, add the ability to map touchscreen gestures and controls onto the PlayPad.
The controller also features a mouse control mode – which we can't see getting much use, but it's a nice thought.
Nyko PlayPad for Android review – accessories
Packed inside that plus-size case, you get a handy phone stand – which folds out to support heavy tablets, and the world's most absurd micro USB charger.
Yes, we see why Nyko went for the more compact option – most Android gamers will have a micro USB cable knocking around somewhere anyway – but the tiny connector leaves your PlayPad hanging perilously from any USB ports it's connected to.
Nyko PlayPad for Android review – iOS
The PlayPad can be used for some iOS games – with some limitations compared to Android. Flick the switch on top to iCade mode and you can pair the controller with your iPhone or iPad and use it with any iCade supported iOS game. Sadly, that means A-list games like GTA III or N.O.V.A. 3 are off-limits - but there are plenty of retro arcade titles available. As we've said before, Apple needs to up its game with regard to physical controllers.
Nyko PlayPad for Android review – verdict
The Nyko PlayPad is a massive improvement over touchscreen controls – particularly on console ports like GTA III. We like its compact frame, its dual-trigger control layout, and its out of the box support for Tegrazone games in particular. But those floppy analogue pads let the side down. Fix them, and the PlayPad 2 will be an essential purchase for Android gamers.
Review by Stephen Graves