Nyko PlayPad Pro Review: Dual Analog for the Android Gaming Fan
Nyko’s PlayPad Pro comes to us as a means of playing Android games on your phone or tablet by way of traditional controller. The controller requires Android 3.0 or higher, and comes in a few varieties; a black or white “PlayPad” that closely resembles the shape of the Wii’s Classic Controller, and the “PlayPad Pro,” which is more akin to the Xbox 360 or WiiU Pro Controllers. The three controllers are shown, respectively, to the right. We got our hands on the latter.
First and foremost, note that controller compatibility is in the game developer’s hands. There are many different kinds of controllers for Android, but they are only guaranteed to be usable when the developer of the individual game has allowed for it. Fortunately, most games do support bluetooth controllers. Many work automatically, while some require tweaking controls in the options menu. However, there are still a few major players that do not support controllers like the PlayPad Pro, Gameloft being one of them. Why, we can only guess. But if you had hopes of playing the likes of NOVA 3 with true, dual analog FPS controls- forget about it. Minecraft: Pocket Edition and several of EA’s games are in the same boat, sadly. Worth noting as well is that the controller is also compatible with iOS devices, but is only optimized for “iCade” games. While this is not Nyko’s fault in any way, we would be remiss not to mention it up front. Hopefully these developers will pull things together and get controller support rolling for the system as alternative means of playing become available and more popular. Be sure to look up your game’s compatibility before purchasing.
The controller itself is very, very sturdy. The two halves of the body fit well together, are a good weight, and are covered in a matte finish that helps the PlayPad Pro shy away from that “cheap” feeling that a lot of third party controllers have. It fits very nicely in medium-sized hands, and all buttons are within reasonable, comfortable reaching distance. In general, the buttons and d-pad have a nice click to them, but they also have a lot of resistance that requires a decent amount of force to depress them. The only exceptions to this are the L1 and R1 shoulder buttons, which are on the squishy side of things. The resistance of the triggers below them is absolutely perfect, however, and is our favorite feature of the controller. Pulling them back to fire feels great.
The analog sticks, which feature asymmetrical placement, are often one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a controller. While the sticks in the PlayPad Pro are certainly usable and far from terrible, there are a few gripes to be had. They are “clickable,” but have an extremely hard click that makes a significant amount of noise. They also feel extremely tall due to their concave design- the lip of the bowl is thick and high. Finally, they have a significant amount of resistance and a fairly large dead zone that prevent super-precise control at the smallest level. All of these gripes given, the analog sticks are still good enough to get the job done- they just are not as fined tuned as the sticks on the PS3 and 360 controllers. At any rate, they are an improvement over touch controls when it comes to games that make use of dual analog.
In terms of performance and connectivity, the PlayPad Pro is great. The controller charges via USB, and battery life has been great thus far. Syncing to the Android device’s bluetooth and setting it up as a keyboard takes no time at all. From there, Android is mostly navigable with the controller by use of d-pad and buttons. There is also a switch on the back that allows for “mouse” mode, which will cause a cursor to appear. The cursor can be used to accomplish tasks with the OS, though perhaps without the precision of the touch interface. This mode is also used for games that are designed specifically for touch, like Jetpack Joyride. This is not the best way to play those games, but the option is there. Where the controller really shines is for playing games that are, well, designed for a controller. The Conduit, Dead Trigger, Grand Theft Auto III, Shadowgun, Sonic CD, and Sonic 4 all played well on our Nexus 7 with the PlayPad Pro. Input lag was not noticeable, and the games were a blast to play with a real controller.
For games that do not have optimal control setups, Nyko also has an app called “Nyko Playground” that allows players to create customized control layouts for individual games. The program is still labeled as a “Beta” long after release, is not easy to use or navigate, nor does it allow customization for games that do not support controllers in the first place. We did not really find a use for it, but it is there as a free download for those with the patience to customize their controls in the way that the games themselves do not allow. We also tried GameKeyboard, the tried and true app to optimize any game for Xperia Play controls, but it caused some soft-freezes with games like Minecraft. The bluetooth and HID compatibility with this app is still under construction.
All in all, the PlayPad Pro is a solid piece of hardware that accomplishes its goal handily. The analog sticks could use some revision in potential future iterations of the product. But for now, the PlayPad Pro gets the job done for tablet and phone gamers that want to play their Android games with physical buttons. The PlayPad Pro is available now, retails for $39.99, and can be found in some stores for $29.99.