Moga Android controller re-ups mobile gaming

This gaming accessory has it all, including two analog joysticks, shoulder buttons, and an adjustable arm to secure your smartphone for some heavy gameplay.

Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

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Moga Bluetooth Controller revs up Android gaming
Watch this: Moga Bluetooth Controller revs up Android gaming

SAN DIEGO--Full disclosure: I am not a gamer. Yet every once in a while, an accessory comes around that make the mercury on my cool-meter rise. The Moga Bluetooth Controller, spotted at MobileCon, is one such device. With it, you'll be able to play more-sophisticated mobile games console-style, without tilting the device to make your player move, or gumming up your screen with your finger.

Hardware and design
A battery-powered accessory, the controller looks and feels like it's part of a console system. It features two analog joystick controls, two bays of round buttons on the front, and left and right shoulder buttons that perfectly fit a hooked finger. A tactile, rubberized coating slashed with grooves makes the Moga grippable, and deep curves lend a comfortable, ergonomic in-hand feel.

Moga Bluetooth Controller makes Android gaming real (pictures)

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The Moga controller is compatible with any Android device running version 2.3 Gingerbread and above, and you'll pair your device via Bluetooth. For tablets, you leave the Moga as is and go on your merry way. If you have a smartphone, out comes the adjustable arm, which clamps down on the top of the phone to keep it from sliding around. I shifted the phone from side to side and didn't feel it budge. Slippage would be a serious problem for the Moga.

Two 1.5-volt AAA batteries is all it takes to power the Moga for 18 hours of gameplay, so serious gamers will want to lay in a supply. As affordable and convenient as AAA batteries are, I'd love to see a rechargeable device -- however, I'm not sure I'd like the reality as well if it hiked up the Moga's price.

I tested the Moga Bluetooth Controller with a few rounds of the Need for Speed car-racing game on a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 for T-Mobile. Gameplay was immersive and natural. Buttons bounce back, and the analog controls slide easily.

Moga Bluetooth Controller
The Moga controller here has just about everything you need to turn your smartphone into a "real" gaming device. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The end result is that holding the Moga controller feels as natural as if you're standing in front of a console; that is, you hardly realize you're only inches away from your screen, rather than feet.

Of course, the more powerful your device, the smoother the graphics. As we move into more quad-core smartphone processing with phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, LG Optimus G, and HTC One X+, we'll start to see mobile gaming rise to a whole new level, joining existing quad-core and speedy dual-core tablets.

When we get a review unit, we'll have to test the controller's sensitivity on games that require more precision than a driving title.

Availability and outlook
You can preorder the Moga controller online now for $49.99 and you'll get it near its October 22 launch date. T-Mobile also announced that it'd sell it as an accessory in retail stores. There's no launch date or price for that yet, but I'd assume it would be on par with the manufacturer's price and that it would also arrive in time for the holiday rush.

How will people use it? I can foresee a few scenarios. Mostly, it'll be used at home in a casual way by a gamer who will snap in a phone or prop up a tablet to play. There are people who will use it for vacation travel, and by kids and teens on car trips and family events. However, the controller isn't going to be as portable as the smartphone or tablet on its own, and you'll hardly see someone reaching into his or her satchel to pull it out on the bus.

Smartphone controllers aren't new, but they also haven't taken off. I remember feeling the same giddiness when I first saw the Zeemote JSP controller for feature phones. Now, however, devices have reached the right level of maturity for Moga-maker PowerA to make a move, and maybe some cash.