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Amazon Luna Controller hands-on: Console gaming almost anywhere

Amazon's new cloud-connected game controller gets a lot right.

Rich Brown/CNET

The game selection for Amazon's Luna gaming service might be thin, but there's a lot to like about the Luna Controller, the Wi-Fi connected, console-style gamepad Amazon sells as a Luna accessory. Luna, which is still invitation-only, allows you to stream games to any PC or Mac computer, an iPhone, iPad or Fire TV-equipped television. You don't need Amazon's controller to play on Luna, but the Luna controller does a good job keeping your gameplay in sync with your input. It's especially useful if you think you'll move between screens often.

Luna, announced this September, is Amazon's attempt to compete with similar gaming services from Google, Microsoft, Sony and Nvidia. The idea is to entice gamers into a recurring revenue stream by asking them to subscribe to a service that will often let them play a large library of new and old gaming titles on hardware that might not otherwise be up to the job. 

You need an early-access invitation to both join the Luna service and to buy the $50 Luna controller. I received an invitation to Luna after registering the day it was announced. Once I accepted the invite, Amazon sent me a link to buy the controller. (Luna is currently only available in the US, but $50 converts to about £40 or AU$70.)

The controller hardware itself is competently designed. Of all the new gamepads out there, the Luna's design hews closest to that of the most recent edition of Microsoft's Xbox Wireless Controller, with the standard pair of thumb sticks offset by a direction pad in between them. There are also four shoulder buttons and three small buttons, which are situated around a larger button in the center.


Controller comparison, clockwise from upper left: Amazon Luna, PlayStation DualShock 4, PlayStation DualSense, Microsoft Xbox Core.

Rich Brown/CNET

The lower shoulder buttons on Microsoft's controller have a more ergonomic taper, but overall the two controllers look and feel similar. There's only a 2.9-gram difference between them in overall weight with a pair of AA batteries installed. The Luna controller comes in at 281.5 grams versus a marginally heavier 284.4 grams for the Xbox gamepad. 

The Luna controller isn't unique in terms of how it feels in your hands, or in its ability to connect to a PC, an iOS device or a Fire TV. Its Wi-Fi connection is what stands out: It's the easiest way to set it up and move between devices. 

Rich Brown/CNET

I set up the Luna controller with my iPhone. You just download the app, register your account information, hit the button in the center of the controller to put it into Wi-Fi discovery mode and you're done. Once it's on your local wireless network, anytime you log into the Luna app on the same network, the two will recognize each other and you're off, regardless of the device you use to play on. There's no re-pairing process like you need to worry about with Bluetooth. You can start playing Luna on your computer, shut it down and restart on your phone for a relatively seamless transfer between screens.

The Wi-Fi controller did a good job keeping my input in sync with the action on-screen, even amid a notification that my wireless signal was weak. You can connect the Luna controller with Bluetooth or a USB-C cable to conserve battery life, and in those modes you can also use it like any other third-party gamepad for Windows, iOS or Fire TV. After about two hours of gaming on Luna via Wi-Fi, the battery level indicator dipped down by what looked like about 10%. 

As a regular gamepad, Amazon's new Luna controller is competitive among other Bluetooth models or wired models. The Luna streaming service support and its ability to work almost anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection make it that much more appealing.