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This 8-Bit Life | September 30, 2016

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REVIEW: MOGA Mobile Gaming Controller - This 8-Bit Life

Leland Flynn

Review Overview

Build Quality
Battery Life


I have played with and reviewed more than a few gaming controllers for mobile devices, and each has had their own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve recently spent some time with the PowerA’s MOGA Mobile Gaming controller and while I can say that it is no exception to this rule, it is certainly the best I have seen yet.

Design and Build Quality

One of the first things you will notice about the MOGA is that it is a surprisingly attractive device when you consider the state of other mobile phone peripherals. Its shape might be just a touch uninspired but I get the sense that some form was sacrificed for function, which is always more important in my opinion. The color scheme of black and orange is also not particularly my favorite but it is not without its charm.

What I am most impressed with here though is the build quality of the device. The body of the controller is made of a durable feeling plastic that handled a decent amount of punishment from me without displaying many signs of it. It sat comfortably in my hand; contrary to my expectations upon seeing it for the first time. The rubberized plastic back did a good job of minimizing slippage during play as well.

The thumbsticks of the controller are no exception to PowerA’s rule of quality here either. The slider pads feel quite responsive when moving a character on screen though I did have a few drifting issues when trying to emulate a digital d-pad for some particular games. The face and shoulder buttons are quite good as well. They all have very little travel when pushing them and do not feel soft or mushy as can sometimes be the case even with console controllers. I would prefer that they were slightly larger for comfort’s sake but overall they worked very well.

The hinge and cradle are also of a better quality than I would expect from a phone peripheral. The hinge locks into place in two different positions with an assuring click and the cradle retracts with just enough force that you can easily insert your phone and still actually use the controller without fearing for your phone’s safety. To protect your investment the cradle even has rubber pads to hold the phone in place without scratching it up. The hinge itself does leave something to be desired with regard to viewing angle. The hinge will only lock to the 90° and 120° positions. This causes me to angle the controller back just slightly to make the viewing angle comfortable.

To transport your new controller in style, PowerA packs in a faux leather pounch with a collapsable mouth to keep everything tucked away. Usually any pack-ins with items like this are about as worthless as the packaging you just tore open. I brought this controller with me to quite a few places over the past week and most of the time I was sure to keep it in this pouch because it actually did a really good job of protecting it.

Software and Functionality

I wish I had more room to write about this here, as I could write an entire essay on what it means to bring a product to market that is half-baked. I will sing the praises of this device until I find something better, but I simply can’t forgive the software that comes with it.

To use your MOGA controller you will first have to download the MOGA Pivot app from the Google Play store. The app itself is a non-offensive bit of marketing for the most part. It installs a driver and service on your phone that will listen for the bluetooth controller, pair the phone to it, and get you up and running easily.

The app also gives you a list of compatible games that you can buy from the Google Play store. Unfortunately, if you had already purchased a compatible game previously, you cannot play that game with the controller through this app. You have to leave the app and start a game independent of it. Not a tragedy to be sure but it would have been nice to be able to build a list of the games you already have that are compatible.

The software also has no options for customizing controls globally, let alone for specific games. What you get out of the box with this app is a very limited experience. So limited in fact that I was initially disappointed in my purchase of the controller and considered taking it back. Perhaps if the compatible software selection had been better and it had some sort of configuration options I may have felt different.

Not being one to give up on a good concept, I started looking around for options to use the controller as a standard input device for my phone. Within a few minutes of searching I found a third party app that utilized the service and driver that were previously installed by the Pivot app. It allowed for use of the controller with pretty much any game or emulator I could find that had controller support along with many other excellent features. I was ecstatic, I loved the controller and now I could actually use it for the things I had intended to use it for! Only one catch, I had to root my phone to do it.

I should preface here, I try to test all products like this in as clean an environment as possible. So I tested this on a Samsung Galaxy S3 that I temporarily re-flashed back to stock. Most Android users will know that rooting your phone is not typically a difficult process and does not normally take much time at all. This is not my issue. My concern is that the average user should not have to got to such great lengths in order to make their purchase function in a reasonable fashion. I love hacking on my devices, but most people will not. Most people will simply return it to the store.

Gameplay and Use

I was thoroughly impressed with how well this controller performed. Even in the most fast-paced of games I could find it always felt responsive to button presses and joystick movements. I never felt any control issues when playing games from the compatible list, though I did have some movement drift problems with a specific emulator. I would have liked a bit more range of motion in the joysticks as I felt their limited radius hampered my play just slightly, but I also don’t expect competition quality from a product like this.

One of the best use cases for this controller are first-person shooters. Playing dual-stick games with on-screen controls is not quite as bad as it used to be, but it’s still quite miserable. I played many levels of N.O.V.A. 3 (FPS) and Wild Blood (Action RPG) with this controller and it honestly felt like playing a modern gaming portable.

I found myself bringing the controller with me quite a lot when I left the house. Standing in line to pay for my items during the madness that is Black Friday I found it a lot of fun to play some Tekken 3 and even got in a few missions on Dead Trigger. This was the real value of the MOGA for me, being able to pass the time with good games and being able to interact with them in an enjoyable way.

As for battery life, I generally do not have any complaints. I have been using the controller for well over 10 hours total and have not had to change the batteries once. Now we come to another bittersweet detail. Sure the manufacturer advertises that the device gets up to 18 hours of play on 2 AAA batteries, but aside from hitting a price point, I can’t think of any good reasons for this to rely on removable batteries. A longer battery life, more compact design, and more environmentally friendly option could all have been achieved with a built-in rechargable.

Final Thoughts

I really love this product as a hardware solution to many mobile gaming problems. The software is, in a word, inexcusable. But there is room for improvement here. Because the issue exists purely in software, there may yet be revisions that add the functionality the MOGA desperately needs out of the box. The real magic of this device is in having a rooted phone, the third party app I previously mentioned (MOGA Universal Driver), and a few emulators loaded with *ahem* backups of all your old favorites. I had a blast playing through Megaman X2 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on here.

PS Vita this is not, but the MOGA adds a whole new level of possibility for any Android phone with Bluetooth and a decent GPU. If you’re not okay with rooting your phone I would say that buying this device is a tough call. It has an acceptable game selection but, that will likely never grow and its functionality will be severely limited. If you are alright with rooting your device, like a real geek, then you should already be on the way to the store to buy one!

Like the review? Have a comment for me or a question about the controller? Be sure to leave a comment below!

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