Razer Clever design, lack of Bluetooth makes this as phone gamepad winner
What does it take for a phone-compatible gamepad to get our attention in 2020, in a world where pretty much every Bluetooth-compatible game controller can connect to your favorite iOS or Android phone? At this year’s CES, Razer has the answer: a controller that may boost the cloud-streaming proposition of “triple-A gaming anytime, anywhere.”
The Razer Kishi, announced Tuesday at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, arguably doesn’t look special. It features the same array of joysticks, buttons, and triggers you’ll find on most consumer-grade game controllers. Its trick of splitting in half and sandwiching a smartphone has been done before—with Razer already having its own Junglecat controller, which does just that.
But the Kishi adds a rare combination for this kind of gamepad: a flush fit to your smartphone of choice and a wired connection.
This works by connecting to your phone’s bottom charging port, which means you’ll either need an iOS device or an Android phone with a USB Type-C port positioned in the center of one of its sides. (Razer will eventually sell two versions of the Kishi, one with a Lightning connector and one with USB Type-C.) We haven’t received exact dimensions yet, but the device’s CES tests have revolved around the Pixel 3a XL, which has a 76mm width and 8.2mm depth. As shown with a Pixel 3a XL, the Kishi appears to fit snugly, mostly because it relies on an elastic band on its backside to fit the controller’s two halves against a phone. We’ll have to wait to see whether smaller devices will enjoy a similarly tight fit or if the Kishi will slip and slide while attached to smaller phones.
Less Bluetooth in the cloud?
Even with question marks attached, we’re intrigued because Razer’s new device, slated to launch in “early 2020,” is the least cluttered wired-to-a-phone gamepad we’ve ever seen. In a cloud-gaming era, that matters.
While testing early gaming-on-the-cloud services, particularly Google Stadia and Microsoft’s Project xCloud, we’ve run into lag issues when testing triple-A games with Bluetooth controllers on smartphones. Last month, the testing wizards at Digital Foundry confirmed our suspicions about Bluetooth controllers throwing up extra frames of latency. But that analysis was inconclusive, owing to Project xCloud’s early public testing app not yet supporting wired controllers. We’ve seen controllers connected via wires to smartphones at Google and Microsoft press events, which leads us to believe wider wired-controller support is coming to these services, and that will likely make the difference in latency. Every millisecond counts when streaming a triple-A gaming experience via the cloud to (and from) a smartphone, and Bluetooth doesn’t help.
Once xCloud gets a wired-controller update, the best solution will be to attach a plastic controller clip to your favorite gaming controller, so that your phone screen is stably held up, then add a dangling wire to connect that controller to your phone. That’s an annoying-but-doable option for home use, but it’s a much tougher proposition of controller, clip, and cable to toss into a bag on the go.
Kishi, on the other hand, snaps together when not in use, resulting in a pretty small hunk of plastic for porting around in a backpack. It also includes a connector pass through for the sake of keeping its connected phone plugged into power, which is a necessary evil while a cloud-gaming session drains your phone’s battery. Sadly, this is a very CES-style reveal, without a price attached or a release date, but Razer’s experience with strapped-to-phone controllers makes us hopeful that the Kishi won’t feel “first-gen” when it launches later this year.