Got an Andoid phone? Wish you had an Xperia Play instead of the touchscreen fumbling that accompanies most handsets? Swedish developer Fructel has heard your cry and they’ve introduced us to Gametel, a bluetooth game controller that clips onto the bottom of your phone and packs away easily for storage. As a handy bonus, even those of you with Apple devices can use it too, although in a somewhat stunted capacity.
Let’s be honest here, I’m not going to be the first person to assume that the Gametel would be fairly cheap to handle, and a decade of third-party controllers and peripherals would back that up in a heartbeat. To my surprise however, it’s not that bad at all, with a fairly weighty design matched with some medium-grade plastic construction and robust operation from its spring-loaded phone clip.
To operate the device you need to pull that clip up from the back of the unit, open two plastic ‘jaws’ and then slide your phone into position. The force from the spring keeps your phone nestled firmly, and even when in use for a couple of hours I only noticed a small degree of slippage – which was easily corrected by simply moving the phone back into position. It feels, unsurprisingly, much like an Xperia Play or a PSP Go when clipped to your phone in landscape mode.
The face controls consist of a rocker-style directional pad with four action buttons and a smaller start and select, whilst two shoulder buttons complete the lineup. Although hardly up to the standards set by a dedicated handheld console, the button action is nevertheless fairly pleasing, with the four-way directional pad responsive and fast enough to be usable. Indeed, the only truly disappointing features are the two shoulder buttons which are difficult to access once your phone is in place. They also have a fairly short depth, which makes using them somewhat less than satisfactory.
It’s not a premium device by any means then, but it’s a far cry from the offensive mess that you might expect from the packaging, which is cheap and gaudy. There’s only the controller and an instruction sheet to be found inside, with no charger or even a USB cable included for your money. The rationale here is that seemingly that everybody with an Android device will already have the micro-USB lead required, but that’s a bit of a cop-out, and the least you’d expect from any product is to have everything included to get it up and running.
After a swift couple of hours on charge, setting up the Gametel with your Android device couldn’t be simpler. You’ll need to download the Gametel app, load it up, hold the start button for a couple of seconds and then pair it to your phone. The process on iOS is also similar, with the Gametel setting itself to iCade mode, for those of you familiar with the mini arcade cabinet unit. To turn it on in the future, you just hold down the start button and then select the Gametel input device when it flashes up on your screen.
Although emulators and retro software are the primary force behind the controller layout, if you’re after a modern game then the Gametel app is a decent place to start looking. There are over 50 titles listed here that have been tested as functional with the controller, although there seem to be a fair few more that will work with a bit of configuration. Unsurprisingly, playing each of them is a mixed bag, with the simpler Canabalt and Temple Run clones working out well, and more complex titles such as Edge becoming a rather frustrating mess.
Although the analogue controls of the Xperia Play are conspicuously absent from the Gametel, it’s nevertheless a decent stab at getting controls right for emulated systems, and it’s here that the controller does its best work. Playing old Gameboy, NES, MegaDrive or SNES titles work extremely well on the Gametel, with the caveat of those terrible triggers. The directional pad can be cajoled into working well for the most part, although again it would have been nice to have seen a somewhat more comprehensive eight-way setup there.
As for battery life, there’s not much to complain about. It’s rated at 9 hours on the official documentation, and it certainly lasts for something approaching that margin. Indeed my phone battery turned out to be the larger problem, as keeping Bluetooth interactivity going for a couple of hours completely drained the charge.
The Gametel is a decent stab at getting a bluetooth solution up and running for those of us without the Xperia Play, but it’s not without faults. Although it functions as advertised and I never encountered any serious issues, it’s also a controller that leaves you wanting something slightly better. Something of a more premium build quality perhaps, or with more attention paid to the shoulder buttons and directional pad, or perhaps squeezing a couple of analogue nubs into the layout somewhere to take into account modern titles.
What’s there functions perfectly well though, and if you play a lot of old Gameboy, Arcade, MegaDrive or NES games on your phone, then it’s a perfectly decent companion to throw into your bag for a daily commute or a long trip. The small form factor makes it easy to carry, and the nicely balanced weight makes it relatively comfortable for longer gaming sessions.
Not bad then, but there’s certainly room for improvement in the Bluetooth controller marker.