Gamepads for mobile phones are not something new, but the moto gamepad for the Motorola Moto Z Play family of devices is something else. It fits so well onto the phone that the player’s experience is seamless and completely unobtrusive.
Motorola is not the first company to figure out that some games on mobile phones are played better with a gamepad. The regular touchscreen controls are not ideal, in most cases, but it’s pretty much all that’s available, and people adapted to this terrible control scheme.
Companies have been trying to reinvent the wheel with some bizarre inventions, like using the internal sensors of the phone in car racing titles. Tilting the entire phone to make a turn sounds interesting until you try it, and it's anything but intuitive. Not to mention that fact that it makes you look stupid while playing.
Finding a more natural input scheme is desirable, but that's not easy when using small devices. We also have to keep in mind that most phones are using some form of Android, and that means that support for some stuff is already implemented.
There is a big debate right now about using a keyboard and mouse in games such as Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG). These games recently expanded to phones, so they had to adapt to the clunky touch interface that’s available to everyone. But since they are pretty much similar with the regular PC counterparts, they still retain the support for mouse and keyboard.
And since we already know that Android also has support for mouse and keyboard, using those sounds like a perfect combination. Sure, it’s weird to be using such big devices on a small phone, but it works. And it works so well that other people that can’t do this are calling all the other cheaters.
The reason for that is that mouse and keyboard are so much better than regular controls that regular players with just a touchscreen don't stand a chance. But if we introduce the gamepad into the mix, the debate is reignited. In a shooter, a gamepad is not as good as a mouse and keyboard, but it’s way better than touchscreen controls.
Gamepad support opens the same debate, although I’m sure that it’s not going to be met with the same resistance. What’s interesting about the Moto gamepad is that it’s much better integrated with the hardware, and it offers a few extra features as a bonus.
Design and functionality
Motorola, I have to say it, managed to build something close to perfection, at least concerning ergonomics. It fits great in the palm, and it feels like this is the way it’s meant to be played (sorry for stealing the Nvidia motto, and for the pun.)
If anything, the design is somewhat reminiscent of the old Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP), with the only significant difference being the smaller buttons. The twin sticks are responsive and offer a lot of resistance, and they’re covered with a rough rubber that prevents fingers from slipping.
The DPAD on the left is also quite easy to use, and the buttons offer a satisfying click when pressed. The only problem is that they are a little bit too small.
If you used a console controller before, then the Moto gamepad will fill familiar. But this controller is also aimed at people that want to play more games on their phones, and maybe it’s their first time. It doesn’t matter as the gamepad will fit all preferences.
As I mentioned before, this is an accessory for the Moto Z Play family of devices, which means that it won’t work with anything else. Special connecting pins are needed on the phone, so you’re not going to be using this one with anything else.
Interestingly enough, the phone is secured into the controller with magnets, and it’s a pretty tight fit. It’s not going to fall off even if you turn it upside down.
I tested the controller with a Moto Z3 Play, which was released back in June 2018. It comes with a Snapdragon 636 chip, a 6.01-inch display, a 12 MP f/1.7 camera on the back with Dual-LED dual-tone flash (the reason why it looks a little bit weird), and a 3000 mAh battery.
It’s a good phone, with more than decent hardware, so you’ll be able to play almost anything. I tried PUBG, and even if the game doesn’t have official support for this gamepad, it still worked, for the most part.
When players use the controller with a game that supports it, like Real Racing 3 for example, a small text shows up on the bottom of the screen which says that a Lenovo controller has been detected.
This raises a very interesting premise. If the game knows about players using controllers, is it going to pair them, in multiplayer, only with other players that have the same control scheme?
In any case, users have reported being able to play a variety of other games that didn’t have official support, like emulators for GBA and SNES.
The cherry on top is that the controller also comes with its own 1035 mAh battery, which in theory should offer an additional eight hours of usage. It also features a 3.5mm jack, which is a nice touch since the Moto Z3 Play doesn’t have one.
The build quality is excellent, and buttons and sticks respond admirably. If we add the fact that the controller doubles as a battery as well (not to mention the 3.5mm jack), it’s easy to see why picking one up should be an easy choice.
The only physical problem with the controller is that the XYAB buttons are a little bit too small. I understand that they wanted to offer this peripheral to users with small hands, like kids, but I’m sure that most kids don’t have a problem using a PS4 or Xbox controller. What I’m saying is that the buttons should have been a little bit bigger.
Secondly, even if you have something from the Moto Z lineup, the controller is still going to set you back an additional $80, which is not exactly cheap. But, if you overcome these "minor" issues, you will be rewarded with a fantastic controller, extra battery capacity, and an extremely handy companion.