Motorola’s Moto Mod ecosystem has been building out for a while, and the Moto Gamepad seems like it’s the most obvious extension of that system. It’s a controller case that tries to make the argument that it can turn your phone into a full portable gaming console, like the Switch.
It costs $79.99, which is a bit pricey, given that there are numerous Bluetooth controllers that work with Android available for far less (including Sony’s excellent DualShock 4). However, the Gamepad does offer some extra conveniences like an integrated battery and a direct, lag-free connection to your phone, which might be enough to justify the extra cost.
The hardware for the Gamepad is excellent. Like most of the other Moto Mods, it connects to the back of your phone with a satisfying magnetic click. And that’s the entirety of the setup. There’s no app to install and no Bluetooth pairing to go through. If an app supports Android’s controller API, it’ll just work. The fact that the Gamepad directly connects to the phone means that lag isn’t really an issue either, unlike with Bluetooth controllers. It also doesn’t block the camera, should you feel the need to snap a quick picture while having the fairly bulky Mod still attached.
The buttons themselves are good, too. The D-pad has particularly crisp travel, the two analog sticks are responsive, and the face buttons aren’t too soft. My only issue is with the triggers, which are basically a split, rounded corner and occasionally a little tricky to hit. But unless you’re trying to play a first-person shooter, that shouldn’t hold you back too much.
The end product leaves you with something not dissimilar in size and shape to Nintendo’s Switch, but a little smaller. Unlike the Switch, though, the Moto Gamepad has a fairly big problem when it comes to actually having games to play.
That’s because while the attachment may be one of the better and more responsive controllers I’ve used in conjunction with a mobile device, there’s not a whole lot of games worth the effort of carrying around the Gamepad. (It’s big enough that keeping it attached to your phone the entire time is not feasible.) That’s because most of the best smartphone games — whether that’s something like Candy Crush, Alto’s Adventure, or Monument Valley — have been designed from the ground up for touch controls or simple taps and swipes, not complex button mashing.
The exception to that is games that were ported over to Android, like Sega’s Sonic games or Minecraft, which are far more enjoyable to play using the Moto Gamepad than on a touchscreen. Similarly, the Gamepad excels at controlling emulators for other platforms. After all, the SNES and the Game Boy were designed to be played using full hardware controls, not hackneyed touch overlays. (Of course, emulation is still very much a legally gray area, which is something to keep in mind.)
If you are someone who plays a lot of Sonic or emulated Game Boy games, though, the Moto Gamepad performs incredibly well and is just a far more enjoyable experience than the often poor touch controls for those platforms.
If you’re thinking about buying the Moto Gamepad, you need to answer two questions: do you have a Moto Z device? (Okay, that one might be a bit obvious.) But more importantly, what kind of games do you like to play on your phone? Given that only a small subset of Android users are ever going to own Gamepads, it’s not in developers’ interests to make big, complicated games that are best played with full hardware controls, which means that ports, clones, and emulation are pretty much the best use case for the Moto Gamepad.
If those are the kinds of games you like to play on your phone, then the Moto Gamepad is probably great for you. But if you really want console-quality gaming in a portable package, you’re probably better off investing your $80 toward a Nintendo Switch.