Every smartphone can double as a powerful gaming device. There's just one problem: They don't have buttons. Well, not beyond the tiny nubs that line either side of their wafer-thin frame. If you're craving real buttons and triggers, you basically have two options: a wireless controller and phone clip combo, or a third-party accessory that turns your device into a Nintendo Switch clone.
One name dominates the latter category: Gamevice. The California-based company wasn't the first to market, but its initial effort stood out with decent — if not mind-blowing — design and build quality. These days, the market is littered with alternatives developed by Chinese companies like Flydigi and Saitake. They can be hard to come by, though, and most rely on a Bluetooth connection. Razer made a similar product called the Junglecat, but the detachable controllers snapped on to cases that only supported a handful of devices. Gamevice is still around, but its current offerings are similarly designed for specific iPhone and Android models.
Enter the Razer Kishi. The $80 Junglecat follow-up, co-designed by Gamevice, seems, on paper, the best solution to date. It has a wired connection, for instance, and doesn't need to be charged. The Android version supports almost any smartphone, too. But how does it compare with a traditional controller and phone clip combo? Quite admirably, provided you have smaller hands or don't mind playing with shrunken sticks and triggers.
Connecting your phone is simple. Flip the Kishi over and you'll find a plastic plate with some release latches above and below. Push these outward and the plate will detach, revealing a rubberized belt that gently stretches the two sides of the controller. Razer recommends pushing your phone into the Lightning or USB-C connector first then easing the left side of the controller until you have enough space to secure the other end of the display.
I never felt that the Kishi was going to slacken and allow my OnePlus 8 to wriggle loose. If you use a case, however, you'll need to take it off. That adds to the assembly process and could be annoying if you're traveling — on a plane or crowded train, for instance — and don't have an obvious place to put it. I don't have that problem with the phone clips I've bought for Microsoft's official Xbox One controller and 8BitDo’s wonderful SN30 Pro+ pad.
In its disassembled form, however, the Kishi is smaller than both of these accessories. So small, in fact, that it can slide into the fraying back pocket of my favorite jeans. At 265 grams, it's also a touch lighter than my Xbox One controller. To be frank, I've never used a pad and phone clip outside the house — I just don't want the extra bulk in my backpack. But Kishi's dinky form factor, is a tempting proposition. In a post-COVID-19 world, I can imagine myself taking it out and playing something more involved than Threes and Alto's Odyssey on the bus.
A better point of comparison is arguably the Switch. Each side of the Kishi controller is slightly wider than a standard Joy-Con. Combined with my OnePlus 8, the Kishi was roughly 20mm broader than Nintendo's hybrid system. It might not sound like much, but trust me, the extra width has a massive impact on how the Kishi feels over longer play sessions. The larger size was never uncomfortable, but I would often find myself with both elbows planted on the table or putting the entire device down between online multiplayer matches.