Although some devices like the NVIDIA Shield come with a game controller, you can pair many third-party controllers as well. In this review, we’re taking a look at the VR:Controller from Snakebyte. After it was announced a few months ago, I was able to get a unit for reviewing. I’ve had the chance to use it extensively for playing games and watching movies.
The device has defined edges which make it easy to hold. The buttons are good. They have a satisfyingly hard click when you press down on them and you get immediate tactile feedback. On NVIDIA’s gamepad, some of the buttons feel stickier, so a press is less clear. Also, the buttons in the middle provide no tactile feedback at all.
There are all of the standard gamepad controls: left and right thumbstick, DPAD, ABXY, triggers, and shoulder buttons. When I held the ergonomic gamepad in my hand, I could easily place my fingers on almost every option. By the way it’s designed, holding it almost requires you to have your fingers hover over the shoulder. The sides are rounded and almost slide into your palm to maximize your grip.
It has a good weight. It’s light enough to carry and hold for extended periods of time, but heavy enough that it resists your button presses.
On the inside there are three buttons: Back, Home, and Recents. On Android TV the recents button does nothing, but the other two buttons work as expected. The placement is nice. It’s easy to press them when necessary, but hard to do it accidentally. There’s also a Select and Start button on the top, which technically may be used in games, but I have never had to use them. The button in the middle is the power button, used for pairing and that’s it.
The thumbsticks are my biggest complaint. I feel like they stick out of the device too much. My thumbs need to stretch to be in the right orientation. It is something that one can get used to, but a minor annoyance. Additionally, they have very little resistance. While this isn’t bad, it is something you may need to adjust to from other gamepads.
You can connect the device over Bluetooth through the device settings. When I first tried, it took longer than I expected for it to appear, making me believe it wasn’t working. I’m not sure if its the fault of my NVIDIA Shield or the controller. If you decide to buy this controller, you should be patient when setting it up.
Alternatively, you can use the MicroUSB charging cable to connect over USB. Doing this gives you the same functionality but hardwired. Thus far, the controller’s battery hasn’t died, but if it does you can plug it in and still use it while charging. This should also help it operate on other platforms.
Overall this controller works really well for gaming. The tactile feedback makes it easy to navigate without looking, and I couldn’t detect any latency between my controls and gameplay. After playing a number of games with both controllers, I do prefer the form factor of the VR:Controller. It’s easier to grip around the middle and is lighter than NVIDIA’s stock gamepad.
Outside of gaming, it isn’t as great. It lacks a microphone and a volume controller, two options that are pretty useful when doing media playback or searching. Additionally, the right thumbstick does not act as a mouse like it does with the stock gamepad. While not a problem for Leanback apps, it does restrict the types of things you can do with it.
Plus, the extra buttons feel like they take up space unnecessarily. The Recents button may work if the NVIDIA Shield updates to Nougat, but otherwise it’s a blank button you may press accidentally. The select and start buttons don’t serve a purpose for Android games. This is meant to work with a number of platforms, but I’m not sure what purpose they serve on any platform.
The big power button that lives in the middle seems a bit overkill. If I turn on the controller, it only is done once per session. It may have made more sense to turn it into a switch on the back that I turn on or off manually to save battery compared to letting it timeout on its own.
When I wanted to play games, I’d pick up this controller. However, if I wanted to watch Netflix or YouTube, I’d pick up my remote instead. It’s great that you can have a variety of peripherals depending on your purpose, but having too many doesn’t make sense. If I had to only use one, I’d go with one that has a wider set of capabilities.
To conclude, if you use your Android TV primarily as a gaming console, having a third-party gamepad like the VR:Controller can help you get a better gaming experience. Otherwise, the advantages of voice search are too good to pass up.
If you’re interested, you can get the Snakebyte Android game controller for $30 on Amazon right now with Prime shipping.