A few devices that could turn your smartphone into a gaming handheld

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: July 11, 2011

Mobile gaming is bittersweet. It's nice having fun games on the go that are usually just as easy to pick up as they are to put down. But the smartphone has undergone some major changes over the years, losing physical buttons with each generation. As great as that may be for keeping production costs down and implementing the more intuitive gesture-based navigation features into mobile platforms, it's detrimental to the gaming experience on such devices.

Let's be honest here, only some mobile games are optimized for use with a buttonless touchscreen device. Without tactile feedback from real joysticks and/or buttons, mobile game controls leave much to be desired.

That being said, I have rather enjoyed playing some old PSOne and SNES classics on my Transformer since the 3.1 update. With Android version 3.1, peripheral support was added, meaning you can use practically any USB peripheral with your Android tablet (provided you have standard USB port): mouse, keyboard, PS3 controller and a wired 360 controller. Other than taking roughly a minute to map (configure) the controller buttons to your liking, it is essentially a plug and play solution for Android tablets.

But what about other devices like the ever-popular iPhone or plethora of Android phones that are home to a sea of overly addictive mobile games? The relatively small display of a smartphone makes it much more difficult to handle on-screen controls. This is where devices like the existing iControlpad come in.

Utilizing a Bluetooth connection, the iControlpad is a generic approach to a hardware gaming controller for “any” current smartphone. With a wide array of supported devices and emulators, this device doesn't seem too bad, that is, if you don't mind the bulk and unsightly design. However, I'm not sure I would want to chance it for $70 plus shipping (or $57 if you don't want the rubber sides).

If you aren't exactly fond of the aforementioned iControlpad though, you may be in luck. This huge push for mobile gaming has seemingly piqued the interests of designers all around. Earlier today, TechCrunch featured a concept case/gaming controller (pictured at the top) that essentially turns the iPhone into what looks like a Nintendo handheld. Pretty cool if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, it's only a concept. Considering it is a sleek and ingenious design, hopes of it actually coming to life aren't futile, but making one for the current iPhone may be a little absurd considering the next generation should be right around the corner. If you're an iOS gamer, keep your eyes peeled for this bad boy down the road.

Something a little more far-fetched, however, is the Sony PlayStation Control Shell concept, that would theoretically work with any Android phone. This design supposedly works off of the microUSB port and makes use of the peripheral support. The problem is, Android handsets are still on Froyo and Gingerbread – without peripheral support. Not only that, but there are a handful of Android manufacturers, each creating a phone with their own design. That means there will always be variation in placement of the necessary microUSB port. The only way to make this case work by way of microUSB is by having the male end of the USB plug on a cord, rather than being a fixed plug. Though it would work, it would reek of poor design. Bluetooth could make this piece of hardware a dream come true, especially for those hardcore Android gamers out there. Just don't expect it to fit so perfectly, as every Android phone varies in size and shape.

Despite their shortcomings and two of the three only being concepts, these designers have the right idea. Sony's Xperia Play was a good start, but most consumers are not going to want a gaming phone 100 percent of the time. An accessory that gives users the choice between gaming device, media tool and a basic smartphone is the way to go. I'm ready for more of these things to surface and come to fruition ... they look fantastic.

What say you, gamer boys and girls? Are these cases what you've been missing on your smartphone? Would you prefer something else? How much would you pay for one of these?