Android’s gamepad support is something that makes gaming on the platform different; while it’s not a very widely used option as developers still design for touch screens, it exists as an option. However, few actual pieces of hardware are designed for it, as most people just jerry-rig up an Xbox 360 controller to their tablet or phone. This is where Nyko’s PlayPad shows promise: it’s a Bluetooth gamepad available in a miniature version that’s great for traveling, or a full-size Pro version. I picked up the Mini version, and what I found was a great idea that was sadly lacking.

Now, one of the more exciting features of the Nyko PlayPad was its announced functionality to be able to map touch controls to the various gamepad buttons. Well, that’s not quite available yet. Nyko says it’s forthcoming, and its Nyko Playground software is still in beta. There’s functionality to theoretically remap keyboard presses to gamepad buttons, but the controller has to be synced though their app. Good luck with that, as it is practically impossible to get it set up through the app itself on Android 4.2 - if an update ever comes out to make the app actually work on one of the most popular Android devices out there, we’ll say something because otherwise a lot of the value of this controller is lost by not having this ability. It does work as intended on the Motorola Xoom, which runs 4.1, and Sonic CD worked great with it.There are third-party tools to do similar things, but they generally require rooting. In short, this is not a cool hackery tool, it’s just a Bluetooth gamepad.

So, just as a Bluetooth gamepad, how does it function? It’s passable. Getting it synced in gamepad mode is an absolute nightmare on the Nexus 7 on Android 4.2 - I found that it was easiest to sync it up in iCade mode (which emulates a keyboard, designed for iOS usage, though Chrono and Cash supports this on Android), then switch over to the gamepad mode. I think. Once it’s synced up, it works fine. For games that use all-digital controls (Orangepixel’s whole library is perfect for testing), it’s fine, though the button assignments are very strange as it feels like Y is one of the main action buttons for whatever reason. It’s not the same as an Xbox 360 controller, that’s for sure. The iCade layout is wonky as well. This is all based off of an off-the-shelf retail unit, as well.

The analog joysticks are not clickable, so there’s fewer action buttons (an issue that pops up in Dead Trigger), and they’re the sliding kind of joysticks made famous by the PSP, so they’re functional, but not exactly ideal for 3D games. The PlayPad Pro, by comparison, has more traditional analog sticks, so it may work better for first-person shooters and the like (try Madfinger’s titles, as they generally contain controller support). The controller can also act as a mouse for touchscreen games or just for remote control, but with these joysticks, it’s far from ideal. All the buttons, including the digital face buttons, digital shoulder buttons and analog triggers, all work well.

While I really like the idea of this compact, rechargeable, and versatile controller, its many strange quirks in functionality keep it from being a high recommendation. Its wide availability (GameStop carries the controller) may make it a top choice for those hunting down an Android gamepad. Just go in with low expectations.