Upgrade Your Android Gaming Experience with a MOGA Pocket Controller

Some games just suck when you play them with touch-screen controls. Your fingers and thumbs constantly block your view, and there’s nothing tangible for them to brush up against — so you’re never really sure that you’re pressing in the right place. Not all games suffer from this malady, of course — indeed, many excel with taps and gestures. But console-style experiences in particular never feel right without physical buttons and joysticks.

The folks at MOGA decided to fix this problem, creating a line of game controllers designed specifically for use with your Android device. They sent me a MOGA Pocket, the baby in the family, for testing, and after three weeks use I’m happy to say that it’s an excellent choice for Android gamers…but you might want to look higher up the line.

A Pocketable Controller

It’s right there in the name: Pocket. Compact, economical. The MOGA Pocket is designed for portability. And this means that it’s compromised. Its grips are comfortable, particularly if you have small hands, but not as much so as its larger Pro sibling. You get two joysticks, two shoulder triggers, and four face buttons, but all are designed with the form factor in mind.

The MOGA Pocket — slightly larger than a 4" phone, and around half an inch thick.

The MOGA Pocket — slightly larger than a 4″ phone, and around half an inch thick.

I rather like the joysticks. They’re firm, easy to grip, and feel a lot like those found on the PlayStation Vita handheld, except with more of an Xbox layout (the left joystick is higher than the right one). The triggers, too, seem well thought-out, with a comfortable recessed placement and a bit of give that makes it clear you’re pressing them down.

The main buttons, however, I don’t like. They are small, flat, click-y, and plastic-y. They feel cheap and crappy on a device that otherwise seems built for a higher-quality finish. It’s still better than a touch screen, but well below the comfort of even the cheap generic controllers I can recall trying over the years.

Only this bottom-end option is afflicted by the curse of the crappy face buttons. I had hands-on time with the MOGA Pro at PAX Australia. The buttons there are large and concave (and they don’t click incessantly!), feeling right at home to a console gamer. The two new Power Series models look to be similarly blessed by this superior button design.

The MOGA Pocket is also the only option without a directional pad, which is sure to disappoint retro gamers seeking authenticity. Speaking of which, emulation fans will need to take note that MOGA doesn’t support any emulators out of the box; the MOGA Pivot driver app must be disabled in lieu of a third-party app called MOGA Universal before you can get proper gamepad mappings.

Here it is with the Pivot app running in the foreground. Note the four small, flat buttons. They click in a really unsatisfying way.

Here it is with the Pivot app running in the foreground. Note the four small, flat buttons. They click in a really unsatisfying way.

Mobile Gaming, Improved

All this is rather academic if it performs badly when you play games. Thankfully, I didn’t encounter any noticeable latency or lag using the MOGA Pocket. The only problem I had was my phone dropping the Bluetooth pairing without warning from time to time (which it does to other Bluetooth devices, too). MOGA Enhanced games work flawlessly with the Pocket, while in my testing other games that offer gamepad support had no problems recognizing it once I set up MOGA Universal.

The biggest benefits, as I hinted at earlier, are in console-style experiences. First-person shooters, platformers, racing games, and other games that tend to rely on on-screen buttons suddenly go from awkward to fantastic. If it plays well on something like a Vita or Nintendo 3DS, it’ll play well with your Android phone and a MOGA controller.

I generally hate playing first-person shooters and other kinds of 3D action games on Android, but these kinds of experiences suddenly started to make sense to me once I had the controller in my hands. I still prefer less-detailed visuals, like those found in Grand Theft Auto 3 or — even simpler — Quake (I play this with Quake Touch), but if it’s the controls that turn you off such games, MOGA might pull you in at last.

Quake on a phone never felt so right.

Quake on a phone never felt so right.

If you’re used to dedicated handheld consoles, or even just to the Xbox/PlayStation/Wii, adapting should be nearly instantaneous. Whether you play old games remade for Android, like Sonic, Pac-Man, GTA, or Heretic, or new titles made from the ground-up for mobile, like Dead Trigger, Shadowgun, or Asphalt 8: Airborne, anything and everything with a console gaming vibe improves markedly.

Easy Out of the Box

Most of what I’ve said here could just as easily be applied to any game controller that works on Android. If it runs via Bluetooth (like the PlayStation 3 controller, for instance), you can sync it up to your phone or tablet. But the MOGA controllers have three big advantages.

It’s easier to find games that benefit from physical controllers when you’re set up with a MOGA controller. MOGA Pivot includes a storefront with information and links to the Play Store for MOGA Enhanced games in a variety of categories. You can also launch supported games directly from the app.

This ease-of-use extends to configuration. My experience of using a PS3 controller with Android is that it’s easy on a rooted device with the Sixaxis Controller app, but a pain otherwise. With MOGA, you grab the (free) Pivot app, wait for it to sync with the controller, and play. And at least 103 games (that’s the number on the MOGA Anywhere Games page) “just work.”

Step 1, wait patiently. Step 2, tap Accept. Step 3, play games. Easy.

Step 1, wait patiently. Step 2, tap Accept. Step 3, play games. Easy.

On top of all that, if your device fits (the cradle expands to 3.2 inches, or about the size of a Samsung Galaxy Note), you can attach it directly to the controller. That may not sound like a big deal, but holding a controller while your phone or tablet sits flat on a table or balances up against something is hella awkward.

If You’re Serious, Go Pro

I like the MOGA Pocket. It feels great in my hands, it makes several of my favorite Android games better, makes a bunch of others that I didn’t like suddenly fun, and it’s way less hassle to set up than my PS3 controller. But I can’t really recommend it when an extra 20 bucks will get you the superior MOGA Pro, which has way better buttons, a d-pad, a rechargeable battery (the Pocket runs on two AAAs), full-size grips, and a tablet stand — all with only a slightly-larger size and bulk.

This is great and all, but it's hard to get past those buttons when you're used to something better.

This is great and all, but it’s hard to get past those buttons when you’re used to something better.

If you already have a controller set up with your Android device — perhaps a PS3 one, or a Wii Remote, or maybe some generic third-party option — you’re left with a tough decision. MOGA Enhanced games play better on MOGA controllers, and there seems to be strong developer support for them going forward. But these other options may be good enough, especially if you already have another Bluetooth controller lying around.

If you don’t, well, you should seriously look at getting one of these MOGA controllers. And if you count yourself an Android gamer, do yourself a favor and get the Pro instead of the Pocket. I know I will.


The baby in a line of game controllers specifically designed for Android, the MOGA Pocket gives mobile gaming a huge boost...but you'd be better off stepping up to its Pro sibling.