Hands on with the latest Gamevice controller and Gamevice Live

Posted by Campbell Bird on June 13th, 2022
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Turning your iOS device into a gaming powerhouse has never been easier. With the hardware running in today's phones and tablets, plus software that takes full advantage of it or otherwise can stream powerful games straight to your mobile screen, you can basically play anything you want anywhere you want with something you carry around with you in your pocket no matter where you're going.

The only problem with this has always been how you control these games that you have such easy access to. More complex and demanding games can struggle on touch screens, and--although they're something you can get used to--they can have a hard time replicating the satisfying feel of plopping down in front of a PC or console with a dedicated controller in hand. For years, Gamevice has been at the forefront of trying to solve this problem for folks who want to turn their iOS devices into dedicated gaming devices, and their latest controller (with companion app) is one of the best ways to do exactly that.

The folks at Gamevice were nice enough to send me some demo controllers to test out their latest devices myself, and I'm pretty impressed with them. Their clamp-like design transforms any iOS device into a single handheld gaming unit with grips, triggers, bumpers, and buttons sandwiching your screen to make it resemble other handheld gaming hardware like the Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck.

The controllers connect via your device's lightning port to offer direct, low-latency input on the controllers. One of the grips also features a passthrough lightning port that allows you to charge your device even while actively playing a game. When not in use, the Gamevice controller can collapse on itself to make it easy to store and carry in a bag or large pocket.

All of the buttons on the controller work just as you'd expect them to on a traditional console, though they way they interact with certain games may change depending on context. As someone with somewhat large hands, the grips feel perfectly comfortable though the joystick placements on the controller do somewhat force me to bend my thumbs to rest them properly on those controls in ways that Xbox or Playstation controllers don't.

Gamevice also unfortunately doesn't have the feature I'm most looking for (and haven't found) in basically any controller, which is a lack of sound. Clicky clacky buttons are annoying unless you're at a computer or arcade cabinet, and TVs can usually drown out the sound of players driving the action. Playing games on a mobile device, though, is a different story. Making controller noises in public places or on transit is distracting to everyone and I'm still on the hunt for a control method beyond touch that can let me play games a bit more discreetly.

To get back on track, the Gamevice is otherwise lovely, provided you have the right hardware to use it. Their product line specifies the kinds of devices that work with its controllers, but if you play games on a tablet and a phone you have to choose where you want a controller or otherwise buy two. Another important thing to note here is that the compatibility list doesn't include any USB-C devices like newer iPad Pros, and even some lightning port devices like Apple's iPhone SE don't really fit with either of the Gamevice grips that come with the controller.

Provided you do have a supported device, you really can turn your phone or tablet into what feels like a true portable gaming console, thanks in no small part to Gamevice Live. Gamevice Live is a companion app for these controllers, and it's a slick navigation interface to put every kind of supported game across a variety of different services right at your fingertips. Titles through Xbox Game Pass, GeForce Now, Stadia, Apple Arcade, and even the plain old App Store are all organized to help you see what you can play, store and list all of your favorites, and even check out trailers if you're looking for the next thing to pick up.

As nice as the surface-level navigation of Gamevice Live is, it definitely has its fair share of limitations. All services non-native to Apple require a fair amount of setup to get working with the app. And even then (or even when working within the App Store and Apple Arcade), hopping into a game isn't direct. You're usually taken to a store or service page and then from there can launch the game. This isn't a big deal, but it is worth noting that as a launcher Gamevice Live definitely leaves some things to be desired.

Another thing to note about Gamevice Live is that it's weirdly locked down as software you're only permitted to use if you have a Gamevice controller connected to the device. If you launch the interface without the controller hooked up, you are locked out from using it and taken to a webpage to purchase controllers. As a result, this software isn't a good option for anyone looking to see what they might want to play with a different controller, and also is completely useless as an interface for merely browsing and organizing titles using touch while not actively having the controller plugged in (despite the fact that you can control everything in the app just fine using your fingers).

In terms of my overall impression, Gamevice's controllers are well-made and easy to use, though I'm not sure they match up with my usual use cases for iOS gaming. In almost all instances where I'd want to use a controller, I would have no problem using something like a Dualshock 4 instead. Latency is not an issue for me, personally, and combining controls with my device as a dedicated unit would only win me over if doing so offered additional functionality as a result (like the ability to plug in wired headphones) and/or have silent buttons.

Generally speaking, if I'm in a situation where clamping controller grips onto the sides of my phone or tablet is the only way I can use a controller to play games (i.e. there isn't space to prop up a device or have it in my lap while I hold a separate controller), I'd probably sooner just play something I enjoy controlling via touch instead. I could see controller gaming diehards balking at this, and if that's you, then the Gamevice probably is the exact controller you should get. If you pick it up, the Gamevice Live app is a great window into exploring supported titles and services, though it is a shame that it's so locked down, and just keep in mind that as you get new iOS hardware, you might have to buy new controllers as well.

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