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Play, But Don’t Touch

The Amkette Evo Gamepad fixes smartphone gaming by getting your fingers off the screen and onto a console-style controller

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the problem with gaming on a smartphone: the input device and the display are the same. This is a drawback that can be papered over in simple games that require only a swipe here and a touch there to keep the gameplay flowing. But for games with more complex and involving mechanisms, like a typical first-person shooter, the need to maintain constant contact with the input buttons means that the player’s thumbs usually end up obscuring half the screen. This is the reason why Candy Crush Saga is the most popular smartphone game on the Play Store right now despite the fact that most of these devices pack enough processing power to handle a space mission.

Handy solution

The solution to this problem seems just as obvious: simply figure out a way to get some hardware buttons to interface with the smartphone, sort out ergonomics and presto – you have a mobile gaming revolution on your hands. But unfortunately, it actually takes a team of geniuses to get these kind of things right. The device on the Technophile test bench this week, Amkette’s Evo Gamepad Pro is the latest in a long line of gamepads that claim to be able to unlock the latent gaming potential of your smartphone. The thin layer of dust on our desktop gaming rig – relegated to the sidelines over the past week – is proof that there is definitely some substance to that claim.

The Evo Gamepad is going to be instantly familiar to anyone who has every used a console. It features dual analog sticks, a direction-pad on the left, ABXY face buttons on the right and a pair of bumpers and triggers in the front. Everything from the look and feel to the layout of the buttons on the Evo seems to borrow heavily from Microsoft’s Xbox controller design – although the gamepad is a lot less bulky. The only departure from the standard console controller is the mid-section, which flips out to become a holder for an Android smartphone. It also encloses the micro-USB port, the power toggle and a set of LEDs that indicate charging and connectivity status. Accessibility of buttons and ergonomics on the Evo are both top notch and the rubbery plastic finish makes it very pleasant to grip.

The gamepad connects to the smartphone through Bluetooth and although this can be handled by the OS itself, Amkette provides a companion app that guides you through the process and presents a list of compatible games. This list is only a little more than 300 titles long at present – which is a drop in the ocean that is the Play Store’s game section. Increasing the size of the library is beyond Amkette’s control– very few developers build games with hardware controllers in mind. The games that are compatible though, worked flawlessly and with minimal fuss. We tested popular titles like Real Racing 3, Fifa 15 Ultimate Team and Dead Trigger 2 and the experience was so good that for a brief spell we almost forgot our instinctive distaste for small screen gaming.

The Evo’s real moment of glory came when we hooked it up to a HDTV with an MHL cable. Rid of the constraints imposed on it by its touch input and (relatively) tiny screen, our Moto X test mule came into its own as an all-conquering gaming device. With a larger library of supported games, the Evo Gamepad and other devices like it could very easily take the smartphone from the periphery of the gaming world to the central position currently occupied by the console.