Smartphone and tablet gaming has achieved a huge level of adoption among owners of these devices in recent years, with people as young as five and as old as 80 easily getting to grips with the likes of Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. Using a touchscreen for these types of games makes so much more sense than using physical controls - it is intuitive and means you don’t have to remember which button does what.
Of course, for some games and for some people, nothing will replace the need for physical controls and with only the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play so far offering inbuilt gaming controls, fans of old-school button bashing need to turn to third party add-ons, such as Fructel’s Gametel Bluetooth controller.
The Gametel is certainly not the first Bluetooth gamepad to come to market, with the iControlPad offering Android and jailbroken iPhone users physical controls since the middle of last year. Fructel’s offering, however, works with Android smartphones and tablets as well as the iPhone and iPad without the need to jailbreak your Apple devices, but can it offer the perfect combination of touchscreen and physical controls? Let's find out.
The Gametel looks similar to the iControlPad, its physical buttons accompanied by a spring-loaded clamp on the top of the device to allow you to secure a range of smartphones. Carrying the Gametel around won't put too much strain on you either as the lightweight controller weighs just 81g and measures 116 x 65 x 15mm.
It is constructed for the most part of matt black plastic, with some glossy black flourishes around the buttons. While the device feels nice in the hand, a lack of weight and rather flimsy feel mean it doesn’t feel as premium as its £50 price tag suggests.
The buttons are laid out in typical controller fashion, with a four-way control-pad on the left, Select and Start buttons in the middle, and four action buttons on the right. These are complemented by two shoulder buttons on the rear. Unlike the Xperia Play and iControlPad however, there are no analogue pads to join these buttons, which could be a limiting factor in controlling some games.
We initially thought that the D-pad, with a strange compass-like logo in the middle, was an eight-way one, but unfortunately not. It's 4-way only. The button itself feels relatively OK, with a nice solid action, but the up/down/left/right positions are not defined enough for our liking.
The action buttons don’t feel as solid, but in our testing worked well with no noticeable lag on screen. The best of the lot, however, are the shoulder buttons, which feel superb and offer just the right action, producing a distinct click when pressed.
On the bottom of the device you’ll find the microUSB port, which charges the 250mAh Lithium-ion polymer battery. The battery promises nine hours of game play on a full charge, and this was borne out in our testing. Unfortunately, unlike the iControlPad, you won’t be able to use some of the spare juice from the Gametel to give your dying smartphone the kiss of life. Alongside this port, you’ll find a red charge indicator LED and a green one which lights up when the Gametel is in use.
Mechanisms like the spring-loaded clamp are things that could easily be end up a complete fail in a device like this. However, Fructel has managed to make it feel solid and, with rubber flaps on either end, will hold your smartphone in place firmly and protect it from scratches.
The clamp extends far enough (72mm) for you to fit in pretty much all current smartphones, like the Samsung Galaxy S II and Motorola Razr but the monstrous Samsung Galaxy Note, which is pretty much the largest smartphone on the market at the moment. Fitting your phone is reasonably easy but at times the bottom flap doesn’t pop out and getting the phone in position can be a bit fiddly, as the clamp is constantly trying to retract.
Another thing to note is that on certain phones, the rubber flap at the top will sit on the volume buttons for the smartphone, and can volume level changes at random times. This can usually be solved by flipping the phone around, but some games don’t support this, making it quite annoying.
Of course the Gametel works over Bluetooth, and you don’t have to use the clamp. This means tablets – and by extension TVs – can happily be controlled by the Gametel. The plethora of Android tablets, as well as the iPad, can be used once they are in range of the controller.