OnLive is the first convincing remote gaming service we've tried. It lets you play high-end computer games on smartphones and tablets, as well as on PCs or your TV - with the help of the OnLive MicroConsole - over Wi-Fi. However, as well as it may work, playing DiRT 3 on a touchscreen is a nightmare. Enter the OnLive Universal Controller, a gamepad designed to work across all the platforms OnLive supports and make playing games feel much better.
The key design inspiration for the Universal Controller is quite clear. It looks and feels quite a lot like the Microsoft Xbox 360 Official pad, opting for the slightly heavier, chunkier feel than the lithe, lightweight style of the PS3 Sixaxis control pad.
Intended to cater for games that appear on these platforms too, it has to cover all the button bases. There are four A/B/X/Y buttons on the front, a four-way D-pad and two analogue sticks to take up the majority of control duties. The one slightly weak point is the D-pad, which lacks a little definition. But the more important analogue sticks are great. They offer a well-judged level of resistance and lightly rubberised top surfaces that give them a feeling of quality and strength while making quick actions possible.
Other standard gaming controls include start and select buttons up front and two shoulder buttons for each side. Ergonomically, it's not quite as good as the controllers of the big two, but it’s a cut above most third-party pads and feels rock-solid. There's no creakiness and the plastics feel thick and hardy. At £40, we'd expect nothing less, but it helps to reaffirm that OnLive wants to be a viable alternative to console gaming. Rather than a gimmick.
Below the standard gaming buttons, the OnLive Universal Controller features a row of playback controls. These are used to control the replays and viewing of other people's games within OnLive.
The controller's power works - unsurprisingly - just like the Xbox 360's. There's a removable power pack on the back, and both a rechargeable unit and an empty one that holds two AA batteries (included) are supplied. To charge-up the supplied battery, you need to cable into the microUSB slot on the top of the controller, plugging the other end of the cable into either a USB adapter or powered USB socket. No USB power plug is included, but if you're using OnLive it's likely you have more than a few powered USB sockets nearby.
The battery lasts for up to 36 hours and takes 4-5 hours to charge fully, on par with an official Xbox 360 or PS3 pad. The one other accessory included in the box is the wireless adapter dongle. For tablets and smartphones, you don't need this, but it's a must for any computers without Bluetooth built-in, or the OnLive MicroConsole. Although the Universal Controller looks just like the wireless controller supplied with the MicroConsole, it's actually different, using another method to stream your control inputs to the system.