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OnLive Universal Controller - Setup and Compatibility

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams



Our Score:


Tablet and smartphones

The OnLive Universal Controller is most useful for Android tablets and smartphones, because PCs can already use a variety of controllers with OnLive, including the Xbox wireless controller for Windows. And that's cheaper than this one.

Setting-up the controller with a smartphone or tablet is much like setting up any other Bluetooth device. You press the central OnLive button and one of the playback keys together to enter it into pairing mode, then search for it within the Bluetooth menu of your smartphone or tablet. As long as it's compatible, the two will pair up and the controller will automatically start working within the OnLive app. A four-LED display on the front of the pad tells you whether it's setup as controller 1, 2, 3 or 4.

OnLive Universal Controller

However, compatibility is not as good as we had at first hoped. Most Android Honeycomb devices will work just fine, including some not listed in in the official compatibility list. But anything earlier than Honeycomb won't work. We tried the controller with a number of 2.x Android phones, and while they would pair up well enough, they wouldn't actually connect.

You really need an Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 device for the Universal OnLive Controller to work properly. In 12 months, this won't be such an issue, but it all-but decimates its usefulness with smartphones at present.

It may be argued that OnLive is of limited use on the 3-4in screen of phones, but not working with Android 2.x also rules-out using many tablets that would partner-up well with the service. Owners of the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, HTC Flyer, Archos 101 and other budget tabs should take note. The OnLive app is yet to be approved on iOS, so iPhones and iPads are still out in the cold. Also, while the controller has a rumble function, none of the games we tested on-tablet made use of it.


To talk to desktop PCs without Bluetooth built-in, OnLive supplies a USB dongle with the Universal Wireless Controller. The sync process is remarkably similar to using standard Bluetooth, though.

OnLive Wireless Controller 5

You plug the dongle into the computer, press the Onlive and playback buttons on the controller to enter pairing model, then press the sync button on the dongle to get that to do the same. Simple.

In Use

In testing with both tablet and PCs, we didn’t notice any interference caused by Wi-Fi, which uses the same 2.4GHz bandwidth as Bluetooth. However, using a traditional gamepad like this does highlight the slight lag inherent in OnLive. How much it intrudes depends on the quality of your connection and the type of game you're playing.

OnLive Wireless Controller 3

In our full OnLive review, we used DiRT 3 as a benchmark game - as something very unforgiving of lag and drops in video quality. Here, the lag was intrusive and made us long for a PS3 and game disc. But none of this is the Universal Controller's fault, and slower-paced games fared just fine. We noticed no drop-outs in the connection between our test tablet and the controller.


There's no getting around it - at £40, the OnLive Universal Controller is not cheap. It's as expensive as the Sony PS3 Sixaxis pad and almost twice the price of an Xbox 360 wireless controller. Perhaps more notably, it's not all that much cheaper than an OnLive MicroConsole, which comes with its own - if different, and less flexible - wireless controller.

OnLive Wireless Controller 1

However, this accessory is what brings OnLive to life for its more dynamic, and useful, purposes. For playing in hotel rooms on a tablet, it beats using touchscreen controls hands-down, and you do get the dongle included too. The economies of scale rule is taking an effect here too - as OnLive is producing controllers on a much smaller scale than Microsoft, they're naturally going to be more expensive to produce per unit.

For OnLive fans who want to take their streaming experience to the next level, the Universal Wireless Controller is an essential buy. But it's not without significant problems. The lack of Android 2.x may not be entirely OnLive's fault - it's related to how the OS treats the Bluetooth stack - but ensures that this controller isn't quite as universal as it might at first appear.


Excellent build quality and ergonomics make the OnLive Universal Controller the only way to play if you want to stream console games to your Android tablet. However, it's not cheap, lacks support for almost all Android phones at present, and highlights the lag of Onlive's streaming with faster-paced games.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Usability 8
  • Value 7

Tim Sutton

April 5, 2012, 4:24 pm

Guys. Come on. Onlive does NOT let you play PS3 or Xbox 360 games.

Onlive streams PC games which run on central PC servers.

It in no way streams console games to anything.


April 5, 2012, 7:27 pm

Yeh we know - but there are a load of games on Xbox 360/PS3 that are within the service.

Plus, it feels much more like an Xbox/Wii alternative than a gaming PC alternative, don't you think?


April 6, 2012, 6:48 am

In early December last year magazines and even national newspapers did stories about how it was now possible to play console games on an iPad thanks to Onlive. A short time later there were stories about running Windows applications on iPad via Onlive. We are now well into April, but no magazine, tech site, or newspaper has bothered doing a follow up article to explain why these apps never appeared. (One of your rivals posted a story saying they were now available in UK but when everyone posted 'no they are not' Stuff simply killed the comment section and carried on running the story, presumably because they got lots of hits, even if it wasn't true). Onlive has never offered any explanation since then. It is just not worth buying anything by Onlive until you can be sure it is going to be widely supported. At the moment, as you point out, it is not even well supported on Android. Who can be sure Onlive will still be around in six months' time if they can't get their products onto the market months after they are announced? Who is going to risk paying £30 to £40 for games they may not be able to play or controllers that may soon be useless?


April 6, 2012, 5:19 pm

@mikfrak we gave the OnLive guys a prod just before publishing this review to see if there were any updates on the iOS app situation, but sadly nothing to report on that front.

Last time we talked to them, they were holding back on OnLive Desktop in the UK because apparently we're just a bit too ravenous for this streaming tech over here!

Tim Sutton

April 8, 2012, 3:37 pm

OK, well. Its your name on the article, not mine. A few stats though:

Number of times consoles are referenced: 11

Number of times the fact that its the PC version of the games that is being streamed is mentioned: 0

Number of times the review EXPLICITLY STATES that Onlive streams console games to a tablet: 2, including once in the headline.

Number of console games Onlive streams to anything: 0


April 8, 2012, 5:17 pm

Hi Tim,

I've made a few tweaks for clarity - the original OnLive service review went into more detail about how it works and such, but don't want to confuse.

ps Happy Easter!

Andrei Lavrenov

September 24, 2014, 7:38 pm

Does the controller work with steam/non-onlive games?

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