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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.