Review: Moga Pro Turns Android Phones into Portable Gaming Systems

Improved design over the original makes it the Android game controller to beat.

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Jared Newman for TIME

A funny thing happened after the Mogo Pro game controller showed up on my doorstep about a month ago: I stopped using all my tablets. Their batteries ran out, and I didn’t bother taking them with me on trips. Suddenly, my HTC One, strapped onto the Moga Pro, was the only entertainment I needed. The tablets I’d relied on before had become redundant.

The Moga Pro is a $50 game controller with a clip that folds out from the middle and clasps onto nearly any Android phone. Essentially, it turns the phone into a portable gaming system.

But for what games? These days, there’s a surprisingly decent amount of controller-supported games in the Google Play Store, from grindy RPGs like Eternity Warriors to racing games like Riptide GP to twin-stick shooters like Expendables: Rearmed. If you’re into classic games–and have no moral qualms about emulators–Moga Pro can become a portable NES, Genesis, Playstation or Nintendo 64 as well.

mogapro1

Jared Newman for TIME

The Moga Pro is the result of smart iteration. The original Moga was one of the worst Android game controllers on the market, with unsatisfying analog nubs, no directional pad and a reliance on AAA batteries instead of a rechargeable pack. To make things worse, the first Moga only worked with games that were specifically designed for it, unless you downloaded a third-party app that extended support to other games.

None of those problems exist in the Moga Pro. Instead of tiny analog nubs, you get two full-sized sticks, along with a D-Pad, four face buttons (plus Start and Select), two triggers and two bumper buttons. The controls don’t feel as solid as those of an Xbox 360 controller, with triggers and sticks that are a little too light to the touch, and buttons that have a little too much pop. Still, the controls are the best out of any Android game controller that I’ve used.

There’s also a built-in battery now, and it’s a marvel of longevity. I charged it to capacity when the Moga Pro first arrived, used the controller regularly, and didn’t have to recharge it for about three weeks. It helps that the controller shuts itself off automatically after a period of inactivity.

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Jared Newman for TIME

Moga Pro handles the game support problem of its predecessor by offering two modes. “A” mode works with games designed specifically for Moga, which you can find and launch through a special app. “B” mode uses the more common Bluetooth HID profile, supported by most emulators and lots of other games. A switch underneath the clip lets you change between modes, but because each change requires the controller to re-pair with your phone, going back and forth is a hassle. I spent most of my time in “B” mode, because many games that support Moga also work with Bluetooth HID, but the “A” mode is helpful for users who don’t want to hunt around for supported games.

The only significant complaint I have with Moga Pro is the Bluetooth pairing process. It takes about five seconds to connect the controller and the phone, and in my experience, it didn’t always work on the first try.

I should mention that the Moga Pro does work with Android tablets. It even includes a little tripod stand for propping the tablet up on your lap or a nearby table. But having the entire gaming system in your hands is so much more satisfying, especially with a large-screen phone.

While the original Moga had too many other problems to make the clip-on game controller idea work, the Moga Pro’s execution is practically flawless. It is now the Android game controller to beat, and worth the $50 if you’re tired of struggling with touch screen gaming.

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