Review: Moga’s New Android Game Controllers Provide a Battery Boost at a Cost

Moga Pro Power and Hero Power can leave players, well, powerless.

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Jared Newman for TIME

I enjoyed using the Moga Pro when I reviewed it over the summer. With its retractable grip that props up the phone, it’s a clever way to turn your Android phone into a handheld gaming device with actual buttons, thumbsticks and triggers.

This week, Moga is releasing two new controllers, the Moga Pro Power ($80) and the Moga Hero Power ($60). The former looks a lot like the original Pro and is $30 more expensive, while the latter is a revamp of last year’s original (and disappointing) Moga Pocket controller. The big addition to both controllers is the ability to charge your smartphone through a small Micro-USB cable, which plugs into the controller’s backside.

I’ve spent a bit of time with the Moga Pro Power and Hero Power. While they both include some welcome design changes, the extra battery power can be a headache because of how it drains the life from the controller.

To test the charging features, I simply looked at how much battery life they restored to an idle HTC One. The Moga Hero Power restored about 40% battery life to my phone over a couple hours, while the Moga Pro Power provided about 50% due to its slightly larger battery.


Jared Newman for TIME

But there’s a trade-off: Both the controller and phone draw from the same battery, and within a few hours, the phone sucks up all the juice. Unless you keep a close eye on the battery indicator, you’ll be left with a dead controller that takes a few hours to recharge. The charging concept is great, but it’d be better in practice with a reserve battery to keep the controller going.

Both controllers do have some redeeming qualities beyond their charging capabilities. The Moga Hero Power, in particular, is a major update that fixes many of the original Moga Pocket’s shortcomings. The inaccurate analog nubs are gone, replaced by small thumbsticks like the ones Sony uses on its Playstation Vita handheld. Moga also added a directional pad, and the controller now runs on a built-in rechargeable battery instead of AAAs. The smaller frame still isn’t quite as comfortable for adult hands, and it’s a little top-heavy, but these aren’t crippling compromises; the Hero is still a worthy choice if you prefer its smaller profile over the Moga Pro.

The Moga Pro Power’s design changes are less drastic. The hand grips are now smooth instead of ridged, and as with the Hero Pro, it gets a four-step battery indicator on the front. On the downside, the buttons and D-Pad are still pretty noisy, potentially annoying the people around you. Minus the added battery, it’s not a significant upgrade from the original Pro.

If you’re wondering which Android games work with the controller, Moga tries to help out with its own “Moga Pivot” app. This app guides you through the Bluetooth pairing process and presents a list of roughly 150 “Moga Enhanced” games. The new controllers and the original Moga Pro also offer a secondary “Bluetooth HID” mode, so you can play other controller-supported games that weren’t designed specifically for Moga devices. This mode is a must-have for classic console emulators.

Moga’s approach to game selection is a serviceable, if imperfect, solution to Android’s gaming problem. Sticking with Moga’s app takes the guesswork out of finding supported games, but it also limits your options. You can venture into the Google Play Store to find more games that work in Bluetooth HID mode, but there’s no easy way to track them down. This situation will stay messy unless Google creates some kind of standard for physical game controls, like Apple has done in iOS 7. (A separate Moga controller is coming for iOS; Moga’s Android controllers won’t support Apple devices.)

Despite the potential battery headaches, Moga’s Power controllers could come in handy for road trips and long flights, especially if you’re looking to keep your kids entertained. But in that case, I’d pick the $60 Moga Hero Power for its portability and lower price. If you’re mostly playing games around the house, the original $50 Moga Pro┬áis the best option. You lose the charging capabilities, but you get a better controller than the Hero for less money, and can always plug your phone into an outlet before or after a play session. Both options are gift-worthy as the holidays approach.