While the vast majority of Android games are designed with the touchscreen in mind, the reality is that there are certain times when using a traditional controller just makes more sense. This applies particularly to games that were ported from a console over to Android, as well as to emulators. It also rings true for games where using the touchscreen just isn’t possible, such as VR games where your phone is strapped to your face.
- Best emulators for Android
- Best Android games
There are many different controllers to choose from on the market today, with all different sizes and layouts. For this list, we wanted to focus on the five controllers we think are the very best, regardless of the price or form factor. My goal was to have a healthy mix of different sizes, shapes, and layouts. Upon digging in, however, I found that most of the ‘ultra portable’ Bluetooth controllers just aren’t that great. That means that the vast majority of the controllers here look almost identical in size and shape, with nearly all the best controllers taking on an almost Xbox-esque design.
So without further ado, let’s jump right in.
MadCatz GameSmart C.T.R.L.
The Mad Catz C.T.R.L. is designed with both Android and PC in mind, and while it works flawlessly with the Android devices I tested it out on (The Shield tablet, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, Nexus 6, Nexus 6P, etc), I noticed some issues when pairing it to my Windows PC, such as the rear trigger buttons not registering correctly and other minor quirks.
Design wise, the C.T.R.L. sticks to the traditional Xbox 360 layout that has become so popular among PC and Android game controllers. The controller offers two analog sticks, a d-pad, 4 main action buttons on the face (A,B,X,Y), start, back, a button for syncing, two shoulder triggers, and two smaller shoulder bumpers. Probably one of the best extras is the built-in media buttons found on the controller’s face that allows you to play/pause, fast forward, rewind, and turn the volume up and down. This was particularly handy for use in the Gear VR and for controlling my Shield Tablet from across the room when connected to my TV via HDMI.
The C.T.R.L. also has another unique function up its sleeves, the existence of three different modes that can be toggled from a three-way sliding switch. The mode to the left is GameSmart, which is the basic mode for using this for Android. In the middle, is a mouse-mode that works with both PC and Android devices, giving you a fully functional mouse pointer controlled by your left analog stick. And to the right is the switch for making the controller play nicely with PC games.
In terms of battery power, this controller uses AAs and is rated for about 40 hours of continuous play. I haven’t used it quite that much yet, but so far haven’t run into any issues with the controller lacking juice.
For those looking for a game controller that attaches to your phone, the Mad Catz C.T.R.L. does offer this via a screw mount. When the mount is removed, you have this somewhat awkward bulge and hole at the top, which I don’t have any major love for, but it’s not the end of the world. The mount itself works fairly well thanks to jaws that pull apart with sprint tension and work well enough with all phones I threw at it, including the Nexus 6.
With that out of the way, how do I personally feel about this controller? Out of all the controllers in this list, this is the one I found myself reaching for more often than not, especially when utilizing it with my Gear VR. The C.T.R.L. not only functions great, it also feel pretty good in the hands, with enough weight to make it feel substantial and solid, but not so much that’s overly bulky. Bottom-line, I highly recommend this control if you’re looking for something that not only feels great, but adds several unique extra features like mouse functionality, PC support, and media playback.
Buy on Amazon
Steel Series Stratus XL
While I really love MadCatz controller thanks to its media controls, a decent phone holder, and a reasonably solid feel in the hands — the Stratus XL is without a doubt the most impressive looking and feeling of the Bluetooth gamepads that I reviewed. With a nice black design with orange and gray accent colors, this is a great looking controller, and equally feels great in the hand, with a nice heft to it (without being too heavy) that makes me feel like it should be pretty durable.
Like the MadCatz C.T.R.L., this one looks like an Xbox controller, but with a button layout that is actually a bit more similar to a Playstation controller. That includes two joysticks that are near the bottom and lined up directly across from one another, and a d-pad to the upper left. Otherwise, you get four main action buttons (A,B, X, Y) on the face, alongside three unique buttons in the center, and at the top you’ll find two triggers and two shoulder buttons.
The SteelSeries Stratus XL is compatible with both PC and Android, and while I spent most of my time using it with Android, I can confirm it plays nicely with my PC, as I used it to run through Fallout 4 for a bit without an issue. When using with Android, it’s equally flawless and should work in every game that supports controllers — including your favorite emulators.
Battery wise, I can’t speak for how long it lasts, but with probably close to eight or ten hours of usage, I still haven’t come close to needing to change out the AA batteries. In other words, this shouldn’t be any worse than any other typical AA-powered controller like the Xbox 360 and Xbox One gamepad.
Unfortunately, this Android game controller is really geared more at tablet users, and those that want to also use it on the PC, due to the fact that there is no phone holder option. You can certainly get a phone case with a kickstand to pair with this, but that certainly limits its portability. That said, if you want a beautiful looking controller that feels high-quality as hell, you can’t go wrong with the SteelSeries Stratus XL.
Buy on Amazon
Moga Pro Power
Despite being a few years old now, the Power Pro is still easily one of the best controllers offered not only by Moga, but by anyone out there. Sure, it feels a slight bit cheaper than the first two Android gaming controllers on the list, but the inclusion of a recharge Li-ion battery and built-in phone holder make it a great choice for gamers that want the most portable solution possible.
The Hero Power offers two clickable analog sticks, a D-Pad, four action buttons, start and select buttons, two triggers, and two shoulder buttons. The layout and shape is, once again, very reminiscent of the Xbox 360/One controllers and the design is mostly black with a little bit of orange as an accent.
The molded plastic sides here make this Bluetooth controller for Android easy to grip, and there’s enough heft to make it feel pretty good in the hands. Sure, it’s not as nice looking or feeling as the Stratus XL, but it’s not too far off from that mark.
Battery life should be pretty good here, and if you do run low, simply attach the controller to a microUSB slot and you can charge the gamepad back up without needing to replace the battery. The Moga Pro Power also has the unique ability to charge your phone from its built-in battery, though doing so will obviously cut back the controller’s battery life significantly.
One word of caution, don’t both with the MOGA app. You can use this as a standard Android Bluetooth game controller and bypass the software completely, and really, that’s the best way to do it. For those interested in using your Android Bluetooth gamepad with your PC, keep in mind that the Pro Power isn’t designed with this functionality in mind — so you’ll want to look elsewhere if that’s important to you.
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The Razer Serval is an Android game controller that also happens to work with Windows and Mac computers.
Once again, we have a controller with an Xbox-esque design in place, with 4 face buttons, 2 analog sticks, two shoulder buttons, and two triggers. You’ll also notice at the bottom is a back and home button for use with Android, and there are also three buttons in the middle that can be used for shutting off the controller and for use in certain specific games (they don’t work in all of them).
I have to tell you, compared to the other Bluetooth game controllers above, this is my least favorite in terms of in hand feel. The battery compartment juts out a bit and makes the controller feel a bit awkard in the hand, for one thing. For another, something about the plastic used makes the whole controller feel a tad bit on the cheap side. Design wise, this isn’t an ugly controller, but the snake pattern on it is a little bit tacky.
Battery life on the controller should be comparable to other AA-powered controllers, and I certianly didn’t have any issues there.
The Razer Serval is a bit on the expensive side, considering most of the others on this list are similar or cheaper priced and yet feel and look better. That said, it’s still a really good controller. It wouldn’t be my first pick, but if someone gifted this to me, I’d count myself lucky, as its responsive, has great Android OS integration in the form of back/home buttons, and has a phone holder that clips on easily.
Buy on Ebay
I know what you are probably thinking: who the hell is Sminiker? Yes, this is an unknown Chinese brand that clearly is a Playstation controller knock-off, but don’t write it off just yet.
When creating this list, I wanted to represent the best, but also provide a solid super affordable option for those that want all the performance of the big dogs, but don’t mind cheaper build materials and other minor concessions in order to get the pricing down. And the Sminiker does this flawlessy. I’m sure there are other great ‘cheap’ controllers out there, but this was very well received on Amazon and piqued my interest enough that I had to buy one. At $20 (at time of this writing), the Sminiker Android gamepad is more than 50% cheaper than the other controllers on this list.
As far layout is concerned, you have a standard playstation design, complete with four action buttons, two analog sticks, a d-pad, start/select buttons, two shoulders, and four shoulder buttons. There’s also a clip on phone holder that works with phones up to 6-inches without a problem. Look and feel? In a word: cheap-ish. It’s super leight, which puts off the balance a tiny bit in the hand and makes it feel like it could handle too many knocks. The buttons are also a bit cheap feeling, though they work pretty well regardless. The plastic design is also made of pretty low grade material.
That might not sound like “best bluetooth game controller” material, but functionality wise, it paired perfectly, worked with Gear VR, tablets, and Android phones without an issue.
As a nice extra you won’t find on many other controllers, this gamepad has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that didn’t run out during my 3-4 hours of usage, though I really can’t say how good it’s life is — though I’ll try to update this post in a few months once I’ve had more time with the controller.
Bottom-line, the Sminiker feels like any old generic 3rd party Playstation 3 controller, just this one happens to work with Android instead. For those that do a TON of hardcore gaming on their mobile devices might want to pass this one by, but if you’re looking for a cheap controller that works for those instances where touch isn’t enough — This is easily worth $20.
Buy on Amazon
So that’s a look at just five of the best Android game controllers on the market. What do you think of our list? Any others you’d recommend? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments.