With Kishi mobile controller Launched in mid-2020, Razer has managed to turn phones into so-called Nintendo Switch consoles. It offered a clever design that crammed your phone between two controllers. It was also a more comfortable, console-like way to play mobile games as well as cloud streaming services like xCloud, Stadia, and more. Now, with the $99 Kishi V2, Razer’s goal seems to be to keep up with a competitor that did everything better on its first try: the Backbone.
After Kishi’s release with an even more demanding mobile controller for the iPhone, one company’s one-hit wonder came into play. $99 Spine One. It had a simpler, more comfortable design, more functionality, and an interface that felt shy of a full-blown console operating system. It made gaming on the phone a more immersive experience, making Kishi’s value proposition thinner and far less interesting in comparison.
So, with the Kishi V2, Razer has decided to abandon its first-gen design for one thing. lots Similar to Backbone One. There’s not much here that Razer can take a lot of credit for. The V2 has a minimalist design similar to the Backbone and the same type of pull-extend bridge mechanism that allows you to place your phone in a split controller layout. The in-game capture button is on the left here, along with the options button on the right, and a new button that takes you – yes – its own spin on a game board called Razer’s Nexus. It’s not mandatory that you use it, but it’s there.
There are some key advantages that the Kishi V2 has over the Backbone’s controller. The biggest one is that Kishi V2 is made for Android. There’s also an iOS version coming later in 2022. Backbone hasn’t made (annoyingly) a version of its controller with USB-C, unless you count those who subscribe to its paid service can. Connect to an Android device with a Lightning-to-USB-C cable. If you play mobile games with complex control schemes, Razer’s new model has two extra programmable shoulder buttons, one on each side. These can be remapped in the Nexus app.
And Backbone’s design, with the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s giant camera bump (offered free 3D-printed adapters to make it work), Kishi V2 includes adjustable rubber inserts to increase compatibility with Android phones and various camera bump sizes – even those in thin cases. The full list of supported phones includes both Razer phones; Samsung Galaxy S8 via S22; Galaxy Note 8 to 20; Google Pixel 2 to 6; and “many other Android devices”. Supports devices up to 11.5mm thick, including a camera bump—I was surprised I had to ditch my Pixel 6 for its thinness (and yellowing) is the official Google case to make it fit.
Overall, the Kishi V2’s fit and finish are good, but its new features – those physically found in both the Nexus app and controller – are less comprehensive and flashy than those found on the Backbone’s One.
On the Nexus that fails to start with more than half of my button press attempts, you’ll see a vicious dashboard that can act as a game launcher for what you’ve installed. Scrolling down the app reveals game recommendations per genre; this highlights how bad the selection of games is on Android than on iOS, or how bad Razer has curated them. As a game discovery tool, I’d say the Nexus is a little worse than browsing the Google Play Store, which is already a less than excellent experience.
In the app, you can start a live stream on YouTube or Facebook Live. If you want to take a screenshot or video, you can do so with a button on the left side dedicated to these functions. However, there is a serious lack of on-screen or haptic feedback, especially with screen or video captures. For example, after pressing the screenshot button or holding it down to take a video, I have no idea if the command is registered until I open my Google Photos library. A simple on-screen notification (a small Cast icon appears in the Android notification toolbar during screen recording, but it’s easy to overlook) or a subtle vibration might have done the trick. It’s little things like this that Backbone fixed two years ago that make the Kishi V2 frustrating to use.
Razer has switched the face buttons to the same kind of clicky, mechanical switches found inside. Wolverine V2 controller. And while I like them on the larger controller, I don’t like the way they feel here more than I expected. The ride is shallow and the click is so thin and requires so little force that if I’m pressing a button during intense gameplay it doesn’t provide enough feedback to let me know if I’m pressing it or not. It almost reminds me of one of Apple’s dreaded butterfly keyboard switches with dust stuck in it.
The Kishi V2 offers USB-C pass-through charging so you can keep your phone charged by attaching a cable to the bottom right of its handle, just like the previous version. I guess I may be a minority critic to be a jerk on this one, but I really wish Razer had installed a 3.5mm jack for wired listening. Audio latency is, unfortunately, still an area where Android is inexplicably behind Apple, and it’s odd that Razer didn’t include one, especially since Backbone made it.
The Kishi V2 feels like a device made by Razer to prove that it won’t lie on the playground from a newcomer. It took a surprisingly long time to publish his rebuttal, which is fine. Forgetting the Backbone One for a moment, Kishi V2’s improved design and well thought-out features make it one of the best plug-and-play mobile controllers for Android users. But in its current state, how little that makes the Kishi V2 unique doesn’t overshadow how good Backbone’s first-gen product is still.
Photos by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge
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