By Todd Bernhard on Mon, 04/21/2014
The popular Kickstarter project from PhoneJoy is now shipping and I had the opportunity to try it out. This is a Bluetooth controller that expands to fit just about any phone, in landscape or portrait. By any phone, that includes Android and iPhone, and thanks to the expanding nature of the device, the next generation of larger iPhones should fit as well!
Unlike the recently launched MFi (Made For iPhone) Lightning-based game controllers, the PhoneJoy connects via Bluetooth. This allows them to accommodate Android and iOS devices, and not worry about cables and port locations. I own several Android phones and tablets and the docking port is in a different place for each one.
The PhoneJoy controller is remarkably compact and, thanks to the spring-loaded mechanism, it can adapt easily to keep any phone nestled snugly between the controller halves. There are more buttons than most users will probably need, but that allows developers to create more sophisticated apps if they choose to. For example, there are four "shoulder" buttons, plus the typical A, B, X, Y buttons common to Sony and Microsoft consoles. There's a diamond pad and two analog thumb-controlled sticks. If that wasn't enough, there are two more buttons on the top sides of the unit, and a couple of sliders to turn the thing on or off, etc.
The device itself charges via microUSB; but it does not act as a battery pack for your phone, unlike controllers from Logitech or Mogo. That's a tradeoff you're making to give you the flexibility of working with any device. In fact, unlike those Lightning-based controllers, the PhoneJoy will work with an iPhone 4, breathing new life into older phones.
Not every game is going to be compatible, but a sizeable number of apps are. This is because PhoneJoy is leveraging the work done by iCade, so even at launch there are many games to choose from. A future version of the PhoneJoy is expected to support the MFi standard. PhoneJoy has a free app, and a web page, that offers a directory of compatible apps that is bound to grow bigger now that the hardware is shipping.
The PhoneJoy is a lot of fun to play and the best part might be searching for retro games, especially for those of us who grew up in arcades. Many old-school games have been ported over to the iCade standard. Just keep in mind that once paired with the PhoneJoy in iCade mode, the iPhone thinks the PhoneJoy is a keyboard, so you can't use the onscreen keyboard to type and search for apps, etc. So download all the iCade/PhoneJoy compatible apps first.