with the kishi mobile controller Razer launched in mid-2020 and has successfully turned phones into fake Nintendo Switch consoles. It has introduced a smart design that places your phone in the middle of two controllers. Not to mention, it was a more comfortable console-like way to play mobile games, as well as cloud streaming services, such as xCloud, Stadia, and more. Now, with the $99 Kishi V2, it looks like Razer’s goal was to get a leg up on a competitor who did everything better on the first try: Backbone.
The company’s overall miracle ended after Kishi released an even more awesome portable console for the iPhone, $99 for the spine† It had a simpler and more ergonomic design, more functionality, and an interface that eschewed an entire console operating system. It turned gaming on the phone into a more embodied experience, making Kishi’s value proposition weaker and less interesting by comparison.
So with the Kishi V2, Razer decided to abandon the first generation design for something Terribly Similar to a single spine. There’s not much here that Razer can take a lot of credit for. The V2 features a minimalist spine-like design and the same type of bridge pull mechanism that allows you to unlock your phone in a separate console setup. The in-game record button is on the left, along with the options button on the right, there’s a new button that takes you to – yes – Razer’s special spin on the game console called the Nexus. You don’t have to use it, but it is there.
There are some major advantages that the Kishi V2 has over the spine console. Most importantly, Kishi V2 is designed for Android. An iOS version will also be released later in 2022. Backbone hasn’t (disappointed) made a version of their console with USB-C, unless you count paying subscribers Connect it to your Android device with a Lightning to USB-C cable† If you play mobile games with complex operating systems, the new Razer model has two additional programmable shoulder buttons – one on each side. It can be reset in the Nexus app.
And while the spine design has reached its limits with the gigantic camera bump of the iPhone 13 Pro Max (Equipped with free 3D-printed transformers to make it work), Kishi V2 has adjustable rubber inserts to expand compatibility with Android phones and various sizes of camera bumps – even those in thin cases. The full list of supported phones includes both Razer phones; Samsung Galaxy S8 through S22; from Galaxy Note 8 to 20; Google Pixel 2 to 6; and “many other Android devices”. It supports devices up to 11.5mm thick, including the camera bump – I was surprised it made the Pixel 6 so thin (yellow) Official Google Wallet to make it relevant.
Overall, the fit and finish of the Kishi V2 is good, but the new features — both in the Nexus app and those physically on the console — are less expansive and polished than what’s available on Backbone’s One.
Inside my Nexus, which failed to boot with more than half of my attempts to press the buttons, you’ll see a bare console panel that could act as a game launcher for the ones I installed. Scrolling through the app reveals game suggestions for each genre, indicating how poorly the game was chosen on Android compared to iOS or how poorly it was formatted by Razer. As a game discovery tool, I’d say the Nexus is probably a little worse than just browsing the Google Play Store, which is really less than an excellent experience.
In the app, you can start a live broadcast via YouTube or Facebook Live. If you want to take a screenshot or a video, you can do so with a dedicated button for those functions on the left. Despite this, there is always a serious lack of on-screen feedback or haptic feedback, especially with screenshots or video. For example, after I hit the screenshot button to take a video, I have no idea if it was recorded until I open my Google Photos library. A simple screen notification (a small Cast icon appears in the Android notification toolbar during screen recording, but it’s easy to miss) or a slight vibration can do the trick. It’s the little things that Spine acquired a few years ago that make using the Kishi V2 frustrating.
Razer has converted its face buttons to the same kind of mechanical click switches inside Wolverine V2 . Console† And while I loved them on the larger console, I didn’t like how they felt here, more than I expected. The travel is shallow, the click is so subtle and requires so little force that if I press a button during intense gameplay it won’t give enough feedback to tell me if I am clicking. It almost reminds me of using one of the keys on Apple’s scary butterfly keyboard with dust in it.
Kishi V2 offers pass-through charging via USB-C, so you can keep your phone charged by attaching a cable to the bottom right of the handle, just like the previous version. I suppose I might be in the minority of reviewers who flaunt this, but I really wish Razer had built a 3.5mm jack for wired listening. Unfortunately, audio lag is still one area where Android inexplicably lags behind Apple, and it’s often strange that Razer doesn’t have one, especially since Backbone does.
The Kishi V2 looks like a device built to prove that Razer won’t take it from a newcomer to the gaming space. It took a surprisingly long time to release her refutation, which is a good thing. Forget Backbone One for a moment, the improved design and thoughtful features of Kishi V2 make it one of the best touch screen controls for Android users. But in its current state, the little thing that makes Kishi V2 unique doesn’t overshadow how good the first workhorse product is.
Photography by Cameron Faulkner/The Verge
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