The hype around mobile gaming taking on consoles has been reaching deafening heights. But who really prefers smartphone gaming over consoles?
Flitchio is a smartphone case-cum-controller that wants to make gaming on the go as fun as at home. Until now mobile gaming has largely meant sacrificing controller comfort, detaching the gamer from the action.
Flitchio has reinvented the way dual-stick controllers can work to make mobile button bashing more immersive than ever. And it won't need charging either.
We spent some time with Flitchio to see what it's like to control a joystick with fingers. What was supposed to be a short time ended up being quite a while.
Design and build
Flitchio is, in its most basic form, a phone case that sits on your device offering protection. But with dual analogue controller sticks and pressure sensitive shoulder buttons it also turns your smartphone into a gaming powerhouse.
The model we tried was a very early prototype. The final version will have less plastic and more rubberised grip. Despite this we were still impressed with how slimline the whole device is. It simply clips onto the phone offering a light protective layer while giving access to all phone ports and buttons.
The sticks sit flush with the case, as do the shoulder buttons, so you can easily hold it as a phone without pressing anything. There's also a small button to turn the device on and off quickly - ideal for using the phone for NFC payments or wireless charging.
Initially there will be four versions released for the flagship smartphones of major Android brands. Samsung is definitely one with the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge available for pre-order already, the other three are still undecided. We tested Flitchio on a Sony Xperia Z3 so presumably a Sony release is likely too.
Power and connectivity
Flitchio, crucially, uses NFC not only for controller data transfer but also for power. That means that in a phone's entire battery cycle the controller will only use 5 per cent. It also means this isn't another device you need to worry about charging.
The only downside to NFC is that Apple hasn't opened up its NFC hardware for anything other than making payments. So until Apple becomes more NFC free the Flitchio will be Android only. Although the company assures us it'll arrive on iPhone as soon as they can make it.
At the moment gaming titles that fully work with the Flitchio are limited. The Flitchio SDK takes only an hour to work into a game, claims the company, so we should see more in the future.
Even without the Flitchio SDK many games will work using the basic sticks and shoulder buttons – they just won't be pressure sensitive. Also the dedicated app pulls in all compatible games so you can search through those directly.
We played several games including racing simulator GT Racing 2 and top-down shooter Zombie HQ. For racing, the sticks were perfectly sensitive to even slight movements. Combined with shoulder buttons for acceleration and braking the entire screen was free of fingers and the immersion was surprising.
For Zombie HQ the ability to run in one direction and shoot in another, using the dual sticks, was brilliant. It really felt like console gaming control and enhanced the game over touchscreen controls.
The ability to add more depth and immersion to games should be enough to entice game makers into building Flitchio control compatibility into their titles. Flitchio currently has a handful of games optimised for the pressure sensitive controls, with plenty of others that work out of the box. But by launch time next January the company hopes to have lots more to offer.
One of the applications of Flitchio beyond gaming is drone controls. The company is already in talks with a drone manufacturer about using Flitchio to fly its quadcopter.
Flitchio has also seen interest from the maker community. One company wants to use the controls as a way for young makers to control their Raspberry Pi projects – enabling learning of code.
Flitchio is one of the most low-power, small-sized gaming controls for smartphones that we've seen. There are still design changes being made that will make it even more premium, but even in its infancy this controller enhances gaming far beyond its expected price tag of £40.
Gaming using fingers for stick controls is surprisingly natural. We suspect anyone who actually tried this will be impressed at how much more natural it feels than is expected.
Flitchio is currently on Kickstarter where you can snap one up for £40, due for shipping in January 2016.