Review: Tunewear GameHandle for iPhone 3G/3GS + iPod touch
Though we still feel very strongly that the iPod touch and iPhone are falling well short of their potential as portable gaming devices due to missing controls, there's little doubt that Apple's minimalist designs have their appeal. Pull either device out of your pocket and you can play any game without a peripheral -- in fact, adding "gaming" accessories doesn't seem to do much good. Tunewear's GameHandle ($20) isn't any exception to this rule; it's the latest case to place the iPhone 3G/3GS or iPod touch 2G/3G into the shell of a video game controller, and though it succeeds at that task, it forces some compromises in the process, as well.
GameHandle’s design is actually quite sophisticated by comparison to some of the other gaming cases we’ve tested—it’s not merely a rubber case with bulging rear handles. First, it’s made from hard plastic, with the entire rear housing coated in a comfortable soft touch rubber finish, and a front frame that’s glossy and equally hard. Tunewear includes separate front mounting frames for the iPhone and iPod touch models, whereby the unencased device needs to be placed firmly in the front frame, then the front frame locked into place on the rear chassis. The resulting seal isn’t 100% firm, but it’s stable enough for all save the most abusive control-tossing playing. Assemble the pieces incorrectly—iPod or iPhone in rear shell, then close the front shell—and the case will feel disjointed and totally unstable.
Companies designing gaming control cases have been forced to struggle with common questions: what to do with the headphone port, volume controls, ringer switch, Sleep/Wake button, Dock Connector, speaker, and microphone, just to name a few. Tunewear’s answer? Cover them all. Thus, you can place the iPhone 3G/3GS or iPod touch 2G/3G in the frame in either horizontal orientation you want, but there’s not going to be access to its side or top buttons, nor its ports.
Vents in GameHandle’s back let the speakers breathe at the same volume levels they started at, but if you want to use headphones, play with the volume settings, or do anything other than use the screen and Home button, you’re out of luck. Most other companies have at least offered headphone port access in similar designs, and it goes without saying that due to your need to do other things—take phone calls, recharge your device, and so on—as well as this case’s 6.25” width, 4” height and 2” depth, you’re going to need to take your iPod or iPhone out of it at least once a day.
On a positive note, GameHandle actually feels good in your hands—essentially like a Sony PlayStation controller with a screen in its center. It may appeal to gamers accustomed to leaving a little finger space when tilting motion-sensitive controls, having a more handle-like grip, or playing with one sturdy hand rather than two. But other gamers, including us, will scratch their heads somewhat at its utility; even for big-handed users, it doesn’t really add a lot to the gaming experience—steering isn’t easier in driving games, thumbing on controls doesn’t change much, and for games that are in vertical orientation, it’s basically useless. In some games, such as EA’s Need For Speed: Shift, you may find you’ll need to flip the iPhone or iPod touch around inside in order to play in the correct upright orientation. With no case on, this takes a second; with GameHandle on, it requires the frame to be opened, the device to be rotated, and then the frame to be closed again. All for relatively little benefit—at least, for our needs as gamers.
Overall, GameHandle is worthy of our limited recommendation: gamers who really miss the feel of a PlayStation-style controller will find this to be a nice enough part-time solution, with compromises that preclude its full-time usability. We prefer it dramatically to Marware’s earlier Game Grip, but the access offered by Incipio’s simpler rubber 1337 may appeal more to some gamers, despite its higher price.