Although Apple debuted the App Store in 2008 — allowing a flood of games to land on the iPhone, iPod touch, and later the iPad — it wasn’t until 2012 that the first Apple-authorized game controller appeared in the form of the Duo Gamer — a good concept hobbled by very limited game support and an unsustainable price tag. It took another two years after that before other players entered the market, first SteelSeries with its Stratus and Stratus XL game controllers, and then Mad Catz with its C.T.R.L.i and C.T.R.L.i Micro, after which the iOS game controller market once again got fairly quiet, with SteelSeries introducing Nimbus for the Apple TV in 2015, but little else. Now, another two years later, Kanex has thrown its hat into the ring with GoPlay Sidekick, a $60 pocket-sized controller designed specifically for iOS devices that packs in a rechargeable battery and includes a case that also doubles as a stand.
GoPlay Sidekick features a very compact design that’s largely reminiscent of SteelSeries’ original Stratus, although it’s slightly more compact and a bit more rectangular in shape, and provides only a four-button D-pad. It’s otherwise got everything you’d expect in a game controller, however, including four standard action buttons, a central menu/pause button, dual analog joysticks, and two pairs of L1/L2 and R1/R2 trigger buttons. Four status LEDs on the front show Bluetooth pairing status, player number info, and battery status. A power switch is located on the left side, a Bluetooth pairing button is tucked away on the rear, and a Lightning port in the front allows GoPlay Sidekick to be recharged with any standard Lightning cable, although Kanex notably doesn’t include one in the box so you’ll have to provide your own. Unlike prior game controllers we’ve reviewed, GoPlay Sidekick uses Bluetooth 4.1, promising up to 20 hours of play time on a single charge.
Pairing GoPlay Sidekick was very simple and straightforward, and the Bluetooth 4.1 support allows the controller to maintain pairings with multiple devices, so you’ll be able to easily switch between using it with your iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV for example. However, as with prior game controllers for iOS devices, the games you’re playing still need to specifically provide game controller support. Fortunately, however, the process of finding such games has become somewhat easier than it was four years ago; Kanex recommends downloading the third-party Gamevice Live app from the App Store to help find supported games, and frankly if you’re considering the purchase of a game controller, you’ll probably want to do this first to make sure that your favourite games are on the list.
We tested GoPlay Sidekick with Leo’s Fortune, Asphalt 8: Airborne, Rayman Adventures, and Sky Gamblers Racers, and were generally quite impressed with the results for a controller of this size. All of the buttons were solid and responsive and had a reasonably good feel to them, although it’s worth noting that they’re more on the “clicky” side rather than the softer and quieter design of something like a PS3 Shockwave; it didn’t bother us at all, but it’s a difference that we felt was worth noting. It’s a surprisingly comfortable and usable controller for its size, although we still prefer a larger controller such as SteelSeries’ Nimbus for gaming on the Apple TV. However, the tradeoff of a smaller controller is worth it for something you can much more easily toss into a bag with your iPhone, and Kanex’s inclusion of a travel case makes it even more practical for that purpose. It’s also worth noting that the travel case includes an integrated stand, solving the common problem of propping up your iPhone or iPod touch when playing. Unfortunately, while we liked the concept, the stand is actually too narrow for most cases — our iPhone 7 Plus only fit when we used the relatively thin Apple Leather Case — so the inconvenience of having to remove your iPhone from its case will limit the convenience of the stand for many users.
While there are still a lot of iOS games designed entirely with the touchscreen in mind, if you’re a hardcore iOS gamer, chances are you’ve got at least a few titles that will be much more playable with a game controller, and while GoPlay Sidekick doesn’t add anything revolutionary compared to previous game controllers we’ve looked at, it’s a solid controller that packs in some nice iterative improvements such as long battery life, Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity, and an integrated case and stand combo, while coming in at a reasonable price.
Company and Price
Model: GoPlay Sidekick