Razer's Kishi Controller Is the Best Android Gamepad I've Ever Used

Evaluation:
9/10
?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Lukewarm garbage from Sorta
  • 3 – Highly imperfect design
  • 4 – Some advantages, many disadvantages
  • 5 – Acceptably imperfect
  • 6 – Good enough to buy on sale
  • 7 – Excellent, but not the best in its class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with some footnotes
  • 9 – Shut up and take my money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $ 80

Razer Kishi Android Controller
Michael Crider

Since the beginning of the modern smartphone era, mobile gamers have been looking for an ideal way to control their games beyond the intolerable shortcomings of the touch screen. I’ve tried many: mini-controllers, clip-on controllers, strange hybrids that combine triggers and silicone screen pads. While the new Razer Kishi isn’t perfect, it’s easily the best option I’ve seen so far.

Here’s what we like

  • Large and comfortable controls
  • No battery to worry about
  • Direct charging
  • Easy compatibility

And what we don’t do

  • Universal fit could be better
  • A little expensive

Developed in collaboration with the company GameVice, and taking a lot after this line of double-sided handles, the Kishi is available in semi-universal versions for Android (available today) and iPhone (later this year). It uses a direct connection, USB-C for the first and Lightning for the second, which means it doesn’t need Bluetooth or a separate battery. When not attached to either side of your phone, it folds into a compact shape the size of a Game Boy Color. Or, for you kids, a 25-cent packet of ramen noodles.

Kishi controller, open and folded.
Michael Crider

It’s a pretty simple idea, not the first iteration of it. But the combination of Razer’s solid materials and construction and a few thoughtful design details means it’s the best version you can get.

Whether it’s better than a dedicated gaming device, or in fact, just using the touchscreen controls, it’s up to you. But to play Android games on your phone with real buttons, it can’t be beat.

Materials and design

The Kishi uses a piece of flexible segmented plastic in the middle, allowing it to stretch over most phones without a problem. My test devices were the Galaxy Note 8, the Pixel 3a XL and the Galaxy A51, which are all quite large, and all fit well since you’re not using a case. The design also requires the USB-C port at the bottom of the phone to be roughly in the center, which could rule out some of the stranger models.

Kishi Controller rear
Michael Crider

With the Kishi in place, the membrane fits over the back of the phone (accidentally blocking the camera and any rear-mounted fingerprint reader). There is also a large plastic plate in the middle, and here is one of the most beautiful points of this design. In addition to making the flexible part of the controller more rigid, it locks in place when folded, securing both sides in place with plastic tabs and bars. This makes the Kishi securely in your pocket or purse.

Back of controller Kishi, collapsed.
This plastic reinforcement keeps the controller solid when folded. Michael Crider

In addition to all the standard inputs you would expect from a console-style controller, the gadget has a female USB-C port at the bottom. This is not for charging the controller – there is no battery required with this direct connection. No, it’s a handy little extension to charge your phone directly. It is a thoughtful and appreciated inclusion, because high power games can suck up even the largest batteries.

Razer Kishi Thumbstick
Michael Crider

If there is one aspect that I want different, it is the analog sticks. They’re perfectly fine like sticks, but since this is a portable controller, I would have liked to see more built-in sticks compatible with pockets, PSP or RG350m. That said, I know I am asking for a compromise – others may prefer a larger device that feels better during long gaming sessions. And Kishi certainly does.

And, by the way, there is no secondary application. The Kishi uses built-in support for the Android controller, which is pretty good at this point. But you will have to rely on the game you are playing to support it properly and change the layout if you wish.

Using the controller

I tested the Kishi with native Android games and emulators, as well as full PC games streaming on Stadia and GeForce NOW. I played Fortnite, Crazy Taxi, Borderlands 3, Smash Bros Melee and Brawlhalla, Castlevania: Symphony of the night, and just for pure pleasure, Arcadia Sky via the Dolphin emulator, among others.

Razer Kishi main buttons.
Michael Crider

There was no game or platform that the Kishi couldn’t handle, at least among the games compatible with dedicated hardware controls. It is a large piece of curvy and comfortable plastic, surprisingly even for long periods. I found that my eyes, squinting to read a small text or spot distant enemies, gave way before my fingers.

This helps keep everything light, without radios or extra batteries to get in the way, and the phone in the center keeps it very well balanced. The whole thing is quite huge during reading: it measures 10.5 inches long with my Pixel 3a XL inserted (longer than the PSP Vita, almost as long as the old SEGA Nomad). Even so, it is considerably better than the strange weight of a controller-plus-clip-thing, as seen in the PowerA MOGA or various console controller add-ons.

Razer Kishi with attached magazine.
The controller has an intercom port for charging or accessories. Michael Crider

As mentioned earlier, the analog sticks are almost the same as those you would find on a standard size controller, including the L3 and R3 “click” buttons, at the expense of portability. There is a suitable D-pad in the shape of a cross (although I understand that this is a point of contention), Start and Select, with a Home button which by default is easily the Android Home command. The lower pair of shoulder buttons / triggers are a little stiff, but given the limitations of a portable form factor, they are more than acceptable.

Razer Kishi shoulder buttons
Michael Crider

Do you see these little recessions on the outer case on either side of the USB-C port? These are holes that allow bottom-mounted speakers to be heard when the phone is in place. They work very well and are a great design decision because you won’t be able to use a headphone jack if your phone has one. Alternatively, you can use a USB-C to headset converter, as the pass-through port is out of the way and easily routes the cable down.

Could use some padding

There is only one major downside to Kishi while in use, and this may be inevitable for a controller that is supposed to be compatible with multiple phones at once. While the grip chamber isn’t wide enough for even an ultra-thin phone, it’s also too wide to grip anything except the slightly thicker Note 8.

The fit is certainly stable, but that means there is a bit of back and forth swing when I use the Pixel 3a XL. Once you get used to it, you can avoid it by adjusting your grip … but I found a slightly better solution, by simply wrapping a little dense foam in the cups. It’s not pretty, but it works.

Close up of foam padding added to controller by reviewer
I stuck some homemade foam in there to make the phone more snug. Michael Crider

I think Razer and GameVice could have offered a better solution here. Perhaps a series of sliding pads for phones of different thicknesses, something like the different sizes of silicone earbuds included with the earphones. This would allow them to make the cavity extra-generous, perhaps even to accommodate a phone case, while working for ultra-thin models.

But it’s pickaxe. Your phone will not come out of the Kishi once inside thanks to the tension of the membrane, and occasional changes will not have a significant impact on your gameplay. If a less than perfect fit on a universal gadget is the worst thing, it’s still pretty good.

Niche, but worth it

Razer wants 80 dollars for the Kishi. It’s quite expensive – you could get a pair of Joy-Cons for the same, or the excellent 8BitDo SN30 Pro + with optional phone holder add-on for $ 20 less. And that includes Bluetooth and a battery. It’s a lot to ask to play games on your phone, but I must point out that previous versions of GameVice cost about the same price.

Controller Razer Kishi
Michael Crider

Speak like someone too old to play Fortnite on a touch screen alone, I have to say it’s worth it. It’s a more comfortable solution than a separate controller and stand, and offers a good compromise between portability and function. And for a gadget that tries to adapt to a diverse range of phones, it does admiral work.

In short, the Kishi is a success. I have never seen a better way to play Android games with full controls on the go.

Here’s what we like

  • Large and comfortable controls
  • No battery to worry about
  • Direct charging
  • Easy compatibility

And what we don’t do

  • Universal fit could be better
  • A little expensive

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