Since the modern era of smartphones dawned, mobile gamers have been looking for an ideal way to control their games beyond the intolerable shortcomings of the touchscreen. I’ve tried a lot of them—mini-controllers, clip-on controllers, weird hybrids that combine triggers and silicone screen pads. While Razer’s new Kishi isn’t perfect, it’s easily the best option I’ve seen so far.
Developed in combination with the GameVice company, and very much taking after that line of double-sided grips, the Kishi comes in semi-universal flavors for both Android (available today) and iPhone (later this year). It uses a direct connection, USB-C for the former and Lightning for the latter, meaning it doesn’t need Bluetooth or a separate battery. When not clamped on to either side of your phone, it folds down to a compact form about the size of a Game Boy Color. Or, for you young’uns, a 25-cent pack of ramen noodles.
It’s a fairly simple idea, and not the first iteration of it. But Razer’s combination of solid materials and construction and a few thoughtful design details mean that it’s the best version you can get.
Whether it’s better than a dedicated gaming device, or indeed, just using touchscreen controls, is up to you. But for playing Android games on your phone with real buttons, it can’t be beaten.
Materials and Design
The Kishi uses a flexible segmented bit of plastic in the middle, allowing it to stretch over most phones without issue. My testing devices were the Galaxy Note 8, Pixel 3a XL, and Galaxy A51, all of which are pretty big, and all of which fit in there fine—so long as you don’t use a case. The design also needs the USB-C port on the bottom of the phone to be roughly in the center, which might exclude a few odder models.
With the Kishi in place, the membrane fits over the back of the phone (incidentally blocking the camera and any rear-mounted fingerprint readers). There’s also a big plastic plate in the middle of it, and here’s one of the nicer points of this design. In addition to making the flexible part of the controller more rigid, it locks in place when it’s folded up, securing both sides into place with plastic tabs and bars. That makes the Kishi reliably solid in your pocket or bag.
In addition to all the standard inputs you’d expect from a console-style controller, the gadget has a USB-C female port on the bottom. It’s not for charging the controller—there’s no battery necessary with that direct connection. Nope, that’s a handy little extension for charging your phone directly. It’s a thoughtful and appreciated inclusion, because high-powered gaming can suck down even the most capacious of batteries.
If there’s one aspect that I wish was different, it’s the analog sticks. They’re perfectly fine as sticks go, but as this is a portable controller, I would have liked to see more recessed pocket-friendly sticks, á la the PSP or RG350m. That said, I know I’m asking for a trade-off—others may prefer a bulkier device that feels better over long play sessions. And the Kishi certainly does.
And, by the way, there’s no secondary app. The Kishi uses Android’s built-in controller support, which is pretty great at this point. But you’ll need to rely on the game you’re playing to properly support it, and to alter the layout if you want to.
Using the Controller
I tested the Kishi with native Android games and emulators, plus streaming full PC games 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 the sheer pleasure of it, Skies of Arcadia via the Dolphin emulator, among a few others.
There wasn’t any game or platform that the Kishi couldn’t handle, at least among those games that were compatible with dedicated hardware controls. It’s a big, curvy, comfy hunk of plastic, surprisingly so even for long time periods. I found that my eyes, squinting to read small text or spot distant enemies, were giving out way before my fingers were.
It helps that the whole thing is lightweigh, with no extra radios or batteries to get in the way, and the phone in the center keeps it very well-balanced. The whole contraption is kind of huge during playtime: it’s 10.5 inches long with my Pixel 3a XL inserted (longer than the PSP Vita, almost as long as the ancient SEGA Nomad). Even so, it’s considerably better than the odd weight of a controller-plus-clip-thing, as seen in the PowerA MOGA or various console controller add-ons.
As mentioned earlier, the analog sticks are almost the same as you’ll find on a full-sized controller, including L3 and R3 “click” buttons, at the expense of portability. There’s a proper cross-shaped D-pad (though I understand that’s a point of contention), Start and Select, with a Home button that handily defaults to the Android Home command. The bottom pair of shoulder buttons/triggers are a bit stiff, but considering the limitations of a portable form factor, they’re more than acceptable.
See those little recessions on the outside casing, to either side of the USB-C port? Those are holes that allow bottom-firing speakers to be heard while the phone is in place. They work very well, and they’re an excellent design decision because you won’t be able to use a headphone jack if your phone has one. Alternately, you can use a USB-C-to-headphone converter, because the pass-through port is out of the way and handily routes the cable down.
Could Use a Little Padding
There’s only one major downside to the Kishi while it’s being used, and that’s possibly unavoidable for a controller meant to be compatible with multiple phones at once. While the grip chamber isn’t wide enough for even a super-slim phone, it’s also too wide to perfectly squeeze anything except the marginally thicker Note 8.
The fit is certainly stable, but it means that there’s a small bit of back-to-front wobble when I’m using 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, simply packing a little dense foam in the cups. It’s not pretty, but it works.
I think Razer and GameVice might have been able to deliver a better solution here. Maybe a series of slide-in pads for phones of different thicknesses, something like the different sizes of silicone earbud tips included with headphones. That would allow them to make the cavity extra-generous, perhaps even accommodating a phone case, while still working for super-slim models.
But this is nit-picking. Your phone won’t come out of the Kishi once it’s inside thanks to the tension of the membrane, and the occasional shifting won’t significantly impact your gameplay. If a less-than-perfect fit on a universal gadget is the worst thing about it, it’s still pretty darn good.
Niche, But Worth It
Razer wants eighty bucks for the Kishi. That’s pretty pricey—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, though I should point out that previous versions of the GameVice have been around the same price.
Speaking as someone who’s too old to play Fortnite on a touchscreen alone, I’ve got to say that it’s worth it. It’s a better comfortable solution than a separate controller and holder, and offers a good compromise between portability and function. And for a gadget that attempts to accommodates a diverse range of phones, it does an admiral job.
In short, the Kishi is a hit. I’ve never seen a better way to play Android games with full controls on the go.
Here’s What We Like
- Big, comfy controls
- No battery to worry about
- Pass-through charging
- Easy compatibility
And What We Don't
- Universal fit could be better
- A little pricey