Moto GamePad hands-on: Super-charge gaming with the new Moto Mod


Last year, Motorola opened the door on hardware expansion for its smartphones with the launch of the new Moto Z series, complete with support for Moto Mods add-ons. While we got a decent selection of Moto Mod options in that first batch, including some interesting ideas like a portable projector, a modular platform is going to live or die based on the amount of hardware support it sees; would Motorola be in this for the long haul?

The good news there is that the answer seems to be “very much yes,” and 2017 has already seen the launch of a bunch of new Moto Mods, including the brand-new Moto 360 Camera, just introduced yesterday alongside the Moto Z2 Force. And though these new Moto Mods have been great to see, for months now there's been a question hanging over our heads: Where's the Moto GamePad?

Motorola first confirmed the GamePad back at the end of February, but had little to say about its release beyond that we could expect the accessory to land sometime this summer. As we still wait to learn the specifics to the start of sales, we finally got the opportunity to go hands-on with this upcoming hardware at the Moto Z2 Force launch event.


Design


Attach your Moto Z-series phone to the Moto GamePad and you instantly transform the handset into a wide-format handheld gaming console. That's a layout that's been popular from decades, from the early days of the Atari Lynx, to the Sony PSP, and most recently with the Nintendo Switch. Just like on that hardware, the Moto GamePad gives us an analog thumbstick – one on each side – a directional pad on the left, and four action buttons on the right. We've also got left and right triggers up top, and a series of home, select, and start buttons for menuing.

Those shoulder buttons each conceal an illuminated strip, which lights up in response to controller input. And if you flip the GamePad over, the Y-shaped window on the controller's back similarly glows.

The power to run those lights comes from the GamePad's on-board battery, a 1,035mAh component. You can fill that up with the help of a USB Type-C port located alongside the controller's bottom edge. And next to that charging port is an analog headphone jack. That's useful on any Moto Z-series phone, as the body of the GamePad is built such that it blocks access to a phone's built-in headphone jack, but it's especially useful on non-Play models that lack analog headphone jacks altogether – no need for an adapter dongle when you're playing on the GamePad.

Impressions


For gamers used to touchscreen input on smartphones, the Moto GamePad represents a world of improvement; it's difficult to understate just how much better playing a game feels when you're working with dedicated hardware controls. Everything's more responsive, you feel much more in command of the action, and you're never at risk of blocking the screen with your fingers.

The thumbsticks themselves feel quite robust, and their textured surface and concave tops make them easy to interact with.

The fact that we're dealing with a wired Moto Mods connection, rather than a wireless Bluetooth connection to a third-party control pad, helps reduce input lag to minimal levels – this is about as close as you're going to instantaneous response from a controller on a smartphone. And while that's not always a critical factor in being able to enjoy a game, the seamlessness with which you can control apps really can help further immerse you in your gaming experience.

Maybe our one biggest concern with the GamePad is battery life. Motorola quotes eight hours of usage on a charge, and while that sounds decent, it won't take more than a few extended sessions before that starts running down. We're also not quite convinced why the GamePad needs its own battery in the first place, since even complex Mods like the Hasselblad True Zoom camera managed to run off phone power; could the GamePad really consume that much juice?

For now, though, we're waiting for details on what may be the biggest factor that ends up affecting GamePad adoption: price. So far, Motorola hasn't shared any details, but we'd love to see this come in for $60 or less – we're not holding our breath. We're also curious to learn when sales will actually start, but again Motorola is mum on details, having said no more than to expect the GamePad to arrive before the end of summer.

Until you can get your hands on a Moto GamePad of your own, check out our new hands-on video, as well as a GamePad image gallery:




Related phones

Moto Z2 Force Edition
  • Display 5.5" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 5 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, Octa-core, 2450 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 2730 mAh

FEATURED VIDEO

9 Comments

1. uzimafioso

Posts: 469; Member since: Jul 15, 2014

They're gonna go nuts and price this at $200. However if we consider the available lineup for Moto buyers in 2017: Moto Z, Moto Z/Z2 Force, Moto Z/Z2 Play, Moto G5/+, Moto G4/+/Play, Moto E4/+, Moto M and Moto C/+, at least one third of it's phones are modular and all the rest are budget conscious products. A Moto X4 and a couple G5s/+ may be in the works to fill the void between a Z2 Play and G5+. Sound sales strategy, banking on enthusiasts to have gotten the 2016 Z and now they're trying to reel in the layman with thinness and Shattershield in one package as well as a sleeker looking Play version that doesn't break the bank. However I'm more excited about the X4 which may be somewhere at $600 if SD660 or $400 if SD630...

6. BracketLTE

Posts: 3; Member since: Jun 06, 2016

Sorry to burst your bubble. The Game Pad will be priced at $80 bucks.

2. LordDavon

Posts: 156; Member since: Sep 19, 2011

What about the software for mapping the controls? There should be something for mapping to on-screen controls, as well as remapping buttons. Also, does it allow you to select between Xbox and PS3/4 comparability, as many games are already coded to work with either/or?

9. LordDavon

Posts: 156; Member since: Sep 19, 2011

Also, are the joysticks clickable? Oh, just noticed the iPad autocorrected compatibility to comparability in my original post.

3. Scott93274

Posts: 6040; Member since: Aug 06, 2013

Hey, it's the first Mod that I'm actually excited about.

4. maple_mak

Posts: 953; Member since: Dec 18, 2013

Looks cool, but the Moto Mods price are expensive IMO...

5. davthom123

Posts: 121; Member since: Mar 02, 2015

if d z2 force was around 500dollars than I guess d pricing of d mods would be easier to swallow,but an expensive phone with similarly expensive mods is not a great way to introduce the biggest selling point of the z2 force to potential buyers. plus it was dumb to reduce d battery capacity as many people would forgive the lack of an headphone slot or jack for epic battery life,and sower rated charger for d in box charger compared to last year moto z feels like an upgrade in processing speed but downgrade everywhere else except maybe d camera which is yet 2 be seen

7. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

I find last year Moto Z Force to be even better for gaming with this Moto GamePad... Stellar battery life is everything for a hardcore gamers, and the Z2 Force just doesn't promise good enough battery life with it's significantly smaller battery capacity compared to the Z Force.

8. L0n3n1nja

Posts: 1575; Member since: Jul 12, 2016

Built in battery so you can game as long as the average flagship.

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