Razer’s Kishi is the iPhone game controller you’ve been waiting for
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Joysticks for smartphones are, unfortunately, often terrible. As an avid console gamer, I can’t bring myself to use them for more than five minutes. So I wasn’t expecting much from the Razer Kishi for iPhone. Fortunately, I had a pleasant surprise.
Razer is highly regarded, primarily for its high-end PC gaming peripherals, and along with the Kishi, it brings the brand’s signature design approach to mobile phones. And it’s good. It’s really good.
The Kishi effectively gives you a fully functional gaming input device similar to an Xbox or PlayStation controller. And in typical Razer fashion, it looks and feels slick. Also typical of Razer gear, it’s expensive and almost certainly reserved for enthusiasts. Is that you? Read on to find out if the Kishi is worth it for your needs.
Technical specifications of the Razer Kishi (iPhone)
Thunderbolt fast connection
Frontal sound channels
Dual analog input
Clickable analog sticks
Pass-through charging port
Support for the Kishi app
Premium construction to match your iPhone
Right off the bat, the Kishi sets itself apart from most generic cell phone controllers with its premium build quality – the controller definitely sports a premium feel. And while it’s light, it has a decent thickness for more comfort compared to many alternatives. It will feel especially comfortable in the hands of Nintendo Switch owners, as it feels like playing a Switch in portable mode.
Two sound channels re-project sound from the bottom of your phone directly to you, which is nice. And a pass-through port is present for charging while in use (power only – data transfer is not supported).
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The entrees themselves are generally great, but some are better than others. Analog sticks – a feature that most device makers struggle to master – are fantastic. They’re well weighted, have the perfect strength, and feature an Xbox-like outline for better grip. Plus, they’re clickable which is often overlooked on these mobile controllers. This means that in terms of raw inputs, the Kishi is on par with PlayStation and Xbox controllers. And you can expect full functionality in modern games that use click sticks to sprint, crouch, or zoom. Good job, Razer!
The face buttons and D-Pad are nice, with a premium, consistent feel across the board. However, they provide less tactile feedback than what console gamers are used to. They have a dull, dull feel, which isn’t perfect, but you’ll get used to it quickly. And I found them to be quite enjoyable after a short period of play.
My only real gripe in terms of build quality is the analog triggers (L2 and R2), which have an off-putting plastic scratchy feel and no defined bumps at full compression. They feel spongy and less upscale, and are also placed at a sub-optimal angle to the natural position of your index / middle finger. That said, these are true analog inputs and work great for racing games. Still, a more refined trigger feel would top my list of upgrades if the Kishi ever got overhauled.
Affirming The best of CES 2020 as good as Slickdeals Editor’s Choice, the Kishi contains a lot of ingenuity and design innovation. In particular, the installation is quick and easy. The two main sections of the Kishi come apart to reveal a flexible and stretchy tether. Separate the two halves and they can be attached to just about any modern iPhone. Razer lists compatibility with iPhone XS and newer versions, but I haven’t had any issues with models as old as the iPhone 6.
Interchangeable rubber inserts that fit phones of different sizes are included in the box which is great for compatibility. Just note that you will need to remove any case or bumper from your phone to ensure a proper connection. Once inserted, the accessory is snug, secure and comfortable to hold.
The Kishi connects through the Thunderbolt port on the bottom of your phone – not over Bluetooth like almost all other mobile controllers. This direct physical connection means the Kishi provides the fastest possible input response, avoiding the notoriously lag-prone latency of Bluetooth technology.
That alone makes it the best option for anyone who plays competitive online games or uses their phone to play triple-A games through a cloud-based streaming platform (which on the iPhone by the hour. current, is unfortunately limited).
Direct connection also means no internal battery, and therefore no need to charge the Kishi itself. And the connection is transparent. Compatible games detect it instantly.
But the physical connection also has some drawbacks. No Bluetooth means no wireless connectivity with other devices. Do not buy the Kishi if you plan to use it with anything other than your iPhone (get the Razer Jungle Cat instead of.)
Also if Apple Never move the iPhone away from its Thunderbolt port (unlikely in the near future at least), the Kishi will be made obsolete.
Satisfying gaming performance
In actual gaming, the Kishi is one of the nicer mobile controllers (other than maybe connecting a real Xbox or PlayStation controller to your phone). Software compatibility is an inevitable issue with mobile games though, but with games that fully support it, the Kishi feels like playing on a proper handheld console.
I had a lot of fun playing GTA San Andreas, which makes full use of the analog sticks and triggers on the controller, just like the original PS2. Classic games like Sonic CD and Shantae: Risky’s Revenge feel good too, almost like playing on a Nintendo Switch. Popular flight simulator X-Plane is wonderfully supported and really demonstrates the precision of analog sticks.
Apple Arcade subscribers will get the most out of the Kishi, with prestigious titles like Ocean Horn 2 with full support. The Kishi also works great with game streaming. I tested it with long sessions on Halo 3 and Destiny 2 via Wi-Fi from my gaming PC via Steam Link, and I felt like I was holding a future version of the Nintendo Switch.
The Kishi’s fast direct connection is perfect for this, with latency being so critical to the gaming streaming experience. It’s just unfortunate that the draconian Apple App Store policies currently prevent iPhone users from enjoying the game. Microsoft’s Project xCloud, Nvidia Now, or Stadia streaming services.
When it comes to compatibility, the general rule of thumb is that if the game supports generic controllers, it will work seamlessly with the Kishi. There are, however, two notable titles that don’t work: Call of Duty: Mobile and PUBG MOBILE. Entries are either all messed up or not responding at all.
And that highlights a significant issue with the Kishi right now – the lack of configuration options. The Kishi app is a rudimentary affair, only offering the option to install firmware updates on the controller. At the very least, I expected to be able to link buttons and save custom profiles. At best, I had hoped to have the ability to map button presses to touch inputs to specified areas of the screen, which would explode game compatibility. Unfortunately, neither of the two options is present.
On a more positive note, I expect some significant updates to the app. The Kishi Android app already has a feature that lists compatible games installed on the phone, which is handy (it’s a matter of trial and error on the iPhone right now). Other custom options will certainly follow.
Should you buy the Razer Kishi?
The Kishi is perfect for someone who wants to play more traditional controller-compatible games on their iPhone, or stream games to their phone through Steam Link.
Although it lacks the universal compatibility of a Bluetooth controller (again, check out the Jungle cat for that), it makes up for that with a super-fast physical connection that delivers a premium console-like experience on a phone.
So yes, the Kishi is really, really good – one of the best for mobile. But you might want to take a wait-and-see approach. Firstly, the experience should improve once the barebones app is fleshed out with more customization features and compatibility is increased. Plus, at $ 99.99, it’s pricey. But the Android version, which only came out a few months earlier, has already fallen to $ 79.99, which means the iPhone version could be cheaper before long.
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