As smartphones have become more powerful, the games they're capable of running have become more complex. Unfortunately, the controls used to play them have not. This often results in what could be a near console-quality game getting bogged down in a mire of lousy virtual, touch-screen controls. It's a problem that Logitech hopes they've solved, for Apple aficionados at least, with the Powershell: a $99 peripheral that provides iPhone 5, iPhone 5s and 5th generation iPod touch owners with a built-in analog game pad and a bevy of buttons to control their smartphone games with.
The Powershell is a plug-and-play add-on that connects via Apple's proprietary Lighting Port. Simply slide a compatible iOS device into the Powershell and you're ready to play. While my iPhone 5s was in the Powershell, I found still had access all of its physical controls, making it possible to adjust the volume, turn it on or off, take a photo or switch to another application via the Home button. It's also possible, thanks to an included adapter, to use the Powershell with a set of headphones. Additionally, as its name suggests, the Powershell also boasts a built-in 1500mAh battery, which holds enough juice to almost completely recharge an iPhone 5s. Provided you have a Powershell-compatible game (of which there's a growing list,) downloaded to your iPhone or iPod you'll be ready to play right away. The Powershell comes equipped with a pair of shoulder buttons, an analog directional pad, four control buttons and a pause button. Unfortunately, the Powershell lacks a secondary analog control stick or pad – a frustrating omission when you stop to consider how many immersive 3D games available via the iTunes App Store would benefit from having dual analog controls.
In order to put the Powershell through its paces, I tried it with a number of different games from a variety of genres that were suggested by Logitech as being compatible. In the end, I had mixed feelings on how the hardware performed.
Some titles, like Bastion, performed like a dream. I found that the game became much more playable once I had the Powershell's physical controls to rely on. Given that I enjoy this game enough to have put up with its lousy on-screen controls for months before I got my hands on the Powershell, that's saying something. I also found that other games like Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic and Dungeon Hunter 4 were similarly improved.
Unfortunately, in other instances, the Powershell's physical controls made playing a number of games a more frustrating experience. For example, I found that while playing LEGO Lord of The Rings or Asphalt 8: Airborne, I had to apply a good deal of pressure to the Powershell's D-pad before the game would register a response. I can't tell you whether or not this is due to the fact that compatibility with the Powershell was lashed into the code of the games at the last minute; or if it's a failure on Apple's part to monitor whether hardware and app makers are adhering to the standards laid out for MFi (Made for iPhone/iPod) compatible devices. But I will say that it sucked the fun out of my gaming experience. The same can be said for the frustrating lack of a secondary analog control stick: an iOS game like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas screams for dual analog controls. Having only one D-pad to control the game with left me constantly adjusting my viewing angle by noodling with my iPhone's touchscreen. Not cool.
While iOS gamers might be tempted by the lure of physical controls, the Powershell's lack of a second analog controller, inconsistent responsiveness from game to game, disappointing lack of iPhone 5c support and steep $99 price tag make it a difficult piece of hardware to recommend – yet. However, a recent drop in the cost to license MFi hardware could translate into a future price reduction for the Powershell. If that happens, its accepting the peripheral's frustrating limitations a little bit more palatable.