LOS ANGELES--Peripheral manufacturer Mad Catz brings a bevy of brightly colored gamepads and headsets to every E3, but this year it brought something unexpected: the M.O.J.O., a tiny black box that plays Android games and apps on your HDTV.
Android apps get some time on the big screen
Leashing Android to a set-top box with a console-quality gamepad allows Mad Catz to field its own dog in the home-console fight. But because it runs only stock Android with no custom marketplace, the M.O.J.O. is only as compelling as the apps you download. The Android games we played on the M.O.J.O. worked well enough, but they just weren't terribly fun to play on a big screen. I've never found the notion of hooking an Android box up to my TV terribly enticing--hence my lack of enthusiasm for the OUYA--but Android enthusiasts should appreciate that Mad Catz is circulating hardware development kits and trying to encourage game developers to build better games for Android.
The console is due out this holiday season running the latest tablet version of Android. You'll be able to load it up with apps from the Google Play Store, the Amazon Appstore or anywhere fine Android apps are distributed. The SD card reader and USB ports along the back of the box allow you to sideload software from other sources to the M.O.J.O., which will ship with at least 16 GB of onboard storage.
That's a little vague, but it's hard to verify what the final M.O.J.O. hardware will be. Mad Catz claims to be waiting until the last possible moment to lock down final hardware so it can put the latest and greatest components inside the box. The box itself is lightweight and built of smooth black plastic, with a thin, wedge-shaped frontispiece that grows into a fat back end packed with ports. The prototype M.O.J.O. we manhandled on the E3 show floor sports an HDMI-out above two USB 2.0 ports, plus a micro-USB port, an audio out, and an SD card reader for storing apps. The final hardware will also have a wired Ethernet port, along with a wireless adapter and a dual-mode Bluetooth 4.0/Bluetooth Smart radio.
The M.O.J.O. is likely to ship with one of Mad Catz's new custom controllers, the Mad Catz C.T.R.L.R. wireless gamepad. Based upon the old Mad Catz MLG Pro Circuit controller, the C.T.R.L.R. looks like nothing so much as a brightly-colored version of the infamous fat controller that came with the original Xbox. That means one analog stick and a directional pad for your left hand, and one analog stick alongside four color-coded buttons on your right. Start and Back buttons flank a general-purpose Mad Catz button that takes you back to the Android home screen, while five buttons that control media playback crown the front of the gamepad.
Along the top you'll find two shoulder buttons and two concave triggers that feel comfortably solid under your fingers. Along the bottom is a micro-USB port and a three-position switch that lets you flip the C.T.R.L.R. between Bluetooth gamepad mode, PC gamepad mode, and mouse mode. The first two modes are pretty self-explanatory: The C.T.R.L.R. works as a Bluetooth gamepad in the former, while in the latter it registers as a PC gamepad while hooked up to a PC via Bluetooth or USB. Mouse mode is a little trickier: Flipping it on allows you to use the analog sticks to approximate mouse or touchscreen input, for navigating Android apps that require touch input. It's probably the most exciting aspect of the C.T.R.L.R., because it allows you to use apps on your HDTV that don't have controller support.
The controller is built with lightweight plastic and feels a little cheap in your hands, but it's designed to work with a wide variety of mobile devices and includes a dual-mode Bluetooth 4.0/Bluetooth Smart radio for maximum compatibility.
The Bluetooth Smart option is especially intriguing, because Mad Catz claims it allows the gamepad to communicate with the lowest input latency of any Bluetooth controller. Casual gamers won't notice the difference, but hardcore competitive players may appreciate the difference in delays between when a button is pressed and the game reacts. If Mad Catz's claims of building the Bluetooth controller with competitive-level input latency are true, the C.T.R.L.R. may be a step toward bringing high-level competitive gameplay to the nascent Android gaming market.
A nice upgrade for more complex Android games
It still seems a little silly to buy a separate controller for mobile gaming, especially if you don't buy into Mad Catz's Android gaming initiative. Yet contemporary mobile games like Dead Trigger and Grand Theft Auto are complex enough to make the notion of owning a Bluetooth gamepad festooned with buttons and triggers kind of appealing, even if it is a luxury.
Of course, a decent Bluetooth controller is a necessity if you own an Android console that plugs into your HDTV, and the C.T.R.L.R.'s mouse mode makes the prospect of running Android on your TV much more palatable. If you've ever tried to use a gamepad to navigate Steam's Big Picture mode from the comfort of your couch, you know the pain of launching a game that supports gamepad input everywhere except the main menu. The C.T.R.L.R. eliminates that annoyance, and that alone makes it a worthwhile purchase for PC and mobile gamers seeking a decent gamepad.