Kishi standalone gaming handset

Teardown: Razer Kishi controller

Image credit: Kishi

Designing around the next big thing in mobile gaming.

There are two big battles looming across the gaming world. The first and better known is between the latest generation of consoles, with Sony’s PS5 and Microsoft’s Xbox X set to arrive and compete with one another and the Nintendo Switch later this year. The second and less-widely recognised one is between players looking to deliver fully featured, console-standard games over streaming to virtually any device.

It is for this second market that gaming PC-to-peripherals specialist Razer has launched the Kishi, a near-universal connectable controller for both Android (8 ‘Oreo’ and above) and iOS (9.0 and above) handsets.

Inviting initial comparisons with the Switch, the controller’s Xbox-style layout hints more explicitly at Razer’s intentions. The Kishi’s main on-board features are two analogue joysticks, an eight-way D-pad, A-B-X-Y buttons and two front triggers.

The UK retail price for the controller is around £80. There have already been a number of other, cheaper handheld controllers though they have suffered from complaints over latency (many use Bluetooth, which is claimed to compound issues that can arise due to a stream), size and build quality. However, the higher-end streamed-gaming market will need more viable solutions if it is to grow.

While still in its infancy, it has already attracted heavyweights such as Google (Stadia), nVidia (GeForce NOW) and Microsoft (Project xCloud – launching September). Titles driving streaming subscriptions and a more demanding mobile market already include ‘Fortnite’, ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ and the ‘Call of Duty’ mobile version as well as lightly ported versions of console A-listers such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and ‘Red Dead Redemption’.

Gameplay across these titles demands more control than is typically available from a touchscreen interface, something that has limited the sophistication of mobile gaming since the interface arrived. Razer’s solution comprises a spring-loaded, extensible wraparound controller, with flexibility in dimensions to fit most handsets mobile gamers are likely to use. An earlier version, the Junglecat, had defined dimensions that limited its use to specific handsets such as Razer’s own Phone 2.

The Kishi’s telescopic harness will fit around devices that measure 145.3-163.7mm in height, 68.2-78.1mm in width, and 7.0-8.8mm in depth. Phone outer cases will typically need to be removed because, unlike the Junglecat and others, the Kishi connects directly to the handset through either a USB Type-C or Lightning port. A separate entry port on the controller allows pass-through charging during extended gaming sessions.

The USB option is being increasingly preferred to reduce latency during play and freeing up Bluetooth connectivity will make for better-quality wireless headphone audio during play.

For a Razer product, the Kishi is remarkably untricked-out. The US/Singapore company is well known for its flashy hardware, but the Kishi is, as first glances suggest, very much a ‘Ronseal’ product that “does what it says on the tin”.

Co-designed with Gamevice, which has also developed its own early-generation clip-on controller, the Kishi has the feel of a work-in-progress for early adopters. The extensible factor features a relatively simple rear rubber support pad. More experienced gamers worry that while this might stop your handset getting scratched, it may not stand up to heavy-duty use. There are further concerns that the Kishi could too easily get damaged if, as often happens with controllers, it is dropped.

An iFixit teardown found that while much of the design is modular – and the electronics are supported by an off-the-shelf 32-bit Arm Cortex-M0 microprocessor – some of the most vulnerable parts have been soldered in place. These include both joysticks and the pass-​through charging port (although the actual phone connector is more easily swapped out). Its repairability score is a middling 6-out-of-10.

A further issue is that the Kishi has had initial compatibility issues with some of the high-profile games released to stream, though to their credit Razer and its partners have been fixing these inevitable problems as they have arisen. Streaming is going to be a learn-as-you-go market, particularly given that much of the software is being ported across from existing platforms rather than tailor-made.

There is, however, one big upside for Razer’s large following: “All external faces of the controller can be separated from the electrical components, which will make individual paint jobs a breeze!” notes the iFixit team.

It should be said that, for all the caveats above, the Kishi made seven ‘best of’ lists at the 2020 CES trade show, including the ‘Best Gaming Product’ award from Endgadget.

For now, Razer has probably gone as far as it should. The fanboys are already there for mobile gaming and it does have the established brand. But the market still has a learning curve to ascend – though with global lockdowns also having reportedly extended the market for mobile gaming, it may be one that ramps pretty rapidly.

Key components: Razer Kishi

Exploded view

1. Left top assembly

2. Left bottom assembly

3. Right bottom assembly

4. Right top assembly

5. Spring mounts (4x)

6. Telescopic assembly

7. Triggers (2x)

8. Trigger assemblies (2x)

9. Buttons (2x)

10. Joysticks (2x)

11. Coil

12. A-B-X-Y buttons

13. Shoulder trigger breakout boards (2x)

14. D-pad

15. Left daughterboard

16. Button covers

17. Plug-in phone connector

18. Right motherboard with pass-through charge port

19. Side assemblies

Kishi gaming handset teardown - inline

Image credit: iFixit | E&T


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