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Fructel Unveils Snap-on Game Controller for Smartphones

Mobile gaming can be a frustrating affair for people with less than dainty hands or those used to conventional controllers associated with portable gaming devices or traditional consoles. Touchscreen approximations of joysticks and d-pads rarely work as precisely as their controller equivalents (play GTA III for iOS or Android and claim otherwise. Just try.) Last November, British developer Fructel announced their plan to do something about that problem with what they promised would be a universal gaming controller for smartphones and tablets.

That controller, Gametel, was revealed Sunday night at CES Unveiled. We got our hands on it and can report that it largely delivers as promised. Identical, functionally, to the Super Nintendo controller, it has a standard D-pad, select and start buttons, 4 buttons where the ABXY buttons are traditionally found, and comfortably-positioned right and left bumpers. The controls are easy, precise and surprisingly responsive, and they deliver the tactile feedback sorely lacking from a touchscreen interface.

Gametel also comes with a clip for securing your phone so that you essentially build an ad hoc portable console (I tested it on my HTC Touch - it felt a bit like assembling a sniper rifle). Though the game we played, a top down racer, exclusively utilized the d-pad, the 4 standard console buttons and the two bumpers are properly placed to be instantly familiar to console gamers. Gametel connects to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth (you'll need to install a driver), and works with Smartphones running Android 2.1.1 Éclair or later, iOS tabs running iOS 3.2 and up, and iPhones running iOS 4.0 and up. It doesn't work with all available mobile games, though. I was told that the number compatible titles is in the low triple digits, though their press release only confirms "more than 50". A list of recommended games is available on their official site.

Currently, US distribution has not been secured. It's only available in select European countries, and in the UK where it sells for £49.99. I was told by a Fructel rep that the price in the US will be "roughly" equivalent to the UK price instead of a 1:1 conversion, so expect it to cost around $90 when it drops in America later this year.