iOS game buddy: Logitech PowerShell Controller adds buttons, charges your iPhone, available in December (hands-on)

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(Credit: Scott Stein/CNET)

Are you ready for iOS gaming to evolve to accept buttons? The long-rumored Logitech iOS game controller, the Logitech PowerShell Controller + Battery, is finally official and is available to order today for $99.99.

Games in the App Store are already getting quite advanced, but when it comes to classic-style games, having real buttons would be a big help. And these controllers are finally here, just in time for holiday shoppers to debate whether an iPhone can be a real-deal Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita replacement.

Along with the Moga Ace Power, the Logitech PowerShell is one of a new wave of snap-on game controllers for iOS 7 that allows any iPhone 5, 5S, or iPod Touch (there’s oddly no iPhone 5C support) to tap into potentially hundreds of games that already work with it. (I’ll explain the “potential” part in a moment.)

Sound exciting? It is, but the PowerShell isn’t cheap, and even though it’s available to order today, it won’t be shipping until December. And, if you notice, it’s lacking a few buttons (like dual analog pads, for instance). Is that a deal killer for gamers?

For hard-core gamers who want a reason to take iOS gaming more seriously, it’s intriguing, but there’s a lot we still don’t know. Based on some early hands-on time with Logitech, however, signs are encouraging. But Logitech’s take on an iOS game controller leaves some buttons behind.

The PowerShell and the Moga Ace Power are very similar in some key ways: both require Lightning connectivity, excluding devices older than the iPhone 5 and fifth-gen iPod Touch, and both are designed as snap-on controller cases for iPhones and iPod Touches specifically. Both double as rechargeable battery-pack cases. And, neither supports any Bluetooth connectivity.

(Credit: Scott Stein/CNET)

But, the Logitech PowerShell doesn’t have the same number of buttons as the Moga Ace Power; it has only a D-pad, four color-coded and lettered buttons, and two top shoulder buttons (plus a dedicated Pause button and on/off button for the iPhone/iPod that’s inside). It’s lacking the extra dual analog pads and dual analog triggers of the Moga controller, which matches the “Extended” controller profile baked into iOS 7; this PowerShell adopts the more minimal “Standard” layout.

(Credit: Logitech)

Will that be enough buttons? Maybe not for those looking to play a complex first-person game, driving, or flying title, but this controller has some surprises up its sleeve. All the buttons are analog, not digital; they’re all pressure-sensitive. In Lego Lord of the Rings, for instance, one of the games I tried with the PowerShell, holding the D-pad lightly to the left made my character walk, while pushing harder down made him run. This could mean that the shoulder buttons or front-facing buttons would work to control a pressure-sensitive gas pedal in a driving game.

(Credit: Scott Stein/CNET)

Also, as you’d expect, you can still use the iPhone touch screen and accelerometer while playing, so certain flight games and action titles could end up mixing various elements of tilt, touch, and buttons much like PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS games already do. So, the lack of some extra buttons might not end up being a huge deal breaker, but it’s disappointing.

(Credit: Scott Stein/CNET)

All basic iPhone/iPod functions are still accessible while the PowerShell is on: volume, on/off, and camera access via a cut-out section on the back. Headphone access comes via an included plug-in that juts out of the jack.

The PowerShell’s case feels compact with a soft rubberlike finish, made with the type of polish you’d expect out of an iOS accessory. The buttons and triggers felt very solid, too. The Moga Ace Power, by comparison, felt a bit more plastic and loose-fitting, but the Ace Power at least has a controller layout identical to any modern Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 controllers. I’d give the edge to the PowerShell as an accessory that feels more mainstream-friendly, clearly identifying a little more with the Atari/Nintendo set than the Sony/Microsoft one.

I like how it feels when I hold it, too. If the PowerShell had analog pads, it would be perfect. Whether Logitech will have other gaming accessories or just this PowerShell remains to be seen.

You can order a PowerShell now via the Apple Store or Best Buy, but it won’t ship until December — in other words, at least a couple of weeks. In the meantime, stay tuned for when we get a final unit for a full review — or, if you want an iOS controller right away, pick up a Moga Ace Power.

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