From the Intellivision voice module to the Nintendo Power Glove to that gargantuan specialty Xbox controller you needed to play Steel Battalion that cost more than a car, every gaming platform worth its salt has had an array of optional accessories, add-ons, and gewgaws that can be added to it. Android mobile devices are no different, offering a wide array of extra hardware to enhance your gaming experience.
As mobile devices grow more advanced and more capable of handling functions that would have traditionally been done on a PC, there’s been a growing proliferation of accessories providing alternate forms of input for people who don’t always want to use touchscreen controls. If you’ve had your fill of mashing your fingers against an on-screen keyboard and hoping that it successfully divines your intent, you have many options.
This is a portable Bluetooth keyboard for tablet users. It’s welldesigned, extremely light, and compatible with both Android and iOS devices, with a number of special function keys for both. The price is also a lot more reasonable than some Bluetooth keyboards. It’s not flashy or fancy, but it gets the job done.
Needless to say, a device like this, portable though it is, is still a bit unwieldy for people who use smartphone instead of tablets. (Though I do enjoy the mental image of someone typing away on a nearly full-size keyboard while staring intently into a 4-inch screen.) And besides, some people want flashy and fancy. For either of those groups, there’s:
Buy it now from ZAGG
Cube Laser Virtual Keyboard
Who among us hasn’t longed for the ability to control his or her mobile device without using anything so base as corporeal matter? Now you can. The Celluon Magic Cube projects a virtual keyboard onto any surface, and then detects your hands with motion-detecting lasers to register input. You can also use your finger as a virtual mouse. It’s compatible with both iOS and most Android devices via a Bluetooth connection, and can be plugged into your home PC or Macintosh with a USB cable.
It’s not cheap, it’s electricity-hungry and can only go a few hours without a recharge, and some people miss the tactile feedback provided by real keys, so it’s certainly not for everyone. Nevertheless, it’s quite an interesting device. It produces a full-sized QWERTY keyboard with an impressively small and portable piece of hardware, it looks really cool, and you can take it out in public to convince gullible strangers that you’re a time traveler from the future.
Buy it now from Think Geek
The Game Klip
Apps that let you use controllers from a videogame console to play games on a mobile device via a Bluetooth or USB connection have been around for a while, but that’s problematic if you’re playing on a smartphone and only have two arms. Enter the GameKlip, a very cool idea that’s elegant in its simplicity. The GameKlip lets you mount your Android device on a standard PlayStation 3 controller, letting you hold and play games on your smartphone in the same way you would a conventional portable game console. There are several different models, shaped to accommodate a number of different popular smart phones. This could come in very handy for mobile gaming, especially if you play a lot of action games that demand responsive controls and suffer from being played on a touchscreen.
Note that you’ll need a phone that either supports connection to a PlayStation 3 controller out-of-the-box or is compatible with the “Sixaxis Controller” app from Dancing Pixel Studios.
Buy it now from The Game Klip
Maybe you’re like me, and every cord and cable in your vicinity seems to instinctively driven to entangle itself in each other. Maybe you’re an actual human being who continually jerks his head and body around in wildly exaggerated fashion while playing video games like an actor in a commercial or bad sitcom. Maybe you just want to be able to enjoy a game on your Android device without worrying about accidentally tugging your earphones loose at an inopportune moment. In any case, a wireless Bluetooth headset or speakers may be the solution.
Plantronics BackBeat Go
These are widely praised as the top-of-the-line in wireless Bluetooth headsets, at least for the segment of the market not composed of oil tycoons and the wealthy heirs of exiled foreign nobility.
These headphones provide good-quality audio for games, music, and phone calls, with an unobtrusive behind-the-neck design. They’re not perfect, and have been criticized for sounding a bit thin in the bass ranges and being finicky about requiring you to position the earbuds just right in your ear to get maximum sound quality – but then if you’re a militant audiophile purist who will not tolerate any but the most immaculate sound quality, wireless Bluetooth headsets for listening to music on a cell phone probably aren’t something you’re in the market for anyway.
If you’re looking for good audio quality, Plantronics BackBeat Go headphones have been praised for their strong sound quality, including especially good voice quality and noise suppression, and have received accolades including the Editors Choice award for wireless headphones at PCMag.com. Unfortunately, they aren’t cheap, typically selling for about $100. If that’s outside your price range, you might want to consider:
Buy it now from Newegg
A less expensive alternative at around $60, these headphones still provide good-quality stereo audio on the go, though its performance for making voice calls suffers by comparison to the Blackbeat Go. On the other hand, if you share my misfortune of being cursed with an annoying voice, reducing the fidelity at which it is transmitted to other people isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world.
On the other hand, if only the most pristine audio quality will satisfy you, there’s always:
Buy it now from Newegg
Sennheiser MX W1
These are the Rolls Royces of wireless headphones. They use Kleer wireless technology rather than Bluetooth, delivering superior sound quality rivaling that of wired headphones, and are made with the technical sophistication that has made Sennheiser such a big name in the world of high-end audio. Of course, that means you’ll need a mobile device that is likewise equipped with Kleer wireless, which there aren’t many of right now. Oh, and $600, which is what these things cost. That’s at least an order of magnitude out of my price range, but if you’re a hardcore audiophile on the go it’s hard to get more hardcore than this.
Buy it now from Shopmania
Jawbone Jambox Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
The speakers on your average mobile device are not exactly a marvel of auditory quality. This can be a problem if you’re trying to play something for more than one person to hear, or are just tired of having headphones on all the time. The Big Jambox is a portable sound system that can connect wirelessly to your Android device, so that you can play music or games with audio that fills the whole room and has much higher quality than your device’s built-in speaker. It also comes with a built-in microphone, letting you use it as a portable speakerphone. The Big Jambox has a larger, higher-performance big brother, the imaginatively named Jawbone Big Jambox, offering better audio and more features.
Buy it now from Jawbone
Not all Android accessories are so prosaic as a new pair of headphones or a more efficient way to tell your Facebook friends how drunk you are. Here are some other interesting gadgets for your mobile device:
Have you ever looked despairingly at your Android smart phone and thought, “This is small and portable, but it’s just not small and portable enough?” No, almost certainly not, unless you’re an international superspy trying to pass undetected through a North Korean military checkpoint or an 18-inch tall gnome who has emerged from the subterranean realm of his forefathers to live among mankind.
Nevertheless, the Smart Watch is an interesting idea. It’s a watch with a tiny touchscreen that, once paired with your smartphone, and it essentially becomes a wearable extension of that phone on your wrist. You can receive notices of missed calls, check e-mail messages from online social sites, and remotely control various functions on the device. You can even answer incoming calls with it, if you have a suitable headset. More importantly, you can use the little wrist-mounted screen to discreetly pretend you’re Dick Tracy.
Unfortunately, Sony doesn’t seem to have all the bugs worked out yet, so if the idea behind this interests you it might be a good idea to hold off until an updated model appears.
Buy it now from Sony Smartwatch
Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Graphics Card
It’s now possible to run Android apps on your PC or Macintosh using a free program from BlueStacks, called the BlueStacks App Player. What’s more, the company has announced a partnership with the computer processor company AMD optimizing BlueStacks for AMD’s hardware. If you’re a gamer who’d like to take advantage of this to play Android games on your home computer, you’ll want them to look and play their very best. For that you need a GPU from AMD, and it doesn’t get more hardcore than this. With a blazingly fast 1 GHz core clock, 3 gigabytes of GDDR5 video RAM, and support for up to six monitors simultaneously, it’s got everything you need to play the N.O.V.A. trilogy or Angry Birds the way they were meant to be played. Some naysayers will argue that you don’t really need to spend $450 on a bleeding-edge PC graphics card to play games that run on handheld devices, but-
Wait. Actually, on further consideration, they’re absolutely right. What the hell was I thinking? Still, if you like looking at a full-size monitor once in a while, you should give BlueStacks a look.
Buy it now from BlueStacks
This is, as of this writing, just a prototype on Kickstarter and not actually on the market yet, but it’s neat enough to include anyway. Botful is a small, remotely controlled robot that works with video calls on Skype. You plug a smart phone into it, and when someone with the appropriate software calls that phone via Skype they’ll see a special interface for controlling the robot along with the video call. You can steer it around on its little wheels, raise or lower its head to control your viewpoint, and activate various special apps.
Basically, it turns an inert smartphone into a little mobile mechanical avatar of whoever is calling it.
You can use it for video conversations to give yourself or your friends more viewpoint control and more of a physical presence on the other end of the call, or turn your phone into a tele-operated probe droid, steered from your computer or another mobile device, to explore difficult-to-reach areas. Or you can just lure unwitting friends, family, or pets into its vicinity and then scare the crap out of them when a small robot with your face suddenly springs to life and starts rolling towards them shouting “ORGANIC ENTITY SIGHTED! CRUSH! KILL! DESTROY!”
Support it on Kickstarter