Posts with «author_name|kris naudus» label

Fortnite Festival tries to bring back the heyday of music gaming

Between Fortnite’s propensity for big-name concerts and Epic’s purchase of Harmonix two years ago, the inclusion of some kind of music-making feature in the game was inevitable. What Epic is releasing today is actually far grander: an entirely new mode called Fortnite Festival, a social space where players can team up to perform their favorite songs or jam together on new mixes.

There are two options, or stages, for users to play in the new mode. The main stage, or championship stage, is basically the Rock Band experience recreated inside Fortnite. You’ll form a band with friends and choose a song to perform. Then you play the song using the standard music game format where notes slide down vertical bars, hitting the correct button when the note reaches the bottom. Players can, of course, hear the song as they play it, which can be embarrassing if you’re not that good. Each performer earns points, which in turn leads to XP and character progression in the greater Fortnite ecosystem.

While the main stage may be old-hat to anyone present during the zenith of music games in the 2000s, the jam stage draws from Harmonix’s more recent (and less popular) mixing titles, Dropmix and Fuser. While both of those games had competitive modes, they were a lot more fun as music-making toys, where players could just throw different parts of popular songs together and see what comes out. Jamming in Fortnite Festival is pretty much that, but collaborative.

Epic Games

When you first drop into a jam, your avatar will be standing in a virtual world full of stages, clubs and green spaces. It has an amusement park-like feel, similar to Disney World’s long-gone Pleasure Island. Despite the world’s appearance, you don’t have to climb on stage to play music, you can start jamming wherever you want by pulling up the emote wheel. The actions here have been replaced with song options. Just pick a song and instrument, and your character will start playing. It’s not the entire song, but rather one particular piece of it. To assemble something more complete, you need to collaborate with other players.

Jamming with other players is incredibly easy. All you need to do is walk up to someone who’s already playing (helpfully indicated by a wavy circle) and activate your own emote wheel. The system will automatically mix the two songs together no matter the genre or style. You want to add the vocals from The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” to the synth from “Gangnam Style?” Go right ahead, and don’t be surprised when someone else drops in the beat from The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights.”

Instruments can be swapped out on the fly, and the key and tempo can also be tweaked to make a slow song fast or vice versa. There’s a lot of room for creativity here, as well as cacophony as the levels fill up.

While Fortnite Festival draws heavily on Dropmix and Fuser it has one key advantage over those two titles, one that could lead to success where its predecessors failed: it’s free. All three of the new Fortnite modes will be free, but Festival is a standout since it relies so heavily on licensed music. One huge barrier to entry for music games has always been the additional costs, especially the song packs. $2 for your favorite Nirvana or Bad Bunny tracks might not seem like much at first, but it adds up, and any online cost can be insurmountable to a kid without a credit card. The fact that this is a music game that anyone can download for free on their computer, console or mobile device without being bombarded with ads means it has the potential to make music games popular again.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Fortnite aims at the survival-builder crown with its new Lego mode

Remember when Fortnite was just a battle royale game? After six years of storylines, concerts and even Olympic events, Fortnite has grown beyond its roots into a general catch-all social space. And Epic Games isn’t going back, expanding the Fortnite experience even further with three new modes announced at its Big Bang Event this weekend: a racing game, a social music experience and, most importantly to kids, a Lego-themed survival builder that launches today.

If “Lego-themed survival builder” sounds suspiciously like Minecraft to you, you’re not wrong. Minecraft itself has been burdened with comparisons to Lego since its release over a decade ago; this is just the Lego company returning the favor. There’s a survival mode, where your little Lego minifig explores a verdant landscape punching trees and rocks to gather supplies for building. There are skeletons that wander around at night and will attack if they spot you. Various animals wander around that can provide resources: If you pet a chicken it will produce an egg, though I accidentally punched it first and got nothing as every other chicken proceeded to avoid me for the rest of the day.

Once you get into it, though, the comparisons fall away. The procedurally-generated landscape is realistically rendered thanks to the power of Epic’s Unreal Engine, with natural-looking trees covered in individual leaves and blades of grass that blow in the wind. Punching or chopping natural features is what turns them into Lego elements. It’s weird, almost like you’re colonizing the real world by turning it into a Lego one. It’s also huge, about 20 times the size of the battle royale island.

Once you’ve obtained the materials, building is rather simple. There’s a list of building plans, and your character adorably holds a Lego tile with blueprints on it while you’re in the construction mode. Players get a handful of essential recipes to start like a campfire to keep warm and a shack for shelter, and they can earn more as they play and level up. The game will helpfully sketch a ghostly outline of where each component goes, asking the player to slide and lock it into place. There’s no place for error or major creativity in the basic survival mode — that’s what the sandbox is for. There, all of the building plans will already be unlocked, leaving players free to let their imaginations go wild.

There’s plenty here for Lego devotees, as Epic has scanned around 10,000 different Lego elements for use in the game. All of your favorite pieces should be present, and the company plans to add more in the coming months (there are over 30,000 unique Lego elements total). As this is an official collaboration with the company, many of the graphical assets were received directly from Lego, and only “legal” builds will be allowed (as opposed to “illegal” builds, which refer to Lego configurations that in the real world, may stress or break pieces). Hardcore Lego aficionados will definitely appreciate the attention to detail.

Epic Games

And Epic would certainly like to see more Lego fans playing Fortnite, especially kids. Though it started life as a violence-oriented game, the title has evolved into a gathering space where kids sign on just to socialize with friends. The Lego feature, along with the two other modes Epic announced over the weekend — Fortnite Festival and Rocket Racing — are Epic’s way of facilitating that by providing activities that are more than just running around and shooting. By eschewing the violent elements (as well as controversial practices like loot boxes), Epic also hopes to make Fortnite more palatable to parents.

Lego Fortnite, similarly to Minecraft, lets you customize the challenges you'll face in your world. You can toggle gameplay basics like enemies, hunger, temperate damage, stamina and so on, along with some more advanced features. The mode supports up to eight players in a party, and you can delegate seven of your friends as "key holders" to your world, allowing them to access and edit it when you're not around. Each player can have eight worlds saved to their profile. 

As for existing Fortnite players, they’re free to continue playing as they always have and completely ignore the new modes – the only difference they’ll see is that the main menu has been expanded a bit to accommodate the new options. But, if they do decide to try out the Lego mode, they’ll find plenty that’s familiar, as over 1,200 skin options have already been translated into minifigs, and there are 100 emotes for your character to perform. Players will still earn XP, which will go into their overall stats, as opposed to remaining walled within the Lego mode. Cosmetic elements can be used between modes as well and, when you tab between options in the in-game locker, it will tell you what modes each skin is compatible with.

As this is Fortnite, all of the new modes will be free-to-play, including the Lego survival builder. Epic hopes this will bring new players in, though it remains to be seen whether it can draw significant market share from Minecraft. Existing players will see the new option pop up today (December 7), with the other modes set to follow this week.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The 10 best tech toys for kids in 2023

"Tech toys" doesn’t have to mean video games –not that there’s anything wrong with some time curled up with excellent titles like Tears of the Kingdom and Spider-Man 2. But when it’s time to step away from the TV and engage with the real world, there are still ways to play that involve gadgets and science and all the other STEM goodness that we love here at Engadget. We’ve got playtime covered for kids and adults, as well as interests ranging from cuddly to competitive.

Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Game Controller

Bumpas Cute Cuddle Pal

Leapfrog Chat and Count Emoji Phone

Yoto Mini

LEGO The Insect Collection

Tamagotchi Uni

Make It Real: Mini Pottery Studio

Spin Master Bitzee

Vital Hero Batman

Hot Wheels Rift Rally

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

SteelSeries starts out strong with its first dedicated gaming microphones

The rise of streaming and the switch to remote work means that in the past few years, more people are using mics than ever before. Which in turns means that lots of companies are looking to get into the space, and the latest entrant is well-respected game accessory manufacturer SteelSeries. Though the company’s probably best known for its headsets, it just might change that perception with its $180 Alias and $330 Alias Pro gaming microphones, available today.

Upfront I’ll admit I’m not a streamer, but I do make regular use of a microphone in both podcasting and regular Dungeons & Dragons sessions on Discord. And, like so many during the pandemic, I found myself in an endless array of remote meetings over Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and whatever else companies want to throw out there. Even in the year 2023, it’s a pain in the ass. My go-to mic for the past few years has been the Elgato Wave:3, which I admire for its excellent audio and solid build quality. But in use it hasn’t always been a dream; weirdly enough I never got it to work properly with USB headsets, even those made by its parent company Corsair. And switching between apps, even with the Elgato software installed, wasn’t always a smooth process. I’ve started so many meetings with my computer outputting to the wrong device (usually the internal laptop microphone, which as you can imagine, is crap).

SteelSeries looks to simplify all that with its GG software, which automatically works with all SteelSeries hardware. I plugged in the Alias and it was detected immediately; I didn’t have to adjust the settings in any app or on my system. Within seconds I was on a call with a friend on Messenger, and Discord automatically made the adjustment on its own as well. In 2023 I would expect audio software should just work, and GG fits the bill. It has lots of built-in customization for things like lighting so you don’t have to be a programmer to make your setup look cool. It also lets you set levels program by program, with multiple outputs so you can have what your stream hears be different from what you hear on your end. It’s just a good level of control that allows professionals (as well as amateurs) fine-tune their stream to their liking.

Kris Naudus for Engadget

Of course, solid software wouldn’t be anything without the hardware to back it up, and the Alias and Alias Pro are high-quality, extremely attractive microphones to have on your desk. They’re both oblong pills suspended by elastic cords in a ring-shaped stand. It’s easy enough to remove and mount on a boom arm, and both models of the Alias come with a clip to attach it to your existing arm, or you can purchase one from SteelSeries.

From there the two mics have different features: the entry-level Alias has a volume dial and mute button right on its front, while the Pro outsources those to the included mixer, which requires external power (it comes with an AC adapter). The mixer has two dials, which can be customized in the GG software, and two buttons for muting mic and headset audio. (They feel extremely nice to push.) The biggest difference, however, is where the Pro gets its name from, and that’s the XLR connection in the back. That’s a higher-end connector than most users will need, but professionals looking to add a speciality gaming microphone into their mix will appreciate it. The mixer also comes with two USB ports so you can do dual PC streaming.

As I am not a professional audio person I stuck with the regular Alias, which connects to your setup using USB-C. It also has a single headphone jack for plugging in a headset, and I appreciated the mic stand design for keeping the cords tidy. When you plug in the mic it’ll start working right away; you’ll know because the front of the mic is outfitted with LED lighting that will show your levels. If the single bar of lights rises into the red, you know you’re clipping. When the mic is muted, a big red “X” is displayed on the surface, so there’s absolutely no question about the state of your recording.

Kris Naudus for Engadget

In chatting with friends and family over various chat programs, the reports I got was that my audio was clear and loud, though one podcasting friend did think I did sound a little off at times — possibly because I got too close to the mic. At a normal distance I sounded fine. By my own reckoning through headphones, I thought it sounded great — on par with the audio I get from the Elgato Wave: 3 though a little more sensitive as it picked up the occasional ambient sound, like my typing. This isn’t unusual when I’m using a mechanical deck, but in this case it was the spongier membrane keyboard on my laptop. It can be mitigated by simply moving the devices further apart, if you have the space to do so.

Overall I think it’s a good piece of hardware to have on my desk; one of those accessories that makes you excited to record a stream, podcast or anything else you can imagine. You don’t need good tools to start creating, but the SteelSeries Alias is one of those that makes you want to make something because it’s such a delight to use.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The best budget gaming accessories for 2023

PC gaming can be a lot of fun, but it can also be pretty expensive. And we don’t mean the games themselves – any gamer worth their salt knows you can just wait for a Steam sale, or grab a slew of great titles on Humble Bundle. Building a dedicated desktop can be pricey, and gaming laptops can take a real bite out of your wallet. One aspect that doesn’t have to bankrupt you are gaming accessories. It’s possible to kit out your rig with some of the best headsets, keyboards and mice on a budget, and we’ve got a few recommendations to get you started.

Gaming headsets

Turtle Beach Recon Spark

The Recon Spark has been one of my favorite headsets for years; in fact, it was my daily driver in the Engadget office. There are some good reasons for that: it offers solid audio both in its cups and mic, plus it’s comfortable, sturdy and cute. It might not be wireless, but you can just plug it into almost any desktop or laptop and not have to worry about driver compatibility or installing software or anything like that. It’s also a great option for kids.

Logitech G733

While the Recon Spark might be my preferred work headset, the one I use at home is the wireless Logitech G733. It sounds great, has a phenomenal battery life and just the right amount of bling, with bright colored LED strips in the front and a customizable fabric headband. I use it for playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends on Discord, as well as recording the occasional podcast. It’s been around for a few years, but that just means that you can get this headset for under $100 at some retailers. If it’s still too rich for your blood, check out the similar G435.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1

If you’re looking for crisp audio, SteelSeries has always offered excellent clarity and volume, and the Arctis line does so at a reasonable price point. The Nova 1 is a wired headset where everything feels premium, thanks to its sturdy build (I’ve dropped it twice already), its smooth, matte finish and soft, comfortable ear cups. They can block out lower sounds, but not things like a TV or crying baby, making this headset ideal for new parents. The adjustable mic is built-in, so you don’t have to worry about losing it either.

Logitech Zone Vibe 100

Since video conferencing from home exploded during the pandemic, I’ve been extolling the virtues of using a headset for all of your business meetings. They block out unwanted noise, make your voice come through loud and clear, and they’re a good sign to others that you are on a call. The only problem is that gaming headsets don’t exactly look all that professional — but the Zone Vibe is a breath of fresh air. It offers all of Logitech’s expertise to deliver solid gaming audio in a stylish wireless package you won’t be embarrassed to wear in front of the boss.

Gaming keyboards

Corsair K60 RGB Pro Low Profile

When it comes to buying a keyboard, my first recommendation is always going to be “buy a Corsair.” Corsair keyboards offer an excellent typing experience and they’re super durable. Unfortunately, they’re also rather expensive, with the cheapest ones usually going for $120. Luckily Corsair introduced the K60 RGB Pro a few years back and I’d recommend the Low Profile version for those used to typing on laptop keyboards. No, it’s not the same as a membrane keyboard – it’s lightyears better, with mechanical keys and a durable build that will last you years (and hundreds, if not thousands, of game matches).

HyperX Alloy Origins 60

One of the new hot things in gaming seems to be 60 percent keyboards, which chop off the number pad to make more room on your desk for a mouse or other accessories. Being smaller also means they tend to be cheaper too, so budget-minded gamers should take a look at decks like the Alloy Origins 60. Besides being small and affordable, it’s also solid as a rock. The placement of the arrow keys in the lower right corner should be less confusing for those making the switch from a full-sized deck, too.

SteelSeries Apex TKL

Mechanical keyboards are great, but even the quietest among them might be too noisy for some environments. The Apex TKL is great at being unobtrusive: it’s a 60 percent deck so it’s compact, and its keys offer great typing response while being whisper quiet. The Apex TKL is a little bigger than many other keyboards that eschew the number pad, but that’s for a good reason – you’ll appreciate the dedicated arrow keys and volume scroller, the latter of which is a must-have for anyone who consumes a lot of media on their device.

Gaming mice

Logitech G305

Going budget doesn’t mean you have to skimp on quality or looks, and the G305 is both a high-performance and stylish mouse. What’s also nice is how it keeps things simple, with six programmable buttons and a sleek profile. The battery life is rated for 250 hours, though I swear based on my personal use it’s much longer, and it only needs a single AAA battery so you can swap it out in seconds and get back to gaming. If you have a headset like the G435 you can get the G305 in lilac to match, or just stick with a basic black model. If you want to save even more money and don’t mind having a wired mouse, also check out the G203 Lightspeed, which we recommended in our overall gaming mice buying guide.

SteelSeries Aerox 3

Every gamer knows the pain of spilling something on their desk once or twice, whether it’s water, coffee or soda. The Aerox 3 might look like it’s headed for disaster thanks to all the holes in it. But it’s actually rated IP54, which means it can take a good splash and just keep on working (though maybe a bit sticky if you don’t wipe it down). The holes do more than just look cool, too – they make the mouse much lighter to handle (if that’s your thing), and they keep heat from building up in your palm.

SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless

If you’re looking for something a bit more traditional but still affordable and wireless, the Rival 3 might just be up your alley. It’s a basic black mouse with a sleek contour and five programmable buttons. It comes with a wireless receiver to ensure a strong connection, but also works over Bluetooth so you can easily switch it to a laptop or mobile device. This makes it great for the office as well as gaming, the ultimate money-saver.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Peach is a solid addition to Lego's Super Mario lineup

After three years, Lego’s Super Mario lineup is still going strong, finally adding Princess Peach to its roster of starter sets last summer and continuing to release new expansions ever since. The Fliprus Snow Adventure Expansion Set, available now, is a blast from the more-recent past, showcasing an enemy from 2012’s New Super Mario Bros. U. With the International Toy Fair being on ice for the past few years, chances to check these sets in person out have been few and far between, but we got to take a peep at them at a recent industry event in New York.

The Princess Peach Starter Set was announced one year ago on March 10th (aka Mario Day or “Mar10 Day”), and it’s been available since August. The $60 set is the same price as the Mario and Luigi starter sets, though you’re likely to see those on sale more often since they’re older. Aside from the Bluetooth-connected Peach figurine, the pack also comes with Lemmy Koopa and a yellow Toad. Also unique to the set is a flower-adorned swing — when the Peach figure is placed in the seat and pushed, she collects “coins” every time she passes over the sensor.

Like the Mario and Luigi figures, Peach has LED eyes and a small screen in her chest. The eyes are very expressive, if not a little uncanny valley, but no worse than we’re getting in the upcoming Super Mario Bros. movie. The bottom of her dress comes off so you can plug her into other sets like the Cat Peach Suit (unfortunately not included in this display, but available for $80 at plenty of retailers).

Kris Naudus

The Fliprus set is the newest of the bunch and it’s a bit more affordable at $65, since it doesn’t include any new costumes for Peach, Mario or Luigi. It’s compatible with all three starter characters, though the icy-blue palette is probably best suited visually with the Princess. There’s a little catapult behind the Fliprus that launches an “ice” boulder, and even a Cooligan (also from New Super Mario Bros. U).

Peach is already on sale at Amazon for a nice price of $45, though members of Lego’s VIP program can earn double points on Super Mario purchases at the Lego site now through March 12th.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The best 60 percent keyboards you can buy

Gaming keyboards are plentiful and diverse right now. You can buy them in black or white, wired or wireless, and with at least a dozen key switch options. And every year they’ve gotten bigger and more complex, with media buttons and macro keys and bright rainbow LED lighting. However, this past year has seen some manufacturers go in the opposite direction, introducing 60 percent keyboards that are cute and compact. But are they worth buying?

Engadget's picks

How many keys does a 60 percent keyboard have?

Kris Naudus / Engadget

First off, it’s worth noting that gaming keyboards tend to follow one of three different configurations. The most common one is the full-size deck, which will usually have somewhere between 100 and 110 keys, depending on whether the manufacturer includes media buttons or macro keys. There’s always a function row located along the top of the keyboard, and a number pad on the far right. Most gamers will prefer a full-size model rather than a compact keyboard because it lets them perform many different functions with just one press, and set up macros for activities that aren’t already built-in to the keyboard.

Tenkeyless decks have been pretty common for a while now; those are keyboards that omit the number pad on the right. That’s it. They still have function keys and media controls, but they’re narrower since they omit 17 keys. Yeah, it’s actually more than 10 keys but “seventeenkeyless” doesn’t have the same ring to it. Gamers might opt for one of these when they need a little more space on their desk, and they don’t need a quick way to enter numbers or do calculations (which is my number one use case for the right-hand pad).

Then there are 60 percent keyboards which, as the name indicates, cut out 40 percent of the standard keyboard size and only have 61 keys. Not only do they just remove the number pad, but the function keys are gone, along with the arrow keys and those weird system keys like “print screen” and “home” that are only useful when you happen to need them. On some computers they don’t even work.

On a 60 percent keyboard you’ll access these buttons by using the function key; there’s no standard layout between companies so you’ll have to learn new hotkeys if you switch between manufacturers like Razer, HyperX or Corsair. They also lack built-in wrist rests, though the height is at least adjustable.

Razer also just introduced a 65 percent keyboard, a less common configuration which keeps the arrow keys and some functions but still tosses the rest to maintain a reduced profile. This is probably a preferred option if you use the arrow keys a lot. I need them because I edit a lot of text, and some games may use them instead of the standard WASD array for controlling your character.

What are the benefits of a 60 percent keyboard?

Kris Naudus / Engadget

With so many functions removed, why buy a 60 percent keyboard? The number one reason to use a compact keyboard is space of course. If you’re gaming in tight spaces or just have a lot of crap on your desk like I do, not having to shove stuff aside just to make some elbow room is nice. It’s especially helpful if you tend to eat near your computer, as a 60 percent keyboard’s small size makes it easy to push out of the way to rest a plate or bowl on your desk. It actually keeps the keyboard a lot cleaner, too, since I can easily shake crumbs out of it with one hand.

A smaller keyboard size also makes it more portable, obviously, with a 60 percent keyboard taking up less space than a laptop in your bag, though it’s still a little thick. They do have lower-profile keys than standard decks at least, though if thickness is your number one concern then carrying around a mechanical keyboard is probably not for you.

One big feature that doesn’t get talked about a lot is that all of the recent 60 (and 65) percent decks are not wireless keyboards and use detachable USB-C cords. So if you switch between workspaces often, you can easily leave a cord at each desk to quickly plug in your keyboard. As someone who tests a lot of keyboards I’ve found this handy because I can switch out the deck and leave the cord intact. It’s often a real pain to have to unplug cords and untangle them from my office setup every time I try a new keyboard, but for the 60 percent models I’ve been using the same wire for all of them.

The best for most gamers: Razer Huntsman Mini

The best of the major 60 percent keyboards out there right now is the Huntsman Mini. It uses Razer’s opto-mechanical switches, which I haven’t been too fond of in the past, but the company seems to have made some changes that make it a much more pleasant typing experience. This gaming keyboard is quiet and smooth with good response time, though people who prefer a springy key feel should look elsewhere. It’s not a wireless keyboard, so if you take it on the go you’ll need to make sure you always have a USB-C cord handy. The Huntsman Mini gaming keyboard also comes in white, which means it’ll blend into your decor more than most gaming accessories, especially if you choose to customize the LED lighting.

Pros: Attractive; good typing feel; comes in white.

Cons: No wireless; not everyone will be a fan of opto-mechanical keys.

Runner up: HyperX Alloy Origins 60

If you need a solid, sturdy brick of a 60 percent keyboard, the HyperX Alloy Origins 60 is a mechanical deck on a metal baseboard. It’s heavier than the other options on the market, so it might not be the best if you’re aiming to keep your travel bag as light as possible. But if you’re a particularly rough typist this is the one that will put up with hard keystrokes the best. It also earns points for being the one 60 percent keyboard that puts the secondary arrow functions at the bottom right of the deck where you’d normally look for those, instead of tucking them away in the middle.

Pros: Solidly built; cheaper than other 60 percent options; well-placed arrow keys.

Cons: Heavy; no wireless.

The best with arrow keys: Razer BlackWidow V3 Mini HyperSpeed

Razer’s BlackWidow line has long been a favorite of the gamers here at Engadget, and the V3 Mini is no exception. Unlike the other keyboards on this list it’s a 65 percent keyboard, which means it still has arrow keys and a column of miscellaneous keys on the right side that can double as macro buttons. There are two switch options available to suit different typing preferences, either clicky and tactile (green) or linear and silent (yellow). It’s worth noting that the latter description is the company’s term for it, and the V3 Mini’s typing is still noticeably audible to those around you.

Pros: Two types of key switches available; has both 2.4G and Bluetooth wireless; includes keys other keyboards don’t have.

Cons: Expensive; the lip at the bottom is bulky.

A cheaper but underwhelming option: Corsair K65 RGB Mini

Corsair usually makes pretty great keyboards, but I couldn’t necessarily say that of the K65 RGB Mini, its entry into the 60 percent market. The materials were substandard for the company, with a plastic casing that felt hollow and keys that made a ringing noise when hit. But it’s not a completely terrible accessory, and users already invested in Corsair’s iCUE software might want to keep their accessories streamlined under one customization suite instead of having to bounce between different interfaces. If that isn’t a concern for you, the HyperX Alloy Origin 60 is both better and cheaper.

Pros: Uses Corsair’s iCUE software; key feel is good.

Cons: Cheap materials; noisy typing experience; no wireless.

The best mobile gaming controllers you can buy

Mobile gaming is serious business now. The biggest titles out there are games like Fortnite and Genshin Impact, helped along by legions of kids getting their first smartphone. Lots of game publishers are putting out console-quality experiences on mobile, and it’s taken time for gaming accessories to catch up. But they have, and now players have a number of controller options to suit their play style. We’ve sorted through the leading options to highlight the pros and cons of each, so you can decide which one is the best for getting your game on (the go).

For players who prefer PlayStation-style controllers: 8BitDo Pro 2

Kris Naudus / Engadget

8BitDo has built itself a reputation for versatile gamepads that can work with multiple systems, from the Nintendo Switch to the Raspberry Pi. And while the Pro 2 is one of our top controllers for the Switch, it's also a pretty great option for Android and iOS as well. The advantage to using these with your phone is also the free 8BitDo software that gives you extensive customization options for the buttons; it even has more options than you’ll find on Nintendo’s system. Of course, being a Bluetooth gamepad means it’s easy enough to jump back and forth, making this a good investment for people who own multiple portable devices (like a Switch).

Pros: PlayStation-like design is comfortable; configuration software is robust; controller is available in multiple colors

Cons: Not small and would be best carried around in a case

Buy 8BitDo Pro 2 at Amazon - $50

For players who like Xbox-style controllers: SteelSeries Nimbus+ and Stratus+

Kris Naudus / Engadget

While the PlayStation’s DualShock design has gained its share of devotees over the years, the Xbox gamepad is the stereotypical image of the gamepad in many people’s minds (as well as the Discord logo). So it makes sense that there are a lot more mobile gaming options with that shape, and the best ones come from SteelSeries: the Nimbus+ for Apple-made devices and the Stratus+ for Google-based devices (Android and Chromebook).

The two controllers are, for the most part, identical. They have shoulder buttons and triggers, the d-pad is the same, and they both include sturdy phone mounts for attaching your device at the top — the type that clamps in place automatically. Unlike a clamp from a more generic company, the one SteelSeries provides with both controllers won’t fight you during the process of mounting your phone.

Pros: More players are likely to be familiar with Xbox-style controllers; both models include sturdy clamps for clipping your phone to the controller.

Cons: You have to buy a different controller based on what OS you’re using; the controller with the clamp attached is unwieldy

Buy Nimbus+ at Amazon - $70Buy Stratus+ at SteelSeries - $60

For players who want to turn their Android phone into a Switch or Steam Deck-like device: Razer Kishi

Kris Naudus / Engadget

Let’s be honest, the form factor is a big reason that devices like the Switch are so popular. They’re comfortable to hold, well-balanced and really put the screen front and center. You don’t really get that with a phone clamp or table stand. Luckily, Razer’s Kishi is a super affordable option that’s easy to slide your phone into — though the setup admittedly wasn’t as quick for me as the SteelSeries options. But at least the direct connection it forms with the phone using USB-C is faster than Bluetooth.

The Kishi’s biggest advantages — besides Razer’s high-end build quality — are its passthrough charging, so you never need to detach it to charge your phone, and the size it folds down to when you do take it off your device. It’s smaller than the SteelSeries controllers, making it ideal for throwing into a small bag.

Pros: Provides a direct connection to a phone instead of relying on Bluetooth; folds up compactly when not in use

Cons: Phone with Kishi attached may feel bulky; doesn’t work with iPhones

Buy Razer Kishi at Amazon - $90

For players who want to turn their iPhone into a handheld console: Backbone One

Kris Naudus / Engadget

The USB-C port on the Kishi restricts it to Android devices, and Razer doesn’t make an iOS equivalent. However, the new Backbone One is made for Apple devices, though at a higher cost (due to being newer and from a smaller company). My colleague Mat Smith was a big fan of the One when he tried it, and in my own use it has a few advantages over the Razer device, namely a cleaner design and a more sweat-friendly matte texture. It also features Apple-specific buttons, ones that are much bigger and thus easier to hit than the ones on the Kishi.

Pros: Nice matte finish; specifically made for iPhone users

Cons: Expensive; only works with iPhones

Buy Backbone One at Amazon - $100

For players who want the most portable controller possible (or the cutest): 8BitDo Zero 2

Kris Naudus / Engadget

If you have big hands, the 8BitDo Zero 2 is definitely not for you, and your hands will likely cramp if you spend too long playing with this diminutive Bluetooth controller. But for everyone else, it’s definitely worth a look, if only because it’s so small there’s no reason to keep it on you at all times in case of an emergency. Not that we could tell you what constitutes a gaming emergency, but if one does come up you’ll be glad to have this on hand. It truly is keychain-sized, so you can clip it on your backpack or slide it into a Switch carrying case with ease. And we love the bright colors, which are based on the Switch Lite design and should blend in with your spring and summertime apparel.

Pros: Cute and tiny; comes with a strap for attaching to a bag

Cons: Too small for gamers with big hands

Buy 8BitDo Zero 2 at Amazon - $20

'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ says the quiet part out loud

The following contains spoilers for the premiere episode of ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

Today Strange New Worlds makes its debut on Paramount+, the long-awaited third live action series in the new Kurtzman-era. But, while Discovery carried the burden of being the first Star Trek show in 12 years and Picard saw the return of a beloved character after 17 years, Strange New Worlds is dealing with a more recent problem: It’s been billed by cast and crew alike as an answer to fan complaints about this new era of Trek, specifically as a return to more episodic storytelling. But, with its series premiere the show also felt the need to fire another shot across the bow to fans: a return to “message” Trek.

Star Trek, from the beginning, has always been imbued with Gene Roddenbury’s humanist philosophy. The original series was meant to depict a universe where all the nations and races of Earth had worked out their differences and traveled to the stars to meet other sentient species and overcome their differences with those groups. Many of the Enterprise’s adventures with alien species were often unsubtle allegories for real-world issues. For example (and most memorably), “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” wherein two warring members of the same species hate each other due to the color configuration of their faces — black on the right side, or black on the left side (they looked a lot like a black and white cookie, if you’ve ever eaten one of these New York classics).

Marni Grossman/Paramount+

The followup shows would tackle other issues in their own ways, from The Next Generation handling issues of drug addiction (badly), gender identity (also kind of badly) and basic civil rights (those were actually pretty good). Deep Space Nine can claim one of the best episodes of the entire franchise with “Far Beyond the Stars,” in which Captain Sisko experiences visions that place him in the shoes of a Black science fiction writer trying to tackle the racial injustices of the early 20th century.

That particular episode of Deep Space Nine is not just meaningful in what it has to say about race, but in the role of science fiction as a way to explore social issues and address injustices. There’s a quote from Stargate SG-1 (yeah, the other-other “Star” franchise) that I often go back to: “Science fiction is an existential metaphor that allows us to tell stories about the human condition.” That is, we can take real-world issues and bury them under fanciful elements such that we can portray them without immediately sending up someone’s hackles, then comment on them with the caveat, “this is just a ‘what if,’ after all; it’s not real.” It’s not real, but it makes you think. Science fiction is the storytelling equivalent of hiding your dog’s pills inside a treat.

Marni Grossman/Paramount+

However, Discovery and Picard have largely stayed away from “message” storytelling, choosing largely to focus on long-term character exploration over a long serialized story. If the shows chose to make any broad statements, it was by the mere presence of marginalized groups and integrating them into the universe: Discovery is the first show led by a Black female captain, with many of its main and recurring characters existing on the queer spectrum. Seven and Raffi are a couple on Picard, and Lower Decks even has an asexual character. But the shows for the most part, have shied away from overt messaging, even if wrapped in a science fiction coating.

Strange New Worlds upends that trend in its first episode, where Pike is sent to right a first contact mission gone wrong. For those unfamiliar with the trope, the Federation always reaches out to races developing warp engine technology for the first time, to catch them before they blunder out into trouble in outer space. It’s a fairly standard Star Trek plot, one that makes for a good standalone adventure to kick off a program that’s been billed as an “episodic” show. First contact episodes are good because both the characters and audience are meeting an alien species for the first time at the same time, so there’s no backstory to explain, nor are they expected to follow up (other ships have the task of continuing diplomatic relations, as seen in Lower Decks).


But in this case, the development of warp on the planet was not natural; instead the planet is not far from the events of Discovery at the end of season two and was witness to sights and readings that led them to build a warp device… as a bomb. While Starfleet protocol would dictate that the planet should just be allowed to blow themselves up, Pike decides to take responsibility instead, stepping in and delivering a message along the lines of The Day the Earth Stood Still, though less “we’ll blow you up” and more “don’t do this to yourselves.” There’s an entire speech about how Earth went through the same kind of struggles, and this is where the message stops being allegorical as Pike specifically shows footage of January 6th, 2021.

It’s rare for Star Trek to directly acknowledge the present day in its storytelling, partly because that facet of continuity is a mess (the worldwide Eugenics Wars were originally supposed to take place in the ‘90s, for example) but mostly because it violates the whole “science fiction as metaphor” principle. When the show specifically points at something you personally know, something you’re almost sure to have an opinion on, it’s easy to feel like it’s turned against you when your opinions don’t align. Even if they do line up, people don’t particularly like being lectured. So for a show that’s trying to win back fans that seem to have turned away from this new era of Trek, it’s a weird path of Strange New Worlds to take.


But, between this and the season four finale of Discovery and its Stacey Abrams cameo, it seems that Star Trek has no interest in being metaphorical anymore; too many people are missing the point. There are those on the internet that love to complain about “woke” Trek even though the show has always addressed racism, sexism, gender identity, drug addiction, religious belief, terrorism, persecution of minorities, slavery, colonialism, environmentalism… the list goes on. Many of these situations weren’t even that subtle. And, despite insistences to the contrary, Starfleet is a military organization. The Federation is a government. Almost everything they do is political by definition. But that seems to have escaped many viewers, forcing the franchise to drag the real world in to make its point.

'Star Trek: Picard' could only exist on a streaming service

The following contains mild spoilers for the finale episode of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ season two.

Picard has always been an outlier in the Star Trek franchise. It’s not a show about a particular ship and its crew; the title indicates that at its heart, it’s about this one character and any unresolved issues he may have had with his life. It hasn’t been the most compelling premise, and its output so far has been divisive among fans. But as the series finishes up its second year and rolls into its third and final season, its ultimate purpose has become more clear, a purpose that wouldn’t have worked for a broadcast show but fits right in with the more intimate confines of a streaming service.

In its first two seasons, Picard has felt rather directionless. Season one was about artificial life, while season two decided to delve into time travel and emotional trauma. It may be a serialized program, but the plotlines and tone have gone all over the place (mostly notably in “Stardust City Rag,” which starts off with a gory torture scene but by the halfway mark the crew is all wearing silly disguises). But between the departures of cast members at the end of season two and the announcement that The Next Generation crew would be appearing in the series in its last season, however, a clear pathway for the program seems to have emerged from the fog.


The final TNG movie (Nemesis) is generally considered to be awful, with a weak nonsensical plot, some out-of-character moments and just a bad sendoff for fan favorite characters like Data. Picard has sought to heal some of those wounds by giving Data a proper death, Troi and Riker a proper family, and Jean-Luc himself some needed character growth. That last one was a particular sticking point since the finale of the show, “All Good Things,” ended with a message that Picard needs to grow as a person. And then in the films… he just didn’t.

It’s hard to imagine creating a network television show just to fix some problems with a series of films made twenty years ago, which is why Picard is most definitely a product of the streaming model. I’ve talked before how streaming affects the creative development of shows in both good and bad ways. A streaming program is given a full season order before it starts, meaning that creators know they have at least six or 10 or 13 episodes to play with. It’s a big part of why serialized storytelling is even possible, since showrunners no longer fear being cut off in the middle of an ongoing story (like the recently canceled Legends of Tomorrow on the CW, which ended on a big cliffhanger).


There are also some drawbacks, to be sure; without audience feedback, it means a creator can’t fine-tune a show as it goes along. They can’t make changes at all until the new season starts production. And if the show hasn’t been renewed for another season, they can’t seed plot points in the current season and be sure they’ll pay off. At least with broadcast shows, they may hear of their renewal while still in production, allowing them to add in some hook for the next season.

But as I said, Picard doesn’t have to worry about any of this. The show was intended to be three seasons and no more, and they’ve already shot the entire thing. Many lapsed fans have publicly stated they intend to jump on board merely for the presence of their TNG faves, meaning Paramount+’s streaming strategy does seem to be working in this case.


And it’s because the show has such a limited life span, because it’s ending up to be less a tentpole than it is a nice little coda for long-time fans, I find it easier to make peace with the show’s existence. Like many viewers I’ve had problems with Picard, some I’ve written about. The same goes for Discovery. But as the Star Trek universe expands and more options become available, each show has a lot less weight to carry.

They no longer have to try to meet every expectation; instead fans have a fuller menu to choose from. Discovery can be for those who like a quirkier Trek with a progressive cast, Picard is for TNG diehards, Lower Decks is for fans who like the sillier aspects of the franchise, Prodigy is for kids and Strange New Worlds is trying to be an old-fashioned-style Trek for fans who literally hated everything else on this list. And I don’t think any of this would have been possible without the streaming model. There may be too many shows to keep up with, but at least it’s easier to find something that fits your unique taste. Whether the growth of streaming is sustainable is yet to be seen (RIP CNN+) but for now, we can enjoy the plethora of options at the buffet.