When playing games on a mobile device, most people use their fingers as the main controller. However, this poses a problem, because our fingers block multiple sections of the screen, shrinking the usable viewing area of the display. Mad Catz hopes to solve that problem, and change the mobile gaming landscape in the process, with its multipurpose L.Y.N.X. 9 controller.
We had a chance to test it out at CES, and for the most part, it is quite impressive. However, Mad Catz said that the controller is still in its pre-production phase, so a few of the small details may change between now and the device's launch next month.
The L.Y.N.X. 9 shares more DNA and design ideas with the R.A.T. mouse, with its skeletal frame and metallic polish, than previous Mad Catz mobile controllers. It's also small enough that the handgrips can be folded in towards the analog sticks.
Additionally, the mobile clip at the top folds down onto the center of the controller to further give it a compact, travel-ready look. When unfolded, small additional grips can be attached to the existing grip for better comfort. While they are detachable, I wouldn't suggest playing without them; the sharp edge of the grip chassis becomes annoying and uncomfortable after a few minutes of gameplay.
As expected, the mobile clip is very sturdy when attached, and it offers a tight grip on your mobile device. Even when I tilted the controller to the left or right, the clip was able to keep the device firmly in place.
As for the analog sticks, they can be pulled out further depending on the player's preference. I kept the analog sticks in their original position, and I had no issues. However, people with bigger hands might want to pull it back to give their hands a little more room to breathe.
The sticks themselves have textured ridges, which prevent your thumbs from slipping. It's a small, but nice feature that can really help enhance the user experience, especially during long hours of play. The directional pad, the X, A, Y, and B buttons, and the shoulder and trigger buttons all have a plastic, glossy finish. The buttons feel smooth, and the plastic finish helps it stand out from the metallic chassis, so you're not always looking down having to find the buttons.
However, there are a couple of notable button issues. The directional pad is just one circular component, and its buttons have rather shallow travel; I had to constantly look down to see if the buttons were actually pressed. This issue of pressure also extends to the trigger buttons. People are quite used to the depth of trigger buttons on other controllers, but this is completely non-existent on the L.Y.N.X. 9.
The controller isn't just restricted to mobile gaming. Pressing a button in the middle of the controller switches it to one of the three modes: mobile gaming, media, and PC. Turning it to the media mode changes the button functions, which are written on top of the designated buttons. The Y button is play/pause, the X and B buttons are fast-forward and reverse, and the shoulder pads control the volume. In Android and PC mode, the player can also use a very tiny mousepad on the controller to move a cursor around. It's a neat little feature, but due to its size, it can be a little difficult to work with, so you might have to use the touchscreen on the phone a few times.
The controller also comes with a keyboard for texting or writing emails. The tiny keys are made from rubber, which offered nice grip and make it slightly easier to feel every keystroke.
As much as I wanted to type quickly, I felt like I had to slow down and make sure every key was pressed. Due to its small size, a dedicated button switches the keyboard input to a set of symbols when it is pressed and held. I also had some difficulty using it. There's a small light on the keyboard to indicate that the symbols are in use, but sometimes it didn't respond even when I pressed and held the button.
The L.Y.N.X. 9's most impressive feature is its ability to split into three sections. The left side consists of the left analog stick, directional pads, and the left shoulder and trigger buttons. The right side has the right analog stick, the Y, A, B and X buttons, and the right shoulder and trigger buttons. The center houses the Bluetooth connection and the Start and Back buttons.
With the included tablet stand, the user just places the three separate parts on the left, right, and top of the stand to act as an additional grip on the tablet. The whole thing feels like one big controller, but even with the tablet locked in place, it doesn't feel heavy at all. You can tilt the entire thing in any way, and the tablet is secure in the stand along with the three controller parts.
Even though the company is showing a pre-production model, Mad Catz plans to ship the controller next month, so its current issues can and should be fixed in that small window.
One concern, however, is the price. The $299 price tag feels far too expensive for a controller. It might be the materials, its multiple functions, or the overall design that make it so expensive, but I'm failing to see the justification for the price. Considering that people already pay a lot of money for mobile devices and tablets, buying the L.Y.N.X. 9 feels like purchasing another smartphone. If Mad Catz finds a way to make the controller cheaper and still retain some of its key functions, the L.Y.N.X. 9 has the potential to make an impact in the mobile gaming peripherals market.