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Review

Review: Moga Rebel iOS gaming controller for Apple's iPhone & iPad

Moga's new full-size Rebel Bluetooth gaming controller is the best iOS-compatible controller we've tested yet, successfully helping to bridge the gap between powerful home game consoles and mobile devices like both the iPhone and iPad.




The Moga Rebel is available direct from the manufacturer, as well as through Apple's online store and at its retail locations. It sells for $79.95, and features the full array of inputs that hardcore gamers expect: two joysticks, a D-pad, four face buttons, two triggers, and two bumpers.

Inside the box, the Moga Rebel comes with the controller itself, as well as a micro USB cable for recharging.

And unlike Moga's last attempt at an iOS gaming controller, the Ace Power, this accessory is an entirely wireless affair via Bluetooth. That means that the controller can be easily used with both your iPhone and iPad, and also won't become quickly outdated by a new iPhone design.




That's an important point because last year's Moga Ace Power simply won't fit the new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. But the new Moga Rebel features a secure clamp dubbed the "S.M.R.T. Lock Arm" that can hold not only an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, but also previous-generation iPhones and even the iPod touch.

Design



In the hands, the Moga Rebel feels very much like a modern home console gaming controller, such as for Microsoft's Xbox One. Admittedly it does not feel as premium as an Xbox One controller, however, with triggers in particular that feel too springy.

While the construction of the Moga Rebel isn't as premium as an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 input device, it does feel solid. We wouldn't be concerned about throwing the Moga Rebel into a bag and having it survive a trip.




The joysticks feel great. Having dual, full joysticks on the face makes a huge difference when playing a number of modern-style games on iOS, like the recently released port of popular first-person shooter BioShock.

The joysticks do lack the ability to click in, for gameplay input methods like zooming when aiming a weapon, which are found on other consoles like Xbox and PlayStation. But this is a flaw of Apple's controller specifications, so we can't place the blame on Moga.

The D-pad on the Moga Rebel will be adequate for most gamers, though it's not worthy of any praise. We'd put it about on par with the Xbox 360 D-pad, which served a generation of gamers but wasn't well received by serious critics.

The face buttons— A, B, X and Y —all feel good when pressed. Unfortunately the bumper buttons are mushy and lack the satisfying "click" found on the Xbox One controller.

The best feature of the Moga Rebel, in our view, is the extendable arm which holds an iPhone into place. Securely locking our iPhone 6 into the arm made for a great mobile gaming experience, allowing the full control of a console-style controller while still providing a portable package.




We do wish that the arm could be snapped back a little bit farther to allow for more viewing angle options when holding the iPhone. But we didn't find that the angles hurt our gameplay experience in any way.

When playing on an iPad, the arm can be folded down into the center of the controller. And an on-off switch for the accessory is hidden in this compartment as well.

While we take a critical eye to the feel of controllers, we'll admit that many of these concerns began to melt away when it was time to jump into a game.

Usage



For a blockbuster title like BioShock, the truth is a touchscreen is never going to cut it. Connecting the Moga Rebel to our iPhone and iPad made all of the difference.

As soon as we were set up, we found ourselves electrocuting and shooting splicers in the world of Rapture with ease, just like we did years ago playing BioShock on our Xbox 360.




A similar comfort came from playing other console-style 3D games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. And even retro-style 2D games like the Metal Slug series were vastly improved by their support for physical controllers.

It should be noted that when we first bought our Moga Rebel, our 2013 iPad Air running iOS 8.1 did exhibit some connection issues, while our iPhone 6 did not. The recently released iOS 8.1.1 update appears to have addressed this problem. We chalk this up to the plethora of Bluetooth-related bugs that were introduced with iOS 8.

The truth is, most of our problems with iOS gaming controllers fall on Apple. For starters, there is no easy way to find a list of games that support controllers on the App Store.

Thankfully, Moga has attempted to address this with the Moga World app available for iOS. In addition to a button test mode compatible with both the Moga Rebel and Moga Ace, this app also features a list of controller-enabled games available on the App Store.




It was thanks to Moga's app, and not Apple's listings on the App Store, that we discovered a bundle of four Metal Slug games available to purchase for $7.99.

Even then, Apple doesn't have a special icon or signifier to show that a title has controller support. While Game Center gets its own icon and note in App Store listings, users must check the text app description and see if the developer has made note of controller support.

The competition



Moga's previous effort, the Ace Power, was a unique first attempt, using a Lightning connector, internal battery, and collapsible design to achieve convenience and portability. But this year's attempt feels like a huge improvement.

There's also the Logitech PowerShell Controller, but like the Ace Power, this only fits the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5, and won't work with the newer and more capable iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. It also lacks joysticks, providing control only through a D-pad, which makes it best suited for two-dimensional games.

We also took a look at the SteelSeries Stratus, which has a very unique ultraportable design. But the diminutive controller will likely be too cramped for many, and it offers no place to hold an iPhone while gaming.

SteelSeries also recently launched a new $70 Stratus XL controller compatible with iOS —a full-size accessory much like the Moga Rebel. While we haven't tested the SteelSeries Stratus XL, we'll note that it too lacks a way to hold an iPhone while gaming, making it better suited for using with an iPad and stand. We'd prefer the Rebel's lock arm for the extra $10.




Finally, there's also the Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i Mobile Gamepad, which we also have not yet tested. Like the Moga Rebel, it features a travel-ready adjustable clip that can be used to hold an iPhone.

To us, the biggest selling point of the Mad Catz product is its price —the Micro C.T.R.L.i costs just $49.99, compared to the $79.95 price point of the Moga Rebel. The Moga Rebel is sold direct by Apple online and in its retail stores, while the Mad Catz product is not.

Conclusion



While Apple has a long way to go in supporting and promoting controller-compatible games on the App Store, Moga has made the first controller we've tested that we feel comfortable recommending to gamers looking for physical input on their iOS device.




If you walk into an Apple Store looking for a controller to use on the go with your iPhone, and also with your iPad, we can safely say that the Moga Rebel is your best option.

The $80 price point, however, remains a sticking point. A year ago, iOS gaming controllers were all priced at $100 —a level we found to be unacceptable. Now, most of them have dropped to around $80, which is an improvement, but we still feel is too high.

For example, more premium Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers sell for $60. Controllers for Apple's iOS platform should at the very least match that pricing, and in the case of some products it should be undercut.




At $50, we feel like the Moga Rebel would be an easy recommendation to almost any iPhone gamer. At $80, it's a solid recommendation for hardcore iOS gamers who are actively on the market for a controller.

Score: 3.5 out of 5





Pros

  • Full-size controller with complete array of buttons for modern 3D games
  • Great joysticks and face buttons drastically improve gameplay for compatible titles
  • Extendible "lock arm" holds an iPhone of any size securely in place while gaming
  • Bluetooth connectivity guarantees both iPhone and iPad support into the future, regardless of Apple design changes


Cons

  • $80 price point still feels too high, particularly compared to $60 premium home console controllers
  • Apple needs to enhance visibility of controller-supported games on the App Store


Where to buy



The Moga Rebel is available direct from the company, while its exclusive retail partner is Apple, which sells the controller for $79.95.