The ‘pro’ version of Google’s game streaming platform, Stadia, is currently available completely freely for two months – complete with instant access to over twelve games! This has naturally lead to a big increase in interest surrounding the service, and if you’re interested in giving it a go for yourself why not first read our full review. You might also have some questions regarding the official Stadia Controller, the price of almost £60 is quite the large investment, which is why we have got out hands on one to see if it’s really worth all that money.
In your hands
Opening up the controller’s robust white box reveals the controller nested securely on a backing of shaped cardboard, again white, a few pieces of safety documentation and a USB type C cable. Anyone who has purchased an official Google product before will recognise this minimalist approach to packaging as the standard Google fare. Although stylistically the Stadia Controller‘s packaging is nothing particularly exciting, it feels very premium for a simple gaming controller and most importantly the reinforced cardboard used would certainly do an excellent job at keeping your precious new toy safe from damage in transit.
The most memorable feature of the simple unboxing process for me was the almost overwhelmingly sweet smelling plastic used on the controller itself. This isn’t just the classic ‘new plastic product smell’ either, with the odour produced by the controller smelling akin to a great big handful of sugar laden candyfloss. As pleasant as this smell was, it was quite unsettling for a new product to smell quite so tasty so it was probably a good thing when it finally faded after about a week of daily use.
There are currently three colour options available from the Google online store. White with orange accents, called “clearly white”, black once again with orange accents, rather disingenuously referred to as “just black” and “wasabi” – a light blueish hue with eye catching neon green accents. Personally, I fell in love with the “wasabi” colour scheme, but all three are suitably vibrant in the flesh and have a very distinctive Google feel to them.
The Stadia Controller doesn’t function quite like a normal controller, and the added functionality goes quite a way in explaining the product’s elevated price tag. Unlike a regular controller, which usually connect to your games console through Bluetooth, the Stadia Controller instead connects itself to your Wi-Fi network and then directly to Google‘s servers where your game is actually running. Theoretically, this process decreases the already minimal input lag experienced whilst playing on the cloud, but in our testing against a wired Xbox One controller didn’t make any perceptible difference.
Of course, without a user interface on the controller itself, hooking the device up to your Wi-Fi is handled by the Stadia mobile app in what is an admirably painless process. It’s worth noting that you only have to pair your controller up once, unless you intend on frequently changing Wi-Fi networks. In this regard, it’s very unfortunate that the controller does not feature the capability to save more than one Wi-Fi password. As it stands, constantly having to re-enter passwords in the app in-between Wi-Fi changes can become a bit tedious and adds an extra bit of hassle before you can sit back and enjoy your games.
There is of course the option to use the controller wired, making use of the USB type-C port which sits in between the two top bumper buttons. The plug-and-play experience with this controller is phenomenal, you simply plug it into any device and it works seamlessly. No faffing about with drivers and no unnecessary downloads; everything just works. This USB port also doubles up as the way you charge up your controller. It is worth noting that the controller can be used while charging, which is a nice touch and prevents you from having to end your gaming session early just because your peripheral has ran out of juice.
Out of control
Other than it’s Wi-Fi connectivity, the Stadia Controller functions very much like any other gaming controller. The buttons are well placed and whilst I initially thought the more irregular positioning of the left joystick might be a little inconvenient, but it’s surprisingly comfortable in practice. The rounded, softer than average looking D-pad and buttons are nicely tactile and feel great to the touch. The central ‘Stadia’ button is surrounded by an illuminated LED ring, which helpfully provides some useful information on your controller’s charging status, battery life and more. Those more familiar with Google‘s services may notice the ‘Google Assistant’ button (the one with four irregularly sized dots). In theory, pressing this button wakes your Google Assistant, which you can ask to perform basic tasks or provide information about your game using the inbuilt controller microphone.
Unfortunately, this pretty nifty feature doesn’t seem to have been fully implemented yet and pressing the button, in my experience at least, only leads to the display of a message that the Google Assistant “isn’t supported here yet’. Even more unfortunate are the controller’s two triggers, which are extremely soft with long travel time. I personally don’t mind a softer style of trigger, but the actuation points on the switches used is simply far too sensitive – definitely sitting at below 0.5mm of travel. I sometimes found that just holding the controller with your fingers on the triggers was enough to set them off and this becomes extremely frustrating and annoying in certain more skill-based games. The ability to customise how much force is needed to set off the triggers would go a long way to alleviating this problem so hopefully one is in the works.
There are also some issues regarding the plastic used for the controller’s body. It seems the sweet smell of it is accompanied by a candy-like softness which lends the controller to scratching extremely easily. If you intend to carry yours around in a rucksack or really do anything more than sit it upright on a soft surface, it is definitely worth investing in a carrying case. Whilst this isn’t too much of a deal breaker, this added cost should be taken into consideration when you decide whether or not to pick up this controller. A further damper on the portability of this device is the poor battery life – averaging at about five or so hours in our testing.
It is safe to say that the Stadia Controller suffers from more than a few teething problems. Even if a sub-par battery life and easily scratched materials may limit how often you use this controller while out and about, the experience using it at home more than compensates for this. Both the wireless and wired experience is butter smooth and accompanied by a design that is equal parts charming and cheerful. Although if you already own a compatible controller that you love it may not be entirely worth shelling out for this product at full price, for a relative newcomer to gaming who is looking for a controller for their Stadia system; you can’t go far wrong with this.