Hands-on: Wikipad's Gamevice turns the iPad into a badass portable gaming machine

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Wikipad's Gamevice turns the iPad and iPad mini into the powerful gaming machines that we always knew they could be (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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CES is full of gaming gear from companies of all sizes, hawking their goods to anyone who will listen. Wikipad, though, has an accessory that can do something you might actually be looking for. It takes the iPad and unlocks its full gaming potential. Meet the Gamevice.

In terms of raw power, the gap between game consoles and mobile devices has been narrowing for the last few years, and will continue to do so. So why do consoles give us Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us, while phones and tablets are better known for Candy Crush and Flappy Bird?

Part of that is because people gravitate towards pick-up-and-play casual fare on mobile devices, but another big factor is smartphones' and tablets' lack of physical controls. Sure, some developers will plaster virtual buttons all over your screen, but mashing glass doesn't make for a very good gaming experience (not to mention they clutter up your field of view). To live up to mobile hardware's full gaming potential, you need physical controls.

The Wikipad Gamevice is as good a solution as we've seen. It's dead simple – so much so, that our meeting with Wikipad turned into semi-awkward "so ... any questions?" talk after just a minute or two. There simply isn't much to say about it, except that it does exactly what you want it to: strap it on your iPad, and enjoy your new portable gaming machine.

Controls are standard console style, with dual sticks, D-pad, four action buttons and four shoulder buttons. The buttons all feel responsive, and the whole contraption is ergonomically designed, feeling terrific in hand.

Wikipad will sell the Gamevice in different variants for the iPad mini and iPad Air, and each model of Gamevice will fit different generations of each iPad: the Air-compatible Gamevice will work with iPad Air 1 and iPad Air 2, and all three generations of iPad mini will play nicely with that model. Pre-Air 9.7-in iPads (late 2012 and earlier), though, don't get any love here.

Both sizes of the Gamevice, though, are actually the same device, with one key difference: the bands on the back (which stretch out to hold the iPad in place) are longer for the Air version. This makes it a more natural-looking fit for the iPad mini, where controller sits flush with tablet. On the Air, you get this odd appearance, with the controller being much smaller than the tablet (though on a functional level, it's just as good).

There will also be 4G LTE versions of the Gamevice that create Wi-Fi hotspots for your iPad. Wikipad hasn't finalized the details of these models, but it says the data will cost around US$10 a month, and will give you respectable amounts of monthly data (perhaps in the 5 GB range).

The controllers are, of course, MFi products, meaning they meet Apple's standards and are compatible with a growing number of MFi-compatible games. Current console-esque highlights include Bioshock and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, both of which we played in our demo (they worked exactly like you'd expect them to).

The standard version has an 800 mAh battery, which the company says will have it lasting four full iPad charge cycles. The LTE versions will have 1,600 mAh batteries to compensate for the extra juice that the Wi-Fi hotspot will gobble up.

For iPad gaming to really become console-like, it will require a dance between accessories like the Gamevice and bold moves by developers. We've seen a few big console releases on mobile in the last couple of years, and now Wikipad (and other accessory makers) are moving their own chess pieces. If game developers continue to escalate this little tango, then Sony's and Nintendo's portable consoles could be as good as dead.

The Gamevice for iPad is set to launch in early March, retailing for US$100 a pop. The LTE versions, which won't launch until later in 2015, don't have prices just yet. And if iPads aren't your thing? The company is also cooking up versions of the Gamevice for Android and Windows tablets.

Product page: Wikipad Gamevice

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