Hands-On with Logitech's PowerShell iOS 7 Gamepad

By Norman Chan

Hardware buttons for iOS games have been a long time coming.

Remember when leaks of Logitech's iOS game controller went around the web in early June, just days after Apple's reveal of iOS? Turns out that those controllers were part of an Apple developer outreach program to get game devs educated about the new gamepad API support introduced in iOS 7. That Logitech gamepad has finally been announced. It's called PowerShell (great name), and it's a $100 accessory that wraps around an iPhone 5, 5S, or 5th generation iPod Touch to give you physical buttons for supported games. It also doubles as a battery extender with a built-in 1500mAh battery, all connected through the Lightning port. Logitech stopped by our office to bring a near-final build of the controller for us to try out.

Two things make this controller notable and different from previous hardware gaming accessories for iOS. First is the use of iOS 7's game controller API, which means it sends signals through the Lightning connector instead of over Bluetooth. That theoretically is more power efficient for both controller and phone, and also minimizes latency--and indeed, we didn't notice any lag. Second is the use of analog buttons. The PowerShell has a D-pad, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons, and a pause button. Kind of like the Super NES controller, but a fair bit wider. There are no analog thumbsticks for dual-stick shooters, but the games we played--Air Wings and Pac-Man--were responsive and easy to play with the accessory. (Logitech's blog has a list of PowerShell supported games, which includes Bastion). The face buttons didn't have a lot of throw (how much you can depress it), nor a lot of resistance. The d-pad was also a little bit mushy.

The back of the PowerShell, which we couldn't photograph because it wasn't final, has a nice rubberized texture and finger-conforming grip. The cradle held both the iPhone 5 and iPod Touch securely, even with aggressive waving around to try to knock it loose. Logitech also put the Lightning connector on a hinge so it doesn't snap when you remove the Phone. Ejecting the iOS device is just a matter of pushing it out of the cradle from a hole in the rear of the pad, a slot that also lets you still use the iPhone's camera. There are other smartly designed features, like a notch to press the iPhone's power button, holes to route audio from the speakers, and an audio dongle for access to the recessed audio jack. PowerShell charges its battery over micro USB, and will charge your iPhone/iPod Touch when it's plugged in as well.

The weirdest thing about playing with the PowerShell in our limited time with it was the overall width of the controller. As you can see in the photo below, the "forehead" and "chin" of the 5th-Gen iPod Touch becomes unused horizontal bezel space when you're playing a game, as opposed to the place where you grip when you game with the touchscreen. The width of the controller doesn't make it difficult to hold, but it does make it a pretty big accessory to carry around with you, even as a battery pack.

The other thing that felt weird about playing with the PowerShell is that it calls to attention just how simple most iOS games really are. Arcade games that are designed to work with virtual thumbsticks and buttons aren't as demanding of precision aiming and button timing as console games, so there's a chance that PowerShell's potential won't be realized if developers keep making iOS games for the lowest common denominator. My hope is that with a ton of these in developers' hands (and more iOS 7 hardware controllers from other manufacturers), we'll see some killer apps that are designed with physical controls in mind.

The Logitech PowerShell controller is on sale now from Logitech's web store and will be shipping in early December.