Razer Kishi V2 review: New design, frustrating issues

Razer Kishi V2 review: New design, frustrating issues
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With the Kishi Mobile Driver which launched in mid-2020, Razer managed to turn the phones into pseudo-Nintendo Switch consoles. It offered a clever design that sandwiched your phone in the middle of two controllers. Not to mention, it was a more comfortable, console-like way to play mobile games, as well as cloud streaming services, like xCloud, Stadia, and more. Now, with the $99 Kishi V2, it seems that Razer’s goal was to take advantage of a competitor that did everything better on its first try: Backbone.

That one-hit wonder of a company swooped in after the release of Kishi with an even more formidable mobile controller for iPhone, the $99 Backbone One. It featured a simpler, more inviting design, more functionality, and an interface that felt just barely short of a full-fledged console operating system. He turned gaming on the phone into a more complete experience, which made Kishi’s value proposition weaker and far less interesting by comparison.

So with the Kishi V2, Razer decided to ditch its first-gen design for a reason. very similar to the Backbone One. There’s not much here for Razer to take much credit for. The V2 has a similar minimalist design as the Backbone and the same type of pull-to-extend bridge mechanism that allows you to place your phone in its split controller layout. The in-game capture button is here on the left hand side, along with an options button on the right, and there’s a new button that takes you to, yes, Razer’s own spin on a gaming board called the Nexus. You are not required to use it, but it is there.

There are a few key advantages that the Kishi V2 has over the Backbone controller. The big one is that the Kishi V2 is made for Android. There’s also an iOS version later in 2022. Backbone hasn’t (frustratingly) built a version of its controller with USB-C, unless you count subscribers of its paid service can connect to an Android device with a Lightning-to-USB-C cable. If you play mobile games with complex control schemes, the new Razer model features two additional programmable side buttons, one on each side. Those can be reassigned within the Nexus app.

Razer Kishi V2

Each side of the controller has a programmable macro key, which you may find useful.

And while Backbone’s design hit its limit with the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s giant camera (offered free 3d printed adapters to make it work), the Kishi V2 includes adjustable rubber inserts to expand its compatibility with Android phones and their various camera dimensions, even those in slim cases. The full list of compatible phones includes both Razer phones; from Samsung’s Galaxy S8 to S22; the Galaxy Note 8 to 20; Google Pixel 2 to 6; and “many other Android devices”. It is compatible with devices up to 11.5mm thick, including the camera bump. I was surprised to have to take my Pixel 6 out of its thickness (and yellowish) official Google case to fit.

Razer Kishi V2

I had to remove the slim case from my Pixel 6 to get it to fit.

Razer Kishi V2

These interchangeable parts allow more devices to fit the Kishi V2.

Overall, the Kishi V2’s fit and finish is fine, but its new features, both in the Nexus app and those physically present on the controller, are less complete and polished than those available in Backbone’s One.

Inside Nexus, which fails to launch with more than half of my button press attempts, you’ll see an empty board that can serve as a launcher for games you’ve installed. Scrolling down through the app reveals game suggestions by genre, highlighting how worse the game selection is on Android than it is on iOS or how lousy Razer is at selecting them. As a game discovery tool, I’d say the Nexus is perhaps a little worse than just browsing the Google Play Store, which is already a less-than-stellar experience.

Razer’s Nexus app (left) is far less engaging than the Backbone experience.

In the app, you can start a live broadcast via YouTube or Facebook Live. If you want to take a screenshot or video, you can do so with a button dedicated to those functions on the left side. However, there is a severe lack of on-screen or haptic feedback at all times, especially with screenshots or video. For example, after pressing the screenshot button or holding it down to capture a video, I have no idea if the command registered until I open my Google Photos library. A simple screen notification (a tiny Cast icon appears in the Android notification toolbar during screen recording, but it’s easy to miss) or a subtle vibration might have worked. It’s the little things like that, which Backbone got right two years ago, that make the Kishi V2 frustrating to use.

Razer changed its face buttons to the same kind of clicky mechanical switches found on your Wolverine V2 Controller. And while I liked them on the larger controller, I don’t like how they feel here any more than I expected. The travel is shallow and the click is so subtle and requires so little force that if I press a button during intense gameplay, it doesn’t provide enough information to tell if I pressed. It almost reminds me of using one of Apple’s dreaded butterfly keyboard switches with dust trapped in it.

Razer Kishi V2

A side profile view of the Backbone One (left) and the Kishi V2 (right). The Kishi’s rear pawls offer a bit more travel.

Razer Kishi V2

Similar, but not quite. Backbone grips hang a bit lower, feeling more like a traditional controller.

The Kishi V2 offers USB-C pass-through charging, so you can keep your phone topped up by plugging a cable into the bottom right of its grip, just like the previous version. I guess I may be in a minority of reviewers to make a fuss about this, but I really wish Razer had built in a 3.5mm jack for wired listening. Sadly, audio lag is still an area where Android is inexplicably behind Apple, and it’s mostly weird that Razer doesn’t include one, especially since Backbone does.

The Kishi V2 feels like a device that was made to prove that Razer won’t take you lying in a newcomer’s gaming space. He took a surprisingly long time to post his rebuttal, which is fine. Forgetting the Backbone One for a second, the Kishi V2’s improved design and thoughtful features make it one of the best plug-in-and-go mobile controllers for Android users. But in its current state, what little makes the Kishi V2 unique doesn’t overshadow how much better Backbone’s first-generation product remains.

Photograph by Cameron Faulkner/The Verge

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