Razer Kishi V2 review: new design, annoying problems

Razer Kishi V2 review: new design, annoying problems
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With Kishi mobile controller Launched in mid-2020, Razer managed to turn phones into pseudo-Nintendo Switch consoles. It offered a smart design that places your phone in the middle of two controllers. Not to mention, this includes mobile games, as well as xCloud, Stadia, and more. was a more convenient, console-like way to play cloud streaming services like Now, with the $99 Kishi V2, it seems Razer’s goal was to beat a competitor that did everything better in its first attempt: the Backbone.

This marvel of a company came out after Kishi launched with an even bigger mobile controller for the iPhone. “Spine One” for $99. It had a simpler, more convenient design, more functionality and an interface just shy of a full-fledged console operating system. This made gaming on the phone a more seamless experience, making Kishi’s value proposition weaker and less interesting in comparison.

So with the Kishi V2, Razer decided to ditch the first generation design for something many Similar to Backbone One. There’s not much Razer can take much credit for here. The V2 features a minimalist spine-like design and the same type of pull-and-extend bridge mechanism that allows you to place your phone in a split controller arrangement. The in-game boot button is on the left with the option button on the right, and there’s a new button that takes you to Razer’s own spin on the game control panel called Nexus. You are not required to use it, but it is there.

The Kishi V2 has some major advantages over the Backbone controller. The great thing is that Kishi V2 is made for Android. There’s also an iOS version coming later in 2022. Backbone (disappointingly) hasn’t made a version of its controller with USB-C, unless you count what paid service subscribers can do. connect it to your Android device with a Lightning-to-USB-C cable. If you play mobile games with complicated control schemes, Razer’s new model has two additional programmable shoulder buttons – one on each side. These can be reset in the Nexus app.

Razer Kishi V2

There is a programmable macro button on each side of the controller, which you may find useful.

While Backbone’s design is pushed to its limit by the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s giant camera bump (offered free 3D-printed adapters to make it work), the Kishi V2 features adjustable rubber inserts to extend compatibility with Android phones and their various camera bump sizes – even those with slim cases. The full list of supported phones includes both Razer phones; Samsung Galaxy S8 to S22; Galaxy Note 8 to 20; Google Pixel 2 to 6; and “many other Android devices”. It supports devices up to 11.5mm thick, including the camera bump—I was surprised I had to remove the Pixel 6 from its thinness (and jaundice) official Google work to match.

Razer Kishi V2

I had to remove the slim case from the Pixel 6 so it would fit.

Razer Kishi V2

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

Overall, the fit and finish of the Kishi V2 is excellent, but its new features—both in the Nexus app and on the physical controller—are less comprehensive and polished than those on Backbone’s One.

On the Nexus, which failed to boot with more than half of my button presses, you’ll see a patchy control panel that can serve as a game launcher for the devices you’ve installed. Scrolling down the app reveals game suggestions for each genre, which either highlights how much worse the selection of games on Android is than iOS, or how lousy Razer is at managing them. As a game discovery tool, I’d say the Nexus is perhaps worse than just browsing the Google Play Store, which is already a less than perfect experience.

Razer’s Nexus software (left) is less compelling 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 it with the button dedicated to these functions on the left side. There is a serious lack of on-screen or haptic feedback though, especially when taking screenshots or video. For example, after I press the screenshot button or hold it down to take a video, I don’t know if the command was recorded until I open my Google Photos library. A simple screen notification (a small Broadcast icon appears in the Android notification toolbar during screen recording, but it’s easy to miss) or a gentle vibration would have done the trick. Little things like this, which Backbone got two years ago, make the Kishi V2 annoying to use.

Razer switched its face buttons to the same clicky, mechanical switches found on its own Wolverine V2 controller. While I like them on the larger controller, I don’t like the feel of them 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 the button during intense gaming, it doesn’t give enough feedback to let me know I’m pressing down. It almost reminds me of using one of Apple’s dreaded butterfly keyboard switches.

Razer Kishi V2

Side profile view of Backbone One (left) and Kishi V2 (right). Kishi’s rear triggers offer a bit more travel.

Razer Kishi V2

Like, not quite yet. The spine grips hang down a bit and feel more like a traditional controller.

The Kishi V2 offers USB-C charging, so you can charge your phone by plugging the cable into the lower right side of the grip, just like the previous version. I guess I’m one of the few reviewers to make a stink about it, but I really wish Razer had included a 3.5mm jack for wired listening. Unfortunately, audio latency is still an area where Android lags behind Apple, and it’s odd that Razer didn’t include one, especially after Backbone.

The Kishi V2 feels like a device designed to prove if Razer can take it from the newcomer in the gaming space. It took a surprisingly long time to post the rebuttal, which is fine. Forgetting Backbone One for a second, Kishi V2’s improved design and thoughtful features make it one of the best plug-in-and-go mobile controllers for Android users. But as it stands, what little makes the Kishi V2 unique still doesn’t overshadow how good Backbone’s first-generation product is.

Photographer Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

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