The AfterPad Horipad Review

AfterPad Horipad MFi controller review image


I feel like the Horipad has been given a bit of a bad rap by most iOS gamers1. Unless you’re either Japanese or a hardcore fighting game fan, you probably don’t know Hori. You probably think they’re just another peripheral maker focusing on undercutting the first party guys with slightly cheaper, slightly crappier gear. You know the stuff – it’s $10 cheaper, made by someone like Nyko or Dreamgear, and always winds up in the hands of whoever’s stuck in the unfortunate position of “Player 2”.

Let’s set the record straight: Hori is not a maker of cheap crap. Hori has a history of making products that are every bit as good as first party products. In some cases, Hori’s designs are argueably superior to the official offerings, both in layout and in build quality.

Hori is also known for making controller designs that you cannot get from any first party manufacturer. They make crazy hybrid designs that mix elements of different controllers (Such as an SNES controller with the Gamecube’s button layout.) They make unique designs focused around solving a specific class of problem for specific games (FPS gamers will be well served by a wired controller with dual analog sticks in the prime positions). And perhaps equally importantly, they resurrect controller designs from previous consoles and upgrade them to run on newer hardware, sometimes from competing companies (Nintendo decided to make a GameCube controller for the WiiU, but Hori beat them to it).

The Horipad for iOS is a little bit of all of these. Start with a really, really well made PS2 controller. Take an upgraded version of the analog sticks from the Xbox 360’s controller and stick them in the secondary positions. Add a high-performance MFi-certified Bluetooth connection and an integrated rechargeable battery. Finish with one of the very best circular d-pads ever made2. That’s basically what Hori made here. It’s not the most unique controller, but it’s a hell of a well-made one, and it does an admirable job remixing elements of other controllers into something unique and excellent.

This is the best way to re-live classic console gaming



If I’ve perhaps spent a bit too long setting the stage for the high quality of this controller, and of Hori’s products in general, it’s because there’s a good reason for it: this controller looks like a cheap toy. Glossy plastic, screw holes, visible seems… this doesn’t even look like it’s playing in the same league as the other MFi controllers. Line them all up and ask a stranger which ones looks the cheapest, they’re going to pick the Horipad every time. Perhaps the Horipad’s visual aesthetic is due to it being a Japanese product geared to an asian audience. I don’t know enough about the cultural differences between Western and Asian gamers, but I do know Hori’s controller is heavily geared towards Asia3.

The entire controller, front and back, is clad in some of the glossiest, most fingerprint-absorbing black plastic the world has ever seen. Seriously, don’t even bother dusting this one; If you so much as glance at the Horipad, it’ll pick up your fingerprints. Breaking up the sea of black plastic lies a silvery, faux-brushed-metal figure eight design surrounding the analog sticks. The black part of the controller contains the worlds “HORIPAD WIRELESS”, and the silver part an inch below it again contains the word “HORI”, and the symbol for bluetooth wireless. The rear of the controller contains multiple other combinations of “HORI” and “wireless”. Apparently someone thought this was such a great name, everyone deserved to be repeatedly reminded of it every time they glanced at the controller.

Let’s not play around here. Visually, the Horipad is way off the mark. The industrial design looks cheap and tacky, and is completely at odds with Apple’s aesthetic. That’s a real shame; beneath the Horipad’s glossy exterior lies a controller that’s built like a tank.

The Horipad synergizes elements of the Xbox and PlayStation controllers

Build Quality

Picking up the Horipad is surprising. In stark contrast to it’s visual aesthetic, the Horipad feels amazingly solid. It’s heavy, but not too heavy. It’s difficult to put into words why this controller feels as good as it does. It may look like a cheap toy, but that first impression melts away after you pick it up; in your hands, the Horipad feels like a premium product.

That same glossy plastic that looks cheap from a distance actually feels great in your hands. I still tend to prefer high-quality matte plastic to glossy, but that’s a matter of personal preference. If you are a fan of the way glossy plastic feels in your hands, the Horipad is one of the finest examples of a glossy surface plastic I’ve ever felt.

The fact of the matter is, very few controllers of any kind feel this well constructed. The SteelSeries Stratus XL does. The Gamevice does. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers do. That’s pretty much it.


These days, popular controllers all tend to fit a similar design: large controllers with wide, semi-flat handles, analogs sticks placed in a prime position to be directly under thumbs, and an ergonomic shape that feels designed to rest gently in your hands. This was the design pioneered by the Dreamcast controller, refined by the various Xbox controllers, and now emulated by Nintendo and (to a lesser degree) Sony.

The Horipad is nothing like an Xbox 360 controller. It does not feel ergonomically sculpted to rest inside your hands – in fact, resting it on your hands without gripping it will put it off-balance. It’s handles are small and angled sharply down, such that you’ll find yourself gripping them tightly with your lower fingers. It’s analog sticks are spaced low, requiring you to actively reach for them with your thumbs. To be blunt, it’s not the most comfortable controller in the world.

But superficial comforts only go so far. The real question is: how does the controller feel over long play sessions? Is it painful? Is it hard to use? Does it fall out of your hands and crash onto the floor in an explosion of screws and plastic?

Good news: for such a “retro” feeling controller, the Horipad hold up amazingly well for long play sessions. I beat the entirety of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 with the Horipad over the course of a couple of sittings, and at no point did it feel like I was fighting against the controller. To be honest, it was a more pleasant experience than a long session with the superficially more comfortable Stratus XL; as comfortable as that controller feels, it causes me to get hand cramps after lengthy play sessions.

The Horipad is a great example of how appearances can be deceiving. The Horipad looks cheap and uncomfortable, but it’s a hell of a well-built device, and one you can use for hours on end without experiencing the slightest discomfort.

The surprisingly vertical nature of the grips takes some getting used to

The Details

Analog Sticks

Think of the analog sticks on the Horipad as the lovechild of a Dualshock 3 and an Xbox 360 controller. Take the best aspects of the 360’s analogs – great shape and concave surface – and put them in home position occupied by the Dualshock’s sticks. It may seem like an odd design decision, but it works!

The Horipad is undeniably a retro-focused controller, so putting the d-pad in the prime, “under the thumb” left position makes sense. At the same time, using the “concave with 4 bumps” stick shape throws a bone to gamers who grew up using the 360 controller, and doesn’t make the Horipad seem quite so foreign.

Best of all, the Horipad has extremely little dead zone. MFi controllers tend to get a more criticism than they deserve regarding their analog dead zones4, but those sensitive to dead zones will be overjoyed – the Horipad has lower dead zones than any controller I’ve ever tested, MFi or otherwise.

Analog sticks are similar to those of an Xbox 360 controller, though slightly taller

The ABXY Buttons

The “ABXY” face buttons on the Horipad are just about perfect. They’re large, springy, generously spaced, and comfortably smoothed. After hours upon hours of play, I have nothing but high praise for the Horipad’s buttons. They’ve never stuck, caused discomfort, or caused a single miss-click due to bad button placement.

Gamers more accustomed to mobile control layouts might have to adjust, since the Horipad’s buttons are quite large. Xbox and PlayStation gamers, however, will be right at home – the Horipad takes cues both from the shape and spacing of the PlayStation controller’s buttons and the roundness and size of the Xbox controller’s buttons, and combines them into a perfect middle ground, improving on each in the process.

After using every MFi controller, I can say unequivocally that the Horipad’s ABXY buttons are the best of all available controllers. Only the upcoming Gamevice is in the same ballpark.

Perfect buttons and the best d-pad on any bluetooth MFi controller

The D-Pad

Every word I’ve written up until this moment pales in comparison with what you’re about to read next:

The Horipad has an excellent d-pad.

If you’ve been following MFi controllers at all, you should be hearing, in your head, a chorus of angels singing hallelujah! Because until now, the d-pads on MFi controllers have been utter crap; and that’s the best case scenario. At their worst, they’ve made the entire controller effectively unusable for serious gaming.

So let me type it again, because it feels so good to type: the Horipad has an excellent d-pad. It’s a perfectly sized, sensitive, pleasant-feeling circular d-pad.

If you’re primarily a fan of side-scrolling platformers or retro game emulation, the Horipad should be the only controller you even consider. It’s such a monumentally big difference between the Horipad and the controller with thesecond best d-pad.

Circular d-pads will never be my preference, especially compared with the plus-style d-pads used by Nintendo’s controller and the Xbox One pad or the island-style d-pad buttons used by Sony’s controllers, but beggars can’t be choosers. Apple dictates a circular pad, and Hori gave us a hell of a good circular pad within Apple’s requirements.

Shoulder Buttons

Let’s take the Horipad off the table for one more class of gamer: hardcore FPS players. Unlike every first-party console controller from the past decade, the Horipad does NOT feature triggers. The MFi controller standard doesn’t require them, and while most controller makers have opted to include them on their full-size controllers, Hori has instead chosen to replace them with L2 and R2 buttons. Great news for PS1 fans, less so for shooter fans.

No triggers here – say hello to your old friends R2 and L2

Other Buttons

Rounding things off, the Horipad includes the Apple-standard pause button right in the middle of the controller. It works well enough, and you won’t have to be pressing it anywhere near as often as the other buttons.

The power button is located near the pause button, but is curiously made from cheap feeling, tv-remote-button rubber. If it was any other button, I’d be up in arms about it, but it’s just the power button – it doesn’t have to be “gaming grade”.

Far more troubling is the Bluetooth button. Clumsily integrated as a slim, finger-nail-sized button pressed up against the part of the controller that houses the analog sticks, and clad out of the same tv-remote-button rubber as the power button, the Bluetooth pair button is a black mark against the Horipad.

And while we’re on the subject of Bluetooth pairing, here’s where we get to the biggest problem I’ve experienced with the Horipad. After holding the bluetooth pair button for 10 seconds or so, I found myself stuck in a loop, unable to actually pair the controller with any device. As soon as the iPhone or iPad found the controller and attempted to pair, the controller would reset the pairing and forget the connection. Either I broke the firmware somewhere or I broke the pair button itself, but absolutely nothing I attempted would make the controller work – I ended up returning it (thanks to Amazon’s excellent return policies) and getting a replacement.

So… be careful. That’s the best advice I can give here. Follow the pairing directions carefully, and don’t press too hard on the button. I haven’t experienced any issues with this second controller, and I don’t want to risk it.

The Horipad is surprisingly large in person – closer to a C.T.R.L.i than a Dualshock

The Software

This is the part of the review where I’d normally be discussing controller drivers, software, web support. Sadly, Hori doesn’t have anything to discus. The Horipad has no Hori-sanctioned list of games. The Horipad has no iOS app. The Horipad has no firmware management PC app.

The controller appears to work perfectly on every version of iOS 7 and iOS 8. If that ever fails to be the case – as has happened before – I have absolutely no idea what Hori would do about it. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

The Horipad, on my wall alongside a variety of other controllers


The accessories included with the Horipad do a great job of highlighting just what the target audience is for this controller. If you’re an iPhone gamer looking to clip your device into a controller, move right along; there’s nothing to see here. The Horipad doesn’t include any form of integrated device clip. Instead, a small (but surprisingly nice) plastic dock is included with the controller. If you really want to stand your iPhone up on a table and squint over at it while holding the controller in your lap, well, more power to you. For most people, the Horipad should be thought of as an iPad controller. While the stand is perfectly useable with all models of iPhone, it really shines with the iPad Air and iPad Mini.

Also in the box: a short USB cable for charging the integrated controller battery. This is a Mini B type cable; the same kind of cable used by PS3 controllers and old external hard drives, as opposed to the more modern Micro cable most devices use. The cable is decent, but heavy users will probably want to upgrade to something a little nicer.

Battery Life

Unlike the Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i line and the full-size SteelSeries Stratus XL, the Horipad features an integrated battery, rather than relying on AA or AAA batteries. Hori rates the battery life of the Horipad 20 hours, and while this sounds a bit small compared to the competition, I’ve found that the controller lasts a comparable amount of time in actual usage.

I’ll take an integrated battery with a charging cable over external batteries any day. What you lose in the ability to quickly swap out batteries, you gain in the fact that your batteries don’t go dead in the first place since you can just keep the controller charged when you’re not using it.

The Horipad is among the best of the growing field of bluetooth MFi controllers


Most people are going to take one look at the Horipad and dismiss it out of hand. It’s cheap looking, it lacks any way to clip your iPhone into it, it has a high price tag, it uses the less-popular PlayStation-style analog arrangement, it lacks triggers… first impressions aren’t good.

The fact is, these complaints are all valid. But there is still something about the Horipad… the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

The Horipad is a controller for a certain type of gamer. It’s for the retro game fan. It’s for the gamer who grew up on PlayStation, Nintendo, or Sega. It’s as far away from an Xbox controller as you can get. If you want to play shooting games, get a controller with triggers. The Horipad is for gamers who want to play Sonic, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Ridge Racer, Monster Hunter… games from before everything turned into a shooter.

After heavily testing every single Bluetooth MFi controller (and reviewing almost all of them), the Horipad is the one I keep coming back to. If you want the best possible controller to play Bioshock, the Horipad isn’t going to be for you. But that’s okay – you have a lot of great options. The Horipad is the first and only good option for retro gamers. And it’s a really, really great option to have.

  1. Mad Catz had a similar reputation, and they’ve been struggling for years to overcome it. Given that they’re now charging $300 for one of their controllers, they seem to think they’ve succeeded. ↩

  2. Contrary to popular belief, Apple does NOT require circular d-pads on MFi controllers. There are creative ways to get around the way Apple’s MFi spec is writen – the folks who make the Gamevice worked around Apple’s requirement and created a plus-style d-pad for their controller. Still, Hori’s circular d-pad is so good, I’m not going to complain. ↩

  3. I don’t believe the Horipad is available in any english-speaking markets outside of web distribution from Amazon. This is very much a Japanese product. ↩

  4. Most controllers include a tiny dead zone in their analog sticks, in order to prevent accidental motion. MFi controllers are no exception. Hardcore gamers who are accustomed to performing light, deliberate movements on the analog sticks are most likely to notice these dead zones, where their movements have no effect.

    After heavy testing, I don’t believe MFi controllers have significantly greater dead zones than any other controller. Rather, I believe Apple’s controller drivers, or the precise way controller support is coded in game by the developer, is responsible for these apparent dead zones.↩