The AfterPad Horipad Review
I feel like the Horipad has been given a bit of a bad rap by most iOS gamers1. Unless youâre either Japanese or a hardcore fighting game fan, you probably donât know Hori. You probably think theyâre just another peripheral maker focusing on undercutting the first party guys with slightly cheaper, slightly crappier gear. You know the stuff – itâs $10 cheaper, made by someone like Nyko or Dreamgear, and always winds up in the hands of whoeverâs stuck in the unfortunate position of âPlayer 2â.
Letâs 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, Horiâs 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 Gamecubeâs 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 360âs 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. Thatâs basically what Hori made here. Itâs not the most unique controller, but itâs a hell of a well-made one, and it does an admirable job remixing elements of other controllers into something unique and excellent.
If Iâve perhaps spent a bit too long setting the stage for the high quality of this controller, and of Horiâs products in general, itâs because thereâs a good reason for it: this controller looks like a cheap toy. Glossy plastic, screw holes, visible seemsâ¦ this doesnât even look like itâs playing in the same league as the other MFi controllers. Line them all up and ask a stranger which ones looks the cheapest, theyâre going to pick the Horipad every time. Perhaps the Horipadâs visual aesthetic is due to it being a Japanese product geared to an asian audience. I donât know enough about the cultural differences between Western and Asian gamers, but I do know Horiâs 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, donât even bother dusting this one; If you so much as glance at the Horipad, itâll 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 âHORIPAD WIRELESSâ, and the silver part an inch below it again contains the word âHORIâ, and the symbol for bluetooth wireless. The rear of the controller contains multiple other combinations of âHORIâ and âwirelessâ. Apparently someone thought this was such a great name, everyone deserved to be repeatedly reminded of it every time they glanced at the controller.
Letâs 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 Appleâs aesthetic. Thatâs a real shame; beneath the Horipadâs glossy exterior lies a controller thatâs built like a tank.
Picking up the Horipad is surprising. In stark contrast to itâs visual aesthetic, the Horipad feels amazingly solid. Itâs heavy, but not too heavy. Itâs 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 thatâs 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 Iâve 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. Thatâs 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. Itâs handles are small and angled sharply down, such that youâll find yourself gripping them tightly with your lower fingers. Itâs analog sticks are spaced low, requiring you to actively reach for them with your thumbs. To be blunt, itâs 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 âretroâ feeling controller, the Horipad hold up amazingly well for long play sessions. I beat the entirety of Tony Hawkâs 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 itâs a hell of a well-built device, and one you can use for hours on end without experiencing the slightest discomfort.
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 360âs analogs – great shape and concave surface – and put them in home position occupied by the Dualshockâs 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, âunder the thumbâ left position makes sense. At the same time, using the âconcave with 4 bumpsâ stick shape throws a bone to gamers who grew up using the 360 controller, and doesnât 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 Iâve ever tested, MFi or otherwise.
The ABXY Buttons
The âABXYâ face buttons on the Horipad are just about perfect. Theyâre large, springy, generously spaced, and comfortably smoothed. After hours upon hours of play, I have nothing but high praise for the Horipadâs buttons. Theyâve 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 Horipadâs 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 controllerâs buttons and the roundness and size of the Xbox controllerâs 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 Horipadâs ABXY buttons are the best of all available controllers. Only the upcoming Gamevice is in the same ballpark.
Every word Iâve written up until this moment pales in comparison with what youâre about to read next:
The Horipad has an excellent d-pad.
If youâve 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 thatâs the best case scenario. At their worst, theyâve 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. Itâs a perfectly sized, sensitive, pleasant-feeling circular d-pad.
If youâre primarily a fan of side-scrolling platformers or retro game emulation, the Horipad should be the only controller you even consider. Itâs 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 Nintendoâs controller and the Xbox One pad or the island-style d-pad buttons used by Sonyâs controllers, but beggars canât be choosers. Apple dictates a circular pad, and Hori gave us a hell of a good circular pad within Appleâs requirements.
Letâs 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 doesnât 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.
Rounding things off, the Horipad includes the Apple-standard pause button right in the middle of the controller. It works well enough, and you wonât 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, Iâd be up in arms about it, but itâs just the power button – it doesnât have to be âgaming gradeâ.
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 weâre on the subject of Bluetooth pairing, hereâs where we get to the biggest problem Iâve 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 Amazonâs excellent return policies) and getting a replacement.
Soâ¦ be careful. Thatâs the best advice I can give here. Follow the pairing directions carefully, and donât press too hard on the button. I havenât experienced any issues with this second controller, and I donât want to risk it.
This is the part of the review where Iâd normally be discussing controller drivers, software, web support. Sadly, Hori doesnât 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. Letâs hope it doesnât come to that.
The accessories included with the Horipad do a great job of highlighting just what the target audience is for this controller. If youâre an iPhone gamer looking to clip your device into a controller, move right along; thereâs nothing to see here. The Horipad doesnât 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.
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.
Iâll 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 donât go dead in the first place since you can just keep the controller charged when youâre not using it.
Most people are going to take one look at the Horipad and dismiss it out of hand. Itâs 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 triggersâ¦ first impressions arenât good.
The fact is, these complaints are all valid. But there is still something about the Horipadâ¦ the whole is greater than the sum of itâs parts.
The Horipad is a controller for a certain type of gamer. Itâs for the retro game fan. Itâs for the gamer who grew up on PlayStation, Nintendo, or Sega. Itâs 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 Hawkâs Pro Skater, Ridge Racer, Monster Hunterâ¦ 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 isnât going to be for you. But thatâs okay – you have a lot of great options. The Horipad is the first and only good option for retro gamers. And itâs a really, really great option to have.
Mad Catz had a similar reputation, and theyâve been struggling for years to overcome it. Given that theyâre now charging $300 for one of their controllers, they seem to think theyâve succeeded.Â â©
Contrary to popular belief, Apple does NOT require circular d-pads on MFi controllers. There are creative ways to get around the way Appleâs MFi spec is writen – the folks who make the Gamevice worked around Appleâs requirement and created a plus-style d-pad for their controller. Still, Horiâs circular d-pad is so good, Iâm not going to complain.Â â©
I donât believe the Horipad is available in any english-speaking markets outside of web distribution from Amazon. This is very much a Japanese product.Â â©
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 donât believe MFi controllers have significantly greater dead zones than any other controller. Rather, I believe Appleâs controller drivers, or the precise way controller support is coded in game by the developer, is responsible for these apparent dead zones.â©