The Razer Kishi controller is the best way to experience Project xCloud

Razer Kishi Wide
Razer Kishi Wide (Image credit: Windows Central)

The Razer Kishi controller is a truly stunning device that defies years of poor-quality attempts to bring some real ergonomic control to mobile gaming.

While touch-based mobile gaming is truly massive, it's a hard leap to make for anyone that has played games using a real gamepad. The precision and, frankly, immersion is elevated with a gamepad since you're not hiding the screen by strumming your thumbs all over everything.

Therein lies my biggest gripe with Project xCloud, Microsoft's big upcoming game streaming service. As awesome as it is, playing games on phones with touch just isn't fun for me. It's even less fun when you're playing games on phones that weren't designed for phones.

Related: Full Razer Kishi review

With Nintendo Switch selling out faster than Nintendo can manufacture them, the market for truly ergonomic handheld gaming has never been healthier. It's that experience that emphasizes Project xCloud's biggest missing link — ergonomics. This is why the Razer Kishi is now the de-facto best way to experience Project xCloud, and probably mobile gaming in general.

USB-C decimates Bluetooth

Razer Kishi Controller Jez (Image credit: Windows Central)

Razer Kishi Controller Jez (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows Central

Swipe to scroll horizontally
ButtonsTwo triggers, two shoulder buttons, 8-direction d-pad, offset joysticks,
ABXY buttons, start, select, and home buttons
OS requirementsAndroid 8.0 Oreo, 7.0 Nougat or higher (iOS coming later)
Confirmed compatibilityRazer Phone 1 & 2
Samsung Galaxy S8 / S8+ / S9 / S9+ / S10 / S10+ / S20 / S20+ / Note 8 / Note 9 / Note 10 / Note 10+
Google Pixel 2 / 2 XL / 3 / 3XL / 4 / 4XL
Required phone dimensionsHeight: 145.3 to 163.7mm
Width: 68.2 to 78.1mm
Depth: 7.0 to 8.8mm

We've previously looked at the Razer Junglecat, which is a pretty cool mobile controller in its own right, albeit with some notable downsides. The Junglecat is only compatible with a tiny range of devices, whereas the Kishi, with its spring-loaded design and rubber-edged clamps, can stretch to fit many USB-C phone sizes. The Junglecat has some advantages of its own, though, with a split-controller design, letting you use them nunchuck-style which can be useful in some situations. Additionally, it supports Bluetooth wireless, which is useful, to a point.

Bluetooth is just a crappy wireless protocol. It sucks. Let's not kid ourselves or sugar-coat the reality of it. We put up with it because we don't have anything better right now, it is what it is.

It's decent enough for music and other devices you might be using in passing, but for game controls, it's substandard at best.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft's wireless radio protocol direct-connection for Xbox One gamepads is far faster, and far more stable, less susceptible to interference. As pertains to phones, Bluetooth is also a battery hog, and something I generally prefer to keep turned off.

So, why the rant about Bluetooth? It's because the Razer Kishi connects directly to your phone with USB-C. With streaming services like Project xCloud, you're already introducing additional latency into the mix. Bluetooth only adds another layer of unresponsiveness, which the Razer Kishi totally eliminates.

More responsive, more ergonomic

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The Razer Kishi has larger buttons, triggers, and more rounded edges than similar devices like Razer's own Junglecat and the Nintendo Switch Joycons, making for a generally superior ergonomic experience. I'm not a huge fan of the triggers, which feel a little too resistive and less grippy than what I'm accustomed too on Xbox, but it's a minor gripe.

The best thing is the Razer Kishi's responsiveness, though, by a mile.

Overall, it just feels great to use. In our full review, my colleague Russell Holly found that the Kishi can struggle with smaller devices, but with my larger 6.4-inch Galaxy Note, both sides of the device fit extremely snugly, with minimal flex. If you're playing console-grade games on your phone, you're probably going to want a larger device anyway, but Razer notes that, sadly, the Kishi isn't compatible with the hefty S20 Ultra, which comes in at 6.9-inches. This year's Galaxy Note will probably be too large as well.

It's a bit of a downside that the Kishi can't somehow extend to larger devices, but the fact Razer has managed to get the range of compatibility it has already is pretty admirable.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The best thing is the responsiveness, though, by a mile. Playing games with a Bluetooth controller via Project xCloud or Xbox Game Streaming often feels almost truly native, eliminating that additional Bluetooth latency with a direct USB-C connection. I was able to play games like Minecraft Dungeons on maximum difficulty, alongside rapid action-packed shooters like Project Warlock, without any issues whatsoever.

I never really realized how much of an impact Bluetooth can make in terms of responsiveness, removing it from the equation gave me my best Project xCloud experience yet. It'll be hard to go back to Bluetooth afterwards, for sure.

That Android life

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The downside of USB-C is Android's fragmentation. While the Kishi works flawlessly with the Galaxy Note 9, every Android OEM handles USB-C connections differently, which could potentially introduce compatibility issues with handsets that haven't been tested and approved by Razer.

Therein lies Microsoft's biggest hurdle with xCloud, generally. The market for Android is truly gargantuan, but making an xCloud service, alongside capable accessories, that are compatible with the widest range of devices possible is a truly herculean task. How do you make a single gamepad clip accessory that is compatible with everything?

We've made the case previously that Microsoft should make a handheld, with standardized hardware. The Surface Duo may become that device, but I suspect many simply won't really want to fork out for something that is likely to be very expensive, just for xCloud. I have to imagine that Razer and Microsoft could partner up at some point and make a device whose sole purpose is to run Project xCloud, with ergonomic hardware that eliminates the need to give up your phone, or downgrade to Bluetooth.

The Kishi is the best xCloud device yet

For now, though, the Razer Kishi is by far the best solution for streaming services like Project xCloud, Stadia, and PlayStation Now. Great design, responsive controls, ergonomic feel, and that crucial USB-C connection (complete with pass-through for charging), really elevates the game for me.

Now we just need Project xCloud to like, you know, actually launch.

Full Razer Kishi review

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!