Cloud and mobile gaming have become so large that the Nintendo Switch is not the only handheld controller many are using anymore. With the advancements being made by Google, Xbox, and Nvidia, it’s possible to play full triple A titles through one’s phone. However, most console games were never meant to be played using a touch screen. This is where the Shaks S5i takes its moment to shine.
The unboxing experience is efficient and short. Open the plain, eco-friendly cardboard to reveal the Shaks S5i inside an included carrying case and the USB-C charging cable. Also included is a secondary directional pad button should you want the rounded version instead.
Design: Function over form
First impressions are… adequate? The weight, or lack of weight, is what is immediately noticed. Followed by the feel and locations of the buttons. Depending on what controller one is used to, picking up a new controller for the first time can be a bit of a jarring experience as one tries to get used to the new layout. The Shaks S5i takes the general layout from the Xbox controller. I found my thumbs rested naturally on the thumb sticks and my finger could easily access the triggers on the front edge. However, the liberal use of lightweight plastic had me questioning the device’s longevity of use when I first handled it.
The Shaks S5i is designed with Qualcomm technology, which Shaks advertises helps for lowering latency between the controller and your phone. It also has several modes that can be switched on the side for compatibility with just about every operating system there is. In fact, when using the S5i for Android and PC, switching the modes back and forth will allow one to use the controller for both without having to go through the hassle of repairing it for each device every time.
Also present are more buttons than one might normally find on a controller. There is the power button, a select button, a triangle button which operates as the Windows button when connected to PC and home button when connected to Android. A square button which, depending on the game opens up maps or inventories, and the start button which opens up game options. Finally, a button that when pressed brings up an on screen cursor for selection. This didn’t work in all games for me, but it was nice to have when it did.
The Shaks S5i measures in at 33m thick, 134mm wide, and 93mm long. It’s not a large controller. That’s a bonus when using it on the go and throwing it in a backpack. The less space it takes up, the better. It can stretch to fit phones up to 165mm wide, which includes even the lengthiest phones on the market today. The Galaxy Note 20 can fit, but with a case it might be a bit of a tight squeeze. My Pixel 3 XL fits just fine even with its case on. However, many people may not have issues with their phone fitting lengthwise, but with thickness. The S5i fits my Pixel 3 XL case perfectly, but I consider my case to be fairly slim. Those with thicker, more protective cases may find their phones not fitting as nicely between the notch.
Stretching the controller to its full length to install a large phone will cause the spring inside to make some uncomfortable noises. However, Shaks has advertised they have tested the spring for over a thousands uses. If you installed your phone once a day to play games, that’s nearly three years of use until you’ve surpassed their testing limit.
Performance: Good intentions
The S5i might be smaller than a standard controller from a console. However, no buttons were omitted to save space. In fact, most of the real estate the controller saves is the palm-filling chunkiness that is absent. The buttons are slightly closer together than one might be used to, but nothing so drastic as to feel alien. The main thing that does get sacrificed is the size of the buttons themselves. This is most evident in the triggers. Both bumpers and triggers squeeze into the 33mm of space on the front edge of the controller. This might feel a little cramped for those with larger hands.
The triggers themselves feel hollow and a tad grindy. There is some plastic to plastic contact taking place that does not feel natural. It would seem that the solution might be to add a stiffer resistance spring. Also, free the trigger path from any obstructions which might be causing the rubbing. That being said, the triggers always worked when pressed and never failed to activate. The bumpers have a positive click point and a firmer feel. Despite the trigger feel, Shaks advertises the triggers having over 250 steps during activation which allows for much finer control. This would help in games that require minute adjustments such as racing games during braking or acceleration.
All other buttons feel great. Nothing is mushy or unresponsive and gameplay using the full range of thumbsticks, directional pads, and buttons was enjoyable. For such a small controller, the S5i fits surprisingly well into one’s hand. Unlike some other mobile controllers which cause my hand to cramp after a bit, the S5i has proven to be one of the most comfortable portable controllers I’ve used.
Connecting the Bluetooth is as easy and simple as any other device. No trouble was found in pairing and it has never failed to pair properly since its initial install. Battery life is decent, given its weight and portability. Once charged with the included USB-C cable, the S5i will give 8 hours of gaming. It’s very likely your phone will drain its battery much sooner than your controller will.
The Bluetooth connectivity is responsive and there is no discernable lag for me playing locally. Of course, cloud gaming will always introduce a bit of delay into whatever you are playing. Fortunately, the S5i keeps that delay to a minimum by eliminating all the wireless lag it can from the controller to the phone.
Adding to the controller’s resume of features is an app by Shaks for Android that allows for on screen key-mapping for touch controls. Some games don’t support controllers and the app permits programming of the controller buttons to on screen functions. This is a great feature for games that have yet to have controller support implemented.
Overall, the Shaks S5i is a light and efficient mobile gaming controller. It not only allows for control of phones, but also PC and Mac as well. Initial impression may cause one to raise an eye over the liberal use of light plastics, creaky springs, and mushy triggers. $69.99 is a lot to ask for a 3rd party controller, especially when first party controllers are going for the same if not less. However, the S5i has a ton of promise behind it, even if it doesn’t quite match up to Sony and Microsoft’s build quality.
The S5i operated as promised without a hitch and ease of use was one of the best I’ve encountered. When one considers just how many controller functions they are getting in one, compact device, the S5i’s price begins to be more justified. If you are looking for a single, multifaceted controller that can do a bit of everything, then the Shaks S5i deserves a spot on your list.