Razer Kishi 2 makes a strong case for the Steam deck

Long before Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds made mobile games cool, I’ve dabbled with mobile controllers — not much to brag about, more of a fact. I had the original Moga bluetooth controller when Asphalt and Modern Combat were the only mobile games that supported controllers. I’m an early adopter of the Moto X, a modular phone that snaps onto a controller (sold separately, of course). I have plastic phone mounts for my Xbox, PS4, Stadia and SteelSeries Stratus+ controllers. Of course, I’ve spent countless hours using the Razer Kishi’s original smartphone controller.

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This week, I’ve been using the Razer Kishi 2, an upgraded version of the Kishi, in almost every way imaginable, and I’ve been impressed most of the time. Mobile is the biggest gaming platform in the world, and unfortunately, how long we waited to get quality hardware and peripherals to support it. The Kishi 2 is the closest console-quality controller we’ve seen. It’s no match for the DualSense or Series X controllers, but it does the job better than any mobile device.

If you’re already familiar with the original Kishi, the best reason to upgrade to Kishi 2 is, unfortunately, compatibility issues. I recently upgraded my Pixel 4 XL to a Pixel 6, a phone with a large camera bump that didn’t fit the original Kishi. The Kishi 2 is compatible with the Pixel 2 to 6, and every Samsung phone from the S9 to the S22, the Note 8 to the Note 10+, and two Razer phones if you’re still rocking that dinosaur. Razer has compatibility in mind this time, including removable and replaceable rubber pads that you can turn off if your phone needs extra space. The Pixel 6 won’t fit the Kishi 2 until you remove the rubber pad on the left and replace it with the thinner pad that comes with it. It’s not the most elegant solution (I don’t want to keep track of small pieces of rubber), but hopefully it ensures that the Kishi 2 is still compatible with phones in the future.

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Razer completely redesigned the Kishi from the ground up. In terms of form factor, the Kishi 2 is very similar to the Backbone, which is no surprise. The circular controller provides a better grip than the original controller. The back of the original is mostly smooth, and you can grip the sides of the Kishi 2 with your pinky or ring fingers. It takes some getting used to, but it’s easier to hold.

All buttons have been replaced and resized. The four face buttons, shoulder buttons, and two new programmable buttons feature microswitch buttons, giving them a great mouse-clicking feel, just like the Razer Wolverine controller. While I would have liked to see the microswitches on the d-pad too, its new d-pad is at least a lot softer than the original. Overall, the new buttons feel great and stay true to Razer’s commitment to “console quality.”

The M1 and M2 buttons replace the typical back button on professional controllers and are very useful. When I play shooters, I like to map my jump button to one of these so I can rest my right thumb on the camera stick while jumping. In Diablo Immortal, you can map your auto-attack to one of these, so you can aim and fire with the right stick and fire with the trigger. These buttons serve a different purpose in each game, so they’re a great addition that you can use whenever you need them.

The sticks are small and the throws are very short, so if you’re used to longer sticks, it can be hard to get used to, but they’re otherwise sturdy. The triggers are one of the biggest improvements over the original, which had too much drag and friction. The new triggers slide easily and feel great when pulled. My biggest problem with them is that they activate the dial indicator from the default position, so if you put your finger anywhere near them, you’re almost guaranteed to make some accidental typing. I wish there was a way to adjust or customize how far you need to pull the triggers as they are so sensitive. You can actually breathe on the triggers and they will activate.

This lack of customization is immediately apparent in the new Razer Nexus app. Although my version of the app is only a pre-release, I’m still impressed with its capabilities. You can customize the M1 and M2 buttons, set up streaming accounts and launch games, but that’s what it’s all about. I would have liked to see deeper controller customization there, but it’s pretty barebones. In fact, since it’s only used to remap the two buttons, it would be nice to have a button combo that you can use to map them so you don’t have to open another app every time you want to change them.

Compatibility is definitely an issue. I browsed Game Pass, Stadia, and my GeForce Now library and found it to work just as well as a normal controller. Diablo Immortal and Fornite also work well. Beyond that, compatibility is more limited. For Call of Duty Mobile, you must connect the Xbox controller via Bluetooth before the Kishi will work. Apex Legends Mobile doesn’t currently support Kishi or Kishi 2 on Android, although the developers say they’re working on a fix. Genshin Impact still doesn’t have controller support on mobile devices, and neither does PUBG Mobile. The Kishi 2 will take you a long way, but it’s not the ultimate mobile solution yet. Unfortunately, many big games are still only touch.

Aside from the lack of rumble and my issues with trigger sensitivity, the Kishi 2 is still the closest thing you can get to a Switch or Steam Deck experience on your phone. Like all mobile controllers, the Kishi 2 suffers from being too small. It doesn’t fold up like the original, but instead uses a sturdy, expandable bridge (for “stable connectivity,” according to Razer), so it’s no longer as portable as the original. Perhaps to compensate, Razer designed the controller to be no longer than a standard phone. Compared to DualSense, they are nearly 25% shorter than Joy-Cons, which themselves are tiny. I would have liked the controller to have a sturdier, more ergonomic design. This was designed for portability and short gaming sessions, but thanks to things like Game Pass, mobile is no longer just a platform for short sessions. There may be a Kishi Pro model in the pipeline that will better suit my needs, but until then, the Kishi 2 is the best mobile controller you can buy.

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