The Acer Predator 6 is Coming, Too (and the Problem with Android Gaming)
Yesterday on the Dark Android Blog, I wrote about Acer’s upcoming gaming tablet, the Predator 8. I was generally favorable over the specs (including the Predator Quadio four-speaker sound), and I LOVED the design (unlike the rest of tech journalism), and I felt that it had a real chance of being a candidate for a solid Dark Android Project tablet. And Dark Android totally allows for gaming on Android, no Google Play Store required (thank you, Humble Bundle).
Yesterday, however, Acer also announced another Android device at IFA 2015: the Predator 6 gaming phone. Naturally, the bulk of tech journalism showed their lack of sense of history, as they treated this release like a “gaming phone” was some kind of new idea. I can prove to you, it’s not. Not by a long shot.
And I’m not talking about the Nokia N-Gage, as wild as that idea was. Released almost 12 years ago to the day (October 2003), the N-Gage was more gaming console than it was a phone (pictured below), and in many ways it ended up doing neither very well. The N-Gage was a flop from the beginning, never having sold very well or having much interest from the gaming industry or gamers themselves. In hindsight, however, it was way ahead of its time. Ironically, the claims of the day said that it was “too clunky” and that “no one would hold something that big up to their head. Well, the Galaxy Note series would prove those comments to be bullshit. The world was just waiting for a better implementation, perhaps.
Enter the much more recent Sony Xperia Play–which was also known as the “Playstation Phone”–that came out in 2011. Pictured below, if you were to combine gaming and a smartphone, this is the way I would have designed one. With a slider controller that has well-done hardware buttons, and exclusive Playstation games available for the phone (much like NVIDIA does with their SHIELD Android devices), it had everything going for it. It ran Android 2.3 (which was top end at the time), and it’s specs are laughable today, but it was actually a really solid attempt at make Android a serious gaming platform in your pocket.
But for some reason–perhaps it’s just some strange curse on Sony’s Xperia line that holds to this day–the Playstation Phone never really took off. So what does Acer think they can do right in this platform, especially when even NVIDIA hasn’t bothered to touch the phone end of Android gaming?
Sadly, probably nothing. Getting a good look at the phone, I don’t see anything terribly hopeful. Just take a look below.
See, it just looks like a phone. Sure, it appears to have that nice four-speaker setup that I like from the Predator 8 gaming tablet, and it looks pretty badass, but there’s not much else going on. Even the major advantage that the Predator 8 tablet has–the Intel x7 processor–isn’t to be found here. Sure, the Predator 6 will have 4GB of RAM and a 10-core processor (which is great), but for something that is a “gaming phone”, it fails in the one area that all phones and tablets fail at out-of-the-box: all it has is a touchscreen for controls, and touchscreens suck as controllers. And they always will.
NVIDIA knows this. So does Alphabet/Google, frankly. That’s why their devices come either with an optional Xbox/Playstation-style controller, and NVIDIA has even made the controller the device itself they know it’s so important! Sony also knows this, which is why with the Playstation Phone they made a slider controller built into the phone (which Acer should have done with the Predator 6), and with their recent Xperia phones they put in specific hardware that allows those devices to automatically connect to PS4 controllers.
Yes, there are games that work just fine with touchscreen (Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja), but if you want to play serious games or do some classic console emulating (which Android is really good for), touchscreen controls are going to leave you dead (literally, in-game, that is). Certainly, there are many aftermarket companies that make controllers to solve this problem, but if you’re going to really tout your device as a “gaming phone”, etc., you probably should have at least tried what the Nokia N-Gage did, or do the far better solution like the Xperia Play.
I think Acer dropped the ball here. They could potentially pick that ball back up if they release an official controller as an accessory, or have some kind of software that works really well with third-party controllers, but I’ve yet to hear anything of the sort. I can forgive Acer this whole issue when it comes to the Predator 8 because I’m just happy to have a unique contender in the Android tablet space, but with the Predator 6 “gaming phone” I don’t feel as forgiving (though the Predator 6 may end up still being a great piece of hardware).
This isn’t just Acer’s problem, though. Most companies outside of Sony and NVIDIA have totally ignored this niche within the massive Android userbase: the niche of the serious mobile gamer. Unless you change the very nature of the way games are controlled (Angry Birds’ control-style as compared to the amazing platformer Sonic the Hedgehog 4), a touchscreen-only device is never going to be a serious gaming machine on its own.
Maybe it will take time for this to hit its stride, but until it does I think Nintendo is going to have no problem with selling handhelds. Maybe Android gaming will stay a home console niche (a la NVIDIA SHIELD TV, Razer Forge, etc.). I’m not sure. But for now, when someone says a mobile device is made for gaming and gamers and it doesn’t work well with a separate controller (or its not a controller itself), take it with a grain of salt.