As our phones have have grown larger, so too have our phone-friendly gamepads. No one knows this better than 8bitdo, a Hong Kong company that specializes in making Bluetooth gamepads modeled after their full-sized Famicom, NES and SNES counterparts. But the latest addition to their lineup, the ZERO, eschews convention in favor of cuteness. Billed as “the world’s smallest controller,” how does it measure up?
There’s not a lot to say about this gamepad, namely because there’s not a lot of gamepad. Measuring less than 3″ wide and just over 1″ tall, the diminutive ZERO is one-sixth the size of an Xbox controller. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket with your keys. In fact, it’s small enough to hang on your keyring WITH your keys; though not included, there is an attachment point on the lower left for a lanyard. I’ll admit, I was really, really bummed that a (detachable) strap didn’t “come with,” but the ZERO makes no qualms about its lack of frills. What you see is what you get.
The ZERO forgoes the fancy, Apple-inspired packing of 8bitdo’s previous controllers – no collectable cardboard box, no custom branded USB cable, no commemorative keychain – for a simple a blister card. And contained within that blister card, a simple gamepad. The ZERO doesn’t have the colorful buttons of the SNES-inspired SFC30, the retro charm of the Famicom-inspired FC30, nor the blue “breathing light” of the Castlevania-inspired Crissaegrim NES30 Pro, but that’s not to say 8bitdo didn’t put some care into the ZERO’s design.
The ZERO’s aesthetic is very clean. Not just for lack of space, this seems to be a conscious choice on the part of the designers, resulting in a gamepad that feels very Wii-like in terms of both its simplicity and its blue and white color scheme. But even with such a small canvas, they still managed to add a little of that retro charm we’ve come to love and expect in 8bitdo’s gamepads; look closely and you’ll see that the select button is shaped like NAMCO’s Pac-Man. A cute little design feature like this makes a cheap product feel less so.
Not to say that the ZERO is “cheap.” Sure, it may be a fraction of the cost – and a fraction of the size – of 8bitdo’s other offerings, but the build quality is surprisingly sturdy. The ZERO’s standard four-way D-pad and four face buttons are made of silicone, which according to 8bitdo’s website has “been through a rigorous assessment by professionals” to get the speed at which the buttons rebound after you press them just right. I can’t tell you if that’s true, but I can tell you that the D-pad and buttons feel nice, comfortably smooth and satisfyingly clicky with a good amount of give to them. The ZERO also has the aforementioned select button, as well as a start button and two shoulder buttons, L1 and L2, making this little gamepad compatible with a whole lotta games.
The ZERO works with iOS, Android, Mac and Windows. This means you can use it as an iCade controller, gamepad, keyboard and joystick, respectively. The top of the gamepad features a centrally positioned micro USB port for charging the internal 180mAh battery, which should give you 20 hours of play. The bottom of the gamepad features a single notification LED, which flashes different colors and patterns to let you know if you’re low on battery or paired up correctly. Unlike the previously reviewed NES30, you can’t use it with the Wii – there is no Wiimote emulation mode – but why would you? This is clearly a product for gaming on the go.
The backing card in the blister pack will walk you through all the “combos” needed to boot the ZERO up in different pairing modes. Like its full-sized counterparts, it remember the last device with which it successfully paired, meaning all you need do is hold down Start, which doubles as the on/off button, for 2 seconds to power on, and then you’re ready to play. If you power it on by pressing select instead of start, however, you’ll activate the coolest feature, “selfie mode.” With selfie mode activated, and your iPhone or Android’s camera app opened, the ZERO can act as a remote shutter; press any direction on the D-pad to snap a hands-free photo. You can also use pair up more than one ZERO to a single device for some multiplayer action (two players max for iOS and Mac OSX; three and more players for Windows).
This really is more of a novelty product, not meant to be a serious contender in the ever-expanding arena of Bluetooth gamepads. But even though it doesn’t have the comfort of the Stratus XL or nostalgia of the NES30, 8BitDo’s ZERO is a gamepad I’m much more likely to carry around with me and thus much more likely to use. It may not be the best Bluetooth gamepad on the market, but it’s cute, compact and cheap. Just like me!
Features & Specs
- Compatibility: iOS, Android, Windows & Mac OS
- Connection: Bluetooth wireless
- Built-in Bluetooth3.0, 32-bit ARM processor
- Keys: D-Pad, START, SELECT, A, B, X, Y, L, R
- Battery: Rechargeable 180 mAh lithium-ion battery
- ZERO gamepad
- Mircro USB Connection/Charging Cable
- Instruction Card
Big features, small package
Obviously, the ZERO isn’t going to hold up for long gaming sessions, but for your twitch gaming needs, this is a great little – make that littlest – gamepad, sure to elicit delight rather than disdain from your fellow coffee house customers when you get your game on in public.