Mad Catz MOJO Reviews

Traditionally, if you were looking for a quality gaming experience you’d turn to a games console. PlayStation or Xbox for the more seasoned player, Wii for fun family game time, perhaps a PC for the hardcore gamer. Almost certainly a Nintendo handheld if you wanted to take your gaming mobile.

Times are changing however, and increasingly powerful mobile devices are drawing people away from conventional gaming experiences and high-quality, low-cost games on mobiles could spell trouble for the gaming incumbents. Players are moving towards having their game time at their convenience on devices that they already own and carry with them.

Mad Catz is looking to create a blend of the two concepts with hardware that’s strikingly similar to your phone or tablet but played on the big screen and with a conventional controller. An interesting concept and certainly the idea of paying a few pounds per game instead of £50+ is appealing, but does it work?

The M.O.J.O. has the internals of a high-end Android device with a skew towards the powerful graphics processing needed for gaming. At its heart is a Nvidia Tegra 4 processor complemented by 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM (expandable using micro SD), dual-band Wi-Fi and a couple of things you won’t fi nd on your phone – an Ethernet port and dual, full-size USB ports (1 x USB 2.0 and 1 x 3.0). Connection to your TV comes via a full-size HDMI port and there’s a 3.5mm socket for your headphones. The design of the machine itself is understated but attractive – a compact wedge shape with a blue LED on the front. You don’t turn the M.O.J.O. off, so that LED is always illuminated.

If the hardware is reassuringly familiar, then the same can defi nitely be said about the software. Packing Android 4.2.2 with a KitKat upgrade imminent, the M.O.J.O. offers an almost completely stock version of Google Android. This brings exactly the same user experience that you would fi nd on a Google Nexus phone or tablet. With no touchscreen, navigation is carried out using the ‘C.T.R.L.R.’ (Mad Catz love their full stops), a Bluetooth Smart-ready device specifi cally designed for minimal latency in play.

The controller itself has a number of modes – Game Smart mode, which acts like a conventional gaming controller, Mouse mode where a pointer appears on screen that is moved using the left analogue stick and a PC mode that replicates a PC controller. While the mode switch itself was more awkward to use on our device than we’d like, it’s clear the controller itself builds upon Mad Catz’s considerable experience in the area, with great-feeling analogue sticks and reassuring, clicky buttons. Everything you’d expect to see is here – dual analogue sticks, a D-pad, four main buttons, two shoulder buttons, two triggers and back and start buttons. Media control buttons are also included.

Offering a conventional Android user interface is very much a double-edged sword. While it’s immediately familiar to anyone who uses an Android device, it means that unlike some of its peers such as the Ouya, navigating around on the M.O.J.O. isn’t optimised for a non-touch experience. You’ll generally fi nd yourself using the controller in Mouse mode to navigate around then switching to the Game Smart mode. This is rather frustrating at fi rst, although it is something that becomes easier with practice, at least until you come to enter some text (such as logging in to your Google account). Using an on-screen keyboard with an analogue stick and a mouse pointer is not a pleasant experience – a Bluetooth keyboard/touchpad is a very sensible investment, which thankfully works fi ne on the M.O.J.O.

Loading games onto the M.O.J.O. itself should be a breeze thanks to the inclusion of the Google Play store (the M.O.J.O. has GMS certifi cation) but unfortunately the reality is a little more complex. The Google Play store uses hardware profi le information to determine which applications are compatible with which devices. The problem here is that a huge number of Play store apps are set to require the touchscreen feature, and the M.O.J.O. doesn’t have that, so swathes of the store shows as ‘not compatible’ (even some parts of GMS such as Gmail). Mad Catz is educating developers to change their apps to be compatible, but out of the box it means apps you’d expect to be able to install on the M.O.J.O. are unavailable.

As is often the case with Android, the OS’s inherent hackability comes to the rescue. The M.O.J.O. has an unlocked bootloader and a third-party mod is already available that roots the device and adds the missing touchscreen fl ag, restoring the missing apps from the Play store. Things will improve over time, but you’ll want to use this at this early stage in the product’s life.

The good news is that once you get your apps on, the two main things the M.O.J.O. is going to be used for – gaming and media playback – really are great. Plex, the popular media playback application, runs like a dream and the 5GHz Wi-Fi support is a real boon. The most power-hungry games run smoothly on the device and retro gaming is fantastic fun.

There is another huge caveat though and it reveals another weakness of using a virtually stock version of Android on the M.O.J.O. – controller mapping. Where games are designed to be played using a controller (or updated for the M.O.J.O.), then everything is awesome. But where games are designed to use touchscreen or tilt-control only, then the game can end up unplayable as Mad Catz has provided no way to map controller buttons to on-screen actions (unlike, say, the Nvidia Shield).

The M.O.J.O. is very much an Android enthusiast’s machine, demonstrating both how much potential the concept has together with how much work is still to be done. If you’re willing to put a bit of effort in to tweaking it, and also embrace that it’s very much ‘stock Android on a TV’, then it can ultimately be rewarding. The M.O.J.O. will no doubt improve, but be ready for some frustrations. And don’t throw away your Xbox just yet.