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Mad Catz M.O.J.O. review

We review the Mad Catz MOJO, the latest Android games console. Is it good enough to replace your Xbox?

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 are already own and carry with them.

Mad Catz are 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 it’s heart is a Nvidia Tegra4 processor complemented by 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM (expandable using microSD), dual band WiFi and a couple of things you won’t find on your phone – an Ethernet port and dual, full size USB ports (1 x USB 2 and 1 x USB 3).

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. Bear in mind that you never really turn the M.O.J.O. off, so that LED always stays illuminated.

If the hardware is reassuringly familiar, then the same can definitely 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 find 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 specifically 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 ‘PC mode’ where it 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 dpad, 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 find yourself using the controller in mouse mode to navigate around the Android UI then switching to the Game Smart mode. This is rather frustrating at first, 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 onscreen 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 fine 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 certification) but unfortunately the reality is a little more complex.

The Google Play Store uses hardware profile information to determine which applications are compatible with which devices. The problem here is that a huge number of Play Store applications 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 are 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’ inherent hackability comes to the rescue. The M.O.J.O. has an unlocked bootloader and a third party modification is already available that roots the device and adds the missing touchscreen flag, 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 WiFi 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 design to use touchscreen or tilt control only, then the game can end up unplayable as Mad Catz have provided no way to map controller buttons to on screen actions (unlike, say, the Nvidia Shield or even the Archos Gamepad).

The M.O.J.O. is very much an Android enthusiasts machine that demonstrates 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 with time, but be ready for some frustrations. And don’t throw away your Xbox just yet.

Review written by Paul O’Brien