Tablet gaming controls have been constant pains in my back for the last year, so one of the things I wanted to get working on my Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus was external game controllers. It didn’t start out too well; Samsung didn’t other to implement the USB gamepad feature in the tablet, so connecting a PS3 controller didn’t get my anywhere. Connecting one over Bluetooth requires root, and I didn’t want to start fiddling with that just to get this working. Finally, though, the Wiimote came to my rescue.
The app that makes this all work is Wiimote Controller. It’s not the only one out there, but the one that I found to be most reliable. What this app does is let you connect to a Wiimote and then it translates its control input to what the tablet sees as a keyboard input. Every time you press a button, the app translates that into a key that you’d find on a keyboard. That way you don’t actually need gamepad support, which is great. To connect to the Wiimote you simply follow the instructions in the app, which basically tells you to press two buttons on the Wiimote and one in the app. You do have to enable the app’s input method in the settings, where Android will warn you that the app might steal your credit card data etc. Don’t worry, though, that’s simply a warning it gives to all third party keyboards, as they can in theory log the keys you press because they’re keyboards…and you press their keys…and stuff… It isn’t even possible to input credit card data with a Wiimote though, even if you wanted to.
Anyways, once you’re paired and has allowed the input method to be used, you have to select that input method. This is done the same way you switch keyboards, and there’s a shortcut to this setting in the app. That’s it, you’re ready to go.
Naturally the controller won’t work on just any game. The game has to allow for gamepad input, and it has to allow you to map the keys yourself so that you can tell it that the 1-button corresponds to jumping etc. Not many Market games allow you to do that, unfortunately, but there are some. Perhaps more importantly, game emulators let you do it. Once you have the keys mapped, you’re ready to go, though in some apps you have to enable third party IME input in the settings to make the controls actually work in-game.
The game experience is a lot better with proper controllers, as you might imagine. As you see in the image above, I have a Wii Classic controller connected to a Wiimote, and that works automatically and the same way the Wiimote itself works. What you have to be aware of though is that analog sticks aren’t analog any more when you do this. On a proper console, analog sticks give you better control than just a directional pad because you can move the stick just a little bit and i.e. walk slowly. When connected to Android, however, it reads the analog stick as four buttons; up/down/left/right. That means that it basically has 8 modes; those four, plus combinations of them, like left+up or down+right. In a game, that translates to less control over your character. If you’re playing a 3D platform game for instance, your character will either run at full speed or not at all, as moving the stick just a bit is no different from moving it a lot. Moving in 8 directions also makes it a bit harder to properly control you character in tight spaces, like if you have to balance on something. Still, it isn’t a huge problem, and still much better than using on-screen controls.
Finally, be aware that this might not work on all tablets. There’s a lot of issues that can pop up with compatibility, and unfortunately there’s little you can do about it if it doesn’t work – aside from installing other ROMs that might fix the problems. Still, the app is free, so if you have a Wiimote, it’s worth a shot.