Racing games are fun — pretty much any gamer can handle a racing game because it’s mostly reflexes and responding to stimuli — no worry about dozens of button combinations to memorize or activate. Not that you don’t have to know what you’re doing to succeed — but at least most know how to work the basics in order to not suck.
Of course some help would be handy when the racing game gets more sophisticated than you can handle. And that help comes not from some super high tech concept, but from an obvious choice: a steering wheel. Or in this case, the Appfinity AppDrive. Because more games are being played on smartphones and racing games are no exception.
To begin with, the physical condition of the AppDrive is well done — it’s large for one thing, not some rinky-dink wheel that can fit in one hand. All plastic, duh, but the places where you grip the wheel have been grooved and rubberized to make holding it more realistic, sensible and forceful.
The AppDrive can be broken up into two parts: the holding area designed to cradle an iPhone (3GS or newer) or select Android phone (those with screens the size of the iPhone), and the mechanism that activates onscreen gaming functions.
So the first thing you do is place the AppDrive face down on a smooth surface. Push outward on the two opposing nubs at the top of the back locking plate to release it and remove it like it was a battery compartment. Now, depending on the model of phone used, you either insert the “spacing plate” or not after you’ve place the phone horizontally inside the open space left by having removed the locking plate. Then you put the locking plate back on, realign its tabs and press inward on both nubs to secure it in place.
Turn the AppDrive over. Now the mechanical switches/buttons are evident. There’s a button at the top of the wheel at the 11- and 1-o’clock positions. The buttons have raised bumps to make them easier to to locate without looking and to help hold the thumbs in position. There’s also a pair of buttons directly behind the two on the other side of the AppDrive; these can be called “triggers” and will be readily understood by gamers who are used to having these on their controllers.
The front facing buttons each activate a nub that mechanically makes contact with the touch-screen (the rubber bumper at the end keeps them from causing any damage). The “triggers” also active nubs that fall in between the two nubs of the front facing buttons. This means you have four distinct controls while in a game that don’t require removing your two hands from the wheel. So that’s all that’s needed for controlling a touch-screen game that’s been geared to respond to this, since movement will be handled by physically shifting the position of the AppDrive (i.e., rotating it insanely).
Spinmaster who makes the AppDrive supplies a free game to start (search for Appfinity Appdrive): this works on both iOS/Android operating systems and is called 2XL MX Offroad. It combines two of the company’s games, Supercross and ATV Offroad racing, and can be played on iPads as well — allowing for multiple tracks and customizing your rider. There are many features, such as altering the camera view and adjusting the level of difficulty, but the main thing here is that you can use the AppDrive to really get into the game in a way that others can’t. This can lead to better results and being able to post scores that others might not be able to match. Of course you needn’t tell them of your AppDrive edge.
Spinmaster makes other games that can be played as well (they’ll cost you though), and as the AppDrive is fairly recent, it will be a while before more become available. Of course any game that uses the accelerometer can take advantage of being used with the Appdrive since it provides the steerage that is vital in order to stay on the road (although the buttons may prove useless in these games).
Spinmaster also makes a blaster-gun that uses games to provide for augmented reality effects, but I think the AppDrive is superior because it doesn’t get bogged down with varying technologies: it’s just designed to give you a steering wheel to handle racing games so you can react naturally as the miles fly by. And is aided by onscreen control that doesn’t require you to actually be touching the screen and having to take your hands off the wheel. I compared using the AppDrive with not using it and found that my cornering increased by a factor of 3X — I had more control hitting the curves and was more finely tuned to the needs of the game when gripping a wheel. And while it took a bit to get used to using the on-wheel buttons, once I did I never again had to experience that disorientation of tapping at the screen and breaking the “fourth wall” of the game.
Bottom line: Those who find racing video games the “bomb” will gravitate to any controller (like the AppDrive) that makes game control more refined and precise. For $20 the AppDrive not only gives you hands-on control on compatible games, but steering ability on pretty much most app-based racing games in general. Plus you can freely move around the room making your own racing sounds to your heart’s content.
Large gripping surface
No provision for video-out cabling
Limited games to take advantage of control buttons
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.