GameStick (£79.99, www.gamestick.tv)
The big home consoles will set you back a few hundred pounds once you’ve forked out for the box, the accessories and the games themselves, which is where the GameStick steps in to save your wallet. For just £80 you can get this HDMI stick console and wireless controller, for playing affordable Android games on your telly.
The GameStick looks like an oversized USB memory stick, and plugs directly into your TV’s HDMI port and the mains, to avoid cluttering your entertainment centre. Setup involves charging the controller via USB and signing up for an account – a relatively quick and simple process – and then you’re ready to add funds and download games via Wi-Fi. We had some initial issues with adding funds as our GameStick mysteriously thought we were Americans, but GameStick’s tech support quickly sorted it out and restored our British credentials. Thanks chaps!
Right now the selection of games is a little limited, with just 38 available as we went to press (mostly quick-action arcade blasters). That includes some famous titles such as Shadowgun, Vector and Fist of Awesome, but we’re gutted we don’t have full access to the Google Play Store’s massive catalogue, and some of the games here are more expensive than their Play counterparts. We also had the occasional issues with latency between the controller and the GameStick, which had us shuffling around on the sofa until we found that sweet spot where everything worked.
Still, with games costing just a couple of quid rather than £30-40, you can buy a bundle for the kiddies without giving your bank manager conniptions. They downloaded quickly over Wi-Fi and many of them support multiplayer gaming. the GameStick can apparently handle up to four controllers connected at once – although we didn’t get the chance to test this out. You get 8GB of storage tucked away inside the stick, expandable via microSD, so you can happily download the entire games catalogue right now. You can also stream media from a NAS if you fancy kicking back with a movie or a bit of music, which is a neat touch.
As for the controller itself, it’s a boxy but reasonably comfortable Bluetooth effort. The dual thumbsticks offer good control over action games such as Shadowgun, and feel quality despite the GameStick’s low price point. You get plenty of other buttons, including shoulder buttons, and there’s a handy drawer at the back of the controller for slotting in the GameStick if you’re off to a mate’s house – just remember the mains adapter too.
If you’re after a cheap way to placate your family this Christmas, the GameStick offers a full console experience at a fraction of the cost of the big boys, even if the overall experience isn’t as slick or impressive. Of course, there’s hot competition from the likes of the Ouya, while nVidia’s upcoming Project Shield will not only allow Android gameplay on your telly, but also stream Steam games directly from your PC, so you can enjoy them from the comfort of your sofa.