[Framonics / Unbranded] N1 Telescopic Controller Review
Note: This controller doesn’t have any specific branding and can go by many names. The one being discussed looks like this.
A bit of background: Beyond some other standalone handhelds I’ve used in the past, I’m coming from the Retroid Pocket 2 which might well be the worst case of mismarketing I’ve seen. The device was decently built, but the chipset it used is just not well-suited for the emulation it’s supposedly made for. While this is underrated and a discussion for another day, it also had a massive latency issue, which made it a no-go for me personally.
Since then, I’ve looked into the controller market so that I would be able to utilize my phone as a sort of Frankenstein’s Handheld. It’s a OnePlus 7 Pro I’ve been using for close to two years, and plan to reserve it exclusively for gaming after popping the sim off, since it’s Snapdragon 855 remains a top choice for games and has somewhat of a booming aftermarket firmware community surrounding it. I’ve bought and used a Flydigi Wee 2 previously, and while it was nice to use for the time I owned it, it had a tendency for ‘sticky inputs’ due to its Bluetooth nature, which was something I wanted to avoid; the distaste of the Retroid’s nearly half-second delay compared to the Odroid’s near-next-frame immediacy steered me exclusively to USB-based devices. Eventually, I’d find that the results were two options that some might have already heard of and seen a number of times: the Ouya-owning Razer Kishi and the China-born GameSir X2. Though they were wired telescoping pads, the Kishi was far too expensive ($80-$100, depending on SKU) for me to justify, not to mention the strap-based system they implemented not inspiring much confidence. As for the X2, while it was much closer to what I was looking for, it just seemed too big for me to carry around.
Yes, I carry my gamepads in my pocket as I do my handhelds. Sue me.
So, while everyone brings up the aforementioned in these threads, imagine my surprise when I found that there’s this third option I see from time to time that very few seems to talk about; the ubiquitously unbranded ‘N1’ gamepad, which only seemed to appear in AliExpress listings. And I bought it, for two very specific reasons:
1. It has low-profile sticks, and a slim form factor, which meant I could reasonably chuck it in a pocket.
2. It has a headphone jack on-board.
Silly reasons to get some random thing from China without much documentation? Absolutely, which was all the more reason for me to get it; because I like endangering myself in the thrill of the hunt. One week later, and the following is the end result.
The N1 kind of has an obscure charm to it, with its unbranded black shell and understated color palette. The sticks don’t click, but they feel nearly 1-for-1 how I recall the Wee 2’s did — which is to say they don’t travel very far, but have a smooth motion and reasonable, if light, resistance. Both sticks behave like normal tilting analog sticks, and not the sliding pad which the ads confusingly like to make the right stick appear as? The convex caps don’t have any rubber material on them, but the hard plastic gets the job done. That said, the surface area of the sticks themselves are a good bit bigger than a PS Vita’s, which might jostle muscle memory a little bit if you’re not used to wide sticks with short travel. Because they don’t click, the top-most aux buttons marked `S1` and `S3` are mapped as the stick buttons, so you won’t necessarily lose functionality there.
Yes, the D-pad is separated into individual buttons like the Nintendo Switch JoyCons — take a shot if you’ve heard that before — but, I will say they are much better to use regardless than on that console. Where the ‘Cons use micro-switches with a tiny, nearly indistinguishable membrane that have minimal travel, the N1’s buttons (both D-pad and face side) use soft membranes with surprisingly good travel and a pretty satisfying tactility. They feel loose enough that I can perform at least quarter-circle rolling maneuvers in my favorite fighting games pretty consistently, and the spacing/size of the directional buttons are just close enough I can rest my thumb in the middle and sort of rock into each direction from the center, not quite but sort of like a real D-pad. They are not fatiguing to use, which I’ve had a problem with on the JoyCons, even after replacing the shells with a D-pad one.
As hinted earlier, the face buttons feel the same as the D-buttons; that same, overall tight but bouncy feel which is pretty enjoyable to hammer on for action-platformers. Compared to the Wee2, which used soft but stiff micro-switches similar to the Switch, this ‘fun’ physicality has become my favorite. Eagle-eyed readers might be scared that the buttons are physically arranged in the Nintendo-style layout where the A/B-X/Y pairs are swapped. But don’t be fooled! Under the hood, they are mapped to be the much more familiar and Android-friendly Xbox arrangement! You’ll just have to get used to pressing B to accept, or A to go back. I’m not sure why they did this, considering the GameSir X2 used the arrangement for a more logical (albeit shady) functional reason, so Framonics kind of shot their public image in the foot by copying the layout in name only. Like the D-buttons, the aux functions `S2` and `S4` are Select and Start, respectively.
The bumpers and triggers look small, but I’ve found my index fingers rest naturally on the back pair pretty comfortably. The switches used on these are clicky, but not obnoxiously so like the X2, though the front-most bumpers are a bit lighter than the back-resting triggers. And because they’re arranged pretty close, I can easily switch from bumper to trigger without much movement. It’s much more natural and enjoyable to use than the Wee 2’s shoulder buttons, which I felt were unusually bulky with a very small angle of actuation.
Considering the USB-C slot, you can guess how this gets installed. Just push the portless end of the phone against the left side to stretch it, then flatten it down and angle the port so it slides into place. It takes some getting used to when it comes to the angle, but the connection on the port is pretty tight and the telescoping mechanism feels solid. There’s even indentations on the left and right sides, so even if it is at an angle, it shouldn’t lift itself up out of the grip. It fits a OnePlus 7 Pro out of the box, for what it’s worth, and stretches out to just slightly less than the X2’s 2021 refresh. Regarding exact fit, though, this is something I’ll get into later.
Like the Flydigi, the N1’s programmed to be used as a touch input device out of the box, so you’ll need to get its associated app to change this. Named the SOE Game Center (or sometimes labeled SOE Helper), it continues the trend of vagueness surrounding whatever nonexistent brand this is supposed to belong to. Once open, it’ll need permissions — asking for media access, location, and the ability to draw above apps on the initial setup. As far as I can tell, though, you don’t need anything beyond letting the app communicate with the controller when prompted once the Helper app is installed.
You’ll want to do two things: go to the right-most tab, select “Connect Mode” and change the selection from “Mobile Game” to “Simulator”, which makes it act like a normal Xbox controller. Then, in the middle tab, enable “Native game LT/RT support”, which changes the triggers to depress an Xbox’s analog triggers rather than being recognized as a PS-style L2/R2 digital button… and also acts as a workaround for the only software bug I’ve encountered. With trigger emulation off, for whatever reason, the L2/R2 buttons don’t seem to work while either analog stick is in motion. But with it enabled, this doesn’t occur, and they work as they should. Why is this the case despite being fully up-to-date according to the software, I’ll never know. But hey, once you’re done with this, you can just chuck the app off and the controller will stay how it was last configured until you re-install the Helper and change something. Considering I’m using this for emulation, though, I wasn’t going to mess with touch mapping personally.
Here’s some graphs on stick responsiveness, which I’ve heard some people (who don’t accept legitimate thread posts) seem to be a fan of. To put it into words, the deadzone is expectedly small, so games without such adjustment may be slightly overresponsive. However, this has not caused drift in any scenario thus far. Despite the right stick graph, it seems to be perfectly responsive when FPS games are concerned, and doesn’t bias (much?) towards looking down over up. I would definitely recommend, whenever available, to set each stick’s DZ to 25%.
When it comes to games, that’s pretty simple; if the game/app recognizes directly connected controllers and normal Xbox buttons, it’ll work as you’d expect it to. There’s been no case where games that work with, say, a DualShock 3, doesn’t also work with the N1. The only exception is games that use their own proprietary Bluetooth controller stack, i.e. Call of Duty Mobile’s native implementation which only works with wireless controllers, and doesn’t even acknowledge any physically connected option. With RetroArch, there’s no frantic hotplugging, so it shouldn’t raise a fuss in normal use. And with a (reasonably) new SD855 device, there’s (virtually) no latency when compared to something running on bare Linux like the Odroid Go Advance; perhaps only a frame behind, but a significant improvement over Bluetooth on the same device, or the native input on the Retroid Pocket 2.
However, there is one problem that isn’t the fault of the controller itself, necessarily; because of the aforementioned Left/Right Trigger emulation, games which don’t allow mapping to analog axis for buttons will not be able to use the triggers. But so far, this only seems to effect the old Xash3D branch, the Serious Engine ports, and Sonic Robo Blast 2 — which uses the triggers, but only as Axis maps and not as extra buttons for digital commands. With the only exception being the Spelunky Classic port, which doesn’t seem to like pads in general, everything else worked without a problem in my testing.
Small side tangent: As of the time of writing, Dolphin for Android doesn’t seem to map the global button button mappings as I defined them in games, nor does it allow deadzone adjustment. And while I’ve been able to play TimeSplitters 2 without much problem, it’s made playing Super Smash Bros. Melee troublesome because of how sensitive it is to motions with the default, seemingly non-existent DZ setting. Fingers crossed that this will be addressed.
I mentioned the headphone jack earlier, right? Well, it does exist on the N1 where seemingly every other wired option (i.e. the Kishi/X2) doesn’t have this feature, presumably expecting the user to just use Bluetooth audio. However, trying to use this with my KZ IEMs — which admittedly have a pretty beefy jack housing — wouldn’t work; the molding is formed too tightly around the port, which limits the size of headphone tips it’ll accept. So, naturally/out of desperation, I made a ‘small’ adjustment by cutting a wider hole around the jack with an Exacto Knife. My cutting job (and lack of easily accessible sandpaper) looks rough, but at least my bulky 3.5mm cable now fits pretty snug.
And after this modification, the audio out works surprisingly well! Sound is clean, doesn’t seem altered from the source, and provides good volume with no audible latency; albeit with the KZ’s, there is a small audible noise floor that’s similar to plugging in to a Nintendo Switch. I’m not sure what DAC this device uses, but for gaming, I’m happy it exists. The USB-C charging jack beside it didn’t need any butchering to get my cables to fit, and it works fine — just know, like the other controller options, that the USB port is not a pass-through adapter, and only accepts normal chargers while outputting a maximum of 5W to the phone. Using the OnePlus-provided Warp 30 brick didn’t break the port or anything; it just doesn’t pass any energy through, at all.
I also wanted to talk about exact fit. The N1, as pictured, has very small slivers of silicone padding that rests at both ends of the phone’s back. They protrude maybe half a milometer, but despite this, my OnePlus 7 Pro (with a skin) needed some angling to get it to fit well, and the left side padding was clearly bumping against the camera island hump on the other end. So, here’s a life hack for you: just rip the padding off! You only need to pick at them a bit to loosen them free, leaving most of the adhesive intact.
Personally, I found the phone was moving vertically ever-so-slightly whenever I tried to adjust volume, so I essentially repurposed one of the slits into the indentation on the left; this way, the portless side rests on the silicone pad — so that it doesn’t short circuit and come into contact with the rest of the system. With that being said, however, the USB Type-C plug isn’t adjustable in any way. And when considering that the OP 7Pro is 8.8mm,and already pretty flat on the right side with the back when connected (even after the lifehack[tm]), I wouldn’t recommend anything with a thicker main body.
If I was to have any complaints? Other than maybe having a real D-pad mesh, and the 3.5mm audio jack having a wider opening for good IEMs with thick jacks, there are two things I would change. One, as I said before, the mechanism and plastics feel solid, but when tapping against it or the attached phone is vibrating from an incoming call, there is definitely a small ‘echo’ resonating from inside. You can hear the metal/springs responding, just a bit.
And for two… there’s this green LED which is covered by the right hand, that indicates power being received, and… nothing else? The only thing it adds is being a minor palm warmer when playing for a while. A single piece of electrical tape covered this annoyance quickly and completely, so it’s probably a moot point.
If you’re looking for a controller that:
- Is small & compact
- Runs off of USB-C/Low latency
- Has audio out built in, and:
— Are willing to slightly modify the housing
— Don’t have headphone with thick jacks
- Doesn’t use micro-switches for the face buttons
- Is cheap — $35 shipped for this example
…then surprisingly, I’d recommend the N1, about as much as someone may suggest the Flydigi Wee 2! It’s basically a sister controller to that, with some improvements to both form and functionality for a notably lower price.
The link to buy is here. That isn’t the only outlet, though; if you search “Android usb c controller” on AliExpress, you’ll find a few more listings for the same controller at varying prices. You may also want to search for ones with a United States ship-from option, as that’s how I got mine within a week.
(This is now the fourth time I’ve attempted to publish this somewhere.)