The MG-X is an outstanding mobile controller, but needs refinement to be perfect
- Manufacturer: Nacon
- Model: MG-X
- Supported Platforms: Android (and PC, unofficially)
- Price when reviewed: £89.90 MSRP
- Supplied by: Manufacturer
Nacon MG-X Review
It’s been almost a year since Nacon’s Designed for Xbox controllers were first announced, with the Nacon Pro Compact controller releasing earlier this year, and the MG-X finally available to purchase. We still have a little longer to wait for the release of the MG-X Pro (with full-size controller inputs), but we have been playing with the slimmer MG-X, and it’s outstanding.
The MG-X is part of the officially certified ‘Designed for Xbox’ range; These devices are all signed off by Microsoft, which is already a good indicator of the level of quality you can expect.
With Xbox Game Pass Ultimate gaining traction, more and more gamers have been taking to the cloud to get their gaming fix. You can connect a regular Xbox (Bluetooth compatible) controller to your mobile device, and many games also support touch inputs. If you’ve tried playing a game using the touch inputs, though, you’ll no doubt have realised it’s far from a perfect solution, and using a regular controller leaves you needing somewhere to prop up your screen. My early attempts at jerry-rigging my phone to my controller involved clothes pegs and elastic bands – it was probably as useless and impractical as you think.
The MG-X is the perfect solution for playing games with your mobile. Your phone simply clamps securely into the expanding frame, connects via low-energy Bluetooth and instantly transforms your phone into an Xbox Series X server-blade powered Switch-a-like.
MG-X – Design and build
With its slimline shape, the MG-X lends itself very well to being carried around. I can comfortably fit it into my (man-sized) pockets or slip it into a bag with no issues. Weighing in at 206 grams, it’s reassuringly hefty and durable feeling, without straying into the territory of being unwieldy once your phone is attached. For comparison, the Nintendo Switch weighs 297 grams with JoyCons attached, while the MG-X with a Samsung Galaxy A71 attached weighs 384 grams.
It has a subtle and tasteful design, constructed from a grippy matte black plastic, and at the rear, there is a hand-grip moulded from pleasingly tactile firm rubber. Nacon logos can be found embossed into the hand-grip at the rear and within the rubber backing of the phone holder. Combined with the high-quality plastics that are reminiscent of Microsoft’s controllers, it gives the MG-X a distinctly premium appearance.
The full complement of Xbox controller buttons are present, but due to the diminutive nature of the controller, you’ll need to adapt to the smaller buttons, analogue sticks and triggers.
The analogue sticks are looser than those on a standard Xbox controller, but they also have a much shorter throw. Having the sticks looser can make it easier to manage the smaller inputs needed when aiming in an FPS, for example, or while bombing along the open road in Forza Horizon 4, but I think they went just a little too far and could do with tightening them up a little bit.
I found the location of the right analogue stick felt the most unusual, and it took me a while to find the best hand position and adapt to moving between the stick and the ABXY buttons. Finally, the caps are convex, as opposed to the standard concave design, but I still found them comfortable to use, and depressing the thumbsticks gives a reassuring click as you activate the buttons.
The face buttons again are much smaller, except for the almost full-sized D-pad. The menu (three lines) and window buttons are very small, but they are ideally located and easy to hit without needing to stretch your fingers out searching for them. My first thought was that the buttons were too small but, aside from the initial learning curve, I was able to hit the right buttons consistently. The actuation force needed for the ABXY buttons was firmer than I expected, but the bounce-back rate is good, and I had no problem spamming the buttons during QTEs.
Rounding off the controls, we have the triggers and shoulder buttons. The shoulder buttons are ideal: not too small and easy to press across their entire surface. The triggers also work well, but they are rather stiff, and it takes a strong pull to reach their full travel. It took me some getting used to because, at the point where they feel fully pulled, there’s still a bit more to go to get the full range.
As the trigger’s overall length of travel is far shorter than on a regular controller, having this added resistance is actually very helpful when it comes to feathering the input, especially on things like driving games. Conversely, my 8-year-old had difficulty pulling the trigger to its full extent. It could be that the springs used are too strong, however, they may loosen up over time. Although most people won’t have any issue with this, users with weaker hands could struggle.
MG-X – Attaching and connecting your phone
You power on or switch off the MG-X by holding the Xbox button in for a few seconds, then put the Bluetooth into pairing mode with a small, clearly labelled button on the bottom edge of the controller. Once this initial pairing is done, it will auto-connect to your (Android) phone as long as its Bluetooth is still switched on. When the controller is un-paired, the indicator light slowly flashes white. Whilst pairing, it flashes faster, and once connected, it turns to a solid white light. It’s very clear and straightforward.
The quoted battery life is 20 hours, and I found this to be accurate. When the battery starts running low, the indicator will flash red – To charge the MG-X, you simply use the included USB-A to USB-C cable connected to a suitable source, such as a PC, console or monitor, and my phone charger also worked fine. Once charging, the indicator turns solid red, and when fully charged, the light turns green. It may seem weird to focus on this, but I’ve used plenty of peripherals that make it very hard to tell if they are even charging, let alone give a low battery warning or indicate when charging has been completed, so bravo to Nacon for making it so obvious and intuitive.
My initial concern with controllers that clamp the display in place was that your phone could easily slip out, but the MG-X has a very strong sliding hinge that locks your phone firmly in position. A rubberised coating at the back and each end protects your phone from scratches while ensuring it stays securely mounted. Should it slip, there is also a raised lip on the bottom that will serve as a last line of defence in the unlikely event it comes loose.
A minor downside to having the phone fitted this way is that it blocks off all of the ports at the bottom of the phone. This means that you won’t be able to charge your phone while it’s fitted to the controller, the headphone jack will be obscured, and if your speakers are at the bottom of the phone, they will be slightly muffled.
I have Bluetooth headphones, which negates part of that problem, and alternatively, the speaker on my phone is on the right-hand side, so I can mount the phone higher and have the speaker uncovered. The clamping force is sufficient that you can have the phone raised enough to expose the USB port (if it’s fitted centrally) without feeling like it will fall off, but this puts the cable directly over the RB bumper.
These are just byproducts of the design, however. As long as your phone has a decent battery you will be fine, and the speaker, although muffled somewhat, is still audible.
One thing that isn’t so intuitive is inserting or removing your phone. As mentioned, the spring-loaded clamp that holds the controller to your phone is very strong, so it takes a bit of effort to hold the controller open. On one of my first attempts, I removed my phone and didn’t have a firm grip, causing it to snap shut and nip the side of my finger. Lesson learned, and no big deal, but I wouldn’t want that to happen to my kids, so parents beware.
My preferred and safest technique involves holding the phone against the right side of the mount, bracing the controller against my stomach and pulling open the controller, then reversing this procedure to remove it. It’s a little ungainly, but it’s the only awkward thing about the MG-X. When the alternative would be a looser clamp, possibly resulting in your phone falling from the mount, I’ll take slightly awkward any day.
MG-X – What’s it like to use?
Once I’d had an hour or two experience with the MG-X, it all felt incredibly natural and far superior to touch controls or the imbalanced feel when the phone is clipped above the screen. Sure, there’s a learning curve as you get used to the button placement and feel your way around the controller, but once you do, it’s an exceptionally enjoyable way to play mobile games. Having the screen dead-centre between the controls just feels right when you’re using your phone as a handheld console.
I tried out dozens of different games using the MG-X, and it was pure bliss being able to attach my phone, load up a game and play with the same ease as if I was sat at my console. I found I wasn’t quite as proficient as I am with a full-sized controller, but I was able to have enough control to fully enjoy all of the games I tried.
It’s compatible with a lot of mobile games, too, including Call of Duty, Fortnite, and the Asphalt games, though I spent far more time playing games either via Xbox Game Pass Cloud or streaming from my Series X console. In the interest of full testing, I also connected the MG-X to my PC, and it was identified and worked correctly as a Bluetooth controller.
The MG-X is a fantastic device if you want to take advantage of an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription and play games on your phone. It’s incredibly simple to set up and use, with handy quality of life additions like the rubberised grips and charging indicator, and its slim size makes it ideal for gaming on the go. The triggers could be more refined so they require less tension to pull, and the thumbsticks could have a bit more tension, but in general it’s a very smooth gaming experience.