Reviewed: August 14, 2004
Type: Wireless Gamepad
Itís official. "Wireless" is the new buzzword for controllers this year and Nyko is hopping on the RF bandwagon with their latest Air Flo Wireless gamepad for the PlayStation 2. But wait. This controller just doesnít allow you to play from 50í away sans cable; it also shoots a cool breeze on those sweaty gamer palms of yours thanks to a whisper-quiet variable speed fan built right into the controller.
Aesthetics - 8
The Air Flo isnít the prettiest controller in my growing collection but itís not ugly either. Considering everything Nyko had to cram into this device Iím impressed that it looks as good as it does.
All of the buttons and the D-pad ride high for some excellent tactile feedback, both for pressure sensitivity and that defined click at its maximum range. Unfortunately, this carries over to the four shoulder buttons giving them a loose and ďclickyĒ feel, almost like they were digital.
The tops of the twin sticks have concentric ridges giving your thumbs extra grip. The large 2Ē fan on the front of the controller looks oppressive at first but since itís facing away from you 99% of the time who cares? The rubber grips on the pods have deep ridges that keep your hands off the plastic and allow the air to circulate freely.
Perhaps the most interesting feature is the large battery area in the middle of the controller. This square compartment has two rubber feet that are at the same elevation as the two matching rubber nubs at the end of each pod grip. This means you can rest the entire controller on a table or flat surface and it remains ultra-stable, a feature that become useful when you start to explore that little red joystick thingy.
You can pop the center plug from the D-pad to reveal a threaded socket where you can screw in a 2Ē joystick. At first I thought this was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen but after a few rounds with a few of my favorite fighting games not to mention my Midway Treasures game full of old-school titles that used simple digital control, I was in heaven. You can store the joystick in the battery compartment when you arenít using it so you donít lose it. It was rather annoying that the stick goes "under" the batteries so you have to remove and replace them each time you access the stick.
The rest of the controller surface is home to the Start and Select buttons, a power toggle and two small dials that allow you to adjust the fan speed and select an RF channel. Admittedly, forcing you to dial in a number from 1-8 then matching that number with the receiver seemed a bit archaic since most wireless controllers are using auto-switching technology. But unless you have more than one Air Flo Wireless youíll set it and forget it.
My only real criticism of the basic design is the use of a shiny chrome material for the centerpiece of the controller. Sure, that mirror-like reflection is useful for blinding your opposition by angling any available sunlight into their eyes, but it also shows off fingerprints to the extreme, and I found myself constantly polishing the surface with the bottom of my shirt.
Durability - 9
The Air Flo Wireless is a solid little gamepad and surprisingly light too. Packing four AA batteries and a fan motor I would have guessed this sucker would have weighed more than anything else in my collection. Apparently the lack of any vibration motors Ė yes, this is a NO RUMBLE pad Ė evens out the weight distribution.
The screw-in joystick is very solid and both it and the D-pad withstood hours of Soul Calibur II action. All of the other buttons, dials and sticks have very smooth and firm movement. The only loose inputs were the four shoulder buttons.
Performance - 9
I put the Air Flo through some rigorous testing with games like Transformers, Onimusha 3 and Test Drive: Eve of Destruction and the gamepad performed flawlessly and actually did keep my hands cool and moisture-free. The fan isn't totally silent but even at full speed it's a subtle hum that is masked by even the slightest noise coming from the game. Fan noise is not an issue.
The documentation claims 50-110 hours of battery life depending on whether you are using the fan and what kind of batteries you are using. Frankly, I canít see anyone buying this controller and not using the fan, so Iím going to guess that 50 hours is probably the safer bet.
Value - 7
Youíll really have to search your heart and your wallet to determine if having a fan blow a cool wind over your palms is worth spending $10 more than a Dual Shock or spending as much as a 2.4GHz wireless controller with vibration like the new one from Logitech.
As a gamer with notoriously sweaty palms, I can see some limited value to the Air Flo design, but Iíd have a hard time spending $10 for it not to mention losing my vibration effects in the process. In fact, I found more value in the screw-in joystick than the cooling fan.
Overall Ė 8.0
While the Air Flo is a nifty innovation, it seems more of a gimmick, and one that comes at a significant cost, both in price and exclusion of conventional features. Donít get me wrong. The Nyko Air Flo Wireless is a nice little controller that balances a lot of issues.
If you prefer moisture-condensing airflow over vibration effects, and donít mind spending some cash to get it then you will be most happy with this gamepad. Fans of fighting games and old-school arcade titles will instantly fall in love with the joystick and the ability to rest the entire pad on a table. And in your hands, youíll find itís one of the more comfortable pads you can hold thanks to its light weight and sweat-free operation.