Wikipad hands-on: A fresh take on tablet gaming, but at what cost?

wikipad hands on
The conventional wisdom says that tablets are for casual games and game consoles are for serious games (with the PC combining a bit of both). Aiming to upend the status quo is Wikipad, the first ground-up gaming tablet.

What makes the Wikipad different from the dozens of other Android tablets available is its unique game controller. The entire 10-inch tablet slides into a plastic frame that adds two analog control sticks, plus all the triggers and buttons one would find on an Xbox or PlayStation controller. The two parts are designed to snap together easily, and when held, it feels like a giant gamepad with a big built-in screen.

"One thing that is missing from the smartphone or tablet are the physical controls, and over the past couple of decades people have been making games with the controller in mind," says Wikipad CEO James Bower. "Now, with tablets, people started thinking how can they control a game with these gimmicky type controls like a d-pad based on touch or accelerometers or whatever they may be. Developers have had to dumb down the quality of these games to make them work on the tablet. "

wikipad hands on

As for games on the WikiPad, anything that works on an Android tablet will work on this device. Almost all action, racing, and adventure games support the use of a gamepad, meaning they'll work automatically with the Wikipad controls.

Many Android games are of the casual variety -- puzzle-solving, hidden object, Angry Birds style games. But, there are also plenty of Xbox-lite style games, from Gameloft, EA, and other game makers. It's in these console-style games that the Wikipad really flies, and the controller works great and feels natural.

The entire package is also very lightweight, and the tablet by itself is much lighter than a comparable iPad. Without the gamepad add-on, it looks and feels like a standard tablet.

But, as inventive as the Wikipad is, this is far from a guaranteed hit. The games it plays are the same as you can get on any Android tablet, so there's not really any exclusive content to get excited about. The screen on the tablet is only 1,280x800, which is lower than most other current tablets, laptops, and high-end phones.

wikipad on

And the biggest hurdle of all may be the price. The Wikipad, which includes both the tablet and gamepad dock, will cost $499 when it's released on October 31. That's more than any of the three big game consoles, more than HD big-screen tablets from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and the same as an entry level iPad, which lacks the external game controls, but comes off as a more premium product.

Should you get a Wikipad? It's a fresh new take on tablets, to be sure, and the engineering and design are nicely polished. At the same time, gamers care about one thing -- great games -- and this pricey experiment doesn't have unique killer must-have content just yet.

The Wikipad will be available starting October 31 for $499.
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