If you're traditionally a console gamer, you probably miss physical buttons when playing games on your iOS device.
But whether you're playing on iPhone, iPad or iPod touch there's always a way you can get your physical controls back.
Power: Micro-USB (lead not supplied; up to 9 hours)
The Gametel was originally designed for Android. The packaging doesn't mention iOS, and omits the micro-USB lead for charging because the assumption is that you already have one.
Fortunately, the controller is actually iCade-compatible and is easily paired with an iOS device over Bluetooth. Uniquely for the devices on test, it can house a device in landscape in an extendable clip, although this also means it's uglier than the 8-Bitty and SteelSeries Free.
The Gametel D-pad had almost the opposite problem to the 8-Bitty: diagonals weren't hard to find, they were too easy to slip into. The D-pad felt good, but we found it too often lacked precision, causing errors in games that demand tight all-round controls.
For titles such as Gridrunner and Forget-Me-Not, we were often frustrated; with more forgiving games such as Ice Rage, the sloppiness was fine; and for platform games where you merely need left, right and action buttons, the Gametel is a potentially decent bet, with action buttons that are responsive enough.
Sadly, the Gametel falls down in terms of button mapping. Identical to the 8-Bitty, too many titles map important actions to the tiny centre start/select buttons or the shoulder buttons, which rest on the middle of your fingers.
2. iCade 8-Bitty
Being of a certain vintage ourselves, we were instantly drawn to the 8-Bitty. It has the chunky appeal of a classic NES controller, and despite being a cuboid slab of plastic, it's surprisingly comfortable to hold; it feels rugged, if light.
In use, though, two problems become clear: the D-pad is stiff and has longish travel, making diagonals too tricky to reach, and button mapping is, to be polite, sub-optimal. The former issue was stark when playing high-paced shooters such as Gridrunner, where we'd regularly see our ship obliterated through it sticking purely to the horizontal and vertical axes against our wishes. Ice-skating game Ice Rage also proved tiring due to the raised nature of the D-pad.
The mapping issue rendered platformers such as League of Evil, Super Crate Box and Mikey Shorts (along with many of the games in retro compilation Midway Arcade) unplayable, through assigning actions (jump, shoot, slide and so on) to the shoulder or centre buttons. On those games it's more suited to (for example: platformers such as Qwak HD, which has mapping that corresponds to what the 8-Bitty expects; simple overhead racer Retro Racing; Pac-Man-style efforts), the 8-Bitty provides a glimpse of what it could have been.
3. Steelseries Free
Power: Micro-USB (lead included; 10+ hours)
Like the 8-Bitty and Gametel, the SteelSeries Free is an iCade-compatible controller. It pairs with relative ease, although there are two modes (one for PC/Mac use), which slightly complicates matters.
However, unlike rivals, this controller's button mapping wasn't designed by someone who hates you, hence actions in games mostly working as you'd expect. There were exceptions - Qwak HD, for example, was simply unplayable - but out of all the iCade-compatible controllers on test here, this was the only one where we found we could really get stuck into League of Evil, Super Crate Box and Midway Arcade.
The D-pad proved reliable too, although diagonals were perhaps a touch too easy to slip into on occasion. However, we mostly ended up using the left-hand joystick; this resembles an analogue stick, but on iOS it's really another digital directional controller. Still, for titles such as Gridrunner, Ice Rage and Air Attack it proved excellent, and we even ended up using the stick for platformers and racing games.