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Featured Review: Mad Catz M.O.J.O

March 30, 2014 - Written By Tom Dawson

In the last two years or so, we’ve seen Android go from being something exclusively for smartphones and tablets to an OS that will work on pretty much anything. With the explosion in popular mobile gaming has come a wave of Android games consoles, little boxes that are fitted with the same processor as our smartphones (with a little more oomph) that connect to our TV and bring us Android in all its glory to the best screen in the house. The question remains however, is any Android games console good? It’s an interesting question and one that the OUYA never really answered, can Mad Catz do better with the MOJO? Read on as I try to answer that question and more.

Hardware

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First and foremost, the MOJO is absolutely packed with specs. Powered by the same Tegra 4 that Nvidia uses in their super-duper SHIELD handheld and it’s backed up with 2GB of RAM, all in a discrete yet attractive package that should look at home behind any set. It’s hard not to compare the MOJO (or anything like this for that matter) to the OUYA, and it’s safe to say the MOJO blows it out of the water. Connectivity wise, we’re looking at a device that supports dual-band WiFi (very helpful for big downloads and HD streaming), an Ethernet port, optical audio out, 3.5mm headphone out, two USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0) and of course, Bluetooth 4.0. So, there’s no denying the MOJO has the required horsepower to chew through any game thrown at it, and the connectivity to belong behind your TV.

The unit itself feels well-built, is practically silent and doesn’t have a large footprint at all, making it an easy device to sneak behind the TV or next to that Blu-Ray player you never use. Mad Catz deliver the MOJO in a somewhat large box that definitely looks the part, and everything down to the provided HDMI cable screams high-quality, but then again this is a $200 games console after all.

It’s not all perfect of course, and the bright blue LED on the front of the unit is very annoying for bedroom use, but that’s a minor issue and might not even bother most. One thing I feel is sorely missing from the MOJO is a remote control. This guy is great for consuming media on, but as Microsoft and Sony have learnt, not everyone wants to control their media with the same peripheral they mow down Zombies with. Mad Catz do have a portable Bluetooth keyboard in the works, but a dedicated media control would make things a lot easier here.

The C.T.R.L.R

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Mad Catz’s included controller is a decent piece of kit. Familiar to anyone that’s had anything to with an Xbox, the CTRLR is well built, easy to use and holds up well. It is a little on the light side, but this didn’t reflect build quality in my eyes and the controller itself pairs with the console much like an Xbox or PlayStation controller would. Simply hold the middle button down and you’re good to go.

The CTRLR is more than just a gamepad though, as it has a trio of game modes included. A mouse profile which makes the left analog stick a mouse cursor and then the Gamesmart mode which is used for gaming on the MOJO (and other devices), as well as a PC mode which allows you to use this as a Bluetooth controller on your PC. All-in-all, I had no problems with the CTRLR and it worked great during my time with it, and unlike other options the mouse made makes moving around Android a bizarre, yet very functional experience.

Controlling your games is pretty simple, too. Unlike other options, there’s very little asked of the user to get the CTRLR working with downloaded games. All a developer needs to do is adjust a host file in the Play Store to get the CTRLR working and in most cases, games use the controller like an Xbox 360 controller, which isn’t a bad thing. Games that refuse to see the MOJO as a controller and rely on swipes and touches can still be played in the CTRLR’s mouse mode, which turns the left analogue stick into a finger essentially, and the a button a tap. This is a nice little workaround, and allows games like Fruit Ninja and Cut the Rope still playable, but it definitely feels more like a hack than anything else. Needless to say, you’re better off sticking with games like Dead Trigger and Grand Theft Auto here.

Gaming Prowess

With the same Tegra 4 chip at the heart of the SHIELD, you would expect the MOJO to be a potent gaming device. You’d be right, as Mad Catz’s Android effort delivers an excellent image to any TV I tried, and games ran at excellent frame rates in most of my testing. Graphics were better than I had seen them on other devices, but then there’s not too much variation here when it comes to graphical quality with Android games. Without going into much detail, the MOJO plays games better than your tablet will in the vast majority of cases, but as this is both a pricey and powerful piece of hardware, we’d expect nothing less.

Throughout my extensive “testing” I had fun with the likes of Dead Trigger, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (ah, memories), Sonic 4 and buckets more. One of the more interesting things I found to do with the MOJO is to emulate classics from the golden era of gaming. I finally managed to beat the original Super Nintendo version of Chrono Trigger (the DS version is cheating) and I spent a lot of time in Street Fighter II Turbo. Being able to easily relive games of my youth on my TV was one of the more enjoyable things I did with the MOJO, and finding an enjoyable emulator experience is something I’ve always struggled with personally.

Forget how good something plays your games, it’s all about how you get them on there in the first place. Hardcore gamers these days have to deal with Steam, Origin and UPlay on the PC, and extortionate downloads on the Xbox One and PS4, with physical copies skyrocketing all the time. Thankfully, Mad Catz haven’t done a damn thing to the wheel here, and getting your games on the MOJO is a breeze. As this is basically just stock Android (more on that later) all you need to do is log in with your Google Account and download your games. That’s it. It should be noted that not all games will be available for the MOJO, games like Subway Surfers and such that are designed to be played in portrait will of course falter on your widescreen TV. However, getting your games is a breeze here, if you’re already paid for it, you just download it again and you can take advantage of sales in the Play Store as well as Tegra Store exclusives, too.

With the Nvidia game mapper coming to the MOJO in the near future, things are only going to get better, and Mad Catz have gone a very long way indeed, to get stock Android working with a controller on a device like this. Using the stock Android a lot of users know and love with an input device it was never designed to use is challenging, but Mad Catz have managed to add-in a decent layer of control here, but it can grow a little tiresome.

Unfortunately for Mad Catz, Android doesn’t really do controllers and sure, there’s a slew of them available but as there’s no game mapping software included with the MOJO just yet, this leaves you relying on developers that have included support in their games, which is annoying. Still though, everything works pretty well when it works, but when it doesn’t it can be a jarring experience. We guess that’s the result of using the Play Store here, as the vast majority of apps and games are designed for touchscreens. It’s a difficult corner Mad Catz have backed themselves into here, a lot of stuff works, but even more doesn’t and that’s come as a result of keeping things transparent, open and easy to use. Personally though, I’m the kind to tinker and if the incompatibility issues here and there mean I get the same store on my phone or tablet, then this is a bitter pill I am more than willing to swallow.

Software

We spoke a little about the software above, but let’s fill you in a little more. As of writing, the MOJO is running bone-stock Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean (KitKat is on its way though) and that’s about it. It’s a real shame that Mad Catz didn’t go to any effort to create a sort of Mad Catz hub or something for the MOJO, but we guess it’s not needed as I didn’t feel I really needed such a thing.

Running stock Android is both a good and bad thing here, which is often the case with smartphones and tablets alike. Stock Android is great thanks to the Play Store, the ease of getting everything setup and of course, no bloatware! However, things start to fall apart when you realize how bad an experience stock Android is on your fancy HDTV hung on the wall. The three onscreen keys look a little ridiculous and doing simple tasks can be pretty laborious, but I’m laying this at Google’s door. We’ve seen Android go from “getting there” to “bad” on tablets as of late, and that really affects the MOJO. While we wish Mad Catz would have tried a little bit harder to make things more comfortable on a TV screen, going the stock route was definitely the best choice.Besides, as we’ve seen so many times before, trying to fix something that isn’t broken is just a bad idea. The MOJO isn’t designed for everyday users – its price tag and spec determines that alone – so navigating the UI shouldn’t be too difficult for Android lovers, but things aren’t all that fun here. However, once you get into a game or a media-streaming app and you’ll be pretty happy with the results, it’s just a shame there’s little movement from Google on Android on large displays.

Jack of All Trades

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With two USB ports and Bluetooth 4.0 onboard, the MOJO is like an accessory hub and you can practically do anything with it. I tested the device out with their FREQ M headset, the RAT M gaming mouse and the STRIKE 3 keyboard to see how it’d feel. With a keyboard and mouse, you’re looking at a sort of Android-powered Raspberry Pi, it does pretty much anything. You can write documents in Google Drive, browse the web like a pro and chat to friends on Hangouts like you were on a PC. Still though, Android’s shortcomings on the big screen are very obvious here and the experience is again a little muted. This does hold some interesting results though, as the MOJO can do a lot of what some users do with their laptops, simply using the big screen instead, like simple Google searches or dealing with email.

One area in which I really enjoyed using the MOJO outside of gaming was streaming media. Much like other Android boxes, Plex is supported here and it works great for those that already have plex setup in the house. As a UK resident, BBC’s iPlayer is top of my list and the results were good, but Netflix was even better. It’s a great little box for streaming media either from online sources or from another device in your own home. However, using the MOJO showed me how poorly some content providers treat Android and it soured the experience a little for me. Crunchyroll only streams at 480p on Android and popular UK film service, Now TV refuses to work with anything but a handful of Android phones. Nothing to do with the MOJO, but something to bare in mind all the same. Looking for something to play games and run Plex on? The MOJO won’t disappoint.

Gamesmart is Mad Catz’s initiative to offer accessories that work with anything and everything, and the MOJO is sort of at the heart of this. The FREQ M headset that I reviewed some time ago works great with the MOJO (as well as anything else I own) and the RAT M works with the MOJO just as well as it does with my Chromebook. As I’ve already mentioned, the lack of a remote is a sore point for media streaming, but the RAT M does help things when couch surfing, and when all is said and done there’s no shortage of accessories on offer here. Even if you don’t have the MOJO, or it isn’t for you, accessories from the Gamesmart range might be worth looking at.

The Good

  • Excellent hardware, the Tegra 4 here will chew through any game you throw at it.
  • You can simply download games you’ve already bought from the Play Store, and a good number of games work out of the box.
  • Root access is not only “allowed” but encouraged. Rooting the MOJO gives you far more games and basically gives you a giant Nexus 10.
  • A device built for enthusiasts, rather than the average consumer. The MOJO is a device for those that want to tinker, want to mess around with things and break stuff. There’s nowhere near enough products like this.
  • CTRLR is well-built and easy to use, with a number of modes allowing for ease of use with numerous apps and games.

The Bad

  • Stock Android simply isn’t designed for this sort of thing, and it really shows.
  • As easy as rooting the MOJO is, it’s pretty much required to get the majority of games on to the thing.
  • It’s expensive. There’s no denying there’s some great hardware on offer here, but for what it is it’s a little too expensive for most.
  • No matter how good an effort Mad Catz make on the controller front, things can still be a little awkward.
  • As of writing, the MOJO is still running Android 4.2.2, a nearly two-year old version of the OS.

The Final Word

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The MOJO is a device that’s tailored for a certain type of user, and for enthusiast users, the MOJO won’t disappoint. It’s a great gaming machine, with some drawbacks that are to be expected and it works excellently as a media streamer, too. While getting around stock Android is a real pain on a large TV, Mad Catz have tried their best to accommodate all its foibles. A remote for watching media would be great, but the CTRLR does a good enough job of handling things overall. Keeping things transparent and open, the MOJO allows for root access, downloads of games you’ve played countless times before and more. However, that focus on openness brings with it some annoying quirks, text input is a pain and some games just don’t work, having said that though we’re glad Mad Catz chose stock Android to keeps things as simple as possible.

When reviewing a product like this I have to ask myself whether or not I would genuinely recommend this to people and in the case of the MOJO I’d say that it depends. It’s much the same as it is for the Nexus 5 I use daily, my Dad would love the Nexus, but it’s not made for him and he wouldn’t get the most of it. The same is true of the MOJO, my friends with Xboxes will get some decent use out of the MOJO, but it’s not for them. It’s a device aimed at those willing to tinker to get the best out of it, and enjoy changing things and running the risk of breaking something. For those users that love to get their game on, the MOJO is an expensive but, easy recommendation. A lower price point would be great, but the MOJO has already gone through one price drop and frankly, being an early adopter is costly. While not perfect, tinkering gamers like myself will find a lot to love about the MOJO, and Mad Catz seem determined to keep the MOJO alive and kicking for some time to come.

You can purchase the Mad Catz MOJO from Amazon, along with other similar products.