A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Gamesir X2 and was pleasantly surprised by the product’s form factor. After less than two months, Gamesir was nice enough to send the X3 for review. And it has some cool improvements.
In my review of the X2, I explained my lackluster experience with touch-screen controls for mobile gaming. Touch screen controls are usually clunky and awkward, given the lack of sensory feedback on the smooth glass. There are just no indicators of where exactly your thumbs are. It would help if you looked away from the game to rehome your thumbs on the controls. This was the case with emulators and native Android games. I found playing games with on-screen controllers rather than touch-optimized controls very difficult.
I’ve seen plenty of controllers with mounting phone options, which seem to work. Still, I never considered them to be true mobile gaming accessories. They’re just retrofitting existing form factors to mount a smartphone. I don’t think the Gamesir X2 was the first of its kind. But what grabbed my attention was the USB-C connection for the controller with the added pass-through charging. Unlike the Bluetooth alternatives that would block the charging port of your phone, the X2 leveraged it. (Keeping in mind that there is a Bluetooth version of the X2 available).
The Gamesir X3 builds on the merits of the X2 and also improves or eliminates some of the X2’s major shortcomings, as well, with customization options, palm grip redesign, and added cooling.
Gamesir X3 Specifications
The X2 was produced in USB-C, Lightning, and Bluetooth variants. But that doesn’t appear to be the case for the X3 (at least not yet, anyway).
|Platform Support (Model Dependent):||Android (9+)|
|Cooling:||4,000mm2 Heat Transfer Pad -> Copper Plate -> Peltier Cooling Module -> Heat Sink -> 7500RPM Fan with RGB Lighting|
|Connectivity (Model Dependent):||USB C to Phone, USB-C Charging Pass-Through, USB-C Power to Cooler|
|Phone Size Compatibility:||110mm to 179mm|
|Charging Passthrough:||USB C (Phone model dependent)|
|Fixed Gaming Controls:||4x triggers, Start ([S]), Select ([G])|
|Customizable Gaming Controls:||2x Thumbsticks, ABXY, D-Pad|
|Function Buttons:||Screenshot, Home Button|
|Size:||180mm x 88mm x 48mm|
The X3 has made several improvements over the X2, some of which have been noted. The button customization is an example. But the X3 boasts several new changes.
The first thing I noticed about the GameSir X3 is that it’s much larger than the X2. I would say it weighs about twice as much, too. This was obvious even as I opened the package and saw the case. While only a bit longer and a touch wider, it is significantly thicker.
The X3’s default button layout is that of the Xbox ABXY rather than the X2 (USB-C variant) Switch-like layout of BAYX. I consider this a welcome change, but it’s inconsequential given that they are customizable.
The retention mechanism has been overhauled to accommodate the cooling functionality. Unlike the single linear retaining jaw of the X2, the X3 has a spring-loaded linear slider on each side of the cooling that draws the controller palm grips inward.
With the added thickness of the X3 comes some much-appreciated palm grip real estate. The thinner body of the X2 left my hands wanting more to grab onto. The X3 still doesn’t offer the palm grip experience of an Xbox or PlayStation controller, but it’s greatly improved over the X2 with the fuller palm grip and generally thicker body.
The cooler is an interesting addition. Some phones will benefit from it much more than others based on their general construction, like whether the SoC is on the display side of the PCB or the rear side, as well as what types of materials are used for the rear construction of the smartphone and how thick that material is.
It looks more of a gimmick, but even if it shaves a few degrees off the phone’s SoC, it can translate into significant performance improvements in both framerates and battery life. Although the fan requires external power (there is no battery), it can be argued that you might as well charge the phone instead of running the fan.
That brings us to the awkward cooling power situation. The cooler requires external power, which is fine. A USB-C port for charging the smartphone and a separate USB-C port for powering the fan causes a particular awkwardness. I’m unsure if the fan-generated too much electrical noise to share the smartphone power. Or if routing the power through the retention jaw was too tricky. But GameSir certainly missed an opportunity to improve the X3.
The last difference that is visibly noticeable is that the USB-C connector for the connected smartphone was moved from the left-hand side on the X2 to the right-hand side on the X3. I’m not sure if there was a technical reason for this. But as a right-handed person, I feel it makes sense.
One of my first impressions of the X2 was how it was light and had a very hollow feeling. That, combined with the rattling of the retention jaw’s spring when shaken, made it feel very cheap. The X3 makes huge improvements on that feel, despite sharing much of the same construction materials. The controller portions are as hollow as the X2, but the weight of the cooler increases the density of the X3 to the point where it no longer feels hollow like the X2. And without any rattling sounds or jaw rail racking of the X2, the X3 feels much better in the hands.
In the Box
The X3 comes with a case that is styled identically to the X2, despite the difference in dimensions. The cases are almost identical once you factor out the dimensions. There is a small exception of the weave pattern on the black shell, which is tighter looking on the X3’s case.
The GameSir X3 comes packaged in the case with
- a USB-C cable (USB 2.0)
- Two additional ‘highrise’ thumbstick
- Four concave surface thumbstick caps (in addition to the pre-installed convex caps)
- ‘Faceted’ D-pad cap
- User manual
- Thank you note
- Certification card
- And some stickers.
GameSir’s inclusion of the USB-C cable is nice, even if it is only USB 2.0. It feels to be of decent quality. The cable jacket’s texture is made of nice satin-feeling material. Both cable ends are bespoke with GameSir’s rooster insignia, which is a nice touch.
I found the thumbsticks of the X2 to be on the short side. Because of this, I was happy with including the taller alternatives. They’re remarkably easy to swap out with a combination of a clipping mechanism and magnet, keeping them secure enough. On top of that, GameSir provided enough concave thumbstick caps. They did so, not just for the in-use pair of thumbsticks but for all four provided thumbsticks.
I, personally, don’t think that D-Pad customization changes gameplay much. I think it’s an interesting customization option, but there’s not much to say apart from a slightly different style to the other cap.
Overall, I would say that GameSir wanted to ensure you had everything you needed to set you off on the right foot. I think that their effort to make the X3 customizable is commendable.
Using the GameSir X3
Thankfully, the X3 shares the same flexible tilting USB-C connector as the X2, making connecting your smartphone much easier and safer. The dual jaw of the X3 also makes inserting your smartphone easier, as well, because you don’t require quite as much pressure to open the jaws.
The larger body of the X3 makes it much more comfortable than the X2, in my opinion. The fuller palm grip and the additional contour that comes with it make the X3 much easier to hold on to. Rather than awkwardly resting in your hand, you have something to squeeze. This will be particularly valuable for anyone who plays at any time.
The ease of customization is a bit of a mixed bag. The thumbsticks are excellently simple to swap out. I was surprised by how painless it was, considering how secure they felt. The D-Pad, on the other hand, was a bit difficult.
This might have more to do with me not wanting to break it, but I had to work it out slowly. It certainly felt like the force required to pull out the installed cap was almost enough to break the device, but I might have been too careful. The ABXY buttons are also a little odd. They’re easy to pull out, as long as you get a good grip on them. They don’t require much force, but very little of them protruding to get a grip on.
Using the controller with games that support it is as simple as plugging it in. I have yet to encounter a game that hasn’t been able to just run with it. This is largely due to the X3 using standard controller input for Android, which any controller-compatible game will support, which is ideal.
Like all other buttons, the triggers are just buttons rather than the typical analog triggers on console controllers. Depending on the game you’re playing, you might be losing some control, but this is to be expected with compact controllers such as the X3.
I wasn’t entirely impressed with the thumbsticks. I found that they lacked sensitivity between the centre and their extremes. This could be my lack of dexterity with smaller controllers, but it doesn’t have the same premium-feeling that the Xbox and PlayStation controllers have.
The X3 has significantly improved over the X2, particularly in the comfort and customization areas. My largest criticism of the X2 was the comfort, which, while significantly improved, hasn’t been capitalized on. That’s why comfort is still my biggest concern with the X3. I believe that it might still be particularly uncomfortable for anyone with average-sized or larger hands.
I was really curious about the effectiveness of the cooling provided by the X3. GameSir claims it can keep your phone thirty degrees celsius cooler over half an hour of playing. There are a lot of gimmicky products out there, so this claim piqued my interest, and I wanted to test it out.
GameSir X3 Active Cooling
The X3’s active cooling consists of five main components. Making contact with the phone is a silicone pad measuring 4,000mm2 (40cm2). This pad will likely extend vertically beyond the width of most devices, but the surface area will surely help. Behind the cooling pad is a copper plate. It appears that this is there to help move the heat from the farther areas of the silicone to the centre of the copper, where the component, the Peltier cooling module, is centered opposite the silicone pad.
The Peltier cooling module is a device that leverages the Peltier thermoelectric cooling effect. Essentially, heat energy can become electrical energy by applying an electrical current through junctions made of select alloys. This novel effect is the counterpart to the Seebeck effect, which generates electricity from heat. On the other hand, the Peltier effect can be used to help move heat in space-constrained designs.
Finally, there’s the heatsink and the fan, which I estimate to be about 45mm. The heatsink is pretty interesting on its own. The fins are laid around the fan. The fan draws in air at 7,500rpm and pushes it outward through the fins. The design appears to be very effective for something so compact.
Unfortunately, it seems my phone is incompatible with this cooling for a few reasons. I have a Google Pixel 4 5G, ad the rear material is plastic, which is not known for good thermal conductivity. Adding to that, when I tap the back, I can hear that there is a gap, meaning air. Exacerbating the issue, the Pixel 4a 5G’s CPU and memory are on the display side of the motherboard. This adds to several layers between the X3’s cooling and the CPU. All of this is really to say your mileage will vary significantly depending on your phone model.
However, I can say that when the fan is running, the cooling pad feels very cool. I wouldn’t be surprised if GameSir’s claims are entirely accurate, though, only under the best conditions.
Complaints and Concerns
My biggest complaint about the GameSir X3 still has to be the comfort. It’s much better than the X2. I can completely see myself spending an hour or two using the X3. But there’s still room for improvement.
Console controllers have nearly perfected the controller design. Whether you prefer Xbox or PlayStation, both are very comfortable, and it takes little time to transition from one to the other. I think the X3 could be the same if only there were customization of the rear palm grips. The ability to swap over to a set of palm grips ideal for your hand size and general comfort would bring the X3 to about the same level of perfection that the Xbox and PlayStation controllers have found.
The other concerns are just rehashes of my X2 concerns. The X3 doesn’t allow you to connect headphones. This is because the X3 obstructs the 3.5mm jack and doesn’t support passing audio through its USB-C port. However, even if the USB-C supported passing audio through, you would still have to choose between it and charging. This brings up the next complaint.
The X3 already has two USB-C ports. Adding a third would be pretty awkward. A better arrangement would be to have a single charging/power port. A single power port in a location that is not in the way or interfering with gameplay. Then a USB-C port for audio and a 3.5mm audio jack. I think that would cover most use cases.
Final Thoughts on the GameSir X3
The X3 boasts a ton of improvements. GameSir has made a real effort to make a better product. They took the X3 beyond small iterative changes and incorporated novel innovations. It’s not a perfect product, but the amount of change that GameSir has packed into the X3 has me excited for an X4 model.