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The ingenuity in accessories for iOS devices is something easy to acknowledge when you see just how the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch are utilized for any number of nifty gizmos. Ion Audio is one company that looks for these unique and consumer-friendly opportunities to turn an iOS device into something else. The iCade Mobile gives the iPhone or iPod Touch the traditional handheld gaming treatment, while the All-Star Guitar makes the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch the main part of a toy guitar.
Ion’s iCade line is all about arcade gameplay. It started with the original iCade, which gave the iPad a retro look, sort of like a miniaturized arcade machine. In the beginning, the Atari library, a $14.99 app on the App Store, was able to work with the joystick and buttons on the unit, but now, that has expanded further into other games on iOS.
The iCade Mobile is part of that expansion, making it possible to play compatible games much like you would on a PlayStation Vita or Nintendo 3DS, except for a lot of features and functionality those two offer. Plus, the arcade games Ion seems to attract are more like the retro games of yesteryear than the glossy and immersive titles you tend to find in those two platforms.
Out of the box, the iCade Mobile works on two AA batteries and connects to the iPhone or iPod Touch via Bluetooth. The rubberized pocket in the centre can fit pretty much every iPhone or iPod Touch except for the iPhone 5 and latest Touch. Their taller form factors can’t fit. If you tend to keep your phone or Touch in a case, you’ll need to take it because the pocket isn’t big enough or deep enough to fit both.
Because the pocket rotates, you can play games either in portrait or landscape orientation, which is probably the best feature about this gizmo. Whether it’s Temple Run or Katana Jack, there is a way to play anything compatible with the Mobile. Ion offers a full list of all compatible games here. Just make sure the iCade Mobile icon is noted under the game you’re looking to download.
There’s the D-pad, four main buttons, plus two on each shoulder. The buttons and D-pad are also numbered, though this has more to do with Bluetooth pairing than an actual connection to gaming. The lack of even a single analog stick is a bit surprising, and that makes it difficult to play any first-person shooter games (not that there are many to choose from anyway).
But that doesn’t seem to be the focus here. With the number of retro titles, from Atari’s old library, to some classics from Midway and NeoGeo, the iCade Mobile harkens back to a time when most youth today weren’t even born. Other games on the list are retro-inspired, but are newly-developed with modern graphics. Temple Run is perhaps the most popular game on the list and plays great on the Mobile. Frogger fans will likely play for hours, and there are some hidden gems in there that can be fun to play, like the 100 Greatest Hits ($8.99 in App Store), Namco Arcade (Free) and Invasion Strike ($0.99 in App Store).
This is where the generation gap starts to show. If you’re an adult in your 30s or older, you will remember some of these games, but if you’re younger than that, you may have never heard of most of them. This creates an opportunity for gaming discovery, assuming a younger gamer is so inclined.
To discover those games doesn’t require the iCade Mobile, of course, but it does make a lot of them easier to play. It’s a pretty good deal at $49.99, and would make a nice gift for someone who likes good retro games and won’t be upgrading to an iPhone 5 or latest iPod Touch.
The All-Star Guitar, meanwhile, is a more interactive accessory. Naturally, being a guitar, that’s obvious, but using it will also require more of a commitment. The app that works with it is free to download, but only lets you freestyle or play along to one song, Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water.
To get more music, there is a coupon that comes with the guitar that's good for 10 free songs. You can opt to purchase more in volumes of 10 for $9.99 or get individual ones for $1.99 apiece. There are dozens to choose from, and there is a decent mix of old and new. You’ll get a track each from Aerosmith, Pearl Jam and the Beatles, while Adele, Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars are represented, too. Now, you are able to play along with music you have stored on your device, but it’s not going to be as integrated as the ones that come directly from the app (where buttons light up). The Song Jam section also lets you slow a song down, so that you can get a better handle on a song without it sounding completely off-pitch.
You do get some pretty good options to tweak the sound how you want. There are virtual FX pedals with levels, a volume adjuster, distortion switch and explanations for what everything means. While the guitar itself gives the impression that it’s an offshoot of Guitar Hero or Rock Band, it can actually be more intricate than that. The guitar’s fretboard is filled with 84 buttons that light up and represent each string. Where you press changes how it sounds, just like a real guitar. And like the fret, the strings are also free to play however you like, including the virtual whammy bar. Tap the guitar icon at the bottom and you can change what kind of guitar it is: acoustic, bass, clean electric or dirty electric.
In case you're lost on what the chords are and what they mean, there is a section for that, too. When a chord name is pressed on the app, the corresponding lights on the fretboard lights up, while a visual aid on the screen shows you which fingers to use to play them.
Regardless of whether you’re right or left-handed, the All-Star Guitar caters to both. In the Settings, there’s a Lefty Mode that can be enabled to reverse the orientation of the buttons. Ion also smartly included access to the iOS device’s headphone jack, so you can play and not disturb anyone.
The guitar runs on four AA batteries, which come with the unit.
If you have an interest in playing guitar as a toy-like experience, you will probably like what the All-Star Guitar has to offer. It’s immersive, interactive and won’t intimidate you if you don’t know the first thing about playing a guitar.
Gaming on your iPhone or iPod touch just got a whole lot better. The ION iCade Mobile completely flips the experience with physical buttons and a directional pad. A rotating cradle lets you play in either portrait or landscape mode. And it's compatible with over 450 games and apps.
All-Star Guitar is full-size electric guitar that turns your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch into fully-featured guitar learning tool and game controller. Just place your iDevice into the fitted holder, open the All-Star Guitar app, and you're ready to rock. The built-in speaker lets you play just about anywhere and it's compatible with popular iPad apps like GarageBand and WI Guitar.