Two very different companies brought two very different gaming-capable tablets to the Showstoppers event at CES 2014 in Las Vegas.
Trying out some games on Lenovo's Horizon 2 Windows 8 table tablet back-to-back with Snakebyte's Vyper Android gaming tablet gives one a definitive sense of just how diverse tablet gaming really is. Both devices are tablets, but they offer very different gaming experiences.
The Snakebyte Vyper is probably least familiar to U.S. readers, as Snakebyte has so far made gaming accessories primarily for Europe. But the Vyper, a 7-inch Android tablet with various essential accoutrement, is launching in the U.S. on January 31.
For $199.99, you get the Android 4.2-equipped Vyper tablet itself, powered by a 1.6GHz quad-core chip, plus a docking/charging station with HDMI out and a remote control that doubles as an air mouse. It functions as a typical Android tablet, with an extra UI layer that automatically sorts different kinds of media (video, music, etc.) on any storage the tablet has access to (an SD card is the example they gave at CES).
But for an extra $50, that package also includes a Bluetooth gaming controller with the typical layout: two analog sticks, a d-pad, four face buttons, triggers and shoulder buttons, and a pause button. The Vyper has access to the full Google Play store, not some closed-off ecosystem like, for example, Ouya, and Snakebyte says hundreds of games already support controller play.
The controller actually feels really great, and not cheap at all like some tablet/mobile controllers. Playing the fast-paced jet ski racer Riptide GP on a TV with the controller at Showstoppers felt natural and responsive, exactly like playing a console video game. Unfortunately the controller won't be sold separately, Snakebyte told me.
Without it (or with games that don't support the controller), the Vyper functions as a normal Android tablet, and you can game on it like you would any other touch screen Android device. Plus mirroring the screen on the TV using the dock's HDMI-out turns it into a capable multimedia device, particularly with the remote/air mouse letting you control everything from the couch.
Overall, considering the price, diverse capabilities, and controller quality, the Snakebyte Vyper is a surprisingly attractive gadget for something with a cheesy name like "Snakebyte Vyper."
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Lenovo Horizon 2
On the far side of the tablet gaming spectrum is the Lenovo Horizon 2, a massive table-top tablet that was being shown off on the opposite side of the Showstoppers ballroom in Las Vegas's Wynn Hotel.
The Windows 8.1-running, Intel i7-powered Horizon 2 is a 27-inch monster, and though it's not expressly a gaming device (not that the Vyper, with its robust multimedia options, is either), it has some unique gaming capabilities.
The behemoth 15-pound tablet can run typical Windows 8 games either lying flat on a tabletop (where its own unique interface overlay kicks in) or propped up using the built-in kickstand, but it also features a host of Lenovo-exclusive titles built for this giant device by big name game developers like Ubisoft and EA.
Most interesting are the physical gaming accessories available for the Horizon 2. At CES Lenovo showed off a plastic die that the tablet would read when you rolled it on the giant touch screen surface, a joystick that suction-cupped to the touch screen and translated to movements within games, and a pair of air hockey mallets that really only served one purpose as far as I could see.
I tried out a couple, including a four-player top-down shooting game made by Ubisoft and played with the physical joystick accessory and an air hockey game played using the real-world mallets. Unfortunately in practice they honestly didn't work that well; there was too much lag between when the physical mallets "struck" the in-game air hockey puck, making it difficult to play, and the joystick moved my character in the shooting game rather inconsistently.
But the idea behind the Horizon 2 is intriguing, and it's fascinating to watch these massive tablets get better and more affordable (the Horizon 2 will be available for $1,499 starting in June) over the years. The potential for large table-top tablets is definitely "huge." Ha.
The beauty of tablets
These two tablets show two very different directions that tablet gaming is headed, but luckily they're not mutually exclusive. That's part of the beauty of tablets: with unlimited size, price, and accessory options, from 7 inches to two feet big, $200 to $1,500, and Bluetooth controllers to physical dice, the possibilities for tablet gaming are truly endless. And it's clear that the industry has only begun to scratch the surface of those possibilities.