When I wrote my initial impressions of the MOJO, I had only been using the unit for about a day or so (hence the impressions being "initial"). Now that I've had it for about three weeks, I've spent a lot of time doing various things with it – playing games, watching movies, streaming videos and NBA basketball; basically, a lot of the stuff I would normally used SHIELD for. This has given me a good idea of where MOJO's strong points are, where it falls short, and how it stacks up against SHIELD and OUYA.

Since I feel like the hands-on post was a good intro to this review, let's just cut to the chase.

Updates

This section of the review is posted after-the-fact, when updates to the device show up post-review. The changes highlighted here may not be reflected in the text body (i.e. price drops, Android version updates, etc.). All updates will be linked to the appropriate coverage outside of this review.

  • On March 6th, Mad Catz announced that OUYA Everywhere would be coming to MOJO. The price of the micro-console was also dropped to $199.
  • On June 30th, Mat Catz pushed the OUYA update to MOJO units.
Specs
  • Processor: 1.8Ghz Quad-core Tegra 4
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 16GB
  • Ports: MicroSD, headphone jack, HDMI, USB 3.0, USB 2.0
  • Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 4.0
  • OS: Android 4.2.2
  • Price: $250
  • Buy: Amazon
The Good
  • It's fast. Two gigabytes of RAM and the Tegra 4 chip keep the MOJO purring along nicely. In fact, I'd be willing to say it performs almost as well as SHIELD, which is still probably the fastest Android device I've ever used.
  • Always-on. Once MOJO is on, it's on. No waiting for it to boot up or anything of the sort – just pick up the controller and it's ready to go. Of course, that means it's also hard to reboot, should the need arise. Damn those double-edged swords.
The Bad
  • Needs root access before it's even remotely usable. This is my biggest peeve with MOJO. I'm not one to suggest rooting a device as a "fix" for its shortcomings, because that sort of mentality just doesn't make sense to me. In the case of MOJO, however, there's no denying that if you want a usable system, root access is an absolute must.
  • Lots of app incompatibility issues out of the box. This goes hand-in-hand with the root thing. Without the ability to spoof the device as something else to Google Play (as something with a touchscreen), the list of compatible apps is basically useless.
  • It's Android... on a big screen. With a controller. Android is designed for touch. It works with a mouse input, but that's still far more cumbersome than actually touching the screen. MOJO is no different... only this time there's no option of touching the display. It's controller/mouse or nothing.
  • When an app forces portrait mode, it's one of the most frustrating experiences of all time. Apps that force portrait mode on an always-landscape device fill me the a terrible rage. This isn't really MOJO's fault, but it's something that can really only be experienced on a device that can only be used while attached to a TV. Thank God for Ultimate Rotation Control.
  • The controller uses standard AAA batteries. In a day and age where everything is rechargeable, Mad Catz is giving you a reason to keep buying batteries. Fortunately, they seem to last for a while before they need to be replaced.
  • No gamepad mapping software. Want to play a game that doesn't have built-in controller support? Tough cookies, kid.
  • It's overpriced. At $250,MOJO is the same price as SHIELD, and to put it bluntly, much less "useful." I could see it being more worthwhile at $150, with $200 being more of a stretch. But $250 it is simply not worth $250 in its current state.

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On paper, the Mad Catz MOJO is basically identical to NVIDIA's SHIELD. It's packing a Tegra 4 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, Android 4.2.2, expandable storage, and the like. As a result, the people who are considering buying SHIELD are likely also considering MOJO, and trying to figure out which one is the better buy. I intend to not only answer that question in this review, but also address whether MOJO is worth the money at all – even when not compared to SHIELD. The obvious comparisons to OUYA will also be laid out, bet let's be honest here – there isn't much competition in that department. I'm not suggesting OUYA has no value at all, but it is quite literally half the device MOJO is in terms of hardware.

Hardware

Under its hood, MOJO is a capable Android device filled with current-gen hardware. Of course, that's not all it takes to make a good device these days – the user experience is oftentimes overshadowed by otherwise superb guts.

Build Quality and Design

On the outside, MOJO is a decent-looking little box – there's nothing all that remarkable about its aesthetic, but I wouldn't call it "ugly" either. It's just... there. It's about the size of a slice of bread, and comes in at two inches thick at the tallest point. The front is roughly one-inch tall and angles upward from there.

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The top is a glossy black and has the Mad Catz stripes and name, along with M.O.J.O. There's no questioning what you're looking at, that's for sure. The very front of the unit features a glowing blue light that stays lit as long as the console is powered on (which is all the time as long as it's plugged in). There are cooling vents along both sides of the unit, and all the connections – HDMI, microSD, 3.5mm headphone jack, AC power, ethernet, USB 2.0, and USB 3.0 ports – are found on the back. I still can't figure out why there's a 3.5mm jack on the back of a gaming console that's meant to be attached to a TV at all times, but I guess there's a reason. Seems kind of silly to me.

The overall build quality of MOJO is nothing to write home about, but it isn't really bad, either. I guess it's fine for something that's meant to sit on a shelf and not do a lot of travel, but I can't say I feel like it would withstand a fall from a tall shelf should the dog (or kid) get tangled up in the cords and pull it from its seat. If the plan is to buy a MOJO to toss in your bag and take other places when not at home, it'll probably hold up fairly well – just be aware that the plastic casing feels slightly flimsy and be careful of how it's packed up, and everything should be fine.

The Controller (C.T.R.L.)

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If you've used any recent Mad Catz controller, then you've basically used C.T.R.L. It's loosely based on an Xbox controller, but of course has MOJO-specific buttons that can cover basically anything you'll need to do inside the OS. The build quality of the controller is pretty good – it's much better than OUYA's controller (then again, what isn't?), and pretty much on-par with the newest MOGA controllers from PowerA. It's solid and feels pretty sturdy, though I will admit that the glossy exterior gives it a "cheap" look. Glossy plastic just isn't becoming on most electronics.

CTRL features a number of things that make it unique in the world of Android gaming. For starters, it "employs a dual-mode Bluetooth 4.0 radio," which allows it to work with many Bluetooth devices – including other Android devices, and even Windows. To ensure the best possible compatibility across those devices, it has three different modes of use (two of which are used on Android/MOJO): game mode, mouse mode, and PC mode. Those are pretty self-explanatory, but here's a breakdown just to clarify each use:

  • Game Mode: This is used to play any controller-compatible game on Android. From Dead Trigger to Shadowgun, GTA, and emulators, this mode speaks the universal language of fun. Or something like that.
  • Mouse Mode: This is primary used to navigate the Android interface on MOJO. Game mode can also be used, though it's awkward and not as intuitive as mouse mode. That said, Android is cumbersome to navigate using a controller no matter what, so it's kind of a moot point.
  • PC Mode: MOJO actually uses a USB dongle to communicate with the controller (instead of Bluetooth), which can be removed and used in a PC for games with controller support. PC mode is programmed for use in this type of setup.

Since CTRL is supposed to work with other Android devices using Bluetooth (it even ships with a clip-on attachment a la MOGA), I decided to give it a go on SHIELD to see if all the functions would work in Console Mode. Unfortunately, it wouldn't pair. SHIELD would show it as paired, but the controller just stayed in its own world, blinking away. With the Nexus 7, it actually paired (and registered as such), but mouse mode did nothing. Game mode worked for games (albeit barely), but not in the way something like MOGA would – the mappings were hit and miss in my experience. To put it bluntly, the controller works well with MOJO, but I found it to be janky at best in all other aspects of use.

Other Accessories

Being an accessory company, Mad Catz didn't stop with making MOJO simply controller-compatible. In fact, there are a range of accessories that not only work with MOJO, but are designed to go hand-in-hand with mobile gaming in general. Here's a quick look at the accessories highlighted on Mad Catz's site:

  • F.R.E.Q. M Mobile Headset – Bluetooth ($200)
  • F.R.E.Q. 4D Stereo Headset ($99)
  • F.R.E.Q. M Mobile Stereo Headset – Wired ($99)
  • R.A.T. Wireless Mobile Gaming Mouse ($99)
  • M.O.U.S. Wireless Mouse ($99)
  • S.T.R.I.K.E. M Mobile Gaming Keyboard

So yeah, if you're interested in Mad Catz-ing up your MOJO, there are enough accessories to make it happen. In theory, however, any Android-compatible Bluetooth accessory should work with MOJO – you know, in case you want to edit a spreadsheet on your TV or something.

Software

This is where the real meat and potatoes of the review will be, because it's the experience. Things like aesthetics don't matter as much with something that's basically going to sit on a shelf most of the time, but the experience is everything with a product like MOJO. I'll not only talk about what it's like to use MOJO, but also comparing it to SHIELD and OUYA (anyone else notice that all these mobile gaming consoles use all caps all the time? WEIRD).

Using the OS

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Unlike OUYA, MOJO runs what is essentially an unmodified build of Android 4.2.2. No custom interface, no curated appstore, nothing of the sort. It's stock Android, and the entire interface is navigated with the controller. This, of course, creates its own set of problems – unlike with SHIELD, you can't just reach up and touch the screen if something isn't responding the way it should (well, I guess you could, but it won't do anything because it's your TV). That can be very frustrating, which is one aspect that actually gives OUYA a leg up. There's no denying that the simplicity of its interface is very good for a mobile gaming system.

Here's a little test to know whether or not you'll like using MOJO: pair your phone or tablet with a Bluetooth game controller (or compatible mouse if you have one), then lay it on the table in landscape. Don't touch it again. Do everything you need to do using just the controller. Is it a pleasant experience? If so, you'll probably like MOJO. If, however, it makes you want to scream, punch things, or both, then MOJO probably isn't for you.

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Don't get me wrong – getting to where you're going using the controller isn't necessarily a painstaking process, but there are certain aspects of not being able to touch the device that will most certainly drive many users mad; like searching the Play Store, typing usernames and passwords, or anything that uses the keyboard, really. It's tedious. With that said, a Bluetooth keyboard drastically eases the pain, so there's always that.

The primary thing that bothers me the most about navigating MOJO compared to SHIELD (in terms of using the controller for OS navigation) is that MOJO has both Game Mode and Mouse Mode, whereas SHIELD's way of doing things is far more intuitive. Here's the basic control layout for each, so you can better understand what I'm talking about:

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Basically, SHIELD combines mouse and game mode, using the right control stick as the mouse pointer, whereas MOJO has two different modes. It may be a simple switch, but constantly going back and forth between the two different modes is still annoying. The way SHIELD handles this quandary is much better, and far more intuitive, though I will say that using the right trigger as the primary enter/tap control would make a lot of sense on SHIELD. Also, once in a game on SHIELD, the right stick loses all mouse functionality; in a PC game (over GameStream and whatnot) that requires mouse input, just using the controller simply isn't an option. In that respect, Mad Catz's solution is better.

Then there are apps that force portrait mode. This is ridiculously frustrating, as flipping the TV on its side is simply not an option, so instead you either have to turn your head to the side or just figure out how to operate the app until a point comes when it will flip back to landscape (if such a time exists). Fortunately, Ultimate Rotation Control can fix this, but that's relying on a third-party solution to fix a first-party issue, which is a major pet peeve of mine. Still, it is a fix, and it works well.

There's also the issue of the navigation bar. I can't for the life of me figure out why Mad Catz put the nav bar on-screen, when all those same functions are baked into the controller – it just gets in the way and uselessly takes up space on the display. If the device is rooted (and it really should be if you want it to be any kind of useful), then Auto Hide Soft Keys is the answer to the problem; again, however, that's a third-party solution to a first-party issue. The number of apps and mods required to make MOJO as usable as it can be is staggering at this point – I can't think of another device that requires this much work just to make it, well, work.

Additionally, I would love to see some sort of option to hide the notification bar (like on SHIELD), as it's just annoying in some apps that would be better suited to full-screen use (like NBA Game Time, for example – the notification bar is exceptionally annoying when streaming a game on League Pass). Of course, NOVA Launcher can easily hide the bar on rooted devices, but that poses another annoyance: it uses the wonky landscape interface where the dock is shifted to the right of the display, which is just awkward on a TV. Not to mention that it's the same sort of third-party fix that I don't feel like should be necessary on a device that's meant to be used the way MOJO is.

The last point I want to touch on is overscan compensation, which someone actually asked about in my hands-on post. While the console itself doesn't have overscan compensation, I've found that most modern TVs actually have a setting that allows the user to toggle overscan capabilities (note that it may not actually be labeled as "overscan" in the TV's settings, but there should be a way to ultimately disable the feature). Since it's essentially an outdated technology that isn't needed on modern TVs (thanks to 1080p and HD content), disabling it will allow all of MOJO's output to fit perfectly in the screen with little to no negative effects on the picture quality from other sources.

Gaming

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Since this is a gaming console, let's talk about the gaming experience for a bit.

Here's the gist of it, in a nutshell: if a game has controller support, the experience is solid. You know, like playing a game should be on a gaming console. If it doesn't, however, no. There is no button mapping software of any kind of the MOJO, so you can forget about it. There's always the possibility that Mad Catz could get access to NVIDIA's GamePad Mapper software from SHIELD (or possibly create their own), but that's something we simply can't bank on right now.

Speaking of SHIELD features coming to MOJO, they've already announced that GameStream would eventually be making its way to the console... but there's no date on when. At least we know it's coming at some point, which is good for anyone who may want to play PC games on their TV. Of course, we can probably expect MOJO to support NVIDIA's GRID service once it rolls out in full force as well; the thing is, however, no one knows when exactly that will be.

All in all, the gaming experience on MOJO is basically like using a MOGA with your phone in terms of compatibility, only on a much larger screen. I don't know about you guys, but that makes it hard for me to want to cough up $250.

App Support and the Root Thing

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Having the Play Store on a device like MOJO is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you don't have to re-buy or sideload all the things you've already bought (like with OUYA); on the other, there's a massive issue with compatibility. In short, most apps aren't compatible with MOJO out of the box because they require a touchscreen, which is specified within the app's parameters in the Play Store. As a result, the majority of apps don't even show up on MOJO. The solution? Root the thing.

Yes, this is the solution that Mad Catz is pushing. In fact, the review unit they sent me was pre-rooted to offer a useable experience out of the box (I didn't even get to see what the store was like without root, but I hear it's not a pleasant sight). But here's the issue: Mad Catz can't ship retail units pre-rooted. It's up the user to do it themselves. Don't get me wrong, it's not difficult – but I can't imagine every single person who buys MOJO will be savvy enough to A) know where to look or 2) feel comfortable enough to hack away at their $250 system fresh out of the box. It's a good thing that Mad Catz is honoring warranties post-root (and really, it's only right that they do so).

This also raises questions about how Mad Catz plans to handle updates. I asked them about this, and was basically told that updates will be sent to device regardless of whether or not they're rooted, and while OTAs will break root, they'll make sure to leave the door open for users to easily re-root their devices using known and existing methods. Of course, there's also the SuperSU's Survival Mode, which aims to keep superuser access across OTA updates, so that's also an option worth exploring when the time comes.

Performance

To be frank, there's nothing disappointing about the MOJO's performance. It's an incredibly capable, snappy, and quick device that makes easy work out of switching between tasks, games, etc. Of course, that's to be expected from a high-end device with modern hardware. I don't personally take a lot of stock in benchmarks, but I will say MOJO benches pretty similarly to SHIELD (though SHIELD generally comes out on top), which is still one of the snappiest Android devices I've ever used.

Really, there isn't much more to say about MOJO's performance: it's fast and lag-free, switching between running apps is quick, and gaming works flawlessly. It's a fluid and highly capable device in that regard.

Conclusion

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All in all, I feel like there are a lot of missed opportunities with MOJO, and there's still a lot of work to be done. In its current state, MOJO is probably only appealing to a very specific niche of people: mobile gaming-centric Android power users. Of course, it's not entirely Mad Catz's fault – Android simply isn't ready for a system like this right now, and the fact that MOJO needs to be rooted just to become usable is a testament to that. Of course, we've all heard the rumors of Google's set top box, Android gaming console, etc., so the way systems like this are used could drastically change in the future. Of course, I'm reviewing this product right now, and banking on what could eventually happen is just silly.

That doesn't take all the blame from Mad Catz, however. Simple things like a built-in option to hide the navigation or notification bars and button mapping software are missing, which in my opinion is just an oversight. I understand that the company wanted to stick with a stock build of Android, which is fine, but options like those mentioned would only add to the usefulness of the OS on a system like MOJO without taking away from that stock feel. And honestly, even a custom launcher that's more appropriate for a console like this would add value – there's definitely a balance that could be made between "stock" and "useful."

At this point, I find it hard to recommend MOJO to anyone outside of the root-loving, hardcore mobile gamer crowd... which I'm not even sure even exists. Even then, if you asked me which Android console to buy for $250, my answer would without a doubt be SHIELD. It does everything MOJO does, all while offering valuable options like GamePad Mapper and other game-centric features, as well as the ability to play on-the-go or attached to a larger screen. To put it bluntly, it's clear to me that NVIDIA took a lot of time to figure out what was important in SHIELD, and I don't feel like Mad Catz put the same sort of energy into MOJO.

When I look at MOJO, I see a console that is really ahead of its time, because Android just isn't ready to be on an exclusively set-top platform. It's likely coming, but just not there yet. Think of it like Samsung's first Galaxy Tab (you know, the one with a giant phone OS) – it was the first of its kind and opened the doors for its successors, but it just wasn't very good. Shortly after it came out, Google released the first real tablet OS. That's what I foresee happening here, though I could be wrong.

For right now, however, MOJO is stock Android on a TV screen, which just brings way too many compromises along with it.