[Hardware Review] Bannco FRAGnStein

The FragFX finally has some competition, but how does Bannco's wireless take on a keyboard/mouse/controller hybrid stack up?
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: August 8, 2009
We mentioned during our review of Splitfish's FragFX v.2 controller that it was essentially the only game in town. Imagine our surprise, then, when we started getting contacted by the very competition we'd been ignorant of. The first two ping us a few months ago was mLani with their MOBI controller. mLani apparently bit the dust in run up to now (their web site has been MIA for months), but in their wake came Bannco, who have not only survived long enough to kick over their competition for the FragFX, but may have actually bested it -- at least in a few key areas.


[Overall]

If there's one thing that can be said for the FRAGnStein (cute name, guys), it's that it has the FragFX absolutely spanked in portability. Featuring a wireless wand that houses the d-pad, left analog stick (complete with L3 button when clicked) Select, PlayStation, L1 and L2 buttons, and a 2000dpi wireless mouse with all four face buttons, R1 and R2 mapped to the left and right mouse buttons (R3 is under the middle mouse scroll wheel, which also slides left and right for additional functionality) and the Start button at the top, it does a remarkable job of condensing the DualShock 3's raft of inputs into a relatively compact pair of devices. Connected to the PS3 (or PC, if that's your bag) via a simple little USB dongle, both wireless units require just one AA battery.

Though not quite as feature-rich as Splitfish's baby, the FRAGnStein is nevertheless a worthy competitor. What it lacks in programmability (individual buttons can be re-mapped with PC software, but no recording of macros), extra features like a potentially cheap sniper-friendly button or a couch-friendly lapboard, it more than makes up for in terms of construction.

[Build Quality]

The FRAGnStein feels like a quality piece of kit. Both the mouse and wand have nice bit of heft to them even without the batteries installed, and though there's a slight clicking sound in the wand when moving it around rapidly (likely the motion sensor's trigger) the built-in motion controls might actually be more sensitive and responsive than the DualShock 3 or SIXAXIS. The few levels I played with Flower felt far more "twitchy" than with a normal controller. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not, but the motion controls are certainly on par with Sony's official offerings (though, of course, the FRAGnStein lacks any rumble).

The mouse half of the controller features proper mouse-clicky left and right buttons, but interestingly they're not separate bits of plastic but rather flow directly into the main palm rest plastic, a slick little touch. Both components' matte grey/black finish does make it all feel rather classy. Unfortunately, the rest of the buttons range from being standard straight-click affairs (the Select, PS and Start buttons) or end up feeling excessively gummy (the face buttons in particular), though the d-pad is slightly less so. Despite being a broken-up design like the actual DualShock, it's pretty obvious the buttons are connected under their housing plastic. The analog stick feels damn close to a DualShock's, however, and the L3 click is nice and satisfying.

The R3 buried under a fairly loose scroll wheel on the mouse, however, is almost impossible to hit reliably without actually scrolling up or down, and takes quite a bit of effort to actually depress, making it all but pointless in games (thankfully, few use it, but first-person shooters, the very genre the FRAGnStein was made for, can, meaning click zoom is probably out for most players without remapping it).

With the exception of some of the buttons, though, very little about the controller feels cheap in any way, and from the minimalist packaging to the concise, clearly-worded instruction slip, the whole product really does seem like something where care was given to have the "feel" of quality.

[Performance]

Using the FRAGnStein in actual games was something of a mixed bag. The issues with R3 notwithstanding, most of the functionality worked as it should have. We threw in every FPS we had in the library, and while some fared better than others (Killzone 2 was definitely playable, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood less so), the controller performed admirably. Thanks to it not having quite as much on-the-fly sensitivity settings, there was a lot less trial-and-error in getting things like the mouse look speed to feel right (the mouse does have the option of adjusting sensitivity on the fly when hooked up to a PC, though it didn't seem to work when hooked up to the PS3). This lead to far less menu fiddling and more time adjusting to how it handled replacing a right analog stick, which is definitely a good thing if you're the short attention span sort.

All the controller's more high-end functions (firmware updates, remapping of buttons and so on) have to be done on a PC, but we had no issues with any of it even on our 64-bit Windows 7-installed office machine.

[Final Thoughts]

Though it's definitely not as programmable nor anywhere near as complex in terms of adjustment or "bonus" non-DualShock feature as the FragFX, the FRAGnStein is nonetheless an extremely impressive bit of hardware. It trumps its competition in terms of overall feel of quality, ease of basic configuration and general replacement for my favorite controller of all time, the DualShock 3 (yes, I even like the triggers; we're crazy like that), and if you're looking for something that straddles the line between a keyboard/mouse combo and a traditional controller, you'd do well to give this one a shot.

Verdict: Buy It!