I don’t exactly write “reviews” here on the ol’ blog, but these are my thoughts about the XIM APEX Adapter. It’s a USB gadget that plugs into a Playstation 4 (or an Xbox One, allegedly) and allows you to use a mouse and keyboard to play games that otherwise could only be played with a controller.
You may or may not have noticed a recurring theme here in the past year, which is that I constantly mention how much the PS4 controller hurts my hands. Specifically my left hand, and even more specifically my left thumb. If I use the controller too much, I lose a great deal of gripping strength in my left hand for days, so things like holding plates or opening jars become quite a bit more difficult. Normally I have to limit my PS4 playing time to maybe an hour a day, and ideally every other day. It’s not ideal when there’s a game that I’m dying to play. I don’t have the same trouble with mouse and keyboard, so I thought I’d try out this adapter.
Now if you search for XIM APEX reviews, most of what you find is whether or not it lets you “git gud” and “pwn your enemies” (and/or “cheat”) playing shooters on a console. The generally-accepted wisdom is that mouse-and-keyboard controls are more precise and advantageous than controllers when aiming. I have no interest in this aspect of the adapter whatsoever, and won’t be commenting on whether it will help in a competitive way with Overwatch or Call of Duty or whatever. My default reaction to that sales pitch, though, is “it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools.” If your hands aren’t impaired, it’s not hard to learn to use a controller.
I was only interested in one thing: Can I play PS4 games with a mouse and keyboard when my hands (ie. thumbs) are too sore to use a controller?
In short, the answer is yes. Is it better than playing with a controller? Definitely not. A mouse and keyboard does not translate to controller buttons and movements in a 1-to-1 manner. Anyone who has played a bad console game port on the PC will know this (think: the first Dark Souls game). I would always choose to use the controller if I could. But this adapter is “good enough” to play when I otherwise couldn’t (or shouldn’t). At $125, it’s a fairly steep price for something that’s just “good enough.”
I tested with Death Stranding, which is the only game I’m playing on the PS4 right now. (I briefly tried it with The Division 2, and found that it worked there, too, though I never tried actually shooting at anything.) Death Stranding isn’t a shooter. It’s not fast-paced at all. Most of what you do in the game is interact with menus and walk around.
How does the XIM APEX actually work? It’s a little USB dongle not much bigger than a thumb drive. It has one button on it, some lights, and USB connectors on both ends. You have to plug your game controller, a mouse, and a keyboard into the dongle, through an included 3-port USB hub. They say you can use your own hub if you want (USB 2.0 only, not 3.0, for some reason). Your game controller continues to function normally even while plugged into the adapter, so you can always pick it up and use it.
But wait, there’s more. If you plug all that in without doing anything else, nothing will happen. There’s a software component that actually tells the adapter what to do. That software comes in the form of an app that runs on your smart phone, in my case, an Android app. There’s also an iOS app, and allegedly there is Windows and Mac software as well, but I don’t know how that would work.
Because the app communicates with the adapter through Bluetooth. I imagine that you’d have to have a Bluetooth adapter in your Windows or Mac computer in order to use that software. I happen to have one in my gaming PC, but in my situation, it was just easier to use the phone app.
In the XIM phone app, you select the game you want to play from a big list, and it transmits the settings to the adapter. For example, I loaded up a profile for The Division 2 and played that right away. I only had to make adjustments to the mouse sensitivity. It appears they assume you’re using a very high DPI gaming mouse, and the one I’m using is an old Logitech junker.
I ran into my first problem with the XIM APEX when I looked for a profile in the app for Death Stranding and didn’t find one. As of this writing, November the 15th, one week after the launch date for Death Stranding, there is still no profile available in the app. You can take from that what you will, with regard to how quickly they support new games coming out.
Fortunately, you can create your own configurations. But you have to do everything manually. You have to setup the mouse sensitivity (through a lot of trial and error), you have to setup the mapping for every key to every PS4 controller button. (Assuming you don’t like the defaults, which I didn’t.) All of this setup is done on your tiny little phone screen. It takes some time.
The biggest difficulty was finding a good mouse sensitivity setting. Apparently the DPI of a game controller is about a thousand million times larger than the DPI of a mouse. They recommend setting the controller sensitivity setting in your game to its maximum, and they recommend setting your mouse’s DPI to its maximum as well. I was using an old Logitech mouse and had no such control, so I had to keep cranking the software’s “sensitivity” setting up and up and up until I could finally see an effect. The mouse sensitivity defaulted to 15, and I had to set it to its maximum of 500, and also adjust what they (inexplicably) call the “Ballistics Curve,” before I could adequately control the game.
If all that sounds like a pain, it is. This is not a plug-and-play system at all.
You might think that once you have everything setup, it’s all smooth sailing from there, right? Well, kind of. Once you’re in the game and playing with the mouse and keyboard, everything seems to work. I detected no input lag, or other obstacles to gameplay, other than the weirdness of having to translate the on-screen prompts from PS4 controller buttons to my keyboard keys. It works, but it “feels” weird, if you know what I mean. I found the camera sensitivity to be very low, and had to physically drag the mouse across the mousepad a lot (the old pick up-move mouse-pick up-move mouse routine). Quickly turning around 180 degrees was basically impossible. I also had some trouble with certain menus in Death Stranding which were designed for pushing the analog sticks around. I had to work hard to “flick” the mouse in just the right way to get the menu to work.
The real problem occurs when your PS4 times out and turns itself off. When you turn it back on, the mouse and keyboard doesn’t work anymore. You have to go through the whole process of connecting your phone to the adapter and loading the profile again. Once I couldn’t get my phone to connect to the adapter at all. It’s a bit finicky, and kind of annoying.
Now for the cost. This thing cost me $125 from Amazon. That’s pretty dern expensive for something which seems technologically fairly simple to me. I imagine most of the cost is in the hardware that surrounds the software, and the obligatory price gouging that comes with anything made “for gamers,” especially ones marketed toward making gamers think they can play games better than their friends without putting in any work or practice.
I should also mention that most of the instructions for using this device come in the form of YouTube videos. There are no written instructions anywhere that I could find. The videos were clear and well-made, but it was still very annoying, because I’m an adult who knows how to read.
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t want to go through the hassle and headache of using this adapter. If you’re one of those people that say, “I don’t use a controller because I tried it once and wasn’t as good on the first day as I am after years of practice with a mouse and keyboard,” I can assure you that it’s far, far easier to learn to use a game controller than to deal with this thing on a daily basis.
But, for me with my bum thumb, it’s the difference between not being able to play a game that I want to play, and playing it as much as I want. It’s a bummer that it costs $125 for that.
I’m undecided on whether I’ll keep it. Amazon is giving me a ridiculously long period of time in which to return it.