Most geeks over a certain age likely spent most of their allowance at the local arcade or on Atari cartridges. Now, those geeks can have their games back – and in a familiar package – with the iCade arcade cabinet for iPad from ION Audio.

The iCade uses an iPad or iPad 2 device as the guts and screen of the arcade or Atari game along with the Atari’s Greatest Hits app (and a growing list of other apps) as the game content, while the iCade acts as a Bluetooth joystick and buttons. The iPad recognizes it as it would any other paired Bluetooth device and, according to the Software Development Kit, receives joystick movement and button presses as keyboard input, which the game translates.

Product details

What I like

  • Classic games: Many arcade and Atari console games I grew up playing are available within the Atari’s Greatest Hits app, which this device was created for.
  • Bluetooth: The controller connects to the iPad as – effectively – a Bluetooth keyboard, which simplifies the connection/disconnection process.
  • Software Development Kit available: iOS app developers can download a document describing the functionality of the buttons and joystick in order to write compatible applications.

What I don’t like

  • Touchy controls: The joystick is especially touchy when playing games originally designed for paddles or a trackball. This can cause some games to be nearly unplayable due to the paddle, ship, or other avatar moving too quickly.
  • Price: While $100 isn’t steep compared to the cost of an iPad, the device is really of a very simple design and programming.

Geek Bottom Line

The ability to play classic arcade and Atari games is a big draw, but the controls make the device nearly unusable. Compound the lack of functionality with the price of $100, and the device isn’t worth buying in my opinion, especially because all of the games are playable – and, in most cases, more playable – without the iCade device.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: **
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: *
  • Overall: **

For more reviews of tech gadgets, gizmos, games, and books, download the PDF of TechRepublic’s Geek Gift Guide 2011.