Bottom line: The Backbone One turns your iPhone into a portable gaming console for Apple Arcade, the App Store, Xbox, Playstation, Stadia, and more. What more can you want?
The hardware is fantastic for a portable iPhone controller
The Backbone app turns your iPhone into a true gaming device
The social features make an Xbox Live-type experience
Does not work with a phone case on
The right joystick position isn't comfortable
It's tough to discover other players
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I've personally never been an iPhone gamer. While I have had my interest peaked at certain titles now and again, and always WANTED to get into it, it's always fallen apart for me when I actually download the game and try to play it using the on-screen controls.
While other iPhone controllers have also seemed interesting, it always seemed odd to me that you'd still have to navigate around your iPhone like normal in order to find a game you want to play. While the controller could be great, the experience immediately took you out of the feeling of playing with a real portable console.
That is exactly where Backbone has come in. Not only is the controller on par or better than the rest, the company also realized that it was the software that really could take a fun accessory and turn your iPhone into a true portable gaming device that puts it up there with the best of them — even the Nintendo Switch.
Backbone One: Price and availability
One of the surprising things about the Backbone One is that it isn't available at a ton of retailers just yet. That said, it is available at some notable retailers which should make it quite easy to get your hands on one.
Currently, the Backbone One is available directly from the brand itself on its own website. It is also available on Amazon and through the Xbox store with Microsoft. At all three retailers, the controller goes for $100, which is a steal considering everything you are getting with the hardware and app.
Backbone One: This is the kind of iPhone controller that Apple should have made
There are three things that make the Backbone One the best iPhone gaming controller, and the first is the hardware. It's not just good — it's SO good, it's surprising this was put together by a third party and not Apple itself. From the unboxing experience to the setup, everything is incredibly easy and smooth. The controller is also fantastic. The buttons feel good, the D-pad is satisfying, the triggers are responsive, and the joysticks feel on par with some of the better console controller brands out there today.
While all of those things can make a portable controller really good, it's the Backbone app that makes the experience great. You can compare portable gaming controller hardware all day, but Backbone is the only brand that has built an app that takes iOS and its controller and mashes it together to truly turn your iPhone into a portable gaming console.
The Backbone app not only serves as a place to pick up where you left off with your most recent games, but it also is a place to discover other games you could be playing across Apple Arcade, the App Store, Xbox, Playstation, Stadia, and more. The best part is that it compiles your games across all of these services into one app. That means you can easily switch between gaming services without having to hop out of the Backbone One experience and across different apps and websites (Xbox Cloud Gaming and Google Stadia are staring right at you, Apple).
The feature I was not expecting but that has taken my experience to an entirely different level is the social aspect of the Backbone app. The app features an Xbox Live-like experience with chat rooms, groups, and more. It makes it easy to find people who like similar games, team up, and chat with each other while gaming together. You can even record, edit, and share your gameplay with the Backbone community or on social media.
Backbone One: While it's better than the rest, it isn't perfect
While the Backbone One easily wins over any other portable gaming controller I have seen for the iPhone, that doesn't mean the experience is perfect. One gripe for some gamers is that it is currently only available for iOS. Granted, we are an Apple-focused website, so we don't care about that as much as others, but the point is still valid. Backbone says it is working on an Android version with USB-C instead of Lightning, but it has not said when that might be released.
If I had to gripe about anything with the controller itself it would have to be the right joystick and where it is positioned. When I'm holding the controller like I normally would, it feels too low. So much so that I find myself moving my hand down the right side of the controller ever so slightly to compensate. This isn't a big deal and Backbone could be running into some component spacing problems here, but it is noticeable and something I hope they solve with the second generation. It also does not work with a case, so you'll need to remove that if you want to play.
The last issue I take is with the social aspect of the app. While the Rooms and Groups functions are great, there is no other way that I have found to discover other players on the platform. This means that, unless someone drops into one of the Rooms to be discovered, there is no way to find them unless you know their username. Once you do find them, you can thankfully add them to your friend's list, but finding them is the hardest part. Hopefully, Backbone adds more ways for players to find each other in the future.
Backbone One: Competition
There are a ton of competitors to the Backbone One currently on the market which different kinds of hardware. If you're looking for similar hardware to the Backbone One, the Razer Kishi is probably the most similar design and also costs $100. The GameSir X2 is also a comparable model to the Backbone at almost half of the price.
if you are trying to use your Xbox controller to game on your iPhone, you can also purchase something like the Otterbox Mobile Gaming Clip for $30 to turn your iPhone into a portable gaming system with one of the best controllers on the market today.
The thing that none of these alternatives have, however, is something similar to the Backbone app. That piece makes an enormous difference in truly immersing you in the gaming experience on the iPhone. If you are looking for alternatives, check out our list of the Best Game Controllers for iPhone 2021.
Backbone One: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You are looking for a solid portable gaming controller with good hardware
- You want to play Xbox, Playstation, Stadia, or other game streaming services on your iPhone
- You want an app that brings all of your gaming services together under one roof
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You are trying to use an Android phone (yet)
- You want a controller that can play across other Apple devices like iPad, Mac, and Apple TV.
When it comes down to it, if you're looking for an all-in-one gaming controller for your iPhone, this is the one. If you need a controller that will also work with your iPad, Mac, and Apple TV, you're better off with something from SteelSeries, Xbox, or Playstation.
The Backbone One is not only a great controller, but its app turns your iPhone into a true portable gaming system that puts it in competition with the Nintendo Switch because of Backbone's stellar and expansive app.
If you need a controller that can work with other devices outside of your iPhone, you need to continue to look elsewhere. However, if you are focused on playing all of your favorite gaming services on your iPhone, the Backbone One easily takes the cake as the best iPhone gaming controller on the market right now.
Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.
Great post, the backbone controller seems amazing. I have two gripes with it though which is why I went with Steel Nimbus. 1. If you have a phone case like I do you have to take it off to securely fit the device in. This is ok if you have a tpu case but if you have otter box then you know it is not a pleasant experience taking the case off. 2. If Apple changes the lighting port to USB C what happens to those who shelled out to buy this controller. The Nimbus future proofed itself by being bloody comparable and it works for all of my devices (Apple TV, iPhone , iPad, Mac) However for what it is the backbone controller is great. But IMO I prefer the Steel Nimbus
The controller hardware is good, but the Backbone app really isn't. I don't want to join a new social network for gaming (I already have discord, game center, etc.) and I certainly don't want to pay for another subscription. Requiring your phone number so they can evade sign in with apple and send you SMS spam is a garbage move also. They had a decent product but got greedy and damaged it with spam and monetization - just like lots of mobile games, come to think of it! Also as Jay notes it's a pain to have to remove the phone case every time you want to use the controller. If you use a traditional external controller (8bitdo, Dualshock4, Steel Series, etc.) then obviously you don't have to remove the case. At least one other telescoping controller (Gamesir, also reviewed by iMore) doesn't require removing the phone case, and I don't think it's tied to a spammy subscription app. Also technically you can use the Backbone as USB controller on a Mac, etc., but it's a worse experience than using a normal controller.
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