Guidemaster: Game controllers to turn your smartphone into a mobile gaming machine

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Enlarge / It’s not a Razer device unless it’s posed next to a bunch of custom RGB lighting, right? In great news, the Razer Kishi V2 includes zero glaring lights, which we prefer here at Ars Technica.


With smartphones getting more powerful processors and integrated graphics, gaming on mobile is a firmly established thing at this point. However, while the touchscreen on most smartphones is great for doing phone things, it’s not always the best gaming interface (and having your hands obscure the screen can make playing some games particularly difficult). If you find yourself spending serious time gaming on your device, a dedicated gaming controller can make a huge difference, leaving you with something similar in form factor to a Nintendo Switch.

Sure, you could also pack a dedicated handheld gaming device like the Lenovo Legion Go, Valve Steam Deck, or Nintendo Switch—but that’s just another piece of gear you’ll need to remember to charge and pack into your gear bag each day. Gaming on a mobile phone brings convenience and eliminates the need for a separate, standalone device, and with mobile silicon getting faster every year—especially on the iOS side, where this year’s iPhone 15 gets you ray tracing—you’re getting rich graphics in a pocket-friendly form factor.

Backbone One mobile gaming controller, Playstation edition (USB-C 2nd gen)

The Backbone One gaming controller.
Enlarge / The Backbone One gaming controller.

Simon Nguyen

The Backbone One mobile gaming controller is a solid accessory. The buttons are crisp and satisfying to press, and they provide console controller-like responses. While playing a game (in my case, Chrono Trigger for iOS), the D-pad allows for easy maneuvering and doesn’t munge inputs together like some cheap controllers do. A removable piece also allows the Backbone One to fit a phone with or without a case, which is a nice addition. (We tried out the USB-C version of the controller for this guide, although it also supports Lightning devices.)

A companion app lets you record gameplay and connect with other Backbone users, but fortunately the app isn’t required in order to use the product. The app also allows you to connect to your favorite gaming platform (Xbox, PlayStation, PC, and Steamlink) so you can take the console gaming experience with you when you’re mobile.

With its responsiveness, great design, and solid build quality, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better mobile gaming controller accessory.

The good

  • Buttons are buttery smooth and feel like a real console controller
  • Responsiveness is impressive
  • Easy setup allows you to start using the controller immediately
  • Great for bringing the console experience on the go
  • Very comfortable to hold

The bad

  • Audio can lag over Bluetooth, but this can be mitigated with the headphone jack on the controller
  • Fit with phone in the controller is not as secure as with the Razer Kishi but is secure enough that your phone won’t pop out

Razer Kishi V2 Mobile Gaming Controller for iPhone (Lightning)

Razer Kishi V2 gaming controller comes with either a Lightning or USB-C connector to link to your smartphone.
Enlarge / Razer Kishi V2 gaming controller comes with either a Lightning or USB-C connector to link to your smartphone.

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Razer is known for making competent accessories, and the Razer Kishi V2 Mobile Gaming Controller for iPhone (Lightning) is no exception. The gaming controller is powered through the built-in Lightning connector, so you can start playing as soon as you plug in your phone. It also has removable spacers to accommodate phones with or without a case.

Even though this product feels pretty solid, the buttons are not as crisp as the Backbone One, especially the L1, L2, R1, and R2 buttons, which feel quite shallow and mushy. This isn’t the console-quality accessory that I’d hoped for. However, latency is very low, which helps make the input experience feel like using a real controller. This is a solid pick if you’re a Razer loyalist. Otherwise, I’d stick with the Backbone One.

The good

  • Quick setup
  • Removable spacers ensure you don’t have to take off your case to use
  • USB-C version also available for Android phones and newer iPhones
  • Securely holds phone in place

The bad

  • Buttons seems flimsy and not premium
  • Analog joysticks are small and not as easy to use as others

Megadream Wireless Mobile Game Controller

The Megadream Wireless Mobile Game Controller.
Enlarge / The Megadream Wireless Mobile Game Controller.

Simon Nguyen

If you’re looking for a less expensive solution to solve your mobile gaming woes, the Megadream Wireless Mobile Game Controller Gamepad Joystick can accommodate almost any device with its adjustable design. This includes most iPads (excluding the 12.9-inch iPad Pro) and Android tablets (only those with displays under 11 inches). Unlike the other two products in this guide, this controller connects via Bluetooth, which has its own pros and cons.

Connecting and pairing was a bit annoying, unlike with the USB-C or Lightning controllers. Also, a switch is required to toggle between the various device types, which isn’t as intuitive as it could be. This product also has a built-in battery, which needs to be charged before use, creating an anticlimactic out-of-box experience. If you’re really in need of a universal mobile gaming controller, this is a decent option. Otherwise, I would recommend one that has either a USB-C or Lightning connector for the lower latency of a wired connection and no separate charging requirements.

The good

  • Accommodates larger devices with up to an 11-inch display
  • Mappable buttons allow for customization (after downloading and setting up companion app)

The bad

  • Bluetooth connection means a painful pairing process
  • Controller has built-in battery that must be charged to use
  • Design is not as intuitive as others

Other controllers

If you have an iPhone or an iPad, you can also use any number of Bluetooth gaming controllers. Apple also worked with Microsoft and Sony to make the Xbox and PlayStation controllers compatible with its phones, tablets, and Apple TV. And even though these controllers aren’t as portable as the ones on our list, which replicates the Nintendo Switch experience, having a gaming controller separate from your device comes with its own benefits—benefits like being able to connect your phone to a larger display and play with the controller from the couch.

Keep in mind that not all games will support external gaming controllers. Even if titles are compatible, some games will also not let you remap the buttons, so your experience with a gaming controller may be more limited until developers build in more support. On the Android side of things, controllers can open the doors to games and titles not officially supported in Google’s Play Store, including the use of emulators for gaming.

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