Our review

If you can afford the price of admission, and you know there are games on mobile that you really want to play, the Backbone One would be a very handy addition to your gaming arsenal. There's very little not to love about it, in fact, as it really helps your iPhone gaming capabilities level up.

Pros

  • Brilliant design.
  • Very easy setup.
  • Enables gaming on the go in various ways.

Cons

  • Slightly pricey.
  • Can get slippery with sweaty palms.
  • Lots of experiences rely on strong internet.

If your social media algorithm is anything like this writer's one, you may well have seen a bunch of targeted adverts for the Backbone One mobile controller.

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Your first reaction might be something along the lines of, 'Ooh, that looks nice, but is it worth forking out for?' If that's what you've been thinking, you've come to the right place for some answers, and plenty of analysis to boot.

We've been sent a review unit of the Backbone One mobile controller and we've been testing it out on our iPhone 12 Pro for the last few months. We've used it at home, we've taken it on the go, and don't tell our colleagues but we've also used it sneakily in the office. Read on for our full thoughts!

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Backbone mobile controller review summary

All things considered, the Backbone One controller is a great way to extend your gaming time by transforming your phone into a multipurpose gaming device, working as it does with several cloud-streaming services as well as native mobile games (as long as the game in question has controller support).

At nearly £100, the price point isn't to be scoffed at, so you'll need to be sure that the games you want to play are compatible with this product (more on that later). You'll also want to remember that playing your home-console games on the go will always require a strong internet connection at both ends.

The design is almost perfect, with great buttons and smooth-moving sticks, with the lack of grip on the rear being the only real downside. If you're looking for a phone-friendly controller, then, this could well be the product for you. Mobile gaming once meant little more than Angry Birds or Candy Crush, but controllers like this help you to play a higher calibre of game on the go. Good times!

What is the Backbone mobile controller?

That's an easy one! The Backbone One mobile controller is exactly what you think it is. This is a gaming controller that slides onto your phone and allows you to play a variety of games on your handset in more of a console-like style. It makes your phone look like a Nintendo Switch or a Steam Deck, but at a fraction of the cost.

As well as working with a number of native mobile games that you can find on Apple Arcade (or the Google Play Store if you opt for the Android version), the Backbone One is also compatible with various streaming solutions including Xbox Cloud Gaming, PlayStation Remote Play, Amazon Luna, NVIDIA GeForce Now and the soon-to-be-defunct Google Stadia.

There is a D-pad and one analogue stick on the left-hand side of the controller, while the right-hand side has the other analogue stick and the face buttons. There are two different versions of the Backbone - you can get one with the Xbox buttons and one with the PlayStation buttons.

Holding the two sides of the controller together is the eponymous backbone, a nice sturdy structure that can stretch to fit various different sizes of phone. You can get one with an Android connection, or one with an iPhone connection, depending on which sort of phone you prefer.

How much is the Backbone mobile controller?

The Backbone One mobile controller price is £99.99 GBP, whether you're buying from a third-party retailer like Very or Amazon, or going straight to the source to place an order on the official Backbone website.

There doesn't seem to be a difference in price between the Android and iPhone edition, and there's also no cost change to be seen when you change from the one with Xbox buttons to the one with PlayStation buttons.

Backbone mobile controller design

There's no denying that the design is one of the key appeals here. Even if you haven't spent much time thinking about gaming on your phone, those targeted Instagram ads do a great job of making the Backbone One controller look very attractive indeed.

Slick is the word that comes to mind. The buttons have a great amount of click to them, while the triggers have just the right amount of give, and the whole thing slots seamlessly onto your phone with the eponymous backbone holding it all together.

In seconds, your phone will look like a games console! That's the true achievement here in terms of design. The rounded corners of the controller complement the phone screen very well, allowing the whole package to coalesce into something that you'll be proud to be seen with in public.

Backbone mobile controller features

The obvious one is this: the Backbone One mobile controller clips onto your phone and connects via the charging port, automatically pairing and allowing you to use a console-grade controller on your mobile gaming platforms of choice. That, of course, is what you're expecting and the Backbone does that job very well.

What you might not be expecting is the other cool features that are included. Our unit came with a one-month subscription to Xbox Game Pass, for example, a nice touch which would allow any customer to try out a whole host of big-name games that Microsoft has primed for cloud gaming.

The controller itself also has a couple of welcome extra features. There is a 3mm headphone jack port, allowing you to connect any standard-audio-jack headphones that you have lying around. And there's also a port for your iPhone charger, allowing you to keep your phone topped up with battery power while you play. This comes in very handy if you're playing on the go and don't want to use up all your juice.

There's also a free Backbone app, accessed by an orange button on the controller, which will help you make sense of which games are available on your device. Given that there are several companies offering gaming experiences on iPhones these days, this can come in very handy when it comes to finding inspiration.

Backbone mobile controller setup

In theory, the setup process for the Backbone One mobile controller should be incredibly simple - it's a plug and play device, so you should be able to attach it to your phone and start playing straightaway. You'll be prompted to download the Backbone app, but other than that there shouldn't be much in the way of faff.

However, we did encounter one problem while we were setting up our Backbone controller, although this was more of an issue with our phone than anything else: we'd reached that point in our phone's lifespan where the charging port only seemed to work if you held the iPhone charger in an awkward position. This was just about workable in terms of charging our phone every night (especially in the age of wireless charging) but it did originally make it seem like the Backbone One wasn't working at all.

Thankfully, the solution here was fairly simple. We'd been worrying about the need to send off our phone for an expensive repair, but it turned out that the only issue was a build-up of pocket lint inside the charging port. Once we'd scooped out all the dust that had gathered within the phone itself, the connection to the Backbone was really easy to make. And it now works fine every time, getting into a game in seconds.

Backbone mobile controller performance

So, we'd unboxed the Backbone and controller and managed to get it working. Now that all of the housekeeping was out of the way, the fun could really begin, and boy oh boy, there really is a lot of fun to be had with this handy attachment.

Firstly, we played around with the Backbone within the comforts of our own home, with our high-speed broadband connected and all of our consoles nearby for any troubleshooting needs that might arise.

At the time, we were in the middle of putting together our Two Point Campus review on PS5, so we booted up the PS5 Remote Play App to see what it would be like to control the console from another room using our iPhone 12 Pro and the newly-attached Backbone controller. Even though we happened to have the Backbone controller that has the Xbox button prompts printed on it (as opposed to the X, Square, Triangle and Circle of PlayStation), it still worked wonderfully as an extension of our PS5.

Being able to use Remote Play and access your PS5 games from anywhere is a real boon for PlayStation owners, and the Backbone controller is an ideal way to make the experience on your phone feel just as enjoyable as the full-fat console version. The buttons, the D-pad and the triggers all felt great, and the game was really responsive. We didn't feel any lag, and we happily sunk a few hours into Two Point Campus without being anywhere near our console.

Next, we took the Backbone controller to our office, where the wifi is maybe slightly less powerful and more in-demand. We loaded up Google Stadia (which is sadly shutting down soon) and managed to play a mostly-enjoyable hour of Cyberpunk 2077, and we also used the Xbox Cloud Gaming service to start a new save on No Man's Sky.

In both cases, the games worked in a passable fashion, with the graphics holding up nicely on the iPhone screen, although Cyberpunk in particular started to feel a bit choppy after a while - it was particularly noticeable in combat and car-driving situations. We'd say this is a problem with our internet connection, however, as opposed to a flaw with the controller itself.

Next we opted to try something a little more challenging. We left the office and took the Backbone to the park, where our iPhone claimed to have a strong 5G signal. Via Xbox Cloud Gaming, we loaded up Fortnite and joined a Zero-Build Solos match. The controller did its job really well, and it felt like we could still be competitive when the internet stayed strong, although signal drops did result in a couple of frustrating moments.

And finally, we wanted to test out some native mobile games (as opposed to game-streaming experiences that rely on the internet), so we loaded up Apple Arcade and downloaded a few choice titles: the fun Mario Kart clone Warped Kart Racing, the tricksy platformer Floor Is Lava, the kid-friendly LEGO Star Wars: Castaways, the ever-beautiful Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, and 2K's dedicated NBA 2K23: Apple Arcade Edition.

Of those, only NBA required an internet connection to play, with all of the others working just fine as offline solo activities (even with airplane mode turned on). All of these games were fun little experiences to explore, and the controller worked seamlessly with each of them, proving that there is more to do on Backbone than simply streaming your games from other platforms.

All in all, we didn't feel any flaws with the controller itself. It feels great to play with, and the only nitpick we could think of is that the plasticky texture does get a bit slippery if you play with sweaty palms for a particularly long period of time. If you're looking for a controller that will work well with phone-friendly games, though, this is a very strong option to consider.

Our verdict: Should you buy the Backbone mobile controller?

Backbone controller.

If you're a gamer that travels a lot, or is unable to access console or PC for other reasons, we'd say that the Backbone One mobile controller is a great way to inject more gaming time into your life without breaking the bank.

Before you buy one, though, we'd suggest having a think about which titles/experiences you're actually buying it for. There's a handy page on the Backbone website that shows you which games the controller is compatible with, so you'll want to make sure there is something to your tastes available.

There's lots to enjoy on Apple Arcade, especially in the family-friendly realm, and those offline-enabled games will come in very handy in travel situations including long-haul flights and underground train commutes.

And if you can ensure that there will be good internet wherever you're travelling to, all of those cloud-streaming options will be very handy as well. If you've got a PS5 at home but you're often not in the right room to play it, the Backbone could be a God-send for you. If what this controller offers aligns with what you want to play, by all means you should go for it!

Where to buy the Backbone mobile controller

The Backbone One mobile controller can be bought from a lot of major retailers, including the likes of Very and Amazon, and it looks like the £99.99 price is very consistent across the board.

There is also an official Backbone website, where you can browse the whole range and order directly from the source if that's what you'd prefer. If you'd like to see the controller in action before you buy it, take a look at the trailer below.

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