The Backbone One is the best mobile gaming controller I’ve ever...

Mobile gaming has been one of the joys of modern smartphone development for years. And from the start, it was awkward for the beetle bear that it’s quite awkward for phones themselves to play games. Many companies have tried to combine mobile gaming with the comfortable ergonomics of a game controller, with mediocre results. But a company called Backbone thinks they cracked the code – and after playing with their gaming controller myself, I agree.

The Backbone One is an expandable snap-on controller that is available exclusively for the iPhone. To use it, expand it and place your phone between the handles. Plug the controller into the charging port to establish a connection. It works on any iPhone model newer than the 6s, and I’ve tested it with both an iPhone 11 and an 8 Plus, and it worked perfectly with both.

In addition to the controller itself, Backbone is also an app that should be used in conjunction with the controller. You will be asked to download this when you connect the Backbone One to your phone. It acts as a social hub for your mobile games. From here you can record the gameplay, share screenshots and chat with friends.


The controller has almost the same button layout as an Xbox One controller or a series of Switch Joy-Con: two thumb pins, four letter buttons (in the same ABXY layout as the Xbox), a D-pad, and two option buttons. It also has two unique buttons: a record button for taking videos or taking screenshots; and an orange backbone button that takes you straight to the app. It works with all mobile games that support controllers, including Apple Arcade games. I tested it with Call of Duty Mobile, Heaven: children of light, Asphalt 9: Legends, and Murder Mystery Machine.

Let me just say this little piece of hardware has been a revelation. I am a very picky person because my goal is to represent you as a consumer, and I am not good to you with starry eyes over every flashy piece of technology on the market. But I have nothing but positives when it comes to the design of the Backbone One.

Image credit: Backbone

There is a lot to recommend in terms of design. The button layout and triggers feel as appealing and familiar as any traditional console controller. The extended back makes it easy to plug the phone into and out of the controller (but most cases need to be removed) There are even divots on the side of the handle that act as small amplifiers to keep the controller from dampening the built-in speakers. Perhaps what I’m most excited about is that it has two pass-through ports, a lighting port for charging and one for headphones – that’s right, it adds a damn headphone jack to the iPhone. Call me easily satisfied, but I was pretty much in love when I heard this.

The controller is also more ergonomic than many other mobile controllers. There are plenty of other devices designed to snap into place like the backbone on the phone, but this is the most comfortable I’ve used so far. There are some, like the Razer Kishi, built like the Switch Joy-Con – devices known for many things, but convenience isn’t one of them. The design could maybe use a little tweak for the lower parts of the handles – the base is a little thick and my pinky fingers really need to grip to wrap around. I would prefer a slight taper like most other game controllers have in this place. But that’s a sucker at best.

Social experiment

So much for the hardware … what about the software? Backbone is a social app for the frequent mobile gamer – in fact, it might allow you to be a mobile game streamer or a video artist if you so choose. It includes a number of tools that not only allow you to play mobile games with friends, but also make it easy to create and edit your own in-game clips.

It’s very easy to set up, which I really appreciate. As soon as you connect the controller to the phone for the first time, you will be prompted to open the app. The app walks you through each of the controls, including how the social aspect works. The main app interface will show you each of the games installed on your phone that work with Backbone – it teases a little by showing it up Fourteen daysthat we know is not currently available on most iPhones, but I can forgive that.

Using the controller with the games was great. The built-in software doesn’t distract you too much from what you’re doing – both sky and Murder Mystery Machine are not single-player games, so the social aspect of the software went unused, but wasn’t intrusive at all. But for Call of Duty it was great to start a party – I got to play with Maneet Khaira, the founder and CEO of Backbone for a while, and the controller did wonders for my K / D ratio.

Speaking of which, the social aspect of backbone is an unexpected delight. I could talk to Khaira and hear him and the game perfectly without headphones and it made it pretty easy to organize a party. When you consider that Apple doesn’t really have a comparable social network for games – especially since the Game Center app has been removed – this seems to fill a forgotten niche.

Image credit: Backbone

You can also record long gameplay clips and edit them in Backbone yourself. The methods may not be very precise, but they are easy to use. While playing Khaira, he told me that they had tested the software with various content creators who had resorted to using third-party software to record themselves playing the game for mediocre results. Backbone simplifies the process with built-in recording and editing software that is triggered with a simple record button. I also appreciate that the orange button glows red while shooting – it’s the details that really make it up.


Like I said, I’m usually pretty cynical when it comes to devices like this, but I think the Backbone One is everything a mobile gamer could ask for. Not only is the hardware solid, the app and social experience fill a badly neglected void in the iOS arena. It makes an iPhone a proper handheld gaming device in every way. If you are an Apple Arcade subscriber or just like playing lots of games Call of Duty MobileThis is more useful and fun than most “normal” controllers.

When I have a complaint, it’s the same complaint I have about all sorts of devices that try to turn phones into game controllers: it’s just a little too bulky. Although the Backbone One is not large compared to a typical game controller, it is still large enough not to fit in a pocket or small wallet. For example, when connected to an iPhone 11, it is roughly the same size as a regular, undocked switch.

There’s also the price tag. Personally, I don’t think $ 100 is too much because I think it would be worth investing in good controllers and equipment like this one and I would probably use them for years. But I can definitely see that this would be a deal breaker for a lot of gamers, especially when you factor in the cost of an iPhone itself and that you can get a DualShock 4 or Xbox One controller for about half the price.

I continue to recommend the Backbone One without reservation to anyone who loves to play on iPhones. It just makes the whole experience better and better More in every sense. Even if it’s a little expensive, I think it’s worth it.

You can purchase the Backbone One through the Backbone app, which you can access from the company’s website here. You can also find it on the App Store.

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Published on October 31, 2020 – 00:11 UTC

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