Phone controllers come in two standard designs: a Nintendo Switch-esque frame that extends across the phone, or a regular controller with a phone holder attached to it. Each has their own benefits and drawbacks, such as limited case support or restricted portability, which we’ll cover in our picks.
But these drawbacks will be easily forgiven in the of handpicked mobile game controllers we have for you — all fully tested and reviewed, to ensure you can make an educated purchase list decision.
What makes a great phone controller?
When it comes to picking the best phone controllers worth your hard-earned money, there are some key features that we look for to make the perfect package:
- Ergonomics and portability: There is a fine balance to strike between taking up minimal backpack space, and being comfortable to use and play for a long commute. It requires solid ergonomic design and tactile buttons to really pull this off.
- Latency-free convenience: Yes, we love wireless tech like true wireless earbuds, but for gaming, these just won’t do. Wired connections will always be better for lag-free game controls and audio, so we’re always on the lookout for passthrough ports and 3.5mm headphone jacks.
- A sleek UI: A great phone controller doesn’t stop at just the hardware. Switching between games via your phone’s home screen while the phone is enclosed within a controller’s grasp is an awkward process. That’s where a solid companion app comes in, to give you a nice user interface to select games and get playing.
The best phone controllers
The cream of the crop continues to be the Backbone One, which stands head and shoulders above its competition with a fully-realized experience across both hardware and software.
Buttons are clicky and tactile in a frame that I can only describe as a more ergonomically comfortable version of Nintendo Switch’s Joy Cons, alongside ultra-responsive analog triggers, reliable joysticks, lightning passthrough for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack for wired audio. This stretch frame does limit case support quite severely, so clumsy owners will need to be extra careful with their phones!
Back to good news, the tailor-made companion app that transforms your iPhone with a sleek UI, which makes finding something new to play a joy, and integrates in-game chat and screen recording in one place.
Of course, the obvious question is whether Backbone One will be coming to Android. While it had been a running joke between me and the company, as the answer was always “we’re working on it” with no real sign of progress, an Android version will finally launch in November 2022 (opens in new tab).
Oh, and for the PlayStation fans, the Backbone One PlayStation edition has everything from the original with a fresh coat of paint.
See our full Backbone One review.
When it comes to the standard mobile game controller with an attached phone holder form factor, the RiotPWR Cloud Gaming Controller is the best I’ve used — offering a great-feeling controller with all that you need for latency-free gaming in a great value package.
The buttons feel great, the analog triggers are ultra responsive and the joysticks have a reliably fluid snap to them. All of this is enclosed in a suitably premium-feeling plastic shell with a grippy pattern of assorted shapes, to keep your hands firmly in place.
The holder for your phone feels sturdy and lets you use it for gaming without taking the case off. Plus, it comes with Lightning passthrough and a 3.5mm headphone jack.Though, the trade off here is the size. It’s not quite as portable as the likes of the Backbone One. The choice of what matters most is up to you.
Android users, fear not! The RiotPWR ESL Gaming Controller is essentially the same, minus the Xbox partnership and delivers this experience at the same price.
See our full RiotPWR Xbox Cloud Gaming controller review.
GameSir has had a fair few attempts at making a great phone controller — each falling slightly short thanks to an omission of some sort. The X2 Pro benefits from the Xbox licensing, to bring one of the best cloud gaming controllers at an even better price.
At $79, the long term value of this durable pad far outweighs the price. It’s a very thoughtfully designed piece of kit for gamers with a sturdy, durable frame, tactile buttons and fluid, responsive analog sticks (and the addition of the Xbox button). Plus, this is the first iteration from GameSir to feature full analog triggers for finite control in the likes of racing titles.
Particular shout-out to two things that mean smart, consumer friendly design: the USB-C connector’s 50-degree hinge, which makes it so much easier to plug your phone into it, and the included case for ultimate reassurance your pad is protected.
There are a couple issues in the form of no 3.5mm headphone jack (get a USB-C to 3.5mm converter for latency free audio) and a companion app that is just a glorified settings screen, but for what you get, these can be forgiven.
See our full GameSir X2 Pro review.
The MOGA XP5-i Plus really shines in being a great iOS controller in three key areas — it’s a sturdy pad with great-feeling buttons and analogue sticks, the Bluetooth connectivity doesn’t create any noticeable lag, and the built-in 3,000 mAh battery makes it more useful in clutch times when you can’t charge up. This all adds up to this easily being one of the best mobile game controllers you can buy right now.
There are some things you need to know, though. There isn’t a 3.5mm headphone jack, so make sure you have some wired earbuds that are compatible with the iPhone and with the companion app, navigating between games can become a frustrating process.
But we can’t fault the ergonomic design that feels great over long play sessions, the strong bracket that holds phones of almost any size with cases on, and the built-in powerbank for ensuring you don’t lose too much of your phone’s charge when playing on-the-go. If you want an Android version, consider the MOGA XP5-X Plus (opens in new tab) instead.
See our full PowerA MOGA XP5-i Plus review.
The GameSir X3 is a great phone controller for pro players that experience overheating when playing some of the most graphically intense games on Android. You see, there’s a built-in cooler that has demonstrably improved sustained performance, and kept framerates nice and high.
Beyond that, this is very similar to the X2 Pro, minus analog triggers, which may affect some purchase decisions if you want to use this for racing titles. You also get a carrying case, tactile buttons, that solid construction and the same USB-C connector on a 50-degree hinge.
If your heart is set on certain genres where this thrives like RPGs, shooters and platformers, and you’re in the niche that needs to squeeze every ounce of power out of your phone with no thermal throttling, this is the only controller that is able to achieve that.
See our full GameSir X3 review.