Turn your smartphone into a video game console with the Backbone One controller

One of the great features of smart phones is the ability to play video games on them. In the past, games on phones were quite simple. However, now some graphics and gameplay can be almost as good as games found on gaming consoles. The downside has been controlling the game. Some games allow you to use in-game virtual controllers and use the phone’s touch screen. However, in my experience, they don’t work very well. Another option was to connect your phone to a full-sized controller that had an arm with a clip to hold your phone. These controllers were bulky and usually required batteries. Just when I was about to give up playing quality games on my phone, I came across the Backbone One controller. Will this allow me to take my video games with me?

What is Backbone One?

The Backbone One controller is a video game controller specially designed for smartphones. Currently the Backbone One is only available for iPhones although an Android model is in the works. It is compatible with all iPhone models with iOS 13 or later. The left and right sides of the controller are connected by a stretch bar. The smart phone is held along the bar between the two sides of the controller. The Backbone One connects to the phone via an integrated Lightning socket on the right side and does not require any own battery to operate. Not only can you play games from the App Store, but you can also use it with XBox Game Pass Ultimate for cloud gaming as well as PlayStation and Google Stadia remote play. The Backbone One for iPhone is currently available directly from Spine as good as Main store on Amazon at a suggested retail price of $99.99.

Product components and features

The Backbone One comes with the following items:

  • 1 Backbone A controller
  • 1 Adapter for iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max
  • 1 quick start guide
  • 1 safety sheet
  • 12 months of access to the Backbone+ application
  • 1 month free access to XBox Game Pass Ultimate (new subscribers only)
  • 1 month free access to Apple Arcade (new subscribers only)
  • 2 months free access to Google Stadia Pro (new subscribers only)

The free Backbone app can be downloaded from the App Store and is used with the controller to connect and play games, as well as providing the ability to also connect to any supported iPad, Mac and PC. charge.

From the Backbone app, you can access your game subscriptions and purchased games. Image by Michael Knight.

Here are some of the features of Backbone One.

  • Play games that support controllers
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Direct Loading and Audio
  • Capture game clips and screenshots
  • Low latency connection
  • Compact and foldable design
  • 3.70 inches tall, 6.94 to 10.14 inches wide (contracted/expanded), 1.28 inches deep
  • 4.87 ounces

How to use the Backbone One

The Backbone One controller is easy to set up and use. Start by downloading the Backbone app from the App Store. Once it’s on your phone, it’s time to connect to the controller. If your phone is in a case, you’ll probably need to remove it. The Backbone One is designed to fit snugly around the phone and the Lightning plug does not connect to a case on the phone. Pull the two sides of the controller away from each other to extend the controller so your phone can rest on the bar between them. Make sure the lightning plug is connected to the phone, then let the two sides of the controller contract around the phone. Press the orange button on the bottom right of the controller to launch the Backbone app.

iPhone in controller
The phone fits perfectly into the Backbone One controller. You can then use the controller to navigate menus in the Backbone app as well as game apps. Image courtesy of Backbone.

Within the app you can access games as well as tips on using the Backbone One to connect to services such as Game Pass Ultimate, PlayStation Remote Play, Google Stadia and Apple Arcade. These services may require a subscription. When playing a game, there are buttons on the controller that let you record your gameplay, take screenshots, and mute the sound. The 3.5mm headphone jack built into the controller can be used for headsets with or without a microphone. If your phone needs to charge while using the Backbone One controller, plug a light cord into the controller socket and connect it to a power source.

In addition to using the Backbone One controller for gaming on your phone, you can also connect it to other supported devices. To do this, you will need to access the app settings while connected to a phone and access the Play menu on any screen. Here you can configure the controller to connect to an iPad, Mac, PC, Android device, or even Google Chrome. Once you have chosen the device, you can then remove the phone and connect the controller to the device using a cable with a lighting plug to USB plug. A USB-C is recommended, but I was able to use the standard USB-A plug to connect it to my laptop without any issues.

Why should you get the Backbone One

The Backbone One controller is a great way to get the most out of your game purchases and subscriptions. While it’s best to play console games on a console, lugging around those big devices can be tricky and you can’t play them when you’re on the road. The Backbone One isn’t much bigger than a regular smartphone, so it’s easy to take with you. In fact, that’s all you need, just the controller. No cables, batteries or plugs. In addition to console games, it can also play all games compatible with your phone. If you have a larger device like an iPad or laptop, you can also turn it into a gaming machine with a cable to connect it to the device and power the controller. It works just as well for this as it does with your phone.

I already had an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, so I was excited to test out the Backbone One controller. Due to Apple’s App Store restrictions, there is no Xbox cloud gaming app that would have made things easier. Instead, you need to access cloud gaming through a browser. It’s easy to set up and once you do, you can log in and start playing quickly. I was impressed with how well games worked on my iPhone with the Backbone One controller. The controller has a similar feel to an Xbox controller which I personally enjoy using. I tried several games and was impressed with their effectiveness. Some games didn’t play as well on a small screen and details and text could be too small, at least for my eyes. However, most games were fine. Since the games are streamed, the processing power of your device doesn’t matter. The only downside I encountered was the need to remove my phone case from my iPhone, as the phone has to fit snugly on the Backbone One controller. Although a little inconvenient, the ability to play more games on my phone was worth the little effort.

Besides playing games on my iPhone, I also tried connecting the Backbone One to my laptop, which is far from a gaming machine. For these devices, I just used a Lightning to USB. To really test this, I tried Microsoft Flight Simulator which is quite demanding software. It played well. Since the Backbone One’s analog sticks have a little less range of motion than an official Xbox controller, I had to be a bit more careful with my inputs. However, after a few minutes I adjusted and was flying without any issues.

in game picture
There are hundreds of games you can play on your iPhone using Backbone One and Xbox Cloud Gaming. You can even earn achievements like I did in ‘SEARCH and DESTROY’. Image by Michael Knight.

Overall, I’m really impressed with the Backbone One controller. While I only tested it with games from Apple Arcade and Xbox cloud gaming, the controller performed very well for each of them. I’ve already played more games on my phone in the past few weeks than I’ve probably played in a few years. I find it so much easier to play games with a controller instead of using touch on the screen. As summer approaches and our family goes on road trips, my kids are already trying to claim the controller for them to use. I may have to buy another one to keep the peace. If you love playing games on your phone or want to play more games on your phone that require or benefit from a controller, I highly recommend the Backbone One Controller.

For more information, see the Backbone One Controller on the Main website or on their Amazon store.


Disclosure: GeekDad received a sample of this article for review.

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