Gaming on smartphones has gotten significantly better over the years as the internal components of our devices grow ever stronger. The Nintendo Switch is a testament to just how much power we can get out of a handheld device, and our iOS and Android phones are no slouches when it comes to offering vast libraries of enjoyable games. But, tapping around wildly on the screen without any tangible or tactile controls can make for a frustrating experience that would be easily remedied with a controller.
Lucky for us, iOS and Android smartphones support a whole host of excellent gaming controllers. Some controllers are supported over the nearly universal Bluetooth connection, while others rely on USB-C or Lightning connections while delivering extra fast response times. With these gaming controllers, you can have a much richer gaming experience while also seeing more of the games you're playing, since you won't be covering up half of the screen with your fingers. So, if you're ready to get your game on, here are our picks.
TL;DR – These are the Best Phone Controllers:
- Backbone One
- SteelSeries Stratus+
- Razer Kishi V2
- Gamevice Flex
- Sony DualSense
- 8BitDo Ultimate
- Razer Raiju Mobile
- Xbox Core Controller
- PowerA MOGA XP5-X Plus
Best Phone Controller
The Backbone One mobile gaming controller lets you turn your phone into a handy portable gaming console. This controller serves as an expandable, flexible dock for your device by locking controls on each side while freeing up the screen to see clearly for a more enjoyable gaming experience and a comfortable hold. Most iPhones fit perfectly, and now an Andriod model is available, meaning you get extensive support no matter the platform. However, Backbone Labs released a special adapter for the iPhone 13/14 Pro Max that you can 3D print at home or get as a free extra.
The Backbone One holds onto your phone and connects to it over the Lightning port or USB-C to deliver lower latency than you’ll get from Bluetooth connections. With the Backbone One connected, you’ll get your main gaming controls, including two slightly stiff analog sticks, a solid D-pad along with a plethora of responsive, somewhat mushy buttons. The controller even lets you charge while you’re playing, and you can use a wired headset thanks to the 3.5mm jack on the left side of the controller.
Best Budget Phone Controller
The SteelSeries Stratus+ is an upgraded version of the Stratus Duo, and just like its predecessor, it's a straight shooter for budget-friendly Android gaming. You can snag this for under $60, but it offers everything you’d expect from a controller made with mobile gaming in mind. It offers a familiar layout blending the stylings of Xbox controllers and Sony’s DualShock by opting for symmetrical thumbsticks. Hall effect magnetic sensors offer a great feel on the triggers to ensure precision and consistency. You'll have an edge in shooters with this weapon. There’s even an included slim phone mount, making it simple to get gaming anywhere.
It’s important to note that the only way to connect the SteelSeries Stratus+ wirelessly to devices is through Bluetooth LE. You do lose the 2.4GHz wireless dongle that came with the original. But, it’s designed for Android and Chromebook devices, so you should experience fuss-free support with them. This also enables the gamepad to offer a wild 90-hour battery life, so it's the perfect travel companion, as it will last the entire duration of your journey and beyond. And if you forget to charge it up before you go, a mere 15 mins will give it 12 hours of juice. Of course, a wired USB option is available to use the Stratus+ with your gaming PC.
Razer Kishi V2
Best iPhone Controller
The iPhone version of the Razer Kishi V2 controller effectively turns your device into a Nintendo Switch-like handheld, as it clamps controls onto each side of your phone's display using an expandable bridge with adjustable rubber inserts similar to the Backbone One. That means it can support pretty much any iPhone, including the iPhone 14 Pro Max, as long as it’s under 11.5mm thick/170mm long, uses a lightning port, and runs on iOS 15.4 or later. And don’t worry Andriod users, there is an almost identical version of the Razer Kishi V2 for you.
This controller provides all the mashable buttons and responsive controls you need with dual, clickable analog sticks alongside AXBY buttons, triggers, shoulder buttons, a D-pad, and a few navigation buttons. Two additional programmable shoulder buttons come with this upgrade, while another new button takes you to Razer’s Nexus app for remapping and other features. However, the app is still in its infancy and could use some work. And if you need to charge your phone while playing, the Razer Kishi V2 has a passthrough for power.
Best Android Phone Controller
If you’re committed to playing games on your Android phone, go for the Gamevice Flex. Given the name, this controller is flexible with its rubber-based bridge that slides open, letting you slot your phone in between two comfortable to hold controls for a setup that’s very much akin to the Nintendo Switch. And it’s ready to house some of the biggest Android phones out there—even with the case attached—thanks to a kit that includes 16 installable adapters. There’s also an iPhone version available if you prefer iOS.
Once the Gamevice Flex connects using USB-C, you’ll enjoy playing with the impressive D-pad and rigid thumbsticks that offer super-precise movements perfect for shooters. The rest of the responsive buttons, hall effect triggers and bumpers are perfectly placed to prevent fatigue and improve ergonomics. Beyond the controls, there’s even USB-C pass-through charging to ensure your phone never dies in the heat of battle, and a 3.5mm audio jack makes it easy to listen to your game or music while playing.
For Team Sony
The Sony DualSense steps up the controller game in a big way. It features a new design that does more than just look pretty. The DualSense delivers an ergonomic shape with textured grips (styled after the PlayStation buttons if you look closely enough).
Inside the DualSense is the heart of the experience: its haptics. The DualSense derives its name from Sony's impressive haptic feedback, which can give an extra layer of immersion in games. Sony has also introduced adaptive triggers that can adjust their resistance to go even further in connecting you to the in-game action. It may be a while before games on mobile actually tap into those features of the controller, though.
Best Multiplatform Phone Controller
The 8BitDo Ultimate matches the stylings of an Xbox controller. You’ll find hall effect sensors in the offset sticks, a large D-pad, tactile triggers, and two handy back paddles that add to the overall functionality of the gamepad. Using the 8BitDo's app, you can customize the button mapping, swap stick or trigger behavior, and adjust vibration levels. A custom profile switch button also allows you to store three profiles on the pad for on-the-fly swapping.
This wireless controller offers a low latency 2.4GHz connection for a low latency connection, while Bluetooth makes it a great, versatile mobile gaming controller. You can also go for a wired connection via the included USB-C. All that capability is paired with a 22-hour battery life, and the 8BitDo Ultimate even comes with a charging dock.
Razer Raiju Mobile
The Everything Package
As another of the more established names on this list, it’s no surprise to see Razer turn in one of the more “elite” mobile controllers on our list. It can connect over Bluetooth or wired via one of the USB-C cables that Razer bundles in the box.
The controller also has a built-in dock for your phone, which slides upwards and should have no problem handling most Android handsets. Our favorite bit is the companion app, which lets you map buttons and adjust the sensitivity of the analog sticks. The downsides: it’s an expensive controller, one we’d only recommend for the most ardent of mobile gamers. Android only.
Xbox Core Controller
Best Ergonomic Phone Controller
Microsoft's Xbox Core Controller doesn't change much from the previous Xbox One controller. It has a slightly different look to it, but otherwise features all the same buttons and controls, though the D-Pad has been slightly redesigned in a style more like the Elite Controller's concave pad. That's not to say there are no improvements.
Microsoft has changed how the controller will feel in your hands. The shape is unchanged, but the controller features textured grip in more places, including the triggers, to give you a better hold while you're playing. There is one key upgrade that makes this a strong mobile option, and that's the upgrade to Bluetooth LE for a lower-power connection with smartphones and tablets.
PowerA MOGA XP5-X Plus
Best Xbox Game Pass Controller
If you're trying to take full advantage of Xbox Game Pass, then you can't just play on console or PC. One of the big perks is the option to take your Xbox games on the go with you and stream to your phone. While Microsoft's own controller is a handy mobile controller on account of its Bluetooth connectivity, the PowerA MOGA XP5-X Plus takes things up a notch for an even better mobile game streaming experience.
The PowerA MOGA XP5-X Plus has the layout of an Xbox controller, so all the buttons and controls will be right where you're used to. The face buttons are also mapped properly, so you won't struggle to learn the controls of a new game. And, the PowerA controller can support both wired and Bluetooth wireless use. So far, it might not sound like a much different experience from an Xbox controller, but here's where it specializes. The controller has a mounting point for an included phone clip that'll hold your smartphone for easy viewing and portability. The built-in 3,000mAh battery isn't just for the controller either. You can use the controller to give your smartphone extra juice to extend your play period. The controller also features programmable shortcut buttons on the underside akin to those on the Xbox Elite controllers. That's a ton of capability for on-the-go play.
What You Need to Know About Mobile gaming controllers
Compatibility: First things first, make sure the controller works with your mobile device. A lot of mobile controllers are Android-only, but there are plenty of iPhone options too. And pay special attention to the version compatibility, especially if you’re running an old version of Android or iOS, as some controllers will need newer versions to work.
The games: Some games are better suited to specific control types, so you need to think about the types of games you tend towards. More of a touchscreen puzzle player? A mobile controller might sooner find itself in a draw collecting dust. But if you play a lot of first-person shooters or find yourself longing for more precision in your platformers, then chances are your gaming experience will improve vastly with something more tactile.
Mounting: If you’re playing with a mobile controller, then you’ll need something to hold up your phone or tablet. Some controllers come with a mount, some don’t. You could also get a stand for the phone, which is great if you have a surface to play it on, but less helpful when you’re trying to cram in a quick game of Fortnite on the bus. A mount, either built-in or attachable, is recommended.
Kevin Lee is IGN's SEO Updates Editor. Follow him on Twitter @baggingspam.
Danielle Abraham is a freelance writer and unpaid music historian.