Backbone One USB-C phone controller review

Backbone One USB-C phone controller review

The Backbone One USB-C offers gamers a new way to play by turning their Android mobile phone into a portable gaming console.

The idea is simple enough. It’s an Xbox-style controller that fits around your phone allowing you to play games with proper thumb sticks and buttons, like a Nintendo Switch.

This is the second iteration of the device. It features a redesigned d-pad, improved grips, better phone stability, and lower latency via USB-C. It also has pass-through charging via a USB-C port on the bottom of the right grip and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left grip. As well as the Android USB-C version of the Backbone One, there is also a Lightning version for iPhones and a PlayStation-branded USB-C version.

Backbone One USB-C phone controller review

The nice presentation box contains the Backbone One device plus some interchangeable fixings to accommodate larger phones or phones in cases. There is also a QR code pointing you in the direction of the product website.

The quality of Backbone One is nowhere near that of an Xbox controller or the luxurious feel of the PlayStation Portal. Whilst it is a lot more comfortable in the hand, the Backbone has more of the plasticky feel of the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-cons. I’m not saying that it isn’t robust, it does feel like it can take some punishment. I was just a little underwhelmed at first, considering the price of the device at around AU$180/NZ$200.


The thumbstick and button layout are all pretty standard and will be especially familiar to Xbox owners. There are two thumbsticks, a D-pad, ABXY buttons, and left and right trigger and should buttons. There’s also a view button, a menu button, a capture button and a special Backbone function button. All the thumbsticks and buttons feel responsive. The triggers are analogue but don’t seem to have the same feel as an Xbox controller. The device doesn’t have any haptic feedback, which isn’t surprising to be honest.

Backbone One USB-C phone controller review

The Backbone works with an app, which I downloaded from the Google Store.  I don’t think you need to download the app, but it made sense to do so. The Backbone comes with a month’s free trial of Backbone+ membership, which seems to offer owners some extra features in the app. After a month the yearly subscription of AU49.99 applies. Gamers wanting editing and capture functions may find this useful, but I can’t say it’s something I’d be too fussed with.

Clipping the Backbone to my phone was easy. I just lined the controller up with my phone’s USB-C slot and plugged it in whilst pulling the two halves apart to grip the phone in the middle.

The Backbone One is compatible with any phone running Android 10 or later with a USB Type-C slot. The website suggests that folding phones are not really supported, which is understandable. I had no problem with my aging Huawei Mate 20 Pro, so you’ll likely be OK with yours.

Backbone One USB-C phone controller review

With the Backbone snuggly fitted around my phone, I checked out a few on my old Android games. All I can say is that the Backbone One is an absolute game-changer.

I’ve long hated playing games on mobile phones using touch controls. Back in the day, I was straight in as soon as smartphones were powerful enough to offer half-decent games. But it didn’t take long for me to get frustrated with the imprecise touch controls and lose interest.

The Backbone One allowed me to return to some of the Android games that I abandoned. I got totally hooked back into the mobile versions of Max Payne, GTA Chinatown Wars and GTA Vice City. The Backbone’s joysticks and buttons turned my phone into a viable portable gaming system.

Backbone One USB-C phone controller review

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Streaming games to your phone with the Backbone is next level.

I’ve been taking a big bite out of cloud gaming and streaming of late. This is where the game video is streamed either from your local gaming devices via your home network or external cloud servers over the Internet, like Netflix. It allows you to play high-end AAA games without having to install them, and on devices incapable of running them natively.

I’ve dabbled with game streaming a few times over the years, showing off Chromebooks and low-end laptops playing the latest games via Xbox Cloud Gaming. More recently, I’ve been streaming Xbox Cloud Gaming to the Meta Quest 3 and using the PlayStation Portal to stream games from my PlayStation 5.

Backbone One USB-C phone controller review

But you don’t need a console to play Xbox games with the Backbone. If you have an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you can stream nearly 400 games via Xbox Cloud gaming. There’s also support for GeForce Now and Google Play. You can also stream games from your PC via Steam Link and your Xbox via Xbox Remote Play.

Unfortunately, PlayStation Remote Play will not work with the Backbone One USB-C version. PS Remote Play is only available for the Lightning version or the PlayStation-branded version of the USB-C Backbone, which is a bit disappointing.

With PC game developers embracing the like of the Valve Streamdeck, playing games on smaller screens isn’t the handicap that I thought it would be. Playing Balder’s Gate 3 on my phone, streamed from my PC, with the Backbone, was fun and engrossing.

Backbone One USB-C phone controller review

But Xbox Cloud Gaming was the winner for me. The likes of Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Forza Horizon 5 and even Battlefield V were great to play on the go using my phone’s 4G connection and in the in the house, via my Wi-Fi 6, router.

Now and again, I come across a piece of technology that didn’t realise just how much I needed until I tried it. The Backbone One is one of those devices.

To see the Backbone unlock the incredible gaming potential of my phone was an amazing and shocking revelation. If you play games on your phone the Backbone One is an essential purchase and worth every penny.