Give your phone a little Backbone.
Mobile gaming has genuinely come a long way from those days in which some misguided individuals claimed the days of console and PC entertainment were numbered as our phones would play everything they could, and more. Whilst those doomsayers still seem to be incorrect, it’s accurate to say that gaming on your phone is really quite a viable option. From some cracking choices on Apple Arcade to Xbox Game Pass, which allows for console gaming via the cloud, you’ve got a lot of ways to play. This assumes you can play via a touch screen or have a BlueTooth controller with a way to support it. Thankfully, there are controllers specifically designed for phones these days, and recently I’ve been having a go with the Backbone for iPhone.
Arriving in a stylish and well-presented box, there’s very little to tell you what to do beyond a small card showing how to connect your phone. Attach your phone to the lightning port on the right side, pull apart the handgrips, and release to lock your phone in place. You’ll be asked to download an app and create a Backbone account — neither of which is actually required for use — but once done you’ll be ready to go with any controller-supporting game.
The Backbone itself feels nice to hold. It’s very lightweight, but feels sturdy enough, although I expect giving it a solid enough twist would snap that very backbone that gives the device its name. I felt it was a little smaller than I’d like for my hands, but it didn’t cause too much of a problem once I’d started playing. The buttons follow a similar placement to the modern Xbox controller, but with the analogue sticks directly above/below the D-pad/ABXY buttons. This took a little getting used to after years of Xbox controllers, but again it was fine after a while. There’s even a capture button for screenshots and gaming clips if that’s your kind of thing. Finally, there’s a USB-C charging port and a 3.5mm audio output. Honestly, it feels like they’ve tried to pack everything you’d find on a normal controller into the Backbone, and that in itself is quite impressive.
All of the buttons are as responsive as you’d expect them to be, although I found the face buttons and D-pad to be a little spongier than I’d like. The triggers have a suitable amount of give in them to allow for more controlled use in racing games, for example. The share button works very well, grabbing high-quality screenshots right when you want them, and allowing you to start, bookmark, and stop recording at a whim. It’s a very neat addition and something that people into making gameplay videos might be quite interested in.
I tried the Backbone using iPhone controller supported games, as well as streaming directly from an Xbox Series X and cloud streaming via Xbox Game Pass, and found them all to be very responsive. I even managed to play Elden Ring with little trouble, which is quite impressive considering how difficult that game can be at times. It was at this point that I realised who the Backbone is really aimed at. The obvious answer is for those who travel a lot but like to be able to have access to console-quality games, WiFi signal permitting of course. But what’s more interesting is that this could be a very interesting way of getting a lot of content from Xbox Game Pass without needing a PC or an Xbox console at all. Buying a Backbone includes a month of Xbox Game Pass for free, which is great, along with a month of Apple Arcade, and two months of Stadia. Remember Stadia?
All this is really good, but there is a fairly high price tag. A Backbone will set you back nearly £100, which is quite a high price point. All of that said, this is a really good controller for mobile gaming, as well as cloud streaming, but that might be a bit too much for most people, especially if they already have a current-gen console.
If you’re an avid gamer who is away from home regularly, then I can’t think of a better choice though, and if you have that kind of disposable income then it’s certainly something worth considering. The Backbone will fit pretty much any modern iPhone, and comes with an adaptor iPhone 13 Pro and Max models, which are significantly bigger. It’s a hard sell for the price, but there’s a really good product behind it, if you’re willing to vertibreak the bank.
Backbone controllers are available on Amazon.