There’s a few names synonymous with mobile gaming, and the Backbone One line of controllers for Android and iPhone have certainly earned their place in the conversation. They’ve just launched the second generation BackBone One and sent one over for review. 

The BackBone One Second Generation comes with options for either Lightning, or USB-C connectors. According to the Backbone team, there’s a few key differences between the first and second generations:

  • The 2nd generation controller supports a wider range of phones and compatible phone cases via swappable magnetic adapters and increased bridge extension
  • The 2nd generation controller D-pad and face buttons have been updated to ensure even more precise and responsive input.

Priced at $179, the second generation Backbone One is on-sale now with the USB-C option more available through Backbone, Amazon, JB HI-FI and Harvey Norman, while only Backbone and Amazon are stocking the Lightning option. 

I’ve spent a couple of weeks with the Backbone One and here’s how it went.

Hardware and Design

The Backbone One Second Gen builds on the previous options, bringing the same convenient expanding bridge in the middle, allowing it to fit an even larger range of devices. 

The hardware is simple, with pads at either end featuring analogue thumbsticks with a D-Pad on the left, and ABXY buttons on the right. At the top of the controller there’s triggers with bumpers just above.

There’s also menu and control menus on each side, as well as a screenshot button on the left, and a bright orange quick launch button for the BackBone One app. 

The hardware is more similar to the Xbox controllers with the offset analogue thumbsticks, which is comfortable to use, though it may take a minute to get used to for Playstation users. 

The hardware is lightweight, made of soft touch plastics and it’s simple to connect your phone. The ends expands letting you plug your phone into the UBS-C port and then nestle the other end of the phone into the other side where it sits nice and securely on the other pad. 

It’s slightly larger than some of the competitors including the Razer Kishi gen 1 and TurtleBeach Atom – but it also fits your phone with a case, so that’s worth the small increase – at least to me.

There are covers included in the box to aid in getting your phone seated securely in the Backbone One while in a case. They easily snap on and off at either end, using magnets to guide the inserts into place where they remain fairly securely until you remove them. They are easy to remove, yet stick in place with extremely well engineered balance between the two.

After changing the top and bottom covers, I’m super happy to be able to put my Pixel 8 Pro in the Backbone One without removing it from the case. I tried out the moto g34 and had similar success. This is brilliant, and so easy to do.

For charging there’s a USB-C pass-through port on the base of the right and a headphone jack on the left for wired gaming if you don’t want to use, or don’t have Bluetooth earphones. 

The whole unit feels solid and with the new inserts it looks great and your case wearing phone fits securely and easily. The new D-Pad and face buttons are responsive and have a satisfying feel when pressed. 

Software

The Backbone One is fairly simple to get up and running. Just plug and play. All your favourite Android games just work. Riptide, Minecraft and the GTA series just work out of the box, detecting controller input and you’re ready to go. 

For this easy to use experience for these types of games, it makes the Backbone One almost worth it on its own – but there’s more. As with other generations of the Backbone One, you can jump onto services such as Xbox GamePass and GeForce Now to stream games, or even SteamLink to stream your games locally. 

For the best experience accessing these games and services though you can install the Backbone – Next Level Play app for Android and iOS. The app is fairly simple, offering lifetime free firmware updates and to manage your controller with joystick calibration, button testing, and button remapping.

When you first launch the app it runs you through set up, then shows a dashboard of your compatible games installed. There’s also a list of games and where you can launch them, and a curated option you can trial to get access to more games. 

The Backbone One app does very much want you to try out the Backbone+ service. The service essentially links to all the games within services – such as the games in GamePass etc. 

There’s also other perks including Free Trials and perks, discounts on future Backbone products and direct messaging between your friends who use Backbone – though I don’t appear to have any in my contact list, and the ability to stream directly to Twitch.

There’s also a neat Play on Any Screen feature which lets you use just the Backbone One itself (sans phone) as a controller for games on iPad, Mac and PC, simply by connecting it via USB cable. Unfortunately this is a paid feature, but works pretty well when you do it. 

You can trial the Backbone+ service with a 1-month trial, but it costs $49.95/year after that – so you may have to weigh up if that’s worth it for you.

Without the Backbone+ service, the app works pretty well on its own, showing a carousel of installed Services like GeForce Now and Xbox, as well as compatible games installed on your phone. 

The XCloud game streaming experience on the Backbone One is excellent though, the thumbsticks and buttons feel responsive though I admit I missed the dedicated Xbox button on the controller. 

The other downside is you need GamePass Ultimate to stream games. You can try it out for 14 days for $1, then it’s $18.95/month after that, giving you access to a pretty good array of games.

Other options include GeForce Now, NVIDIA’s cloud-based game streaming service. The service is a  BYOG – bring your own games – service and connects to cloud gaming services including Steam, Ubisoft Connect, Epic, Battle.Net and more, streaming games to your device. 

Yes. There’s an ad-supported trial of GeForce NOW Powered by CloudGG membership in Australia. Once you have a basic membership you can connect your cloud gaming accounts and then try GeForce Now with 30-minute play sessions after watching some ads, or you can jump into one of their premium membership plans which start at $3.49/month and go up to $27.50/month. 

The ad-supported free tier worked quite well for me, though you can wait a while for a rig to free up for you to play on depending on the day, time etc. Again, the Backbone One was great, though it was dependent on the games controller support. 

One disappointment is the lack of Playstation Remote Play support on the Backbone One Second Gen on Android. According to the Backbone website it’s supported on iOS, so you can give that a whirl. To use Playstation using Remote Play for Android you’ll need to purchase the Backbone One – PlayStation Edition for iPhone 15 & Android – USB-C (2nd gen).

Overall though, the software side of running a Backbone One is fairly simple. The various streaming apps are able to be installed from Google Play – at which point you can login and start gaming easily.  The Backbone One app is nice to have, especially for updates to firmware and the handy hub can make loading games easier. 

Should you buy it?

Put simply, yes. If for no other reason than you can use it with the case on your phone. This has been a number one request by mobile gamers over the years and it’s finally here and works really well, even with thicker cases.

Over the course of the review, I spent a lot of time bombing around in the Xbox GamePass app, experimented more in GeForCe Now, and got decently far into GTA: San Andreas on Android and it all felt really easy thanks to the great BackBone One hardware and software experience.

The new magnetic inserts definitely make it easy to mix and match to fit your case and phone and kills that annoyance we’ve seen on other controllers. The extended bridge also allows for those really large phones to also get support.

The BackBone One app also makes for a great hub, though I’d love to get the “Play on Any Screen” feature moved out from behind the paywall. 

Overall, It’s a great way to play, and the Backbone One Second Gen’s ability to just up and go out of the box in a super comfortable form-factor with an easy to navigate system for game suggestions.