Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The best mobile game controllers money can buy

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Mobile gaming is serious business now. The biggest titles out there are games like Fortnite and Genshin impact, helped by countless children who got their first smartphone. Many game publishers are releasing console-quality experiences on mobile, and it took some time for game accessories to catch up. But they have, and now players have a number of controller options to suit their playstyle. We’ve rounded up the top options to highlight the pros and cons of each so you can decide which one is best to get your game started.

For players who prefer PlayStation style controllers: 8BitDo Pro 2

Kris Naudus / cafe-madrid

8BitDo has built a reputation for versatile gamepads that can work with multiple systems, from the Nintendo Switch to the Raspberry Pi. And while the Pro 2 is one of our top controllers for the Switch, it is also a good option for Android and iOS. The advantage of using these with your phone is also the free 8BitDo software that gives you extensive customization options for the buttons; it has even more options than you’ll find on the Nintendo system. Of course, being a Bluetooth gamepad, it’s easy enough to jump back and forth, making this a good investment for people who own multiple portable devices (like a switch).

Advantages: PlayStation-esque design is comfortable; configuration software is robust; controller is available in multiple colors

cons: Not small and best carried in a suitcase

Buy 8BitDo Pro 2 at Amazon – $50

For players who like Xbox-style controllers: SteelSeries Nimbus+ and Stratus+

Two controllers in black

Kris Naudus / cafe-madrid

While the DualShock design of the PlayStation has won a number of devotees over the years, the Xbox gamepad is the stereotypical gamepad image in many people’s minds (as well as the Discord logo). So it makes sense that there are a lot more mobile gaming options out there with that shape, and the best come from SteelSeries: the Nimbus+ for Apple-made devices and the Stratus+ for Google-based devices (Android and Chromebook).

The two controllers are for the most part identical. They have shoulder buttons and triggers, the d-pad is the same, and they both have sturdy phone holders to attach your device to the top – the type that automatically clamps in place. Unlike a clamp from a more generic company, the one SteelSeries supplies with both controllers won’t fight you while assembling your phone.

Advantages: More players are likely to be familiar with Xbox-style controllers; both models have sturdy clamps to secure your phone to the controller.

cons: You have to buy a different controller based on the OS you are using; the controller with the clip attached is impractical

Buy Nimbus+ at Amazon – $70
Buy Stratus+ at SteelSeries – $60

For players looking to turn their Android phone into a Switch or Steam Deck-like device: Razer Kishi

Razer Kishi with phone placed and Brawlhalla on screen

Kris Naudus / cafe-madrid

Let’s face it, the form factor is a big reason devices like the Switch are so popular. They fit comfortably in the hand, are well balanced and really bring the screen to the fore. You don’t really get that with a phone clamp or table stand. Happy, Razer’s Kishi is a super affordable option that you can easily slide your phone into – although the setup for me was admittedly not as quick as the SteelSeries options. But at least the direct connection it forms to the phone via USB-C is faster than Bluetooth.

The Kishi’s biggest advantages – in addition to Razer’s premium build quality – are its passthrough charging, so you never have to unplug it to charge your phone, and the size it folds up when you take it off your device. It’s smaller than SteelSeries controllers, making it ideal for throwing in a small bag.

Advantages: Provides a direct connection to a phone instead of relying on Bluetooth; folds compactly when not in use

cons: Phone to which Kishi is attached can feel bulky; does not work with iPhones

Buy Razer Kishi at Amazon – $90

For players looking to turn their iPhone into a portable console: Backbone One

Backbone One, folded

Kris Naudus / cafe-madrid

The USB-C port on the Kishi limits it to Android devices, and Razer doesn’t make an iOS equivalent. However, the new Spine One is made for Apple devices, although at a higher cost (because they are newer and from a smaller company). My colleague Mat Smith was a big fan of the One when he tried it on, and in my own use it has a few advantages over the Razer device, namely a cleaner design and a more sweat-friendly matte texture. It also features Apple-specific buttons, which are much larger and thus easier to hit than those on the Kishi.

Advantages: Beautiful matte finish; specially made for iPhone users

cons: Expensive; only works with iPhones

Buy Backbone One at Amazon – $100

For players who want the most portable controller possible (or the cutest): 8BitDo Zero 2

8BitDo Zero 2 in pink

Kris Naudus / cafe-madrid

If you have big hands, the 8BitDo Zero 2 is definitely not for you, and your hands are likely to cramp if you play with this tiny Bluetooth controller for too long. But for everyone else, it’s definitely worth checking out, if only because it’s so small there’s no reason to keep it with you all the time in case of an emergency. Not that we can tell you what a gaming emergency is, but if one does arise, you’ll be glad to have this to hand. It’s really the size of a key ring, so you can easily clip it to your backpack or slide it into a Switch carrying case. And we love the bright colors, which are based on the Switch Lite design and should blend in with your spring and summer attire.

Advantages: Nice and small; comes with a strap for attaching to a bag

cons: Too small for gamers with big hands

Buy 8BitDo Zero 2 at Amazon – $20

All products recommended by cafe-madrid have been selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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