Best iPhone game controllers this holiday season

Technology

If you are overstraining your brain trying to come up with the right gift for an iPhone fan, consider a clip-on game controller. Mobile gamers can appreciate that physical buttons, sticks and triggers make play a lot more fun for many types of games.

I’ve reviewed all the top iPhone game controllers. Here are my recommendations.

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Right for only for certain types of games

The first question is whether a controller is the right gift for the types of games your particular gamer enjoys.

First-person shooters like Fortnite and most role-playing games (RPGs) depend on quick, exact control of movement and weapons. That makes them challenging to play with on-screen, virtual controls. If your thumb is a bit off position your character is suddenly running the wrong way… and then they’re dead. It’s frustrating.

Because clip-on game controllers offer physical buttons, sticks and triggers, they make these types of games easier and more enjoyable.

But this isn’t true for every type of game. Casual games typically require only a single finger to play, and there’s no hurry. A controller is unnecessary for simple match-three games, or anything like Solitaire, or similar titles.

Two iPhone game controller categories

iPhone game controllers fall into two categories. One set mimics an Xbox controller, which gives a more familiar feeling for gamers who’ve spent many hours using a similar controller.

The other category mimics a Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controller. These put the iPhone in between two sets of buttons, etc. These are the more portable option.

I don’t find one better than the other. It’s simply a personal choice for any particular gamer.

Best iPhone game controllers

I’m not going to name a single best iPhone game controller. There are several that stand out from the pack, and each offers advantages and disadvantages. I’ll spell those out, link to my full reviews of each, and you can make your own choice.

Backbone One

Backbone One for iPhone review: Clever clip-on game controller
The Backbone One for iPhone takes your gaming to the next level.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The Backbone One ($99.99) mimics a Switch controller, wrapping around the handset to put a well-designed and well-built collection of buttons, sticks and triggers on either side of the landscape screen.

This is my personal favorite. I like that its very portable because it goes with me on holiday. And it connects via Lightning so it’s simply plug and play.

But it’s limited to iPhone. Many of the other game controllers on this list can also be used with iPad. And you’ll probably have to take your iPhone out of its case to fit it in the controller.

Read my Backbone One review.

Buy from: Amazon

GameSir G4 Pro

Clip an iPhone or Android into the GameSir G4 Pro for on-the-go gaming.
An iPhone fits nicely into the GameSir G4 Pro‘s flip-up mount.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The GameSir G4 Pro ($49.99) looks like an Xbox game controller, but with a built-in iPhone mount. It’s not limited to handsets, though. The controller connects via Bluetooth so it’s also usable with iPad, PC, Android and Switch.

Xbox controllers aren’t small and neither is this one. But it’s arranged very similarly to one of Microsoft’s, and the buttons, sticks, etc. feel right.

The pop-up stand works well, and fits a wide variety of iPads, including ones in bulky cases.

Read my GameSir G4 Pro review.

Buy from: Amazon

Gamevice Flex

Clever side-by-side iPhone game controller has no problem with bulky cases [Review]
Play games on the Gamevice Flex without taking off your iPhone case.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The Gamevice Flex is another Joy-Con-like controller, but it can can be used with bulky cases, unlike similar accessories. Most wrap-around controllers – including the Backbone One – require you to take the case off to plug in the Lightning connector.

The Flex is very portable, but includes a full set of buttons, sticks, pads, triggers etc. The downside is that the controllers are packed a bit tighter than its rivals.

The Gamevice Flex costs $109.95. And don’t miss my review.

Buy from: Amazon

RiotPWR Controller for iOS (Xbox Edition)

RiotPWR Controller for iOS (Xbox Edition) review
The RiotPWR Controller for iOS (Xbox Edition) is an outstanding way to enjoy Xbox Cloud Gaming on an iPhone.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

RiotPWR teamed up with Microsoft on an Xbox-style controller designed for iPhone. RiotPWR Controller for iOS (Xbox Edition) uses the traditional console design but with a removable handset mount that fits a wide variety of handset sizes.

Plug the controller into the iPhone with a Lightning connector on a short cable. As Apple will soon be forced to switch to USB-C, RiotPWR is selling a replacement cable ($9.99) with USB-C.

RiotPWR Controller for iOS (Xbox Edition) is $69.99. Read my review.

Buy from: Amazon

OtterBox Mobile Gaming Clip for MagSafe

OtterBox Mobile Gaming Clip for MagSafe review
The OtterBox Mobile Gaming Clip for MagSafe offers better gaming with the convenience of magnets.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Many gamers already have a wireless Xbox controller, and iOS supports these right out of the box. The OtterBox Mobile Gaming Clip for MagSafe ($39.95) is a mount for Microsoft’s controller so it can be easily used with an iPhone.

As its name indicates, the mount uses MagSafe so recent Apple handsets will climb to it magnetically. The connection is solid.

Don’t miss my OtterBox Mobile Gaming Clip for MagSafe review.

Buy from: Amazon

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