Backbone Review: Is The Backbone One Worth Buying?

Last week I finally got myself a Backbone One. It was something I’d researched but was pretty heavily discounted when I bought it and a bit of an impulse buy at the time. So now that I’ve tried it, is it something I’d recommend?

What is the Backbone One?

The Backbone One is a mobile gaming controller. You snap your phone into the Backbone One and then you can play games on your phone. A couple of years ago, this would have been no more than a novelty because mobile games aren’t for everyone. But with advancements in 5G and remote gaming, a mobile gaming controller is a much more interesting idea.

I have a PlayStation 5 and this supports PS Remote Play. While that means I can plug my PS5 controller into my laptop and game on my PS5 from anywhere in the world, it also means I can play my PS5 remotely on my phone. This makes a mobile controller like the Backbone a very attractive idea indeed.

I was using this Backbone one with both an iPhone 12 and an iPhone 13 Pro.

Backbone Design

The Backbone One is super light. There’s really not much in it that could weigh it down. But while light is good, it does almost feel a little flimsy. My biggest fear when using it is putting the locking the phone onto the Lightning Port connector. I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time before that’s the breaking point.

But with that said, once the phone is in place – it shores up the stability of the controller a great deal. From there on, the controller actually feels great in the hand. The buttons are nice and tactile, feeling satisfying to click. The shoulder buttons are just too small though. Irriatatingly my fingers are never quite able to find where I’m going for those yet. I’m sure I’ll learn.

The sticks are responsive, offering a suitable resistance for my taste. The sticks are a touch on the small side though and their placement isn’t ideal for me. As a Playstation gamer, my preference is for both left and right sticks to be down in the middle. But the Backbone instead goes for the “Xbox configuration”.

It’s just a little jarring for my brain to be playing a Playstation game with my thumbs in the “Xbox position” and even the Playstation edition of the Backbone retains this position.

Included on the controller are some other buttons too. These make capturing screenshots and sharing a doddle while also making accessing the Backbone App much easier too. An app that I must say is quite a nice hub for all your gaming needs.

One of the most important design features for you to remember is that you have to pick the right Backbone for your phone. This is down to the fact that you’ll have to either get a USB-C model or a Lightning model. The good news is that there are two further ports on your controller. One to allow for passthrough charging and the other, wait for it, is a headphone jack. So even if your phone doesn’t have a headphone jack, using the Backbone One gives you that functionality back.

Backbone App

The Backbone App isn’t critical to using the Backbone controller. You can just load the PS Remote app and play away. But the Backbone app does give you a central place for all your gaming apps and, obviously, games. It’s a nice launcher to browse through when you’re not entirely sure what you want to play next.

The downside of the app is that this is where you manage your subscriptions, including Backbone Plus. Now, Backbone Plus isn’t required to use the Backbone, but it does make the experience better.

Backbone Plus costs €39.99 per year in Europe. I think they know this is a bit pricey for something that’s firmly in the nice-to-have category because finding that price is incredibly difficult online. The good news is that you get a free trial for one year when you buy your Backbone One. My tip is to immediately cancel the trial so you don’t forget about it and get charged in a 12 months time. You can cancel and continue to enjoy Backbone Plus features until the trial expires after one year.

Once you fire up the app there is one more big plus. An Apple Arcade free trial for 3 months. This is included even if you’ve already had it! So that’s good news for iPhone users at least.

Using the Backbone

Ok. So the main point here, is what is the Backbone One like to actually game with. For me, it’s been a split experience. I bought this because I wanted to make the most of my remote gaming experience. And while you can plug the Backbone into a laptop and just use it as a controller, using my phone as my screen on the go was the main goal.

Unfortunately, playing the PS5 remotely on such a small screen proved really challenging. It never felt natural or that I was getting the same quality experience that I would sitting at home. Playing multiplayer games was just not going to happen. Despite being on a very quick 5G connection and my PS5 being connected directly to a very fast connection too, it was too laggy for EAFC and led to a headshot fest on any shooters; not me banking the headshots I’m afraid either.

Now, would that experience be better if I had a larger screen like the iPhone 15 Pro Max? Perhaps. But I still don’t think it would have delivered what I’d been expecting. I was expecting a seamless transition from sitting on the couch to sitting on a bus with the same game. And that’s just not what I got.

Funnily enough, I did fall in love with some mobile games directly from Apple Arcade. And this is where the Backbone excelled as an excellent controller. It makes mobile games utterly enjoyable. For example, there’s Retro Bowl American Football game. I’m not sure this game would be as enjoyable or even be as playable without a controller. So the Backbone absolutely makes this experience.

One other area I can see the Backbone being excellent is retro gaming, and I don’t just mean like that Retro Bowl game. I mean the world of retro console emulation. This is where you download old ROMs for the classic games and play them on modern devices. I’m talking SEGA Megadrive’s Sonic and the likes.

I tested this on my iPhone using AfterPlay which was great, but limited in what you can do for free while requiring an internet connection (so no inflight retro gaming for you). Emulation on an iPhone is really tough, particularly if you don’t want to go down the Jailbreak route. The good news is that this might change with Apple’s forthcoming allowance for sideloading. Naturally, emulation is much easier on Android.

The Goosed Verdict: Is the Backbone One Worth It?

If you think you’ll be able to play your PS5 on the bus, I need to manage your expectations a bit. It’s absolutely doable, but the Backbone One doesn’t deliver an exceptional remote gaming experience. And many hardcore gamers are seeking that. However, if you’re more of a casual gamer and you have lots of times you’d like to be gaming when out and about, the Backbone One is a great little piece of kit to have in your backpack.

Not sure how much you need one? Well, the easiest thing to do is connect your regular Bluetooth gaming controller to your phone and see how much you like the general idea of mobile gaming. Then, if you find that it’s for you, keep an eye out for the Backbone One going on sale and bag yourself a gaming bargain.

The Backbone One is available from a wide range of retailers including Amazon, Smyths, Harvey Norman and Soundstore

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Founding Editor of Goosed, Marty is a massive fan of tech making life easier. You'll often find him testing something new, brewing beer or finding some new foodie spots in Dublin, Ireland. - Find me on Threads
backbone-review-is-it-worth-buyingSome design quirks leave me wanting some changes but I'll likely get used to this as just another controller. It does nearly everything I want but I do worry about the day I upgrade now. It's infinitely cool but pricey. And the additional charges for Backbone Plus leave me wondering what else will come with subscription models in my life.