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Backbone One PlayStation Edition Controller Review: iPhone Gaming Champ

The followup to the excellent Xbox mobile game controller targets the PS5 and PS4 crowd.

BackBone One PlayStation Edition and Sony DualSense controllers in a cloth basket in a living room with a PlayStation 5 in the background
The Backbone One PlayStation Edition at rest with its DualSense compatriot.
Lori Grunin/CNET

Backbone launched its first-rate $100 Backbone One Xbox-layout MFi game controller for the iPhone in 2020. It's one of the few controllers that snap on either side of the iPhone and connect via the Lightning port. (There are a couple more USB-C connecting models for Android, such as the recently updated Razer Kishi V2.) Now the company has introduced the Backbone One PlayStation Edition at the same price, which is essentially the same controller but in white with black and PlayStation-standard labels instead of the ABXY buttons. And though the hardware hasn't changed, the software keeps evolving.

The primary appeal of this version is its PlayStation-white look and the button labeling for familiarity or PlayStation's Remote Play. Or at least, it will be until Sony decides to bring PlayStation Plus Premium cloud gaming to mobile devices.

Backbone One PlayStation Edition

Like

  • Can use wired with iPad, Mac and PC
  • Sophisticated app with community features and solid game discoverability

Don't Like

  • Uses Xbox control layout for buttons and thumbsticks rather than PlayStation

Sticking with the same basic hardware means the Backbone One has the same easy-on, easy-off design as the original model. It still has crisp controls with minimal latency, decent passthrough analog audio and a Lightning passthrough connection to charge the iPhone. It uses a small amount of power from the phone, which doesn't seem to impact battery life significantly. I still like the feel and responsiveness of the controller, though I wish the grips were a little more pronounced. They could also use a little grip tape.

The app also ensures the controller gets mapped with the PlayStation nomenclature within games, so PlayStation fans don't have to mentally translate the buttons from the more common Xbox standards. Overall, it's a good experience. But using the same fundamental hardware means the thumbsticks are in the Xbox-style one high-one low design rather than aligned with each other. It's not a huge drawback unless your PlayStation muscle memory has you reaching for the wrong spot.

BackBone One PlayStation Edition gaming controller mounted on iPhone 13 Pro

The controller retains the Xbox-style thumbstick layout.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Since Backbone first shipped the One, the company's made several notable updates to the app: 1,080p and 60fps recording, streaming and screen sharing while recording; the ability to play on an iPad, PC or Mac using a Lightning-to-USB-C cable connection; messaging, chat rooms and screen sharing; better integration with iOS-native game discovery, such as directly connecting to the App Store to download and buy games and filtering by gaming platform; plus more intelligent game recommendations, including games that you've actually heard of, and more. 

It will now autoplay videos within the game thumbnails, which I have mixed feelings about. I know a lot of people like autoplay, but I'm not one of them. I'd like a preference setting to disable the autoplay, despite the engineering hoops Backbone jumped through to get it to work within the thumbnail grids. Plus, I'd like a little more filtering within the games list; specifically, I'd appreciate having an easy way to tell which games are supported by Remote Play.

Playing on an iPad Pro with the Backbone One took a little trial and error to configure. You're prompted to download an app when you first plug the controller into the iPad, but it took some plugging and unplugging before it initially registered. (After it registered the first time, I had no problems.) You will want a longer cable than the typical Lightning cable, though.

I spent most of my test time thinking about how much I'd like a white Xbox version -- the PlayStation Edition was so much easier to find in my bag -- and that I need an iPhone case that's easier to get on and off. I love my protective Otterbox for the iPhone 13 Pro, but it comes in three pieces and it's too thick to fit into the Backbone, even without the bundled gasket to adapt to the newer iPhones.