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Backbone One for Android reviewed: upgrading mobile gaming

Quick review

Backbone One for Android PlayStation Edition
The good
Great controls
Designed beautifully
Supports USB Type C on pretty much every Android phone (though very thick ones may not work)
Can charge a phone through a Type C pass-through port
There's even a 3.5mm headset jack on the controller
The not-so-good
Size won't always grip every device comfortably
Phones with a hinge may feel less stable
You need to take your phone's case off to make it work

Mobile gaming grows up with an accessory for Android, as the Backbone One for Android gives mobile gamers about as real an experience as it gets.

When it comes to gaming on the go, life isn’t quite like the good ol’ days of the PSP, GameBoy, GameGear, and so on and so on. These days, the options for gaming with a physical piece of hardware often situate around a Nintendo Switch, your phone, or if you can afford it, one of those new portable gaming PCs from the likes of Asus or Valve.

More portable gaming PCs are on the way, so we’re sure that affordability issue will change in the coming months, but those three options are still largely all you have if you want to game on the go, and the experience isn’t always the same.

That could be why some are considering ways to upgrade the mobile gaming experience of our phones.

We all have a phone with us everywhere we go, and they tend to be the one thing outside of keys we can’t leave without. That device is often a big screen with a seemingly endless supply of apps and games, and while the performance may differ between models, you can typically game on anything you spent a decent chunk of change on.

But the on-screen controls can leave you wanting. They’re just not the same, lacking tactile feedback and the quick response a real console-style device provides.

It’s no wonder there’s an entire category of growing gaming peripherals out there, as hardware makers seek to capitalise on this pain point.

And that is precisely what Backbone is arriving with a solution for, rebuilding its excellent PlayStation-themed controller on the iPhone for Android devices in 2023. Is it everything gamers have hoped for?

All reviews at Pickr are subject to experienced testing methodologies. Find out why you can trust us and change the way you choose.

What is the Backbone One for Android?

A set of wrap around controls designed to plug into an Android phone with a Type C plug, the Backbone One for Android PlayStation Edition is exactly that designed to look like a PlayStation controller.

Backbone now has two of these things, with a regular black Backbone One using ABXY buttons themed more like an Xbox controller and one using the shapes PlayStation gamers are used to, which is what this one is.

The good news is that regardless of the button labels, the controller is very much the same, and not only offers you the controls you’ve come to expect on a console controller, but also a menu button and a screenshot button, handy if you want to grab images and videos as you game.

You’ll also find a port for charging your phone via the controller if need be, handy for those marathon gaming sessions, especially since the Android Backbone will take over the one USB port every phone offers, and there’s a headphone jack as well. Bring some wired headphones if you like, but you could also just use wireless if you wanted to.

The design is simple enough, too: stretch the Backbone One around your phone of choice, pushing a phone down onto the Type C jack extruded from the right side, and then snap the left side of the peripheral in place.

That’s it: the Backbone One is ready to extend and enhance your Android gaming experience with physical controls.

What does it do?

It won’t be for everyone, but if you’re in the market for something that can upgrade your mobile gaming experience, the Backbone One Android PlayStation Edition controller may well be it.

Designed just like a PlayStation controller yet able to wrap comfortably around the big screen of an Android phone and use the games playable on that device, this controller can make any Droid phone into a portable console of sorts.

For folks like this reviewer who don’t have any other portable console, it’s clearly a brilliant little peripheral that makes trips and idle time that much easier. Granted, idle time as a parent is few and far between, but the times it ironically does arrive can mean that little bit of gaming is just that little bit easier and more like the real thing.

Forget about the mediocre touchscreen controls mobile games normally comes with, because this thing is all about upgrading mobile gaming, wrapping a phone in a design that imitates a PlayStation 5 controller.

Does it do the job?

Much like the iPhone version, the Backbone One for Android converts those on-screen controls into something that’s a little more physical and so much easier to grab.

It’s a simple design that stretches over more or less any Android phone, snapping into place comfortably, provided there’s a Type C port for you to use.

Do that and the controls should work, but if they don’t, you might need to push the Type C connector in a little bit more. We found that could happen.

In game, the controls are just perfect. You’ll find sticks, a d-pad, several buttons and triggers, and the whole thing just works beautifully.

With a big bright screen of a recent Android phone, the Backbone One PlayStation Edition just shines as a portable console. Grab your Pixel or Galaxy, or any other recent Android phone for that matter, and almost instantly, you have a portable gaming console.

New Android games work a treat, as do any old school titles you might be playing, and if you happen to have an Xbox Game Pass subscription for Xbox Cloud Gaming or are on the same network as a PlayStation, you’ll be able to game beautifully like with a real console on your phone.

It’s not just the conversion of the controls, either.

Beyond the controls, Backbone has included its stellar piece of software, which offers a proper gaming hub, displaying games you can download and titles you already have that you can play. We’ve seen phone manufacturers try their own take on a gaming hub, and none of them really achieve what Backbone has with its software.

Between the hardware and software, this thing is a treat.

What does it need?

Not everything is hunky dory, that said, and some phones will fit the grip of the Android Backbone One better than others.

We feel that Backbone has built a solid little device that should play nicely with the soft edges of something like the Pixel 7 Pro and even the slightly flatter style of the S23 standard and other devices like it. Our Samsung S23 we had for review had gone back, but we’re reviewing a Moto G53 at the moment, and it uses similar flat edges and worked fine.

Android phones have so many different designs, that not everything will necessarily play nicely with that grip, securing the phones in a way that makes you feel it’s properly stable.

Most phones we tested were fine, but there was one category that didn’t quite nail the strength argument from us on: foldables.

Throwing the Galaxy Z Fold 3 into the Backbone One PlayStation Edition for Android worked, but due to the complex hinge, the phone didn’t feel quite as solid, showing the flex that we didn’t want to see and not really hugging the phone as well as with standard full-screen phones.

In what is very much a #firstworldproblem, this problem isn’t technically Backbone’s problem at all. Rather, the complex design of the Galaxy Fold just didn’t give us a lot of faith in the strength of it all combined. Yes, it worked, but the whole thing felt better and more secure with a standard style of phone, rather than the foldable ilk gradually popping up.

The good news is that’ll match most people, because foldables are still a rarity. And in our testing, the foldable flip design of the Samsung Galaxy Flip felt better, so that could end up being the most portable gaming console around.

The bad news is you’ll still need to take your case off to get the Backbone One controller to work.

Just like we experienced on the iPhone edition of the Backbone One, there’s not necessarily enough length on the connector to have it work with a case, so you basically need to take that thing off if you want it to work.

It’s unfortunately and a little inconvenient, but them’s the brakes if you want this gaming controller to play a part in your life.

Will it work with my phone?

As for compatibility, from our testing, it should work with most Android phones, though if your phone is so old that it has a microUSB port at the moment, this isn’t for you.

We grabbed a gamut of phones just to see what would happen, because we review phones, so there’s a good chance we have more than most, and the results were fairly solid all the way through, testing the Backbone One on:

Overall, it’s not a bad result to find nearly every recent Android phone fit and worked with Backbone’s Android controller.

The USB Type C port is fairly flexible and the size of the grip is somewhat generous, though we’re very curious if the Android Backbone will eventually become just the mobile Backbone One overall.

With the next generation of the iPhone due in September likely to make the move to USB Type C thanks in part to new rules by the EU, it’s entirely possible that this model will work with both the iPhone and Android devices soon enough.

We won’t know until we have the iPhone 15 in our hands to try, but we’re making a note to self that come September/October, that’s exactly what we’ll be checking, and finding out whether Backbone’s Type C gaming controller is also the new iPhone gaming controller, as well.

Is it worth your money?

While the question of future compatibility is one for the months to come, the price is very much a present-tense question, and it’s fairly good news.

Priced at $179 in Australia, the PlayStation Backbone One for Android feels like acceptable value for what you get, even if it is a little more than other players in the market.

Basic controllers exist at much healer prices, scoring an Xbox-styled physical game controller for around the hundred mark, something SteelSeries offers among the many brands out there. This style doesn’t wrap around the device and needs to mount the phone to the controller using a special mount.

Backbone’s attachable clamp style of game controller isn’t unique to the company, and other players such as GameSir, Razer, and Turtle Beach all offer variations on the same concept. However, the latter two can both hit at higher prices, fetching past the $180 mark for their latest versions depending on where you look.

Knowing those prices gives you a place to work from, and that’s this: while the Backbone One for Android isn’t necessarily cheap, it’s also not the most expensive.

That combination of great hardware and software, not to mention a design inspired by actual gaming, makes it worth the price of admission.

Yay or nay?

If what you’re looking for is an improvement on Android gaming, Backbone’s PlayStation-themed gaming controller delivers. A combination of excellent hardware and software, it’s an accessory mobile gamers won’t want to live without.

Whether you’re retro-gaming, attacking modern first-person shooters, platforming like a pro, screaming through a racing sim, or brawling using your sticks in an isometric beat-em-up, the Backbone One PlayStation Edition works a treat.

It’s such a way to game on the go. You’ll never go back to a touch controls alone again. Highly recommended.

Backbone One for Android PlayStation Edition
The good
Great controls
Designed beautifully
Supports USB Type C on pretty much every Android phone (though very thick ones may not work)
Can charge a phone through a Type C pass-through port
There's even a 3.5mm headset jack on the controller
The not-so-good
Size won't always grip every device comfortably
Phones with a hinge may feel less stable
You need to take your phone's case off to make it work
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