Obviously a lot of users here are already happy Backbone One users so this post is mostly intended for those who may be considering getting this controller. It’s less a review and more a breakdown on how I’ve been using it for the past two weeks.
First off, I have to give credit to the build of this device. I had read and seen all the reviews and so was expecting a high build quality, but honestly it still exceeded my expectations. I’m very picky about controllers and have WAY too many for all my different systems. This controller feels as good as any first party controller for other systems. I’ve seen complaints about the triggers feeling mushy, but on the contrary, I actually really love how they feel. My one gripe is that the face buttons feel slightly too far apart. This becomes mainly a problem for games where you need to push multiple buttons at once (say in a fighting game for example). It’s not a dealbreaker but definitely something to improve.
The software has been talked about a lot and in general is fantastic. However, it unfortunately doesn’t currently let you delete games you’ve added, even after they are no longer on your system. There’s also no way to group games or categorise them in any way so I hope these additions are brought to it soon.
Honestly, I didn’t buy the Backbone One for iOS gaming at all. It’s never been something I’ve cared about so I was really only trying it out to see what it was like. I have to say though, with this controller I will probably be giving mobile gaming a second look. While the console quality releases (GRiD, Dead Cells, Hyper Light Drifter among others) are few and far between, Apple Arcade suddenly becomes a viable service to me with enough interesting experiences that use the controller that I’m now excited to see what else I’ve been missing. Also, even though I’m far from a fan of the series and even further of a fan of F2P service games, I’ve sunk a more hours into CoD Mobile with this than I’m comfortable admitting. It just feels so good.
The real reason I bought the Backbone One and it came with some surprises - some good and some bad. First off, my primary goal was to stream my PC games to my phone to play like a Switch when my wife wanted to use the TV. I’ve done this in the past with my iPad and controller and the experience was very good. I have Moonlight, Steam Link and Rainway all set up and tried each of them with the Backbone. In general each experience has some positives and negatives.
Moonlight requires you to manage your games though GeForce Experience. Far from ideal considering I have already set up my games through other methods. It has lots of different options to tweak but the interface is pretty poor and I actually didn’t find the different options really gave me any better experience over the others.
Rainway was surprisingly a lot better than I expected. You can launch games directly from the app which I like, but the interface is annoyingly only in portrait meaning it doesn’t work well with the Backbone.
Steam Link is probably the best overall experience of the bunch. Since most people already have their games set up in Steam there’s little else needed to be done and surprisingly, the Valve devs seem to have put a lot of effort into their iOS app.
Performance across the board was pretty equal. Not GREAT, but good enough. However, when streaming to my iPad I kept my controller connected to my PC so input lag was almost imperceptible. With the Backbone it also gets sent over the network meaning input lag is definitely noticeable. I think for the majority of 3D games it is fine, but I unfortunately won’t be able to play any 2D games using this method.
The other thing to note is that, as with anything PC gaming, when things don’t go right (and that’s a lot) you will need to manually close things, or alt-tab if some other window takes command, or some launcher starts in place of the game or whatever. It’s extremely frustrating. Each of these apps does have nice touch and keyboard options but I’ve encountered multiple instances of needing to bust out my keyboard and mouse to fix some issue. Ugh PC gaming come on.
The positive though was PS5 streaming. I have tried it in the past on the iPad also and the quality was so bad that I shut it off right away. However, on the iPhone it actually is shockingly good once it gets warmed up (I don’t know why but it takes about a minute for the quality to even out). Input lag is about the same as on PC but since most games I’m playing on the PS5 are 3D you can’t really tell. But what really sets this apart is how it has a console “it just works” experience. Whenever you want to play you can just play. I haven’t played my PS5 a ton since finishing Demon’s Souls, but now with the Backbone I actually WANT to again.
I love emulation but didn’t consider it for this device since I didn’t want to Jailbreak my phone. I was planning on just streaming my emulators over Steam Link. However, with the input lag I decided to take another look at native emulation and was surprised to see it’s actually very easy to get up and running without a Jailbreak - perfect!
So I loaded up all the different emulators I could find and was overjoyed to find Retroarch actually ran with CRT shaders and perfect performance for most of my games. It didn’t handle N64 well so I use Delta for that, and PPSSPP for PSP games (what a great device this is for playing PSP - wow). Unfortunately with iOS 14.4 I wasn’t able to use Dolphin for GameCube, and there still doesn’t seem to be any Dreamcast emulation on iOS, but these I can stream so it’s OK mostly.
With this addition my iPhone has now become the most used gaming machine in my home for the last two weeks. It has brought all my gaming together and I couldn’t be any happier with this thing.
The price is steep (especially after conversion, tax, shipping and import duties to Canada) but I have no regrets. If you’re considering buying it then you already have some possible use cases, but hopefully my post has helped give you some ideas of the potential of the Backbone One.