Dedicated controllers: mobile gaming at its best
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Dedicated controllers: mobile gaming at its best

Philipp Rüegg
Zurich, on 22.02.2021
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook
If you want to improve your smartphone gaming experience, you'll have to get a controller. Here's four individual models, all with their own unique features.

Whether for cloud gaming services such as Stadia or mobile games akin to «Call of Duty Mobile,» the smartphone has long been a serious gaming platform. Fortunately, touch control phobics have access to a growing range of controller add-ons. Here's four variants for different requirements.

Razer Kishi

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I've been using the Razer Kishi the longest. The controller can fold together for easy transport when not in use. At first, you'll have to figure out how exactly the two ends fit together properly. Razer offers two variants: one with USB-C and the other with Lightning. This way the device doesn't require an additional power supply or Bluetooth connection. To ensure that your smartphone doesn't run out of juice either, you can connect your charging cable to the controller.

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The Kishi uses the typical Xbox controller layout and has a home button in addition to the two menu buttons. The keys, sticks and triggers are well sized and offer pleasant pressure resistances. It's not quite on the same level as a traditional Dualshock or Xbox controller, but it comes close and feels good to hold.

Pro:

  • No pairing necessary.
  • Connection via USB-C/Lightning.
  • Easy to transport.

Con:

  • A little cumbersome to put together.

Moga PowerA

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The PowerA is one of the most affordable controller attachments. After all, it can only mount Xbox controllers. The Moga is clicked onto the controller and the smartphone is inserted into the holder provided. You can freely adjust the angle via two screw joints. However, the controller can tilt if the smartphone moves too far back. But most of the time, you'll be holding it straight. The connection is established via Bluetooth.

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The PowerA scores points by offering full access to Xbox controllers. And the smartphone is in exactly the right place. Ergonomically, it's definitely the best setup – except for Dualshock controllers, of course.

Due to the size of the Xbox controller, the PowerA requires a bit more storage space than other devices. In addition, the new Series S/X controllers don't fit the holder.

Pro:

  • Best mobile controller (not included).
  • Cheap.

Con:

  • Xbox One controllers only.
  • Not the most compact solution.

8bitdo SN30 Pro XCloud

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If you miss the SNES controller, then you'll love 8bitDo. To enable modern games, 8bitDo gives the SN30 two shoulder buttons and two analogue sticks akin to a Dual-shock. It does feel high-quality and the keys all click very pleasantly, but it's definitely not the most ergonomic device. The SNES controller isn't designed for so many buttons. The shoulder buttons in particular are very close together.

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The actual controller mount and smartphone work according to the same principle as the PowerA. Pairing is done via Bluetooth, but it also works through USB-C, which you can use to charge the controller. Since the controller is significantly smaller and lighter than the Xbox controller, the focus is on the smartphone. Therefore, this setup is slightly wonky and can also not be turned off without immediately tipping over.

Pro:

  • It's a SNES controller.
  • Compact.

Con:

  • Too many buttons for a SNES controller.
  • Poorly balanced. Becomes uncomfortable over time.
  • For Android only.

Steelseries Nimbus+

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Today's final candidate is the Steelseries Nimbus+ for Apple devices. It's a full-fledged controller with a plug-in attachment for the iPhone. The holder is plugged into the controller via two pins. The whole thing seems a bit fiddly and every time you pull the cradle open to put the iPhone in, it slips out of the mount a bit.

Otherwise, the Nimbus+ works the same as the PowerA or SN30. The controller relies on the symmetrical analogue stick layout of the Dualshock controller. It can't keep up with the build quality of a Sony or Microsoft controller. All keys click reliably, but everything feels a bit cheaper than the competition. The Nimbus+ is comparatively light, which, like 8bitdo, means it has a light back even for an iPhone, let alone an iPad Mini (requires different mount).

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Some users report that the controller could only be connected to the iPhone via Mac/PC after a firmware update. It theoretically works with Android, but the right analogue stick is inverted.

Pro:

  • The whole package.
  • Compatible with Apple TV/Mac.

Con:

  • Not cheap.
  • No Lightning charging cable included.
  • Fiddly attachment.
  • Viewing angle is fixed.
  • Officially only for Apple devices.

Bonus: Dualshock/Xbox

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If you don't like these options, you can also easily connect a PlayStation or Xbox controller to your smartphone. With Android, you have the choice between cable and Bluetooth connection, while only the latter works with an iPhone or iPad. Since the Dualshock 4 and older Xbox controllers still rely on microUSB and there are virtually no microUSB to microUSB cables, you'll need to use an adapter there. The Dual Sense of the PS5 or newer Xbox controllers have USB-C, which can be connected quite easily.

For a Bluetooth connection, you have to press the Share and PlayStation buttons simultaneously on the Dualshock controller until the controller starts flashing. After that, you can connect it via the Bluetooth menu on the smartphone. For the Xbox controller, it works via the dedicated pairing button.

With this setup, you're missing a mount. Gaming on the go will be near impossible. You can lean your smartphone or tablet against something at home, but that's not really practical.

How do you play mobile games? With your fingers? Or using a controller? Or not at all?

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Philipp Rüegg
Philipp Rüegg
Senior Editor, Zurich
Being the game and gadget geek that I am, working at digitec and Galaxus makes me feel like a kid in a candy shop – but it does take its toll on my wallet. I enjoy tinkering with my PC in Tim Taylor fashion and talking about games on my podcast . To satisfy my need for speed, I get on my full suspension mountain bike and set out to find some nice trails. My thirst for culture is quenched by deep conversations over a couple of cold ones at the mostly frustrating games of FC Winterthur.

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