Mobile gaming is bigger than ever. As the hardware on smartphones has improved through the years, mobile games have also evolved to become significantly more sophisticated, with more and more PC and console titles getting ported to mobile platforms. Throw in the fact that cloud gaming now allows you to play full-fledged desktop games on your phone and there’s little reason not to treat your phone like a proper gaming powerhouse.
As good a gaming device as your smartphone has become, it doesn’t change the fact that tapping wildly on a flat glass screen just doesn’t make for the best in-game controls. If you want to squeeze out the best gaming experience on the phone, your best bet is to pair it with a proper game controller. Touchscreen controls simply pale in comparison to the precision movement of analog sticks and the tactile sensations of buttons and triggers. Suffice it to say, using a gamepad elevates the mobile gaming experience.
These are the best game controllers for smartphone gaming.
8BitDo Pro 2
We’re huge fans of the 8BitDo Pro 2 as a PC gamepad, with its granular fine-tuning, button-mapping support, and even rear paddle controls. It’s as advanced a controller as you can get while being very economically priced. Even better, it’s compatible with both Android and iOS devices (and even the Switch), allowing you to use it for mobile gaming. Only problem is, there’s no dock on the gamepad, so you’ll have to put your phone on a stand somewhere if you’re using this to play. To put simply, this is one of the best options available if you want a controller that you can use for PC and mobile alike.
Designed for Android smartphones, this gaming controller comes with a phone mount that you can attach to the top of the device, allowing you to dock your smartphone right above the controls. It uses symmetrical thumb sticks, so Playstation gamers should feel right at home, while clickable analog controls, magnetic triggers, and responsive buttons deliver an overall satisfying gaming experience, only slightly marred by a mushy-feeling D-pad. The controller pairs with your phone over a Bluetooth connection, allowing you to enjoy mobile gaming for up to 90 hours between charges. Aside from supporting smartphone gameplay, the controller can pair wirelessly with Chromebooks and connect to gaming PCs via a USB cable.
If you’re an Xbox gamer who wants to enjoy the same feel when playing on your phone, this gamepad from RiotPWR should get you what you need. It takes on the exact same shape and layout as the Xbox controller, complete with an Xbox button in the center. This Xbox Edition comes with one free month of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, too, so you can try out the cloud gaming service to see if it’s something your internet can handle. Since this is modeled after the Xbox controller, it comes with console-size thumb sticks, buttons, bumpers, and triggers for comfortable gameplay, while an adjustable phone mount allows it to fit practically any smartphone out there. There are separate iPhone and Android versions, too, so you can partake in the fun, regardless of your mobile platform. Do note, this connects to your smartphone via a wired connection (either Lightning or USB-C), so it’s not a cable-free experience, although the lack of latency does feel quite nice. It has a 3.5mm slot for your headphones and supports pass-through charging.
Available for both iPhone and Android, the newest version of Razer’s mobile gamepad docks your phone right in the middle of the left and right side controls using an expandable bridge that allows it to support, pretty much, any device that falls in the smartphone category (those 8-inch tablets that have a SIM card slot don’t count). It connects to the phone physically (via Lightning for iPhone and USB-C for Android), too, so everything feels fast and responsive. We love the feel of the actual controls on this thing, as they deliver a really tactile feel, which is no surprise considering Razer upgraded to microswitches in place of the membrane switches from the first version. And those microswitches come in really handy if you like to play competitive titles on the go, as they impart a genuine console gaming feel. Control layout is pretty standard, although they added a third set of buttons on the shoulder (one next to each trigger), which are programmable, making it an even more versatile gamepad option.
Like a number of mobile gamepads in this list, this one turns your smartphone into a gaming handheld by docking the phone right in the middle of the controller. It doesn’t connect via Bluetooth, instead plugging directly to your iPhone via the Lightning port or your Android via a USB-C slot, practically eliminating any latency between the gamepad and your mobile device. Designed with an asymmetric control layout, the controller gets a solid D-pad, responsive buttons, and slightly stiff analog sticks that are not all that hard to get used to. It also supports pass-through charging, so you just plug your power cable into the controller to charge your phone and wired headset connections via the 3.5mm jack. In our opinion, what really sets the Backbone One apart, though, is the optional app, which makes your phone feel like a proper handheld console with its custom UI, searchable catalog of games, and other gaming-centric features (e.g. automatic recording of game highlights). Sadly, the app is only free for the first year, so it will add a recurring cost down the line.
This Android gamepad works much like others in this list that dock the smartphone at the center and creates a direct physical connection via USB-C. Unlike them, however, it comes with a few features that make it quite unique. Chief among them is an integrated Peltier cooling system that comes in direct contact with the back of your phone. According to the outfit, it can deliver a drop on the phone’s outside temperature by up to 24 degrees Celsius and we can confirm that the cooling section actually does feel cold. However, how well it can absorb heat from the hardware is something we don’t know for certain, but it works from what we’ve seen. Of course, to get the most out of the cooling system, you’ll want to take your phone out of its case; otherwise, it’s just going to end up an unused feature.
It’s also got detachable ABXY action buttons, so you can switch to whatever layout you feel most comfortable using, as well as swappable thumb sticks (it comes with two sets) and swappable D-pads (one standard, one faceted), so it’s highly customizable. The buttons use Kailh switches and are pretty responsive with a crisp feel, although it lacks the magnetic triggers found in most gamepads in this price range. While it fits many larger smartphones, it will struggle with the biggest ones, so keep that in mind if you’re one of those who like their phones to be as big as possible.
Similar to the Kishi V2 and the Backbone One, this controller docks the smartphone in the middle of the controls. Unlike them, it comes with 16 installable adapters that enable it to accommodate the largest phone you can find. Heck, it can even fit large phones with thick cases on because of those adapters. We’re big fans of the contoured grips on this gamepad, as it allows for comfortable handheld play, while the rigid full-size thumb sticks enable precise control for your in-game movements. The D-pad, action buttons, hall effect triggers, and bumpers all feel exceptionally solid, paving the way for a gaming experience that feels on par with console gamepads. Other features include a direct physical connection to the smartphone (via Lightning or USB-C), pass-through charging support, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.