- Compact, light and easy to carry
- D-pad and buttons feel nice
- 3.5mm jack for audio
- Comfortable grip
- Nice app
- Triggers have little resistance and travel
- App features possible in the future for a fee
- Does not work with most cases
Razer Kishi V2
- Compact, light and easy to carry
- Nice triggers and thumbsticks
- Virtual controller function in app
- Not well suited for large hands
- Buttons and d-pad feel cheap
- No 3.5mm jack
- Does not work with most cases
Mobile games have made quite a leap in quality in recent years. Thanks to mobile versions of engines such as Unity and Unreal, and increasingly powerful socs in smartphones, we now have beautiful third-person action games, first-person shooters and graphically impressive racing games that you could only play on a console before. Or you can play full-fledged games via game streaming services such as Xbox Cloud Gaming and Nvidia Gamestream. And if you have the PC or console itself, you can grab Steam Link or PS Remote Play.
Only one thing is missing: fine control. Touchscreens are great for tapping icons and scrolling through a web page, but I never got used to those semi-transparent onscreen buttons you have to use to play many modern mobile games. Fortunately, there are now game controllers that transform your smartphone into a true handheld. Bluetooth controllers are of course not new and years ago you could also buy them with a clamp for your smartphone, but the quality has improved in recent years and the form factor and connections have also been adjusted.
In this review, we compare two popular USB-C game controllers that I’d like to call ‘Switch-esque’: Razer’s Kishi V2 and Backbone’s One. So your phone is in the middle and the controller is split into two parts to the left and right of it. Both controllers cost just over 100 euros and are available in versions for Android and iOS. For this review we have worked with the Android versions, but later in this article we will return to the differences with the iOS versions.
Before we discuss the controllers, let’s briefly consider the question: why would you want this concept? For example, there are also versions that are more like a standard controller that you put the phone on top of. They work with bluetooth to start with, so they have a battery and you have to charge them. In addition, they are often heavy, which is less pleasant for longer sessions. The Switch-like controllers from this review that you can connect via USB-C do not need a battery and are nicely balanced.
|Razer Kishi V2||Backbone One|
|Maximum phone length||182mm||170mm|
|Weight||123 grams||138 grams|
In terms of layout, there are more similarities than differences. Both controllers have a d-pad, thumbstick, and buttons for screenshots and options on the left, and the x, y, a, and b buttons, another thumbstick, and the buttons for the menu and its own app on the right. On top we find shoulder buttons and triggers. In addition to the shoulder buttons, the Kishi V2 has two extra buttons that you can assign a function. You can only choose from existing buttons, which limits the functionality. But if you don’t like using L3 and R3, for example, you can move those functions. You can also remap the ‘Nexus’ button, which normally opens the Razer Nexus app, to a standard Home key on the Kishi.
To insert a phone into either controller, simply pull the two halves apart, slide the phone over the USB-C port and let the spring in the controller clamp the two halves against the phone. Depending on your phone’s aspect ratio, the maximum screen size that will fit in either controller is approximately 6.8 inches.
You can almost forget about every case in practice; you will have to take that off your phone every time. Not because it will be too thick or too long, but because the USB plug will not go all the way into the phone. Only cases that are very thin at the bottom may work. Razer still gives you the option to remove a bumper around the USB plug and gain a few millimeters extra, but that doesn’t make a lot of difference.
For the small group of people who already use a foldable like the Galaxy Fold, it is good to know that this does not work perfectly. In the Backbone One we couldn’t get it wedged in at all and with the Kishi V2 it sticks out far down, which is not very good for ergonomics.
Build quality and ergonomics
Without a phone in it, both controllers feel a bit cheap because they simply don’t weigh that much, but fortunately once in use it’s not too bad. My preference is for the Backbone One.
For starters, the grips on the Backbone run further down and are a bit more convex, which I find more comfortable to hold. In addition, I think the buttons feel nicer. The switches that Razer uses for the buttons on the Kishi V2 are very clicky, make quite a bit of noise and feel a bit like the type of switch from a computer mouse. Maybe some people like that because of the direct feedback, but it feels a bit cheap to me.
Because of the size of these handhelds, you won’t get the same travel on the buttons as with an Xbox controller or DualSense anyway, but the buttons of the Kishi V2 do feel very superficial. This applies not only to the face buttons, but also to the d-pad. With the Backbone One, the d-pad is more of a whole that you gently push and move around, and the face buttons don’t feel like a mouse click and are more muted. I like that a lot better and so do your fellow travelers in the quiet compartment, I’m guessing.
What Razer does better is the triggers; L2 and R2 have a bit more resistance than with the Backbone and that’s why it’s easier to give half throttle in a racing game, for example. With the Backbone One you do get used to the light resistance, but because you can also push them in less far, you need more precision. The sticks on the Kishi are also slightly higher, giving them a larger deflection. I would almost say that the Razer is more suitable for racing games and shooters and the Backbone for platformers and other 2d games.
Both controllers have a USB-C port so you can charge while you play, and the Backbone One has a 3.5mm jack as an added bonus. With the Kishi V2 you will have to work with Bluetooth audio or the built-in speakers of your phone; the USB port does not support audio.
BackBone also sells a separate PlayStation version of the controller, with cross, square, triangle and circle on the buttons and a PlayStation color scheme. Especially useful if you primarily use PS Remote Play.
Both Razer and Backbone have made an app for the controller. These are primarily intended as a game launcher and you can also use them to install firmware updates or adjust settings. The difference in quality is obvious here. Razer’s Nexus app is mainly a simple collection of thumbnails that you can click to start a game.
During the review period, an interesting feature was added to the Razer Nexus app: an option to control games that only have touchscreen controls with the gamepad. You can then ‘map’ this ‘virtual controller’ to places on the touchscreen. In practice, this works very simply and surprisingly well. Genshin Impact is a popular game that is known for not supporting controllers. With the virtual controller, I had mapped the onscreen buttons in a matter of minutes and was able to play comfortably through the Kishi. Even panning the camera worked well, although this is a bit jerky because the app simulates short swipes in succession under the skin. This function is not unique, by the way; there are separate apps such as Mantis, for examplethat do the same, but it’s nice that it’s ingrained.
The Backbone app is more like what you know from your Xbox or PlayStation: a beautifully designed launcher where you can also watch videos for each game, for example. In addition, you can create friend lists and see when someone else is online. Everything is nicely animated and just feels more ‘premium’. It’s also nice that you can start Xbox Cloudgaming games directly from the Backbone app, which simply integrate into your game library. It’s not a disaster that you have to open the Xbox app separately with the Kishi, but the fact that it’s all neatly in one interface with Backbone works better.
The only question is whether all that will remain available on Android. On iOS, some of the features are part of a paid Backbone+ subscription . In addition to the extra features in the app, as a member you get a discount on Backbone products, better support and warranty, and cloud storage for game recordings. These are all nice features, but to pay 46.99 euros per year for them may be going a bit far. It depends a bit on how you use the Backbone One; if it is your primary game device, I can imagine that you also take the subscription, but not if it is an extra.
A final software advantage with the BackBone One is that it is supported by Call of Duty Mobile, a game that does not support mobile controllers.
The Android app is currently officially in early access and a subscription is also coming to Android. Whether this is exactly the same subscription and whether that means that features that are now free will disappear is not yet clear. We tried to contact Backbone, but got no response.
Differences with iOS
As mentioned earlier, an iPhone version of both controllers is also available. The hardware is identical, apart from the other connection; the difference is in the companion app. Especially with Backbone, the app for iOS is more extensive; you can remap buttons and it is also possible to connect the controller via USB to another device, such as an iPad, and it is compatible with PS Remote Play. All this does not work (yet) with the Android version.
These two controllers are close to each other and both take mobile gaming to a higher level. They are small enough to always have in a backpack, so you can get started with your favorite games or emulators on the train, on mobile or, if your internet connection is fast enough, via cloud streaming. In the end, I game best on the Backbone One, because of the feel of the buttons and the d-pad. Together with the presence of the 3.5mm jack and the nicer app, that is ultimately the deciding factor.