You don’t need a gaming phone to seriously love mobile games

As a video game enthusiast, mobile gaming has always appealed to me. However, despite my best efforts to get into the game on my phone, I bumped my head pretty much every step of the way, as I found the touchscreen controls to be truly awful. I thought that, unfortunately, enjoying games on a phone was only for people with the cash to buy fancy gaming phones with fancy shoulder buttons.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, and the solution was right in front of my face.

Early disappointment

Mobile gaming has been exciting for years, but I never felt like I was part of it for a very long time. That’s partly because I wasn’t done with a smartphone until I was about 16 in 2014, and by then I felt like I’d missed out on a lot of the fun based on the apps I constantly read online. By the time I got a smartphone, a used iPhone 4, I still didn’t really have a device that could play the cutting-edge titles that were coming out as mobile gaming got more serious.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

However, my excitement when I learned that I could play the iOS version of Minecraft was huge, so I downloaded the app and started the game (which seemed to work fine considering my phone), but then was disappointed.

I couldn’t play minecraft pocket edition, not because of the lack of processing power behind the screen, but because of the terrible controls. Like many mobile games, it uses on-screen buttons to simulate a controller, with none of the tactical feedback that comes from physically pressing a button. Since buttons are removed from smartphones so quickly you’d think their designers are afraid of them, that wasn’t the games fault, but it was still an insurmountable problem for me, 16 years old.

Mobile games left me behind

I was crushed. It felt like I had finally been able to experience the new frontier of the game I had been excited about, only to find that I just didn’t like it. minecraft pocket edition wasn’t the only game I tried, but the issues I had with it were common. This ultimately turned me away from mobile gaming.

I didn’t need to buy a gaming phone to discover my love for mobile games.

From 2014 to 2021, I basically viewed mobile gaming as something I couldn’t engage with. I kept hearing about great mobile titles that I would try in hopes they would change my mind, but each time, without fail, I came away a winner.

“People who love mobile games just must have expensive gaming phones with extra shoulder buttons that I could never afford,” I thought to myself. While that’s a possibility, it turns out that I didn’t need to buy a gaming phone to discover my love for mobile gaming this whole time.

Revolutionary discovery

I bought a Backbone, a mobile controller that plugs effortlessly into my phone. I put it up for sale expecting it to be the final nail in my mobile gaming coffin, but instead it was an eye opener. Friends of mine had been singing the praises of nomadic gaming with recent titles like Genshin Impact, PUBG-Mobile, and the massive library of top-notch console games ready to stream through Xbox Cloud Gaming. I didn’t understand how they liked them until a lot of them used a Backbone.

A Backbone controller held in the hands of a person with an iPhone 12 inside.  On the phone screen, Genshin Impact is playing.

From there I realized that it wasn’t specific gaming phones that allowed many mobile gaming enthusiasts to enjoy the platform, but cheaper controller peripherals that are as portable as the smartphones themselves. I bought my Backbone for $60, a fraction of the price of a gaming phone like the Asus ROG Phone 5 or even the Poco F4 GT, and I can honestly say the value I got out of it went way beyond exceeded the original purchase- in price.

Obviously, part of the appeal of mobile gaming is its relatively low cost. All you’ll need is a decent smartphone and in theory you should be good to go, but buying an extra device can really change the experience for the better. For example, Apex Legends Mobile recently launched and, while a faithful adaptation of the console/PC versions, it’s a nightmare to play relying on on-screen button prompts. Like many other mobile versions of console games, it simply has too many mechanics in place to smoothly transition to a purely touch-based format. Luckily, that’s where the Backbone comes in.

Instead of requiring gamers looking to take competitive mobile titles like Apex Legends Mobile to invest hundreds of dollars in a phone designed for gaming, any phone can be a serious gaming phone with the right peripheral. While the Backbone is my favorite due to its small size, there are other mobile controllers like the RiotPWR ESL, and they provide tactile feedback when pressing buttons and free up screen real estate that would otherwise obscured by my thumbs.

Do you have a backbone?

Deciding to finally invest in a mobile gamepad seems like such an obvious choice now that I did, but if I hadn’t I might have missed out on a whole gaming rig that I learned to love. With the rise of mobile gaming over the past few years, I’ve had a lot to catch up on, but the Backbone has taken all the stress out of checking out new hit mobile games.

A Backbone Controller with an iPhone 12 inside.  The devices are resting on a table and the Apex Legends Mobile logo is displayed on the phone screen.

Those on the edge of the mobile gaming space and potentially looking to move away forever because they hate touchscreen controls or don’t have an expensive gaming phone have another option. I should know, it was me for a very long time. If on-screen controls are keeping you from enjoying the world of mobile gaming, consider investing in a controller. The Backbone stole my heart and opened the door for me to truly appreciate a platform that I felt left me behind.

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