The price is a little steep, but this wired-only controller accurately captures the Xbox controller feel and features with a simple iPhone mount built in. And pass-through charging keeps your iPhone alive longer.
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The most popular iPhone games are made for touch, with an interface you can read on a small display. That’s not secret. But there’s a big market for games that not only work with a controller, but are really meant to be played with one. The new Amazing Bomberman on Apple Arcade is a great example–sure there are touch controls, but it’s a whole different experience with a controller. There’s also all the game streaming services: Xbox Cloud Gaming, Stadia, Luna, and so on. Apple may make it harder than necessary to use these services by forbidding them from having apps in the App Store, but the web apps provide a pretty good experience once you get them set up.
These days, Apple has made it much easier to use a good game controller with your iPhone. You used to have to buy an MFi certified controller, but ever since iOS 14 added Xbox and PlayStation 4 controller support, a steady stream of iOS updates have expanded the list to lots of different Bluetooth game controllers. Just pair the controller in Settings > Bluetooth and you’re ready to play.
Still, there may be some benefit to to a dedicated iPhone game controller. The Xbox Cloud Gaming Controller from RiotPWR tries to provide the best of both worlds: familiar Xbox design and features, and a built-in phone holder slot and Lightning wired connections to minimize latency and keep your iPhone charged up. It’s a good idea, but narrow in focus–this controller is really only for iPhone gaming, because it has no wireless capability at all and requires a Lightning port.
An Xbox controller (sort of)
Physically, the RiotPWR controller is an Xbox controller. It’s shape, size, buttons, sticks, and D-pad all mimic those of the Xbox Series S/X controllers, with only the slightest of differences. There’s an Xbox button between the View and Menu buttons–shifted down and made smaller to make room for the slot into which you place the phone holder. There’s also a share button to the left of the D-pad (double-tap it to take screenshots).
While the layout is definitely Xbox, the functionality isn’t. The controller has no USB hookup, and no wireless support of any kind. You can’t use it with your Xbox, or Mac, or PC, or Android phone. The iPhone holder is a simple plastic clamp with a hinge, and it plugs into the top of the controller. It looks awkward, but the placement is actually quite nice when you’re immersed in a game.
Though the lightweight plastic feels a little on the cheap side, especially the D-pad, you really do get an authentic Xbox controller feel. The sticks and buttons feel like those on an Xbox controller, and the layout, placement, and measurements are just right.
The lack of batteries and wireless makes the controller wonderfully light, but it means you’ve got to plug in your iPhone to use it. There’s a permanently-attached Lightning cable coming out of the back of the controller, just plug it in to your iPhone (or an iPad with a Lightning connector) and you’re in business. No awkward setup or pairing.
The cord is about two feet long when it only needs to be about six inches long, which leaves a lot of annoying dangling at the back. I suppose the idea is that it’s long enough to plug into an iPad or an iPhone on a desk or something instead of in the mount, but if you really want to do that I suggest a wireless Bluetooth controller.
The wired connection has a few benefits. It’s lower-latency than Bluetooth, and while that’s not a big deal for local gaming, the game streaming services are laggy enough without introduction more controller latency. It also passes through audio to the audio jack at the bottom of the controller, so you can use wired headphones.
Speaking of pass-through, you’ll find a Lightning connector next to that audio jack at the bottom. If you don’t mind more wires when you’re gaming, you can plug a USB-to-Lightning cable in there to pass through power to your iPhone. Gaming drains your battery fast, so that’s handy if not a little clunky. Sadly, this is for power only. You can’t plug the controller into a Mac or PC (or console) with a USB-to-Lightning cable to use it (we tried!).
Should you buy a RiotPWR Xbox Cloud Gaming controller?
RiotPWR’s Xbox Cloud Gaming controller is a good solution, but narrowly focused. And at a price of $70, you should be very sure you want exactly these features.
For most users, that’s going to be a better solution. The value of the RiotPWR is that the wired connection shaves off a bit of latency, passes through audio to a wired headphone jack, and passes through power if you plug the controller in. You’ve got to really want those features to pay more and give up the far greater flexibility of a regular official wireless Xbox controller and clip combo. But if you do, it’s a great solution for iPhone gamers.