GameSir X2 phone gaming controller review: Budget Backbone

A Backbone beater on a budget?

GameSir X2
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Future)

Laptop Mag Verdict

The GameSir X2 is one of the best phone controllers for both iOS and Android, from its tactile buttons and durable design to the included case and low price, it’s awesome value for money. But it’s missing audio jack, weird software support, and triggers with no travel keep it from taking the crown as *the* best.

Pros

  • +

    Tactile buttons

  • +

    Power and audio passthrough

  • +

    Lightning and USB-C versions

  • +

    Case included

  • +

    Great value

Cons

  • -

    Triggers have no travel

  • -

    Basic software support

  • -

    No 3.5mm audio jack passthrough

  • -

    Restricted case support

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Meet the GameSir X2. Yes, it’s a weird name, but it's one you’re going to love by the end of this review because this is the budget phone gaming controller of your dreams.

Since reviewing it, my Backbone One has been a revelation to my gaming on-the-go — allowing me to pass time on long-distance journeys with some proper good games on Apple Arcade or dip into a little bit of Xbox Cloud Gaming.

But I’m also aware that it's pretty pricey at $100 (£100) + a monthly cost for Backbone+ ($50/year) if you want to unlock all the software features. It’s not necessarily the most cost-effective way to unlock the full mobile gaming potential of your iPhone, and speaking of iPhone, that’s all Backbone supports (for now). Android users are out in the cold.

That’s where the GameSir X2 comes in: a lower-cost alternative with either a lightning, USB-C or Bluetooth connection, which delivers the same Nintendo Switch-esque transformation to either your iPhone or Android phone. Does it deliver on its promise at a lower cost? Let’s find out.

GameSir X2: Price

The GameSir X2 comes in three models: with USB-C or Lightning at $69 or a Bluetooth version at $59. Straight off the bat, I didn’t test the Bluetooth model, so we’ll focus on the first two.

That is a seriously competitive price, which puts it at $30 less than the Backbone One and the Razer Kishi. 

GameSir X2: Design

GameSir X2

(Image credit: Future)

Of course, for any game controller to be good, it has to nail one thing: the hardware. Well, I’m glad to say GameSir mostly sticks the landing.

This has a nice, solid build quality, which has stood up to some of my more torturous treatment when flinging it in a bag for long-distance travel. The fact that there’s a full-sized back to the controller rather than a spine, like the Backbone One or Razer Kishi, gives it a more solid feeling in the hand too. 

All the buttons have a satisfying, tactile click to them and the analogue sticks are fantastic to use: smooth and precise with plenty of room to travel. For comparison, the Backbone One buttons are just as clicky, but the sticks are a little shallower and have slightly less space to move. 

GameSir X2

(Image credit: Future)

And when it comes to small design decisions, GameSir really shows it cares. From the rubberized grips round back and the included case for additional protection, to the connector freely moving up and down by 50 degrees, ensuring you don’t damage your port or plug. It also protrudes a little more, so chances are if your case doesn’t have a lip covering the bottom, you could use the GameSir X2 with the case on.

It’s a very thoughtfully designed piece of kit for gamers, barring one thing. The triggers don’t have any travel. And coming from any modern game controller to this l just feels weird. I’d like that precise control of acceleration back, please!

GameSir X2

(Image credit: Future)

GameSir X2: Connectivity and support

GameSir excels and yet falls behind the Backbone One in the connectivity department. The big win here is that with a USB-C or Lightning version, no phone user is left behind. Sure, there is Backbone for Android coming soon, but they’ve remained very tight-lipped about it so far!

As I said above, that connector being on a 50-degree hinge makes it so much easier to plug your phone into it. And while the stretch is said to support phones up to 6.5 inches in length, I have used monsters like the ZTE Axon 30 5G (6.9-inches) and RedMagic 7 (6.8-inches) with no problems whatsoever.

GameSir X2

(Image credit: Future)

On the iOS side, this essentially means support for phones up to iPhone 13 Pro Max size with no need for an attachment to support the bigger camera bump of the 13 Pro, like what the Backbone One needed.

But while the X2 gets out ahead here, we reach the second (and the biggest) problem. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack for audio passthrough. I get we live in a wonderful world of true wireless earbuds and chances are most of you will be happy with that setup. But it will never be truly latency-free, which can make rhythm games virtually impossible.

This is the easiest feature request GameSir will ever have to fulfill: give me a headphone jack!

GameSir X2: Software

GameSir X2

(Image credit: Future)

The software is basic. There are no two ways of saying it.

On the Android side, it's just a simple companion app that lets you tweak the button layout depending on what you’re using. The reason is that the hardware buttons are in “Nintendo” layout (B at the bottom) rather than the “Xbox” layout (A at the bottom), which can lead to confusion for you and the games you’re playing. 

For iOS, the app supports Bluetooth controllers only, so you’re out of luck in terms of any tweaking. Instead, the Backbone app provides a full suite to access your games, capture content and talk with other players. 

Of course, there is Backbone+, which gives you additional features like Twitch streaming and 15-second smart clip capture, done by buffering said video. With the features mentioned before available for free, Backbone is leaps and bounds ahead of the GameSir X2 in this department, so you’ll have to make a choice: does that slicker software experience warrant the extra amount of investment? 

Bottom Line

GameSir X2

(Image credit: Future)

The GameSir X2 got so close to being called the best phone gaming controller overall. A durable build, buttons that feel great, analogue sticks with a smooth fluidity, and other consumer-friendly decisions like throwing in a free case and keeping that price nice and low.

But the small-but-impactful omissions do stop this from taking the gold: shoulder buttons that don’t have any travel, a companion app that is awkward to use and doesn’t really do anything, and the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack pass-through for latency-free audio.

So instead, we’re just going to have to call the GameSir X2 the best budget phone gaming controller. But that’s a pretty damn good title to have!

Jason England
Staff Writer

Jason brings a decade of tech and gaming journalism experience to his role as a writer at Laptop Mag. He takes a particular interest in writing articles and creating videos about laptops, headphones and games. He has previously written for Kotaku, Stuff and BBC Science Focus. In his spare time, you'll find Jason looking for good dogs to pet or thinking about eating pizza if he isn't already.