There are some surprisingly decent games on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, but touch controls are usually…less than ideal. Many of those games support full gamepads, though, so you can play with the same precision you do on a console. Here are the gamepads to buy.
Sadly, you can’t just use any ol’ Xbox or PlayStation controller with your iPhone (unless you’re jailbroken). iOS only allows certain controllers using Apple’s “made for iPhone” (MFi) standard, so you’ll need something specifically made for iOS. And there are quite a few MFi controllers out there, so it can be hard to know which ones are the best. Here are the ones we recommend. (And before you buy, make sure the games you want to play are compatible with MFi controllers.)
The Best Full-Size Controllers for iPhones and Apple TV: SteelSeries Nimbus and PXN Speedy
If you want a traditional gamepad to use with your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV, we have two main recommendations—depending on your preferred button layout.
The SteelSeries Nimbus ($45) is generally regarded as the best MFi controller out there, and it’s easy to see why. The build quality is solid, the sticks are smooth in all the right ways, and the D-pad is great, which is rare. The triggers on the back are rather large, but they feel pretty good to use too.
The Nimbus’ only downside is that it doesn’t come with a clip for your iPhone, which is annoying—who wants to sit their phone on a table to play it? Thankfully, there are a few clip-on adapters out there, like the the MP Power foldable adapter ($15) for the Xbox One controller, and they fit perfectly on the Nimbus. So, for just a few more bucks, you can clip your iPhone to the controller and game comfortably.
The Nimbus uses Bluetooth to communicate with your iPhone, which can be a little finicky (as Bluetooth always is), but it worked well enough in our tests. It also sports a PlayStation-like button layout, with the two analog sticks along the bottom.
If you’re more used to an Xbox-style layout, with the left stick above the D-pad, you might be better served by the PXN Speedy ($59.99). It looks and feels almost exactly like an Xbox 360 controller, except for the very soft-touch material on the back. The sticks aren’t quite as smooth, and the D-pad is about as janky as the Xbox 360’s, but for people who are used to Xbox controllers like me, it’s going to be more comfortable.
It’s also Bluetooth, like the Nimbus, but comes with a detachable clip for your phone, so you don’t have to buy it separately. However, unlike the MP Power clip, it doesn’t fold down all the way, so it’s a tad less portable.
Not that either of these gamepads are particularly portable to begin with. If you want something a bit smaller, you may want to check out our next pick.
The Best Controller for iPad (and Best Portable Controller for iPhone): Gamevice
iPad users could stick their iPad on a table somehow and play with the above controllers, but again—that’s no fun. So, if you’re an iPad user, we highly recommend the Gamevice ($99), a two-sided “vice” that clips onto either side of your iPad, essentially turning it into a big Nintendo Switch. There are models available for the iPad Mini, iPad Air/9.7″ Pro, and the 12″ iPad Pro, so no matter what size iPad you have, there’s a Gamevice to fit. It’s definitely pricier than the regular gamepads, but in my experience, it’s well worth it—I play all of my iPad games with this controller now.
There’s also a Gamevice for the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 7, and 7 Plus. Again, it’s more expensive than the above options, but in the case of the iPhone, it’s significantly more portable than the full-size gamepads. The iPhone Gamevice folds up into a neat little package, so it’s less clunky to carry around than a big gamepad with a detachable clip.
All Gamevice models hook up to your device through its Lightning port, so you don’t have to futz with Bluetooth, and the latest generations come with lightning ports so you can charge your device while playing. The Gamevice pulls power directly from your iPhone or iPad, but it shouldn’t drain your battery much. (Old Gamevice generations had built-in batteries that were a hassle, and analog sticks that were way too sensitive—if you get one with a microUSB port instead of a Lightning port, we recommend returning it and buying the newer model.)
Note also that you may want some sort of protective skin like Dbrand on the back of your iPhone or iPad—the Gamevice is mostly rubberized, but could scratch your device if you aren’t careful attaching it.
It’s annoying to have to buy a completely separate controller for your phone or tablet, but trust us—it’s well worth it. There are a lot of games that support these controllers, so with a good gamepad in your hands, you won’t have to use awful touch controls nearly as often. And that’s the dream.