The $200 PlayStation Portal isn’t exactly the portable PS5 I was hoping for. The company that brought us the PS Vita, one of the most impressive handheld consoles ever, is launching a new portable in 2023 that you can’t take anywhere, that can’t stream from the cloud, and that doesn’t even have Bluetooth. I’ve been critical of the Portal before, and each time cited better devices you can use, including the phone you already own. Sony loyalists may only feel safe investing in products with official PlayStation branding, but luckily, there’s a solution for them as well. The folks at Backbone recently sent me the Backbone One: PlayStation Edition.
The iPhone’s best controller finally came to Android earlier this year in two versions, a standard black version and a white PlayStation Edition. The PlayStation version features cross, square, triangle, and circle face buttons, as well as the PlayStation logo on the back, making it look somewhat similar to the DualSense. Those are the only differences, but what more would a PlayStation fan really need? The Backbone works with any iPhone with a lightning connector, or any Android with a USB-C running Android 10.0+. And yes, the Android version will work with the new iPhone 15 lineup. So no matter what device you have, your bases are covered.
Except me, a foolish Pixel Fold user. Folding phones do not fit in the controller while folded, and while unfolded, they only fit in the controller vertically, the bottom half of the screen hanging down below the controller. No one would ever play like this, but luckily I still have my Pixel 6 for testing. Ironically, I may be one of the only people that would actually benefit from the Portal.
The Backbone is plug-and-play, and works right out of the box with every major streaming and cloud gaming app, including Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Remote Play, GeForce Now, Steam Link, as well as native Android games including Netflix games. You can stream all the same games the Portal can, plus so much more – and your phone has Bluetooth.
The big competitor to the Backbone is the Razer Kishi, and while they’re quite similar, there’s some things I like more about the Backbone. The controller is larger, which makes it easier to hold than the Kishi, but not so large that it would be difficult to travel with. It also has a much better on-screen interface. The Backbone app is a nice, responsive launcher that mimics the storefront of a console menu, like the PlayStation 5. It has tiles for popular triple-A games that launch directly into the corresponding app, it advertises the big new PlayStation releases, and when you scroll through the menu it plays trailers. The Razer Nexus app has improved recently, but it still feels slow and outdated by comparison, with way too much focus on Android games.
Both have similar limitations as well. The Backbone has short, numby control sticks, even shorter than the Switch, which don’t allow for much precision. The triggers offer no resistance and don’t engage until they’re 75 percent activated, which doesn’t leave much room at all for nuanced control in racing games. The d-pad is very squishy, especially compared to the mouse-click of the Kishi, so I wouldn’t recommend it for fighting games either. Together, the Kishi and the Backbone would make a nearly perfect mobile controller, but separately they both fall short.
The more important comparison to make is with the PlayStation Portal, which costs double the price and offers far fewer games. It does support PlayStation Link, a new low-latency protocol that the new PlayStation earbuds use, and it has all the features of the DualSense as well. I haven’t tested the Portal myself, but it seems like it will be more comfortable to hold and give a more accurate PlayStation experience, but there’s some pretty major trade-offs for that comfort, including a $100 price difference.
I’m big on handhelds and cloud gaming, which is why I’m so disappointed that the Portal falls short on ambition. The Backbone One is a great device that opens the door to the wide world of game streaming that extends beyond the PS5, and if you’re interested in the Portal, I highly recommend you try this first.
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