Turn your iPhone into a Switch with GameSir X2 Lightning controller [Review]

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GameSir X2 Lightning Mobile Gaming Controller review
Slide your iPhone into the GameSir X2 Lightning Mobile Gaming Controller and you’re ready to play.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

If you’ve ever wished you could merge your iPhone and Nintendo Switch, I have great news. The GameSir X2 Lightning wraps around your handset and adds physical buttons and joysticks in a design reminiscent of the Switch Lite. And it includes a Lightning connector so it plugs directly into your iPhone.

I spent many hours playing games with this accessory — probably more than were necessary for testing. Here’s why I love it.

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GameSir X2 Lightning Mobile Gaming Controller review

Many iOS games work with external game controllers, freeing you from having to use irritating virtual joysticks and buttons. On-screen controls are … OK. But they can be hard to use when you’re in a rush, like when 50 or so goblins charge your character and you need to move fast to keep from getting overwhelmed.

The X2 is somewhat like an Xbox controller that’s been split down the middle to surround the phone. Or a Switch Lite, as I mentioned earlier.

Because of the Lightning connector, it’s dead simple to use. Plug it in and you’re ready to play.

Hardware and design

The GameSir X2 Lightning side-by-side game controller makes your iPhone more fun.
Looks a lot like a Nintendo Switch Lite, doesn’t it?
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The GameSir X2 Lightning measures 7.0 inches by 3.3 inches by 1.5 inches when it’s not wrapped around an iPhone. But you can slide in a handset that’s 6.8 inches tall. That’s half an inch more than the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

The game controller weighs 0.4 pounds. All in all, it’s relatively small and lightweight. Just be a bit cautious: The casing is plastic, with lots of moving parts, and you can break it if you abuse it. You should transport this gaming accessory in the very nice carrying case that comes with it.

But don’t think that the X2 Lightning can’t stand up to ordinary use. GameSir says the buttons are good for 3 million clicks. I used the ones in my test unit for many hours and they are still going strong.

Just like an Xbox controller … mostly

Speaking of buttons, the controller has close to the standard Xbox layout. On the left side is a joystick and D-pad. On the right side is a second joystick and ABXY buttons. Plus L1/L2 bumpers and R1/R2 triggers.

I say “close to the standard” because the front-facing joysticks and buttons are lined up above each other, not diagonally as they are on Microsoft’s controller. It didn’t take long at all for me to get familiar with this layout, despite the buttons not being placed exactly as I’m used to. And that’s after I spent at least a thousand hours holding an Xbox controller.

The buttons are reasonably clicky. They aren’t quite as good as the ones on an Xbox controller but they didn’t interfere with hours of enjoyable gameplay. And the bumpers and triggers are very clicky.

GameSir X2 Lightning Mobile Gaming Controller back view.
GameSir did not put large grips on this game controller.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

You may have noticed that the X2 doesn’t have large grips. While there are slight swellings covered in textured rubber to make holding the device more comfortable, these are not close in size to what you’ll find on an Xbox controller.

I think what GameSir did was emphasize portability. Big grips would have roughly doubled the bulk. And the same goes for placement of the buttons. Setting them diagonally would have widened the controller considerably.

Lightning port

GameSir X2 Lightning Mobile Gaming Controller side view.
The Lightning port on this version of their X2 Lightning is easily accessible. (Bottom edge, left side.)
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

One of the best features of the GameSir X2 Lightning is right there in its name: the Lightning connector. It makes this a plug-and-play device. Insert your iPhone into the slider and you are ready to play, with no need to set up a Bluetooth connection.

Another benefit is that you can easily switch the accessory between any number of iPhones. It works immediately with whatever handset it’s plugged into.

Also, your phone supplies power to the controller, so you don’t need to worry about a second battery. And if your handset battery starts to get low, just plug a Lightning cable into the game controller to charge your iPhone.

The Lightning connector is designed to swivel up and down, so there’s no danger of damaging it or your iPhone while inserting the handset into the slider.

Games

The GameSir X2 Lightning can be used with Apple Arcade and MFi games. And it supports cloud-gaming services, like Google Stadia, Amazon Luna and Xbox Game Pass.

I tested quite a few games. (Yes, this is really my job.) I started with the classic Lego Star Wars, an MFi game. I moved on to Oceanhorn: Chronos Dungeon, which is part of Apple Arcade. And then I played Panzer Dragoon: Remake via Amazon Luna. The controller performed as expected in all of these.

Tip: To ensure the software knows you want to use an external controller, have it connected before you launch the game.

Case

GameSir X2 Lightning Mobile Gaming Controller review: Keep your GameSir X2 Lightning Mobile Gaming Controller safe in the case that comes with the accessory
Keep your GameSir X2 Lightning Mobile Gaming Controller safe in the case that comes with the accessory.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

As noted previously, the casing for the X2 Lightning is plastic, and the sliding action limits how rugged it can be. Mine easily stood up to many hours of use, but I can’t guarantee it’ll survive if you throw it loose in a backpack with a MacBook, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and a pair of filthy cleats.

Fortunately, GameSir provides a well-made carrying case. This measures roughly 8 inches by 4.25 inches by 1.75 inches. The combination fits easily in a backpack. It’s tough enough to take ordinary punishment, but isn’t truly rugged.

An elastic strap inside the case holds the controller in place. And there’s a internal pocket for a charging cable if you want to carry one around.

GameSir X2 Lightning Mobile Gaming Controller final thoughts

I’ve tested a lot of iPhone/iPad game controllers, and this one offers an outstanding combination of convenience and portability. I really like that the X2 Lightning is plug-and-play. And it’s small enough that I can easily carry it around to be ready to play almost anywhere I go.

Pricing

The X2 Lightning is available from the GameSir website for $69.99 (£51.99). It’s expected to hit Amazon in the coming months.

Alternatively, there’s a Bluetooth version of the X2 for those who want to game on both iPhone and Android. That one costs $59.99.

Comparable products

Gamers might also consider another option designed specifically for iPhone: the Rotor Riot Wired Game Controller ($49.95). It’s very similar to an Xbox controller, with sizable grips and the standard button layout. And an adjustable clip to hold your iPhone.

If you’re OK with going wireless, there’s the GameSir G4 Pro ($49.99). It’s also close to a standard Microsoft controller in design but with a clip added. Plus it supports Android and Windows.

Or you can just use a regular Xbox controller from Microsoft and attach your iPhone with the OtterBox Mobile Gaming Clip ($29.95). There’s even a version of the clip with MagSafe.

GameSir provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article. See our reviews policy, and check out other in-depth reviews of Apple-related items.