Level up your iPhone gaming with Rotor Riot Lightning controller [Review]

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RiotPwr Rotor Riot iOS Controller RR1852 PWR Plus review
iPhone gaming is better with a hardware game controller like the RiotPwr Rotor Riot RR1852.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Playing serious games on an iPhone touchscreen can be crazy frustrating. Don’t throw your iPhone across the room — get a game controller like RiotPwr’s Rotor Riot RR1852. This mimics the design of Microsoft’s Xbox controller but with a Lightning cable and an iPhone mount.

I fully tested this updated version of the Rotor Riot Lightning-enabled game controller. And I like it a lot. And apparently so does Apple because you can find it in the Apple Store, both online and brick-and-mortar locations.

RiotPwr Rotor Riot iOS Controller RR1852 PWR Plus review

iPhone is capable of a lot more than casual games. There are plenty of elaborate ones: RPGs, first-person shooters, etc. You can play these with the touchscreen but I don’t recommend it. It’s too hard to position your fingers correctly on virtual joysticks and buttons. A physical game controller is a much better option. Like the latest one from RiotPwr.

An advantage of the Rotor Riot RR1852 is that it has the same familiar design as an Xbox controller but with an iPhone mount added. And it connects to your iPhone or iPad with a Lightning cable so there’s no need to hassle with Bluetooth.

Hardware and design

I’ve probably spent at least a thousand hours with various Xbox controllers in my hands so trust when I say RiotPwr’s offering is essentially identical.

The controller is comfortable to hold. The large grips add to this. And the balance is good, though attaching the mount with an iPhone in it makes this… complicated. More on this in a bit.

A rare downside of the RiotPwr Rotor Riot RR1852 is that‘s it’s not very portable. The iPhone mount is removable, which helps, but the Lightning cable is permanently fixed. The controller mostly fits in cases designed for Xbox controllers, but the cable is awkward. You have to bend it hard to make the device go into the case, and that’s not a good idea for long-term use.

But it’s fairly rugged on its own — I dropped my review unit on concrete driveway and didn’t even scratch it.

Buttons

On the front of the controller are dual joysticks, a D-pad, and A, B, X and Y buttons. On the top edge are left-and-right shoulder buttons (R1 and R2) and triggers (L2 and R2). Plus, press down on the analog joysticks for L3 and R3.

The Rotor Riot RR1852 is the latest version of the iOS model, and it adds equivalents to the View and Menu buttons that are missing from the earlier RR1800 and RR1850 models. It’s not hard to find games that use one or both of these buttons, so I recommend the new version.

When I do a side-by-side comparison with an official Microsoft Xbox controller, the RiotPwr buttons are slightly stiffer. I put several hours into testing the controller and the difference didn’t affect gameplay. But I know some people are very particular.

RiotPwr Rotor Riot iPhone game controller buttons are in a familiar layout.
The layout of the RiotPwr Rotor Riot RR1852 should be very familiar to fans of the Xbox.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

iPhone mount

There’s also a removable stand designed for iPhones of a variety of sizes. A sliding clamp holds my 6.1-inch iPhone 13 without a problem, or there’s plenty of room for the Pro Max.

Another rare downside of the Rotor Riot RR1852 is that the iPhone stand won’t let you adjust the angle at which you look at the iPhone screen. It holds the device at a useful angle, but it would be better if it was adjustable.

Attaching a mount and an iPhone to the game controller makes it heavier, of course. And a bit top heavy. But I didn’t find this interfered with enjoying the games.

Remove the mount if you’re gaming with an iPad that has a Lightning port.

Lightning cable

One of the best features of RiotPWR’s iOS game controller is the Lightning connector on a 2 foot cable. It makes this a plug-and-play accessory. Put your iPhone into the mount, plug in the cable and you are ready to play, with no need to set up a Bluetooth connection.

The connecting cable is longer than an iPhone needs because you can also use this controller with the budget iPad or an older iPadOS tablet with a Lightning port. I wasn’t able to test this myself, however.

Rotor Riot iOS Controller RR1852 PWR Plus
The Rotor Riot iOS controller uses a Lightning cable so there’s no hassles with Bluetooth. It’s plug and play.

With a hardware connection, there are no worries about latency. I don’t run into this with Bluetooth iPhone controllers either, but there can be no question of a delay between a button press and the game registering it with a physical hookup.

You don’t have to worry about keeping the Rotor Riot RR1852 charged because it doesn’t have a battery. It gets power from the iPhone.

And power can go the other way, too. There’s a Lightning port on the bottom edge of the controller — plug an iPhone charging cable in here to send current to the handset.

So many games

iOS and iPadOS support external game controllers like this one right out of the box. No additional software is needed.

And there are loads of games that support controllers, like Call of Duty: Mobile. Some of these are part of Apple Arcade, like Oceanhorn 2.

On top of that are the cloud-gaming services like Google Stadia, Amazon Luna and Xbox Game Pass. With these, you can enjoy console-quality games on an iPhone. I tested this by playing Enter the Gungeon on Amazon Luna with the Rotor Riot RR1852 and it worked well.

When you connect the RiotPWR controller it’ll ask you to download/open Ludu Mapp, an application that helps you find games that support the controller. It’ll ask you every single time but you can always hit “Ignore.”

But not every game lets you use an external controller. If you have a specific game in mind, check before you make a purchase.

RiotPwr Rotor Riot iOS Controller RR1852 PWR Plus final thoughts

RiotPwr Rotor Riot game controller with iPhone 13.
Put your iPhone in the RiotPwr Rotor Riot game controller’s mount and you’re ready for better gaming.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

RiotPWR’s iOS game controller is a good option for iPhone gamers that want to take their play up a notch. The Lightning cable makes it plug and play, and copying the Xbox controller’s design means the layout is familiar.

It’s not overly portable, though. And the iPhone mount isn’t as adjustable as it should be.

Pricing

The Rotor Riot RR1852 is $49.99 on the RiotPwr website. Or you can find it at the Apple Store priced at that same price. If you’re in a hurry, the product was in stock in multiple Apple retail stores in my area when I checked.

When shopping, I strongly recommend the new RR1852. You can still find the older RR1800 and RR1850, but as discussed in this review it’s missing some of the standard Xbox buttons.

Rival products

The closest rival RiotPwr faces is possibly the GameSir X2 Lightning Mobile Gaming Controller. This one also plugs directly into the iPhone but it’s a lot more portable. It makes the handset look a lot like a Switch. Read my review.

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. I reviewed this one, too.

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.

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