Portable new iPhone game controller is ready to play wherever you go [Review]

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Turtle Beach Atom Controller for iOS review★★★★
Don't struggle with on-screen controls when gaming on your iPhone. The Turtle Beach Atom Controller is the way to go.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Clip the Turtle Beach Atom Controller for iOS on either side of an iPhone to add the physical buttons and sticks that make high-end gaming much more fun. It mimics the brilliant design of the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con with the controls set on either side of the display.

It’s ready for Apple Arcade games and cloud-gaming services, too. And don’t forget the console games Apple has promised to port to the iPhone 15 Pro.

I spent hours testing the controller (it’s a hard job I have) and I really like it. Here’s why.

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Turtle Beach Atom Controller for iOS review

An external controller isn’t required for iPhone gaming but one certainly makes playing advanced games a lot more enjoyable. Touchscreen controls are fine for simple, casual games but can be frustrating with a complex RPG or other action titles.

And the new iPhone 15 Pro models are gaming powerhouses. The GPU in their A17 Pro processor does hardware-accelerated ray tracing, and to take advantage of the capability, Resident Evil Village, Resident Evil 4, Death Stranding and Assassin’s Creed Mirage are all being ported to the new handsets.

To play top-tier games, you’ll almost certainly want a game controller. Trouble is, these can be bulky. They are almost always much bigger than the iPhone!

Bring on the Turtle Beach Atom Controller for iOS. It’s so portable you won’t have a problem carrying it nearly anywhere.

The design works with a broad array of iPhone models. And it uses Bluetooth so the accessory is compatible with iPhones new and old now that Apple had made the switch from Lightning to USB-C.

iPhone game controller that goes almost anywhere

Turtle Beach Atom Controller for iOS in travel mode.
An Atom Controller in travel mode is very portable.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

When you first pick up the Atom Controller, it’s in travel mode so it’s only 5.0 inches by 4.0 inches by 1.7 inches. That’s small enough to go easily into a backpack, laptop bag or even a purse. It’s almost pocket size.

But don’t casually toss it into the bottom of a bag with your cleats, books and a laptop. Give the buttons and sticks some protection. The device comes with a bag — use it.

To start playing, pull the two sections part and put them on the two ends of an iPhone. When finished, the two components easily slide back together.

The controller fits neatly on my iPhone 14 Plus without a case. I have the option to add inserts that Turtle Beach created to make the fit tighter. The accessory is designed to be compatible with every Apple handset going back to the iPhone 11.

I put a very bulky case on the iPhone for testing, and the Atom Controller still fits fairly well. That said, at 0.5 inches, the case is almost too thick.

Well-designed buttons, sticks, triggers and bumpers

Turtle Beach Atom Controller for iOS
This iPhone game controller feels very familiar.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Turtle Beach clearly based the design on the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con. Or you can think of it as an Xbox controller that’s been cut in half. The buttons, sticks, bumpers and triggers are all there.

I’ve spent more hours than I can possibly count with a gaming controller of one kind or another in my hands. I found the Atom Controller to be enjoyable to use after a brief period of getting accustomed to it.

The d-pad, buttons and sticks are exactly where my fingers expect them to be. On ultra-portable controllers like this one, sometimes the buttons and sticks get crowded together. That’s not the case here.

And the buttons are nicely clicky. Both sticks are very responsive, too.

But I did have to get used to the triggers. To save on space, the Atom Controller isn’t very thick, so the triggers are a bit closer to the top than usual. It’s not a problem — just something I needed to familiarize myself with.

Turtle Beach Atom Controller for iOS top view
The Atom Controller has all the buttons you want but not the bulk.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Bluetooth advantages and drawbacks

As noted, the Atom Controller is compatible with a wide array of current Apple handsets, and the same should be true for future iPhone models because it uses Bluetooth. You don’t have to plug it into a port on the handset, so it makes no difference if your iPhone uses Lightning or USB-C.

I also discovered that the device works fine with my iPad Pro, too. I played a few levels of one of my favorite games with it, just to be sure. You can’t attach it to the tablet so you hold it like a traditional controller, which the hardware isn’t exactly designed for. But it’s doable. And that makes the Atom Controller even more flexible.

Bluetooth means the accessory must run off an internal battery. Turtle Beach says this is good for over 20 hours. That’s believable because I heavily tested the controller for about a week and am still on the first charge.

It gets juiced by through a USB-C port. One of the few limitations of this product is that you can’t charge while you play. It has to be in travel mode.

You need to go through Bluetooth pairing with your handset the first time you use it, of course. Read the get-started guide to find the button combination.

There’s a separate version of the Atom Controller for Android devices. This one is only for iOS — Turtle Beach says it won’t pair correctly with Androids. That’s caused by a difference of opinion between Apple and Google, IIRC.

Let’s start playing

As soon as I put the controller on my iPhone, I fired up some games to test it out. Because of course I did.

Nearly every game in Apple Arcade supports external controllers, so I started with Oceanhorn: Chronos Dungeon. It went perfectly. I also tried Spyder, another of my favorites, with equal success.

I can’t try out Assassin’s Creed Mirage — it’s not available yet. But there are plenty of high-end titles on cloud-gaming services. I fired up Amazon Luna+ and tested LEGO DC Super-Villains. Play on my iPhone with the Atom Controller for iOS was as smooth as if I had the game on a console.

I was looking for latency problems and didn’t find any.

Turtle Beach video

Turtle Beach Atom Controller for iOS final thoughts

Apple is getting serious about console-quality games on iPhone. But you’ll want an external controller to really enjoy these. The new one from Turtle Beach is well designed for when playing games and for when you’re carrying it around.

★★★★

I’m going on vacation soon and I’m looking forward to taking this with me.

Pricing

The list price for the Turtle Beach Atom Controller for iOS is $79.99.

Buy it from: Turtle Beach or Amazon

I’ve tried out several rival game controllers with similar designs. The Gamevice Flex comes very close to matching the portability, and I love the layout of the Backbone One. And don’t overlook the GameSir X2 Lightning.

All excellent but all three have a Lightning connector. That’s completely fine for the iPhone 14 series and before, but none of them work with the iPhone 15 or any Apple handset going forward.

Turtle Beach 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.

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