November 1, 2023: We have updated our review to reflect our time with a second Turtle Beach Atom controller
There are many mobile controllers out there, some of them good, some of them bad, and others fall somewhere in the middle. I’m no stranger to smartphone gamepads, owning Gamesir and Backbone devices, both of which I rate very highly. Well, it’s time for me to venture into the unknown as I try out a Turtle Beach accessory for the first time.
Just one look at my Gamesir X3 review and Backbone One PlayStation Edition review shows that there are a couple of things I value and numerous features I look for when it comes to a mobile gaming controller. While the aesthetic of a gamepad is nice and is something I look for, I think it’s only right to talk about the most important thing when it comes to a controller – comfort.
What use is a gamepad if it’s uncomfortable to hold? It can be the most sleek-looking piece of kit in the world, yet I’ll still throw it out the window, cursing it all the way down should it not feel good in my hands. I wouldn’t say that the controller is uncomfortable per se, more that it feels weird to hold, given there’s no support at the back of your device. You see, the Turtle Beach Atom Controller has an interesting design and approach to how you connect it to your phone, and I can safely say that I’m not the biggest fan of this at all.
The pad is split in two; you attach them to either side of your phone with the use of sticky grips (the controller comes with two different sets, one for in a case and the other out of a case) straight out of the gate this is confusing to me, and that confusion quickly turned into annoyance when my phone wouldn’t stay in the controller. When holding it, one would inevitably let the phone slip out. After a bit of trial and error, I managed to get to a place where I could use the controller without worrying about the safety of my device (too much).
In terms of the design, I think the best comparison I can make is to Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons, as they individually connect to either side of the console. The principle is the same with the Atom controller, as the d-pad and one analog stick are on the left pad, while the buttons and second analog stick are on the right pad. Both feature triggers and bumpers. However, my Switch is a lot safer attached to the Joy-ons than my iPhone 13 is with the Atom controller. I can’t help but ask what Turtle Beach is thinking here. Gamesir and Backbone’s design choice involves stretching the controller, as it were, to fit your device, leading to a snug and secure fit with an evenly distributed weight.
I can see exactly what Turtle Beach aimed for with this design choice. In theory, it should be compatible with any iPhone, regardless of generation and size, due to Bluetooth connectivity, and the two different grip options (that you apply to the controller yourself) should keep the device from slipping, yet my phone feels like Bambi at times. My phone has to be removed from its case to use the controller as the grips make it slightly too big with my case, and if I don’t have the grips on, my phone is liable to spring from the contraption.
Away from what I consider a design flaw, one of my biggest gripes with the Atom comes in the form of the app. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of reviewing the Backbone PlayStation Edition for iOS, another gamepad equipped with an app, and it’s no secret that I think Backbone nearly nailed the concept. Turtle Beach, meanwhile, could stand to learn a thing or two for the Atom app. Firstly, why on earth doesn’t the gamepad work with it?
Having a block attached to either side of my phone only to have to use the phone as usual to navigate the Atom app is nothing short of a pain. To me, it seems crazy to create a gamepad for mobile gaming and devise an app to make games and the like more accessible, only to not have the two compatible with each other. Make it make sense.
It’s uncomfortable to stretch my thumbs across the controller, and if I turn it around and hold my phone as usual, it feels off balance because of these two hefty pieces of plastic on either side. I can’t win, in all honesty. Furthermore, the part of the app that allows you to search for games just shows you what’s on the App Store. Turtle Beach, I can search the storefront and check Apple Arcade myself – Backbone shows you what’s on Game Pass, taking you directly to the game page so you can play it, all while the controller is connected and working.
Okay, so you’ve heard me complain about the design of the controller, how the app is pointless, and that it can be weird to hold. Well, at least after receiving a second unit, I can say that the Turtle Beach Atom controller performs as you’d expect a gamepad to.
The first Turtle Beach Atom controller I had was finicky when it came to connecting to my phone, particularly the right portion of the device. However, the new unit connects at both ends without issue, eliminating my previous complaint about its performance.
All of the buttons are responsive, the analog sticks move smoothly, and the buttons don’t get stuck. Essentially, it does what you’d expect from a gamepad.
There’s not much more I can say besides that the Turtle Beach Atom controller isn’t for me. It may well be that the Turtle Beach Atom is a good fit for you, but the design, lackluster app, and lack of support for my phone means I still prefer to make use of my Gamesir and Backbone gamepads.
If you want some solid suggestions on which gamepad to buy, consult our guide to the best phone controllers. Or, if you need one for console gaming, we’re ready to help with our list of the best Nintendo Switch controllers.
Though the The Turtle Beach Atom works as a gamepad intends, it’s my least favorite gamepad I’ve come across so far. The design is questionable, the accompanying app is barren and pointless, and I can name numerous alternatives that have much more to offer.