This Dirt-Cheap Gaming Controller Made Me Love Xbox Cloud Gaming

Xbox’s cloud streaming game service and GameSir’s X2s controller are a match made in heaven.

GameSir X2s mobile gaming controller with Hall Effect joysticks.
Lais Borges/Inverse; Photograph by Raymond Wong
Gear Reviews

I’m not a big mobile gaming guy.

That’s not a knock on anyone who is, but gaming, which I love to do at home, is just not my preferred pastime while commuting. That’s what listening to really, really, sad rock music is for.

But on longer trips (ones where I won’t have access to Fortnite time with my emotionally stunted adult friends), I need some decompression time. I could (and have) used my Quest 3 for just this scenario, but if you’re not a mixed reality headset owner — or a hater even — there are other options to avail yourself of.

That’s where companies like GameSir and its X2s Type-C mobile controller come in.

A Mobile Makeover

On a recent trip to visit my parents, I brought a couple of tools for gaming on the go. My Quest 3, which, by the way, is awesome, and GameSir’s X2s controller — an SNES-looking mobile gaming controller that connects to your phone or other USB-C-having screen.

To be clear, mobile gaming controllers are nothing new, but to me (again, a not-mobile gamer) they’re relatively foreign. I’m sure there is a wealth of great mobile games that I’m missing out on, but none in my limited frame of reference have been enough to convince me to actually drop cash on a controller. But if there was a time for me to give mobile gaming a try, a trip to visit my parents — one with lots of downtime — was it.

GameSir’s X2s mobile gaming controller has serious Nintendo vibes.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

But a gaming controller is only part of the equation; to play games on a mobile controller, you need actual games to play. So, what’s a guy with no mobile gaming knowledge or interest to do? Enter: Xbox Cloud Gaming.

For the uninitiated, Xbox Cloud Gaming is exactly what it sounds like — a Microsoft service that allows you to play the many big-time titles on Xbox Game Pass through the cloud instead of on a console. The benefits here are obvious. For one, you don’t need to have an Xbox console. You could have, for example, a phone — and boy, do I have phones.

For my mobile gaming experiment, I chose to bring Nothing’s Phone 2 along with me to Florida. I was already testing the company’s ChatGPT integration with the Ear A wireless earbuds and the phone’s big, bright, 120Hz screen just made sense for mobile gaming.

To get going, all I had to do was bust out the GameSir X2s, pry the spring-loaded controller apart until the Phone 2 fit, and connect the controller’s USB-C plug to the port on my phone. Given the size of the Phone 2 (it has a 6.7-inch display) it was a tight squeeze, but it fit.

To use the X2s you will need to download the GameSir app, from which you’ll need to launch certain titles to actually use the controller while playing. This aspect makes the experience a little less than ideal — it’s not as plug-and-play as you might think — but it’s not really a dealbreaker by any means.

Photograph by Raymond Wong
Photograph by Raymond Wong
Photograph by Raymond Wong
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In my case, however, the process was pretty seamless. I didn’t want to play Genshin Impact or Diablo Immortal, I wanted to play Fortnite, which means I didn’t have to launch anything from the GameSir app. All I needed was to sign into Xbox Cloud Gaming and get going.

If you haven’t used Xbox Cloud Gaming before, let me explain: the game streaming service allows you to play hundreds of games on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate games through, well, the cloud. That means (in my case) you can log in on your phone via this link and play games like Starfield, Fortnite, Control, and more.

One thing you’ll definitely need is a decent internet connection — obviously, without any local storage, you’re going to be streaming any title you want to play. I’ve used the Xbox Cloud Gaming Beta quite a few times at this point and I’ve consistently been surprised at the quality of the experience. I don’t have the world’s best internet connection at home and neither do my parents, but I’ve been able to play all my favorite games mostly uninterrupted.

For the best results, Xbox recommends a minimum of 10Mbps for mobile devices, and 20Mbps for consoles, PCs, and tablets.

If you’re using a phone as big as I did, you’re going to stretch this sucker to the max.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

If you’re playing a game like Fortnite on a phone, you’ll also need more than just an internet connection. You’re going to want — nay, need — a controller. On that front, I can honestly say that GameSir’s X2s, which works for Android and iPhone, rises to the occasion.

The X2s may feel a little cheap when you first pick it up, but the experience and features in this $45 mobile gaming controller tell a different story. There are drift-proof Hall Effect triggers and joysticks, and a rubberized grip on the back that makes holding the controller feel sturdy and tactile.

Shoulder buttons are the perfect amount of clicky while the triggers have a nice resistance to them — not too mushy, and not too stiff. Likewise, the D-pad and the lettered buttons feel responsive and pleasant to press. Generally speaking, I would file the button-feel under the “pleasant surprise” category.

In addition to those perks, the GameSir app also allows you to customize your controls, but only if you’re using the controller with an Android device — sorry iPhone owners. Also, the controller doesn’t need an external power source (it uses your phone’s battery), which is convenient, but also will drain your phone faster over time.

A spring-loaded design means the X2s can expand wide enough to fit a phone that’s a maximum of 168mm tall. Nothing’s Phone 2 barely fit into the controller given its size, which made slotting it into the X2s’ USB-C connection tricky, but a clever moveable design allows the plug to wiggle and avoid frustrating docking, or worse, breaking the controller outright.

Fortnite at work? Sure, why not.

Photograph by Raymond Wong

If there’s one complaint about the X2s, it’s that the thing is quite small. Playing Fortnite is more than possible on a controller of this size, but there were definitely moments where I found myself fumbling over buttons or having some hand-cramping.

That being said, the size is also a pro in some ways. Packing this controller into my backpack for a flight was no problem and I could slot it into the small zipper pouch instead of my bag’s main compartment.

And, in my opinion, the retro look and feel with the Nintendo-esque colorway and A,B,X,Y buttons brings a welcome dose of retro gaming charm, even if what you’re playing is anything but retro.

Moving the Mobile Gaming Needle

There has never been a better time to play games on the go. Period.

That’s due to a lot of factors. For one, there is a massive selection of mobile gaming devices to choose from; the Steam Deck and its myriad counterparts, Game Boy clones, the PlayStation Portal (I know, I know, you can’t take it fully “on the go” but you can play PlayStation in bed which is kind of close).

And while those devices hold down the fort for anyone in search of a dedicated gaming gadget, you technically already have an arcade in your pocket — your phone — and controllers like the GameSir X2s allow you to really enjoy that in a way you might not otherwise be able to do. (Not to mention, a ton of new emulator apps hit the App Store recently so there’s also the retro gaming route.)

Plus, the price makes the X2s a solid deal no matter how you spin it. Competitors like Razer are still selling their first-gen Kishi controller for $60 while an upgrade to the premium Kishi Ultra costs $150. Similarly, the Backbone One for Android and iPhone costs $100.

Add on the power of cloud gaming and your phone (with a little hardware assist from the GameSir X2s) just got even more indispensable.

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