Turtle Beach’s Atom controller seeks to bring iOS users a portable gaming solution with a unique two-part design.
Between the rising quality of mobile games and the prevalence of remote play apps for gaming platforms like Steam and PlayStation, mobile controllers have quietly become one of the more worthwhile luxury investments you can make in your gaming arsenal. Last fall, I rounded up CGM’s picks for the best mobile controllers on the market, but now the esteemed Turtle Beach has a new offering to shake up the scene: the Atom.
The Atom Controller for iOS is a Bluetooth controller grip that prioritizes portability. Unlike others on the market, Turtle Beach’s latest offering comes in two pieces, which collapse into each other for reliable transport and then assemble smoothly around your iPhone for gaming on the go. Its vice arms function as both the firm hold upon your expensive device and the rails into which you fold the controller away after use.
At first, this design almost seemed like a novelty, but I quickly saw the potential upon unboxing the device. While many other controllers can seem somewhat precarious in use, the Atom easily adjusted to my iOS devices and felt sturdy and secure—with the phone’s case either on or off. Immediately, this alleviated one of my usual qualms with mobile controllers. Who wants to remove their phone’s case that often anyway?
Turtle Beach achieved this universal fit by foregoing a Lightning connection in the grip. Unfortunately, this means pass-through charging is not an option. The Atom itself charges with a USB-C port on the left side, while your phone will power the actual gameplay with its own charge.
Whether or not this is a deal-breaker will depend on your own play style. Both charging methods have pros and cons, but I’ve come to prefer pass-through for its simplicity, so I was a little disappointed to take a step back to this separate power paradigm effectively. Unfortunately, the two-part design simply isn’t conducive to pass-through, and collapsing the device is required for a recharge.
In a somewhat cumbersome arrangement, the Atom’s halves power up individually. Magnetic attachments at the bottom of the device link both sides, though the connection is a little flimsy until there’s a phone in place to balance them. (On their own, they almost feel like bulky Joy-Cons, which I’d be kind of into if Turtle Beach could make them work with the Nintendo Switch.)
For one last quibble in the design department, I don’t feel like the Atom entirely lives up to its potential in the portability department. A travel pouch is included, and the collapsible design is novel; in practice, it doesn’t save much space.
Closed, it measures about 5 inches in width; when assembled without a phone, it would be about 6.5 inches; and with an iPhone 13 Pro Max inserted, it expands to a total 9.5 inches. In other words, the collapsible two-piece design saves about 1.5 inches for transport.
Let’s compare to the winner of our mobile controller roundup last year, the Backbone One. It’s comparable with the same iPhone 13 Pro Max inserted, at approximately 9.25 inches wide, and scales down to just under 7 inches without an iPhone—granting the collapsed Atom about 2 inches of space savings.
Again, the value of being this spatially economical will vary from consumer to consumer. Generally speaking, if I’m giving up pass-through charging to save about 2 inches in my backpack, I’d rather go forgo the Atom for a single-piece device. There may, however, be some circumstances where this size difference could be a lifesaver; your mileage may vary.
Outside of the dividing design, the Turtle Beach Atom controller impressed me with its overall form factor. It suits my large hands well without feeling bulky, which is always a tricky needle to thread for similar peripherals. It’s impressive that they were able to engineer something that’s full-featured without feeling bulky while simultaneously implementing the collapsing mechanic.
The thumbsticks are a little more substantial than other mobile controllers as well—closer to those found on a proper console controller like the DualSense. Its bumper buttons have a satisfying click, the triggers are responsive, and the face buttons bounce nicely. Behind all of these buttons, the Atom’s low-latency Bluetooth connection performs admirably to prevent input lag. Thanks to the proprietary 2.4 GHz link bonding them, you’d never tell by their performance that this controller is actually bisected.
In the end, the Turtle Beach Atom offers a novel design that I prefer to the likes of the Razer Kishi, but even with a cheaper price it doesn’t quite dethrone the Backbone One for me. Splitting apart is a neat concept that narrowly avoided feeling like a gimmick, while the overall layout approaches the upper echelon of this peripheral category.
But is a couple of extra inches in your carry-on and an extra $20 saved enough to forego the reliability and overall convenience of a single-piece design? You’ll have to decide for yourself. Either way, I’m curious to see where Turtle Beach goes from here with the premise.