If you’ve ever gone out shopping for PC gaming peripherals, it’s likely you would have encountered SteelSeries products. It’s represented at all kinds of eSports events, and with good reason, as SteelSeries makes quality products.
SteelSeries has taken its expertise in PC gaming and translated it into the world of iOS gaming, and they’ve come up with a game controller for devices running iOS 7. It’s called the Stratus, and just from a quick glance, this $79.99 device looks like a promising way to play games on an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. Does it stack up to the competition? Is it a worthwhile way to play games? That’s just what we are going to figure out today.
Best of all, we have a SteelSeries Stratus to give away to one lucky reader! Keep reading to the end of the review to find out how you can enter for your chance to take this controller home for free!
Introducing the SteelSeries Stratus
The market for iOS game controllers has been growing slowly, but it’s not exactly exploding in the way it could have. This is likely due to the lack of games available, a problem we will get to later in this review. It could also be that a lot of casual iOS users don’t even realize that these controllers are on the market. In spite of that, there are still quite a few major brands selling the devices, many of which we’ve covered in this article.
The MOGA Ace Power and Logitech Powershell are two of the major competitors for the SteelSeries Stratus, but both of them require you to dock your device in the controller. On the bright side, you can charge your phone and extend your gameplay sessions, but the drawback is that it leaves iPads out of the equation. With the SteelSeries Stratus, you don’t get the benefit of a charger, but you get a truly wireless controller that can work with both phones and tablets. The price is comparable, with the both the SteelSeries Stratus and MOGA Ace Power selling for $79, while Logitech’s Powershell sells for $69.
The MOGA Ace Power and SteelSeries Stratus both have Sony’s controller design with extra shoulder buttons and two joysticks. Logitech’s, on the other hand, uses the more basic design, with only two shoulder buttons and no joysticks. For gameplay options, more buttons is definitely superior, so SteelSeries Stratus wins there, but how is the rest of the device in terms of quality and comfort? You’ll have to keep reading to find out!
The first thing you’ll notice when you pull the controller out of the box is how small it is. I mean this thing is really tiny. It’s even smaller than a classic NES controller, but it features about three times as many buttons. It makes sense though, as this controller is designed to be carried around in your pocket along with your phone, so by being a portable controller, it provides a more pleasant experience.
The setup process is extremely painless. You’ll need to charge up the controller, which is done via the included micro-USB cable. From there, it’s just a matter of hitting the power switch on the side of the controller, going to your iPhone or iPad’s Settings section, and connecting to the controller via Bluetooth like you would any other device. At least, that’s the intended process, though I did run into a small snag on my first try.
On my first attempt at connecting the device, the controller was not working correctly, with many buttons not functioning in games and my character just running up and left all the time. After some troubleshooting, I found out there was a firmware update – after following the update procedure, all of the issues were resolved, and the controller worked as intended. It was a small annoyance, and although it was not documented in the instructional booklet, it was easy enough to solve.
Overall, my initial impressions were positive. In spite of how small the controller is, it feels solid in your hand, though the joysticks are a little on the stiff side, a complaint that will surely come up again. The other buttons, including the d-pad, have a good feel, and while the layout of the shoulder buttons is a little odd, it didn’t feel too weird.
As I mentioned from the outset, this is a tiny controller. It’s 2.66 inches wide, 4.33 inches long, and 1.3 inches deep. To give you some perspective, the Xbox 360 controller is 6.05 inches long, or close to two inches longer. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but relative to the total size, it’s a big difference.
As far the buttons goes, it’s a very standard layout if you’ve ever played with a modern video game controller. There are four face buttons, four triggers, two parallel joysticks, a d-pad, and a pause button in the middle. The only real difference is the layout of the triggers, which have large R1 and L1 buttons, and smaller, inset R2 and L2 buttons. This means you have to reach in to hit those buttons, which feels a little strange at first, but I was able to adjust quickly.
A smart design choice from SteelSeries is the cover for the controller. When not in use, you place it over the buttons to prevent you from hitting them by mistake while in your pocket. When you are using the controller, you slide the cover over the back, giving it a little more depth. This makes it fill up more of your hand and feel better while playing games, something we will get to a little later in this review.
Overall, the controller is well-designed. After a short amount of use, you’ll actually forget how small it is, which is impressive. Personally, I prefer the offset joysticks found on Xbox controllers, but that’s not a deal-breaker and just a matter of personal preference.
Unfortunately, the list of games available to use with the Stratus leaves much to be desired. This isn’t a problem that is specific to this controller though, but rather a problem that stems to a lack of game developers supporting iOS controllers across the board. As it stands, there isn’t much motivation for developers to update existing games, and the same holds true for new releases, as the install base is too small to devote the extra resources. It’s similar to the problem the Xbox 360 faced when the Kinect first launched — not every Xbox 360 owner owned a Kinect, and as such, developers didn’t believe that enough people would use Kinect features to justify the extra time.
That being said, there’s some pretty cool games, as you can see from the list offered by SteelSeries. Most of the games are also available on other platforms such as Bastion, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. You’ll also find games like GameLoft’s relatively new Dungeon Hunter 4, and lots of classic games that have been ported to iOS.
Is it the best list of games you’ll ever find? Probably not, but there is enough there to justify the purchase if you’ve always felt like touchscreen gaming just isn’t your thing. There’s a wide range of genres and enough to play for a good amount of time. One thing to note though, is that a large percentage of the games offered are not free, so on top of the $80 investment for the controller, you are likely to be spending some money on the games you choose to play. Additionally, we expect more games will support external controllers as the adoption rate grows, so there should be new stuff to play consistently.
Playing Games on the SteelSeries Stratus
So we’ve talked about the games that are available, but that doesn’t really matter if playing games with the controller is not an enjoyable experience. Thankfully, it is, but it’s not without flaws. Let’s start with the good stuff before we jump into some of the things I don’t necessarily love about it.
First, the buttons feel good. All of the face buttons have good tactile response while playing. The d-pad, while not the best I’ve ever used, gets the job done. As I mentioned before, the shoulder buttons have a pretty weird layout, with the R2 and L2 buttons being quite a bit smaller than R1 and L1, but it works, and it feel completely natural while playing.
In our review of the Xbox One, one of my biggest complaints was the looseness of the joysticks, and the Stratus goes the opposite way, with sticks that don’t feel loose enough. The Xbox 360 still has the perfect joystick feel locked down, and you’d think others would copy it, but SteelSeries Stratus is just a little too tight. However, it’s not unusable, and it’s something that could loosen over time. It’s a minor issue, but not a deal-breaker.
The biggest problem I have with the controller is the size. This won’t be a problem for everyone, and I did eventually grow comfortable with it. I have very long fingers, and it never felt perfect. For people with average to smaller hands, it will feel natural, but for my big-handed brethren, it’s something to keep in mind. However, you have to consider the tradeoff. Do you want to carry around an Xbox 360 or PlayStation controller in your pocket? I’m going to assume you don’t, and since this controller is not too small, it’s not a bad sacrifice to make.
Overall, this is not the best controller I’ve ever used by any stretch, but it’s not bad either. It feels pretty good, and it’s certainly better than a touchscreen for games originally designed to be used with a controller.
All in all, I’m not in love with the SteelSeries Stratus, but it certainly has some great qualities. It has some gameplay issues, but many of those are cancelled out by the other factors such as the portability and the fact that it works with the iPad. It also has a full suit of buttons, which allows it to be used with lots of games (compared to other products like Logitech’s offering).
If you just don’t love touchscreen gaming, but want to be able to enjoy some of the cool stuff offered on the App Store, you could definitely do worse than the SteelSeries Status. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s the best iOS game controller on the market so far, though it doesn’t have a ton of competition.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it if you want a controller that works with your iPhone and iPad while still offering solid gameplay and portability.
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