SteelSeries Stratus Controller Review


When I first learned about controllers being made for iOS7 devices I was a little confused. Isn’t the whole point of an iPhone, or an iPad, to have everything “all-in-one”? Is there really a need for a controller when you can just use the touch screen? Well…

What is it all about?

The SteelSeries Stratus is a standalone Bluetooth controller that only works with iOS 7 on the following devices: iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPad Mini, iPad Air, iPad 4thGeneration, iPod Touch (5th Generation). Even though the controller is compatible with iOS devices, that doesn’t imply the same for all iOS apps. So a little searching is required to find the right ones. (I’ll save you the trouble and give you the list right here.) The Stratus offers up 10 hours of play time on a single charge, which sounds about right as I’ve been playing Dead Trigger 2 like a madwoman lately.

It’s definitely a micro controller as it fits entirely in the palm of your hand. Its minuscule size and nearly undetectable weight make it the ultimate companion for gaming on the go. However, with its tiny size comes a huge drawback if you’ve got large hands and/or long fingers…If you do, the way you go about gripping the controller is going to feel incredibly cramped. Since my fingers tend to be on the longer side, I did find it hard to hold the Stratus after a while.

The Setup

Connecting the Stratus its pretty much a hassle-free experience and works just like it would if you weresyncing a Bluetooth speaker to an iPad or iPhone. It does use the older Bluetooth 2.1 standard, but syncing (nor response time) does not really suffer because of it. Just flick the switch on the side and hold down the Bluetooth pairing button on the back. The flashing LED array on the front will let you know when you are good to go. The LEDs are also indicator lights to let you know what player you are as up to 4 can be connected to one iOS device at a time.

Steelseries_stratus_front_topThe SteelSeries Stratus mimics the likes of Playstation and Xbox controllers, yet remains small enough to be portable. The front face still includes a good-sized D-pad, two separate joysticks, four face buttons (A, B, X, and Y), a pause button, and four shoulder buttons (L1, R1, L2 and R2.) The shoulder buttons are positioned directly on top of each other, so you may occasionally (as I did) hit the wrong one quite often.

A micro USB cable is included, which plugs into a port on the bottom of the Stratus.  When you connect it to any power plug — iPhone, iPad, or an open port on your computer — this will power up the rechargeable battery.  To save some of that battery life, there’s also a switch on the side to turn the controller off. 

Pick Your Poison

For my testing, I used  Dead Trigger 2,  Asphalt 8, and Pac-Man.  Dead Trigger 2 is a first person shooter where the game handles the shooting and some of the targeting. So although the switch to the Stratus made the game better it wasn’t a compelling difference. Asphalt 8 is a racing simulation game and it is difficult to play using just the on-screen touch controls. However, racing using the Stratus was a great experience and made the gameplay significantly better. The game controller enhances the experience, provides more obvious tactile response to your inputs and brings the experience closer to what you might get on a traditional game console. As for Pac-Man,  the controller itself functioned well within the game. Both the D-pad and the analog stick inputs were recognized by the game, but the controller inputs fell short within the game menu. The game recognized the input from both the D-pad and analog sticks to switch menus, but the sensitivity was way off.  A light tap would scroll through the options about 5 or 6 times, and even though eventually I got it to select the option I wanted, it left a lot to be desired.

What’s The Catch?

What it all comes down to is its cost – $80. No matter how much you try to gloss over how great it is fundamentally, economically it still costs more than what a console controller costs these days. At $80, the Stratus is still more of a novelty than a must-have. Its probably easier to bash the buttons on a shooter type game, but for most games available on touch screen devices the Stratus would appear to be overkill. Also, it does not allow you to take advantage of the gyros and touch screen dynamics of most tablet games. Until there is a more compelling market out there for what the Stratus can supply, this controller is strictly for those who are really serious about iOS gaming.