The Steel Series Stratus is an exceptionally good IOS game controller, but the price leaves an awful lot to be desired.
Steel Series Stratus: On the plus side
The Steel Series Stratus is a seriously cute iOS 7 MFi controller. It looks — more or less — what I’d imagine would happen to an XBox One controller if you left it in the wash for too long. As such, from a design perspective, it’s all very familiar stuff, with a standard ABXY button configuration, two analog control sticks, a D-Pad and four shoulder buttons within its miniscule frame.
Power is via Bluetooth with microUSB charging, with a claimed ten hour gaming life. I can’t honestly see anyone opting for an all-out ten hour session on this particular controller, but in my own testing it’s certainly very conservative with its battery power, and for the mostly-casual arena of mobile gaming that’s a good thing.
The Steel Series Stratus also scores highly with me for its flexibility; while there are other MFi controllers on the market now, such as Logitech’s Powershell, they’re rather specifically tied to single iPhone models, where the Steel Series Stratus also works nicely with iPads for a little bit of larger screen gaming.
The range of applicable games is steadily growing — PocketGamer has a nicely up to date list here — so I tested with a few games that I’ve reviewed recently, or have a lot of familiarity with.
That meant dipping my toes back into the world of San Andreas with the iOS version of Grand Theft Auto:San Andreas, jumping around Lara Croft style with Tomb Raider, zipping around as Sonic The Hedgehog, thumping goons with Double Dragon Trilogy and building a-plenty with Terraria.
In every single case, playing with the Steel Series Stratus improved play markedly. There’s almost no difference playing San Andreas on an iPad with the Steel Series Stratus to playing it on an original console, or for that matter Sonic 2. Terraria opens up beautifully with touch controls too. Tomb Raider becomes more playable, but I still hold to my contention that it’s a game whose design hasn’t aged all that well overall.
Steel Series Stratus: On the minus side
The Steel Series Stratus is a small controller, and that’s always going to pose a bit of a challenge for those with larger hands. I can’t say I found it massively cramp-inducing — certainly no worse than an extended play session on, say, a 3DS — but it’s definitely a factor. It comes with a cover that can also clip to the back to give it more heft in your hands, but there’s only so far you can take that.
It’s also, in my opinion, a slightly better controller for iPad users than iPhone/iPod users, simply due to the fact that you’ve got to find somewhere to prop up your screen while playing. If you’re going to that level of trouble, having a larger screen makes a lot more sense, especially if your chosen iPad cover does this anyway.
It’s iOS7 compatible, but not, as I discovered during testing, compatible with every IOS 7 compatible device. One of my iPads is a third generation model, and that’ll happily pair with the Steel Series Stratus, but then refuse to work at all within supported games. Newer devices, such an an iPhone 5s or iPad Air worked flawlessly.
It’s also very light, and very much feels like a small, cheap controller. That leads into its primary problem, which is…
Steel Series Stratus: Pricing
The RRP for the Steel Series Stratus in Australia?
In a word, ouch. I could buy two Xbox One controllers — large, sturdy controllers that are absolutely part of that gaming ecosystem — for that price, as distinct to one peripheral that has to — as a function of its being a peripheral that not every game playing mobile owner will own — coexist with touch controls.
This isn’t uncommon at this point in time with regards to iOS 7 game controllers, but it’s a massive pity, because mass adoption will drive further mass adoption, whereas hefty pricing just limits to a small, cashed-up elite.
Steel Series Stratus: Fat Duck verdict
As a game controller for iOS games, the Steel Series Stratus does an excellent job of making some great games even better, and some ordinary titles that much more precise. There are obvious limits to the kinds of inputs that purely touch-controlled games can manage, so side-skipping those with a great controller design makes a lot of sense.
The pricing, however, totally doesn’t. I’m going to miss the Steel Series Stratus when it goes back without a doubt, because it does enhance the mobile gaming experience a great deal.
A great deal, but not $129 worth.
If the price drops, then snap one up, but for now it’s an excellent accessory priced well above an acceptable range.