All the age of controller-enabled iOS gaming has given us so far is a pair of wraparound shell controllers that only work with newer iPhones or iPod Touches. Where's the iPad love? SteelSeries brings the iPad love with the Stratus — the first official wireless gaming controller for iOS 7.
SteelSeries has been in the iOS controller business since before the iOS controller business was a thing. Prior to last year's iOS 7 update, the only way to get a gamepad to work on iOS was to cheat. That's exactly what the tiny SteelSeries' Free Mobile Controller did. It told iOS devices it was a keyboard. iOS devices believed it.
Cheaters never win. The Free was only supported by a small number of games, and pairing it with a device disabled its on-screen keyboard, making it pretty inconvenient to play around with. It was also $80 at launch, which was silly.
Now we have the Stratus.
WHAT IS IT?
The Stratus is a miniature gamepad for iOS devices, specifically any iOS 7 device with a lightning port. It doesn't use the lightning port — it's a Bluetooth 2.1 machine. It's just an easy way to group supported iOS 7 devices without typing out a long list. If it's got a lightning port, this will work on it.
The Stratus is a variation of the same design as 2012's Free. They've dropped the rubberized plastic (so 2012), defined the cheekbones a bit further, added a second set of shoulder buttons and swapped "select" and "start" with a single pause/home button.
WHO IS IT FOR?
Any iPad gamer who's watched jealously as the iPhone and iPod Touch users got MOGA and Logitech controllers to play with. Also iPhone and iPod Touch users who'd rather not extended their rectangles any further.
Oh, and people with incredibly tiny hands. They'll really appreciate this one.
WHAT I DID WITH IT
I played games with it, as recommended on the package. I played a selection of controller supporting titles on both my Retina iPad Mini and my iPhone 5c.
WHAT I LIKED
iPad Support — The biggest advantage of the Stratus over Power A and Logitech's initial offerings, the Stratus works with the iPad, and they don't. No wraparound case means no worries about the size of your device. In short, if you want an official gamepad for you iPad, this is it.
It's So Tiny — At 4.33 inches long, 2.66 inches wide and weighing less than a fifth of a pound, the Stratus isn't simply tiny, it's wonderfully unobtrusive. This is a game controller that you can put in your pocket and wander about town without the foremost thought in your head being "There's a game controller in my pocket."
It Works Quite Well — The years of engineering that went into the Free Mobile Controller are applied here, resulting in a pocket-sized controller that — most of the time — won't feel like a pocket-sized controller. The pressure sensitive face and shoulder buttons are lovely to touch. The analog sticks are capped with rubber nubs that love on your thumbs as you play. At its best it's a full-sized controller that just takes up a lot less space.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
No Playing While Charging — Around ten hours of play time on a full charge is great. Two hours of charging to a full charge isn't bad. The fact that plugging the charging cable into the controller shuts it off until the cable is removed? That's unfortunate.
Those Shoulder Buttons — Every time I have to give the Stratus the old L2/R2 reach-around I feel a little dirty.
If a game requires the L2 or R2 be pressed for any extended period of time, either remap the control if possible or just play with the touchscreen, because ow. I'm looking at you, Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed.
Fiddling With Bluetooth — Is the controller connected? Is it paired? These aren't questions users of the Power A or Logitech shell controllers have to worry about. Those controllers plug directly into their device's lightning port and once connected, they just work. It's not particularly hard to pair the Stratus, but sometimes it's hard to tell if it's connected. A lot of that is these early days of iOS controller support — many developers are still leaving menus purely touch navigable, so you don't know if the controller is working until the race starts. Either way, it's an additional step users of the shell controllers don't have to worry about.
It's So Tiny — Tiny is wonderful if you're gaming on the go, but when I am sitting at home with my iPad or iPhone hooked up to my TV via HDMI, what's the point?
MY FINAL WORD
The SteelSeries Stratus is currently the only wireless Bluetooth controller certified by Apple. It's the only official gamepad solution for the iPad. It's a wonderfully engineered product that gets the job done.
It's also a relatively major investment. Like MOGA and Logitech's controller offerings, this tiny bundle of crafted plastic runs $99. I'm guessing that's a price point dictated by Apple, because I can't imagine a product manager looked at this thing and went "Oh yeah, that's a hundred dollar item right there."
But let's not quibble over coinage. The real issue here is the size. Take a look at this promotional video for the Stratus.
Those are two hardcore gamers right there. They've got SteelSeries headsets on. They're sitting in a darkened room with their iPad on a stand. In their hands, a controller that, from a distance, looks like a Happy Meal Toy, or the tins GameStop sells during the holidays to hold gift cards used to purchase full size controllers.
The SteelSeries Stratus will be available soon at SteelSeries.com.