At the beginning of this year, SteelSeries launched its pint-sized, yet very portable SteelSeries Stratus Bluetooth external MFi controller for iOS devices.
When I reviewed it in January, my only complaints were that it was perhaps just a little too small for comfortable extended use and that it was far too expensive ($99.99 at launch). Last month, just before Thanksgiving, SteelSeries launched the SteelSeries Stratus XL, their brand-new, full-sized MFi-certified, Bluetooth external iOS controller, and it squarely addresses both of these concerns.
First and foremost, I’d argue that the Stratus (XL) controller is now perfectly sized (and weighted) and comparable to your standard Xbox One or similar current/last gen console controller. It feels wonderful in your hands and there is absolutely none of that cramped awkward hand scrunching that the original Stratus had. The shape of the controller tends more toward that of the Xbox One or the Xbox 360, but the analog stick placement is not offset like Microsoft’s usual MO and is instead inline near the bottom like a Sony console. I tend to prefer Microsoft’s stick placement, but had no issues adjusting to the SteelSeries XL’s layout and gaming with it was a breeze. Rounding out the controller are two shoulder buttons, two triggers, dpad and X,Y, A and B buttons.
For the XL, SteelSeries has done away with the built-in rechargeable battery, instead opting for two standard AA batteries, which will give you approximately 40 hours of playtime. I think I prefer this model as we always tend to have AAs around the house and if I wanted to, I could easily buy a set of rechargeable AAs to be more environmentally friendly.
Back when the original Stratus launched, MFi controllers were still in their infancy and support for these peripherals was still fairly limited. While there hasn’t been a lot of progress in this area, it has gotten somewhat better. We are still not even close to having 100% of new games support MFi controllers and nor should they as some games are just best experienced via the touchscreen. However in the genres where players would most benefit from physical controls (racing, FPS, fighting, platformers) we have seen some nice steady adoption rates by developers, though there are still some notable hold outs like Modern Combat 5. If you are curious which games support the Stratus XL, SteelSeries has compiled an extensive list of compatible games here, though I am not sure how often it is updated (as new games are launching every day).
Playing on an iPad with the SteelSeries Stratus XL feels great. It pairs easily and some titles greatly benefit from physical controls. I’m not gonna lie, using the controller with a smaller device like an iPhone (even the larger 6 Plus) does feel a bit goofy, seeing as the controller is bigger than the device you are playing on. It can also be a little tough to find a good way to properly prop up the phone to play. Maybe if the Stratus XL came with some means for attaching your iPhone to the controller (kind of like MOGA’s Power A), it might feel a little less awkward and more like a cohesive handheld gaming device.
So lemme have it, what will this exciting new controller cost me?
Well, this is another area where SteelSeries has made improvements and the SteelSeries Stratus XL has debuted at a price of $69.99. While not inexpensive by any means it is certainly a little easier to swallow. Personally, I would have preferred to see it debut around $50, but I’m sure there will likely be sales in the future for those who can’t/won’t spend the $70. Pricing still remains SteelSeries one big hurdle as Apple still hasn’t thrown their weight, or even an acceptable means of app discovery behind these controllers to show their value to consumers. Instead they’ve pretty much left it up to the controller manufacturers themselves to build and champion the market for them.
Pricing aside (once again), the improvements that SteelSeries has made for the Stratus XL catapults it to the top of the current crop of MFi controller offerings. Comfortable to use, great button and stick feedback and the perfect size for a true console-like experience on your iOS device, this is the new gold standard for MFi controllers. For various reasons, the Stratus XL will not be a must have for everyone. However, if you are someone who prefers to play your iOS games with a physical controller and you own a decent number of the titles on this list, then the Stratus XL may be a worthy investment to improve your mobile gaming experience. If you’d like to pick one up in time for Christmas, SteelSeries just started offering them in Apple retail stores last week and Stratus XL can be ordered online from Apple for $69.95.