SteelSeries Stratus Review: High Comfort, High Cost

by Reads (5,024)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Design
      • 7
      • Features
      • 7
      • Performance
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 7.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Full assortment of buttons
    • Lightweight, sturdy build
    • Good battery life
  • Cons

    • Far too expensive
    • Trigger buttons feel cramped
    • Awkward to use on the go

Quick Take

The SteelSeries Status is pricey, but currently the best option for official Apple wireless gamepads. Whether it's worth buying will likely depend on how often you find yourself yearning for good ol' buttons during your mobile game sessions.

Apple’s foray into official game controller support hasn’t brought the revolution some had anticipated.  Game support has been limited, and the controllers themselves have been met with little fanfare. But of the strangely minuscule batch of early MFi devices, the SteelSeries Stratus gets the most out of the initiative’s promise. It gives you a full suite of buttons, a long-lasting battery, and the opportunity to turn your iPhone, iPad, or iPod into a makeshift console — and it crams it all into one supremely compact, wireless package.

It’s also priced too damned high. Here’s why.

The Stratus’ button layout should be immediately recognizable to anyone who’s ever played a PlayStation in recent years. Its front is adorned with four face buttons, a directional pad, two joysticks, and a pause button, while its top features dual triggers and dual bumpers. All of this is accompanied by a set of four LED lights that indicate battery and connection status, and a side-mounted on/off switch. If you’re familiar with SteelSeries’ Free pad for Android, you know what you’re getting here.

SteelSeries Stratus

As with the Free, SteelSeries has fit this tried-and-true setup into a remarkably tiny body. The Stratus easily fits in the palm of your hand. It’s smaller than the iPhones you’ll be connecting it to, and at 0.17 pounds, it’s impressively light as well.

Having all these inputs in such a small form factor could’ve easily made the Stratus a mess to control, but in practice, it does what it’s supposed to do. The standard ‘X-Y-B-A’ face buttons are good and round, with a pressure-sensitive feel that lets you ease into pressing them. The d-pad is sufficiently clicky and doesn’t have any sort of squishiness to it. The dual joysticks are a little too tight for my liking, but they’re accurate enough, and they’re the only ones of their kind on the MFi controller market today.

The Stratus’ thin bumpers are too close to the triggers to be totally comfortable, though. It’s really the only instance where the Stratus’ small stature detracted from my playtime; too often I found my index fingers hitting the R1 and R2 buttons at the same time.

SteelSeries Stratus SteelSeries Stratus

There just isn’t much room to breathe up there, and it doesn’t help that the triggers don’t feel so much like ‘triggers’ as they do regular, non-flexible buttons. When I wanted to, say, drive a car in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, I had no choice but to floor it at all times. Most mobile games are simple enough to avoid these annoyances, but they’re there.

Still, for such a little machine, the Stratus is surprisingly comfortable to hold. My hands are larger than most, but even after running through my iPad’s games library for a few hours, I never felt any of the expected cramps or strains.

SteelSeries Stratus

Other big-handed folks may feel some discomfort if they play for too long, but I found the Stratus to be just thick enough for me to wrap my fingers around it smoothly. (If you need to add a little extra girth, though, you can always snap the controller’s plastic cover onto its back.) Besides those bumpers, buttons are placed in spots that feel natural for your thumbs.

SteelSeries StratusMost importantly, the Stratus never feels like it’s getting in your way. When I had the Stratus hooked up, I didn’t have to think about how silly I look tilting my tablet from side to side during a run of Real Racing 3. I didn’t have to get frustrated because I can’t line up a headshot in Dead Trigger 2. I didn’t have to throw my phone out a window because of how difficult it is to do anything in GTA. I could just enjoy what my games had to offer.

Playing with a sturdy, familiar-feeling controller like the Stratus just made my experiences cleaner. I had more fun using it. Something like Temple Run won’t feel as frantic when you’re using a d-pad instead of swipes and sweeps, but controllers like the Stratus aren’t made for those anyway. For anything with more involved controls, it kept me from feeling like I was battling my games instead of playing them.

And that’s the point. That the Stratus’ button response time was consistently quick — even though it uses Bluetooth 2.1 over 4.0 – or that its battery lasted a good nine hours during my test period was also nice.

The Stratus is the first wireless MFi pad, but that’s both a blessing and a curse. When I paired it with an iPad, I had the kind of luxurious experience that makes me see why people are so eager to get higher-quality games onto devices like this. It turned my iPad mini and its gorgeous display into one self-contained, minimalist gaming system. Although there was some minor lag involved, I could also control its games on my HDTV through Apple’s Lightning AV Adapter, much like a makeshift microconsole. Right now, the Stratus is the only MFi controller that can comfortably do these things.

SteelSeries Stratus

When I hooked it up to an iPhone, however, things weren’t quite as smooth. Without a built-in stand or connector — like those found on Moga and Logitech’s MFi pads – the Stratus too often forced me to fumble with my phone in the hopes of finding an agreeable position. It was just about impossible to use on train or car rides too, making it much less portable than its minuscule size would suggest. While it will work with the iPhone, iPods, and iPad, the Stratus is best suited for the latter.

That’s a problem, but the Stratus’ most fatal flaw is simpler: it’s too expensive. Part of the MFi certification involves partnering with explicit, often more expensive, component suppliers, and it shows.

SteelSeries StratusConclusion

SteelSeries is currently selling these things for $80 a pop, which is just absurd. By comparison, Sony and Microsoft sell their next-gen console pads for $60, and those devices are much more premium-feeling and come with built-in rumble, mic support, headphone jacks, touchpads and other goodies. You can get most Android controllers for even less, and many of those match or surpass the Stratus’ capabilities too.

For all its comfort, the Stratus has a lot of plastic, and it looks toyish. It charges via microUSB instead of the Lightning adapter, and annoyingly, it can’t be used while charging. It works with only the most recent of iOS devices (no luck for iPhone 4s users). Plus, controller support across iOS games is still sloppy: The Stratus has a decent list of about 100 supported titles, but it’s obvious that most of them weren’t built with gamepads in mind. You’ll usually need to reach over and awkwardly hit your screen to swipe through a menu or change a camera angle every now and then.

This doesn’t mean that the Stratus is a bad product — it’s not — and many of the above issues aren’t solely its fault. It just means that the Stratus just isn’t worth the going rate.

In a vacuum, I’d have no trouble recommending the Stratus to iOS gamers. It’s sturdy, responsive, and more versatile than its competitors. It does its job well. Its cost is too prohibitive given its faults, though — at least for now. It also might lessen the amount of controller-ready games brought to iOS; expensive controllers mean fewer people will buy them, and if fewer people buy them, fewer games will support them. A more sensible price tag would make the Stratus an easy favorite among MFi gamepads, but for now, you should wait until a better mix of comfort and cost comes along.

Pros:

  • Full assortment of buttons
  • Lightweight, sturdy build
  • Good battery life

Cons:

  • Far too expensive
  • Trigger buttons feel cramped
  • Awkward to use on the go


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