Developer: SteelSeries
Price: $79.99
Device Reviewed With: new iPad, iPhone 5, iPad mini

Usability Rating: ★★★★½
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating: ★★★★☆
Hardware Design Rating: ★★★★½
Re-Use Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

The SteelSeries Free mobile wireless controller is a wonder of miniature design and quality. It’s solidly built, feels good in the hand, and controls a wild variety of games on iOS, Android, Mac and PC. This review focuses on iOS gaming, but I also tested out the controller with Mac & PC computers, finding it easy to connect and use with a variety of games.

Pairing the SteelSeries Free is a simple matter of tapping into the Bluetooth settings on an iOS device, holding down a couple of buttons on the controller, and waiting a few seconds. That’s it. No pairing number emulation, no weirdness, it just works. As soon as the controller is paired, popping into any one of the almost 100 compatible games will get players rocking arcade games with a separate controller. The SteelSeries Free uses Bluetooth keyboard emulation, similarly to the ION iCade system, so iCade games are also compatible here.

The tiny little controller feels good even in my big hands, with its dual sticks, four face buttons (plus start and back buttons), two shoulder buttons, and a d-pad for all sorts of game control needs. SteelSeries has extensive experience in the pro-gaming scene, and it shows here with a quality vident from the first touch. There’s even a cute little bag to keep the controller in, away from potentially scratching things deep in a bag or pocket.

The only niggles I have here are not even SteelSeries’ fault. One, I’d love to see a controller that can do more than emulate the iCade. While it works fantastically for arcade and platform games, I’d like to see better support for dual-stick shooter type control schemes that really need two analog sticks. The other problem is that since the SteelSeries Free uses Bluetooth keyboard emulation, the iOS keyboard doesn’t pop up when the device is paired with the controller. Again, it’s a systemic issue, rather than one with the controller, but with such a tiny controller, it’s easy to forget that there won’t be a keyboard to use until the external game pad is disconnected.

Overall, the SteelSeries Free mobile wireless controller is delightful to use, with a solidly built and fantastically designed controller that is extremely portable and easy to use with a wide variety of gaming devices. While it would be nice to have support for games on iOS that require more than iCade-style Bluetooth keyboard emulation, what’s here is as close to mobile gaming perfection as is possible in today’s iOS world.

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