Price: $99.99 available on Apple.com and Apple Stores
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Bottom Line: A great MFi controller, it has all of the controls one would want. Perhaps it's the best available right now. It's hampered only by it's small size and large price.
Previously we have taken a look at the other two iOS 7 compatible, Made for iOS (MFi) controllers: the MOGA Ace Power Gamepad and the Logitech Powershell. Those two share the common requirement of being constantly connected to a Lightning connector equipped iPhone or iPod touch. They will not work with an iPad or 30 pin iOS 7 device. The Steel Series Stratus controller breaks that requirement by using Bluetooth to communicate with the iOS 7 device; expanding the number of devices and the instances where it can be used over the other controllers.
Buttons, Sticks, and Pads. There are two types of approved iOS controllers: one with just buttons and a d-pad, and one with buttons, d-pad, and dual analog sticks. Why anyone would want one of the former I don't know, and luckily this is one of the later with dual analog sticks.
The Stratus has a d-pad, dual analog sticks, and four controller buttons on the front. Also included is a four-light status indicator (for charge level, to signal connection, and to note the player number 1-4) and a pause button. The top of the controller has 4 shoulder buttons with the two trigger buttons moved to just below the typical L1 and R1 buttons. The back on the controller has just the Bluetooth connection initiation button, which is used to connect to a new device.
The dual analog sticks are not of the super flat type (like those used in the Vita or 3DS) and have a good travel and feel with a grippy texture on the top.
Build quality is very good. The controller feels solid without feeling too light or too heavy. The buttons all travel well, respond quickly, and the sticks self center properly. While the small size of the controller is one of the best features it is also one of the biggest detriments. The controller comes in at under the size of an iPhone in width and height (when held landscape), but about double the depth of one. Remarkably small for a controller. It ends up slightly thicker when the included button cover is installed.
I found that playing more than just a few minutes with the Stratus leads to hand discomfort, likely due to the small size. Something that is expected to go away with repeated use, but I'm not sure I'm willing to put up with it.
Connection is easy and quick and is done by connecting the controller just like any other Bluetooth device. One bonus feature is that the connection is automatically reestablished with the last connected iOS device when the controller is turned back on.
The Games! The cool thing about iOS 7 / MFi controllers is that they should all work with the same games. Apple has created a common API to allow game developers to add support once for controller games and have all of the controllers work.
I've tested the Stratus with Minigore 2 and found the dual sticks to be a huge plus in the game play - nice to get my fat thumbs out of the way for one. For a game like GTA: San Andreas the extra buttons help greatly, once accustomed to them. In Dead Trigger 2 the controller is a natural fit. Dead Trigger 2 also includes Gamepad settings allowing the button layout to be re-defined (pictured above). A nice addition that I hope other games will add.
I was less impressed with the controller's use in Limbo. Though this had less to do with the controller than how well the touch controls were implemented in this game.
Price is an issue - at $99.99 and available in Apple Stores and at Apple.com, it is a bit steep. Honestly, in the world of controllers for games it's insanely high. Xbox One controllers retail for about $75, while PS4 controllers hit $60. Both are much more comfortable and feel better when used as a controller.
Overall I really want to love the Stratus. I can say without a doubt that it is the best MFi controller available, quality built and functioning flawlessly. But it's not the best I could hope for. With size and price being big issues. I can only hope to see a full size controller with the quality and features of this controller. Only then will I be happy.