Assuredly the SteelSeries Stratus XL isn’t trying to replace an experience associated with more traditional handheld portable gaming devices. This bigger version of the Stratus controller is really grasping for an authentic console feel in a portable scenario. We’ve not revisited the App Store in a while to see if the ecosystem of games that make use of physical controllers has matured enough for its commanding fee of £59.95/$69.95 to actually make sense, so we went to discover.
Straight away the feeling and shape of the Stratus XL was familiar to us, as we primarily use the PlayStation controller which the SteelSeries Stratus XL subtly replicates with its symmetrical analogue sticks. However, everything else about this design is heavily Xbox inspired; and we were happy about this, as we could freshly evaluate the controller without many preconceptions.
First and foremost, this full sized controller is unquestionably comfortable to hold for hours of avid gaming and the plastics are nice and soft so our hands and fingers didn't hurt. Furthermore it’s ergonomically smart, with an evenly weighted body that sits in the palms. It’s also solidly built, and we assume it’s a controller that is made suitable for use on the go, happily being kept in bags and the like, without cracking from the slightest of impacts. In fact, it’s unquestionably a more hearty build than the PS3 controller we’ve used for over six years.
Present are dual analogue sticks, a D-pad, X Y B A circular buttons, rear trigger & shoulder buttons and a single pause button in the centre. The analogue sticks are covered with silicone and feature a dip in the middle which we were fond of as it produced tremendous grip. They’re smooth in motion and don’t ever grind. The D-pad is all conjoined and, as we’re used to the PlayStation controller, this felt strange; but we ended up liking it and have come to realise that it adds a deeper level of control for playing games like side scrolling platformers. In addition, the right hand buttons aren't at all mushy, they’re responsive and thoughtfully spaced for quick action gaming.
When we went to check on the compatible games, we stumbled on a wealth of 672 (MFI) games in the App Store that now support physical controls. These included big names like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Sonic The Hedgehog, Pacman, Asphalt 8, Limbo and Call of Duty. And it’s a mammoth contrast to touch screen controls when playing a title like GTA: San Andreas. The game is noticeably quicker and more pleasant to play with the SteelSeries Stratus XL, and Rockstar Games have made full use of things like the spring loaded trigger buttons for incremental acceleration dependant on how hard you press. Generally, playing with the Stratus XL over the past month across a wide variety of games has just been an on-par experience to a dedicated console that would use a physical controller as a flagship. Much credit needs to go to the App developers for optimising and perfecting their Apps for controllability in this way. It made us realise that the iPhone and iPad can easily be taken as serious gaming devices and excitingly the library of compatible titles is only going to expand.
Batteries & Bluetooth
We weren’t fans of the AA batteries (two are included): for this price we definitely expect an inbuilt one. They were redeemed by hanging on for over 40 hours of gaming though. iOS devices running on at least iOS 7, with the minimum version of Bluetooth 3.0 + EDR, are compatible with the SteelSeries Stratus XL, but unfortunately all Android devices are not. Reconnecting to previously paired devices is a swift process and if it doesn't go accordingly, SteelSeries have included a pairing button to manually assist. Four controllers can be paired to one device and a row of four red LED indicators are visible to signal which controller you are. The LEDs also broadcast whether the controller is pairing or searching for devices. We also noted that the wireless Bluetooth connection to our iOS devices never faced delays in responsiveness.
The SteelSeries Stratus XL controller will come into the hands of some as familiar territory in terms of its design, and for us newbies we can safely say it’s a design that works tremendously well in transitioning the iPhone and iPad for serious and precise gaming. It comes at quite a hefty price at £59.95/$69.95, but we do believe it’s the best full sized gaming controller for iOS devices. Nevertheless, please look at the current selection of titles that support physical controllers before making your decision.