MFi controllers really have the ability to be a game changer for iOS devices. But they're in their infancy, and not only are a select amount of games supported, but they also have some limitations. So far, I've reviewed the Logitech Powershell and MOGA Ace Power -- two controllers that are wired, and only work for specific iPhone flavored devices.
Out of nowhere comes a new challenger -- the SteelSeries Stratus line for iOS, which allows for the same four trigger, dual analog control system of the Ace Power, but this time, with wireless support.
If only it were priced a tad cheaper.
Product: SteelSeries Stratus
Supported devices: iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPod touch (5th gen)
The controller has an extremely simplistic look and feel that should be familiar to anyone who has touched a Dualshock controller before. It has all of the essentials, including a d-pad, two analog sticks, a pause button, four triggers and four face buttons. Since it's Bluetooth based it has a convenient on and off switch on the side, and comes with a charging cable (sadly, it can't be used while charging, which is a bummer). In terms of battery life the Stratus lasted me quite a while (hours upon hours), and the simplistic LED lights on the face show you how much juice it has left.
You should note, though, that this controller is tiny. Take a look at the comparison pictures and see just how tiny it is, as it may result in hand cramping after prolonged use. The face buttons feel perfect, and are just sensitive enough to ease into without accidentally triggering them. The same goes for the pause button, which is far enough away where you won't hit it automatically.
The d-pad is pretty much on-point and precise, and doesn't have a "sticky" feeling to it -- although I wouldn't put it on the same level as a Dualshock pad. While the L1 and R1 buttons work perfectly, the L2 and R2 are strangely shaped, and are actually pretty small -- they don't work nearly as well as full-on triggers. Everything else works great though, and even though my thumbs were pretty close together with the two analog sticks I still didn't have too much trouble.
My tests with nearly every game I tried it with came out positive, mostly because of the addition of the two analog sticks. If a game didn't support either option, much like the MOGA Ace Power I could easily just switch between the directional inputs, and the face buttons work like a charm. I have no real complaints with the d-pad or sticks throughout my sessions, and the only minor problem I ran into was constantly "finding" R2 to accelerate in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It's far from unplayable, though.
So what really sets the Stratus apart from its competitors? Wireless support. Simply put, the ability to go wireless and play via Bluetooth allows for the use of the Stratus on older model iPhones, iPods, and of course, iPads -- which the other controllers can't fit into. Bluetooth syncing could be better though, since the only indicator you have of a successful sync process are the cheap LED lights, and sometimes it can get pretty ambiguous. I've also had the signal drop a few times (this isn't normal though), and had to re-sync.
But the minor inconvenience of sync ambiguity is far outweighed by the ability to play on any device, and it also frees up the lightning port for the Lighting Digital AV Adapter for HDMI based Airplay on your TV, or any other accessory you might plug in there. As an added bonus, multiple controllers inherently support multiplayer sessions like any ol' console would. Sure, it isn't going to function as a backup battery for your phone like the Powershell or Ace Power, but since most people are probably going to buy a controller to control things, I don't see that being a problem.
SteelSeries really knocked it out of the park with this one with a solid controller that opens up more play control options. There's just one elephant in the room -- the $99 pricepoint. I'm sure SteelSeries was just running with the pack and not overextending on this one, pricing themselves against the other two competitors, but with the limited library on iOS, it's still a tough sell. Having said that, iOS controller support is getting stronger every day, and eventually, you may want a wireless option -- the Stratus would be a good bet whenever that day comes.