SteelSeries’ second iOS controller is called Stratus XL ($70), a followup to the original Stratus. Previously, the small Bluetooth controller launched with a retail price of $100, but the new Stratus XL is both larger — hence the name — and $30 cheaper. It retains the same number of gameplay sticks and buttons, but has a new shape with extended handles in addition to its larger size. Like the recently released C.T.R.L.i and Micro C.T.R.L.i from Mad Catz, Stratus XL is said to get 40 hours of play time from two disposable batteries — AA batteries in this case.
Stratus XL is significantly larger than the original Stratus — this time, it feels and looks more like a console controller. It’s about the same size as Mad Catz’s C.T.R.L.i gamepad, but Stratus XL is a bit heavier with slightly more extended handles. We prefer the matte finish of Stratus XL, which offers a better grip. Notably, though, Stratus XL lacks a clip for holding an iPhone, so if you’re more interested in using a controller for iPhone gaming, you’ll need a separate stand, or a case with a stand feature, lest you want to place the phone on a table or lap and stare straight down.
Setting up Stratus XL is easy. Included AA batteries go in the back of the controller, and the gamepad quickly connected using Bluetooth — we didn’t have any disconnections, either. It’s also possible for the controller to connect from within supported games without accessing iOS Bluetooth settings. Four LEDs on the front of the controller note remaining battery life. Stratus XL has two analog sticks, a d-pad, four face buttons, and four shoulder buttons. We tested it with a number of different games, including Asphalt 8: Airborne, Leo’s Fortune, and Limbo.
Unlike the original Stratus controller, we didn’t experience strange acceleration issues this time around, and our Asphalt 8 experience was superb during braking and acceleration alike. The controller also performed well on Leo’s Fortune and Limbo — it felt much like the Mad Catz controller when used with the latter title. Unlike the C.T.R.L.i, we found the d-pad on Stratus XL had a nice feel, with good give. Shoulder button issues found in the previous Stratus are also non-existent — the buttons have been redesigned and are easily accessible during gameplay.
SteelSeries has undoubtedly done a better job this time around with Stratus XL. It’s a well-built controller that improves gameplay and doesn’t feel cheap. But although the price has dropped $30 from the original Stratus’ launch price, $70 is still a lot to pay for an iOS controller. In direct competition with Mad Catz’s recently released controllers, if all things were equal, we’d give a slight edge to Stratus XL in looks and feel. However, Stratus XL is both $10 more expensive than the C.T.R.L.i — and $30 pricier than the Micro C.T.R.L.i — while lacking any kind of clip or stand option for an iPhone. Stratus XL offers a very good gameplay experience, but we’d still question whether it’s worth $70 for an iOS controller, particularly when you’ll have to pony up for replacement batteries after every 40 hours of play. If you’re a serious iOS gamer — especially an iPad user, considering the lack of a clip or stand here — Stratus XL might be your best bet for now, though it’s not without its own issues. Still, it’s good enough to earn our limited recommendation.
Company and Price
Model: Stratus XL
Compatible: All iPads, iPhones, iPod touches running iOS 7 or Later