In the next couple of months, gamepad controllers for iOS devices will be a dime a dozen. Like headphones and Bluetooth speakers, everyone seems to be making them. Logitech and Moga already sell their PowerShell and Ace Power controllers, respectively. Both of these are clip-on controller attachments designed to hold an iPhone in its grips. The SteelSeries' Stratus keeps it simple: it's just a tiny game controller for iOS 7.
We had a chance to toy with a Stratus paired up to an iPad mini at CES 2014 and we gotta say we're kind of impressed. The diminutive gamepad doesn't skimp on the buttons. For your money, you get two proper analogs, ABXY buttons and a decent D-pad. The Stratus also has two pairs of shoulder buttons up top.
If you've got large hands, the Stratus (4.33 x 2.66 x 1.3-inches) is going to feel cramped. There's no way around that fact, but if you have small or normal-sized hands, the iOS 7 gamepad is not too bad. It's far from a roomy and ergonomic PS4/Xbox One controller, but this little guy is designed for portability; it's easily pocketable. There isn't much in terms of grip on the back, but you can snap on the included plastic cover to add more depth to the skinny controller.
From our brief demo, we can tell you the analogs are okay. They don't have the full range of motion as analogs a console controller; they're similar to the little analogs on the PS Vita. The D-Pad is nice and large with diagonal presses an ease to execute. While others may disagree, I found the ABXY buttons to be on the stiff side, not quite smooth when performing complete down presses. And the shoulder buttons are too crowded. It would have been nice to see two tiny triggers instead of lumping the L2/R2 buttons together right below the L1/R1 buttons, but we'll give it a pass in the name of size constraints.
Overall, for an iPad propped up or even an iPad mirrored to an HDTV via AirPlay, the Stratus is a solid controller. It's just really, really small.
The $99 price is pretty expensive for a controller (even Xbox and PlayStation controllers only cost $60), SteelSeries reminds us it's the same price as Logitech and Moga's iOS 7 controllers. But, before you buy a Stratus or any iOS 7 controller, be sure to consider the limited games that support iOS controllers. SteelSeries only lists six games that work with the Stratus: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Bastion, Call of Duty: Strike Team, Riptide GP2, Dead Trigger 2 and Limbo. That's not a whole lot of games right now, but it's possible the list will grow if developers program their games to work with controllers.
Still, using a proper controller with proper buttons, despite its miniature size, to run, shoot and loot in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas sure beats using touchscreen buttons (or worse: those fake analog/button suction cup stick-ons SteelSeries sells.) Overall, with an iPad propped up or even an iPad mirrored to an HDTV via AirPlay, the Stratus is a solid controller. It's just really, really small. The company says battery life is around 10 hours, which is as long as an iPad lasts on a charge.
Posted on location at CES 2014. All photos taken by Raymond Wong for DVICE.