The Stratus XL controller takes iOS gaming to the next level [review + giveaway]

Steel Series Stratus XL Gaming Controller

Since Apple announced MFi controller support for iOS games, fewer options appeared than originally anticipated. The reason for a slow response is a bit surprising. However, my point of view is slightly skewed as an iOS accessory hardware reviewer. Still, I cannot imagine why app developers would not want to build in the support. Even more shocking is the small list of hardware options.

At CES 2014, it seemed like controllers would be the new thing. Unfortunately, several companies I chatted with never released their controller. We have come a long way since January 2014 and a full year plus another six months since the MFi controller support protocol released at WWDC.

SteelSeries was one of the first companies to-market with their SteelSeries Stratus. The Stratus was an extremely small MFi controller, but perfect for on-the-go gamers. Recently, they released the Stratus XL, a full sized battle tested design, similar to a true console handheld. After settling down with the XL, it changed the way I look at iOS as a gaming platform.

This changes everything

I am extremely impressed with any iOS accessory that modifies the way I use my device in a positive manner. The Stratus XL now makes my iPad an actual gaming possibility. Before, I gamed very little on my devices, keeping only simple games ready for a quick session. The Stratus XL has the stones to make me actually game on my iPad. It further increases my severe hatred of Nintendo for outright refusing to port their old titles to iOS.

Stratus XL takes full advantage of the MFi controller options. The controller has a pressure-sensitive D-pad, four pressure-sensitive buttons and two analog triggers or shoulder bumpers. Additionally, dual analog sticks are placed similar to a Playstation controller.

For an updated list of compatible iOS games, check out the SteelSeries FAQ section.

I spent more time gaming since I got my Stratus XL a week ago, than all of 2014. For the first time since owning an iOS device, which dates back to 2008, I sat and gamed on my iPad for almost a complete hour. Maybe that is a short time for most folks, but I do not see my iOS devices as primarily a gaming system. Typically, I spend short minutes playing endless runners or quick fix games while standing in line at the grocery store. Until I sat down with the Stratus XL, series gaming was a passing glance.

With the Stratus, I found myself scouring the App Store looking for “real” games that I would have never considered downloading, much less paying to enjoy. I even scrolled back through my purchased list trying to find games I downloaded but gave up playing because the touch controls were too difficult to master.

Steel Series Stratus XL pack

Oceanhorn ($8.99) was the first game I tried playing with the controller. Forty-five minutes later, I finally broke away from the screen to grab some dinner. Why pay big bucks for a game that cannot reach its true potential through a touch interface. Now, I’m not dogging Oceanhorn, as it is one of the greatest games in its genre, built specifically for iOS. I am just saying, with a controller, there is a real potential for me to game on my iPad.

Sure, I played with other controllers. At CES, MFi controllers were the rage. I played with several different style of controllers, even the original SteelSeries Stratus controller. The Stratus XL makes docking style controllers a joke, at best. They are convenient for holding your iPhone while playing, but the experience is severely limited by the requirement of docking the device. It is like trying to play a SEGA Game Gear, sorry for the old school reference, but that is the most similar experience.

A standalone, full sized controller is just better. Period. Do you lose some portability? Definitely. I would pay a little extra for a nice little fitted carrying case if it was offered as an optional accessory. Mini controllers are great for stashing in your pocket and getting some gaming sessions together in tight spots. But, anywhere you can set your iPhone or iPad up on a table, the Stratus XL is going to be the best option.


The Stratus XL uses two AA batteries and has no rechargeable on-board battery system. Thankfully, the controller sips energy, providing 40+ hours of gaming. I am shocked the life is rated for 40 hours because of Bluetooth 3.0 technology. Bluetooth 4.0 has been around for a while and is known as Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE. BLE technology requires even less energy to operate. While 40 hours is a strong contender, I would like to see BLE utilized in any future updates.

It is also important to note, the Stratus XL is only compatible with the following, recent iOS devices: iPhone 6 Plus; iPhone 6; iPhone 5/s/c; iPad Air/2; iPad 4th generation; iPad mini 2/3; and iPod Touch 5th generation.

It is not the only full-sized MFi controller out there, but it is an extremely short list. As of December 9, the Stratus XL is carried in all Apple retail stores, but is still a challenge to find online. The SteelSeries website is not currently selling them, neither is Amazon. At $69.99 via, I would argue it is a reasonable price, especially considering it will also work with certified OS X games.

The Stratus XL makes iOS gaming achievable. Using a touch screen always eliminated my desire to play games on iPad or iPhone, but a full size controller quickly changed my mind. I even travel with it in my daypack now. Leading me to one follow up, a carrying case. It would be great to toss this in a custom cut case for ease of travel and to protect the D-pad and sticks.

Overall, go for it. SteelSeries is not trying to make iPad a console system, but it provides the most console-like experience. How about winning one below?


iDB Holiday Gift Guide

What do you have to do to win?

Sorry to our international readers, this one is for US & Canada residents only. A winner will be selected on Friday, who follows the next steps:

We look forward to selecting one lucky winner by week’s end. You will be contacted via Twitter DM if you have won!

Winner announced

And the winner of this giveaway is AkaRichardSWB (his entry). To everybody else, stay tuned as we’ll soon have more giveaways.