Reviews
SteelSeries Stratus XL
Wireless Controller

By Jorge Figueiredo - January 31st, 2015

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​There are so many options for gaming now – more than there have ever been. Folks that like to chill at home can purchase a console, or build a gaming PC, while those who spend time on the go can rely on their tablets, laptops, or portable gaming systems (3DS or Vita, for instance) to help fill their gaming needs. Of course, most people can’t afford every system that they might want – and sometimes, practicality dictates that a tablet is the best option for one’s all-around needs. But tablets like the iPad have some decent games, and have a screen large enough to counter the need to squint – plus, with a relatively cheap attachment, can output their screen contents to an HDTV or projector. The only thing lacking in terms of the console experience would be a nice, wireless controller – unless, of course, you happened to own a SteelSeries Stratus XL. SteelSeries sent us one of these devices to check out – and after spending some time with it, I have to say that this controller does nothing but add to the positive ‎experience of gaming on iOS – and I’m not talking Angry Birds.

The Stratus XL comes in a nice-looking box. Typical of SteelSeries, the packaging is well-designed and informative. Opening the box reveals the controller, 2 AA batteries, and a manual. The build quality is definitely up to SteelSeries’ standards, with great play on all of the buttons and just the right amount of tension on the analog sticks. The controller does weigh enough to feel substantial (don’t forget that there are 2 AA batteries in there) – but this isn’t a problem for me, and I suspect that many people will actually enjoy having a little bit of added weight in a controller. While there is no internal rechargeable battery, the Stratus XL draws very little power, enabling it to function for ‎up to 40 hours before having to replace the batteries.

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Box contents.

The Stratus XL straddles the line between two different console controllers: it has the shape and heft of an Xbox One controller while maintaining the analog stick symmetry of the Playstation 4’s DualShock 4. It’s a nice design that amalgamates a comfortable shape with ergonomic analog sensibilities, providing feedback with a 4-LED light bar just under the logo on the face. The XL also has the usual buttons (A,B,X,Y), a D-Pad, shoulder bumpers and trigger buttons. Unlike the PS4 and XB1 controllers, there is no touchpad or menu button on the face; however, there is a pause button, as well as a battery button (which displays the current level of battery power on the light bar) and a pairing button along the front.

There isn’t much to do in terms of setting up the Stratus XL. Simply install the batteries, turn the device over, flip the power switch to “on”, and pair it with your iOS device by pressing the pairing button (Bluetooth 3.0) – easy peasy! The Stratus XL is compatible with over 300 games on the App Store (and growing) – as long as the game is controller-enabled, the Stratus XL will work with it. Controls are all very responsive, and there is very little latency when using the controller (almost negligible for all intents and purposes).

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Triggers and bumpers, along with some other functions.

Developers have certainly done well with touch controls for iOS games; however, there are certain titles that benefit greatly from having a console controller interface. Bastion, for example, has a respectable touch-driven interface; but it is so much more fun to play without your hands being in the way. I honestly lost myself in this title for almost an hour before I realized that I had other stuff to do – but it is important to note that during that entire session, I never had a connection issue or control problem whatsoever. It just goes to show that having the console interface really can make a difference.

If you think about it, you can even turn this setup into a mobile console for use on vacations and business trips – provided that you have an adapter for your iPad or iPhone to output to a larger screen. During your down time, simply hook up your iOS device to the larger screen, turn on your Stratus XL, and kick back to play some games! If you’re a gamer, it’s just another compelling argument to seriously consider this handy device.

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Lots of familiar elements.

The SteelSeries Stratus XL will do something very remarkable to your iPad (or smaller iOS device)1 – it will make it more fun to play games on. It is even more fun than SteelSeries’ original Stratus controller, as the XL feels more substantial, and offers a better and more natural layout. Sure, it won’t really fit in your pocket – but the trade-off is a better gaming experience, so you might just start making use of that old backpack or messenger bag. The Stratus XL is currently available in the Apple Store for $69.99 (at the time of publishing, it is not yet available on the SteelSeries site or Amazon).

1 – The Stratus XL is currently only compatible with the following iOS devices: iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPad mini, iPad Air, iPad 4th Gen, iPod touch (5th Generation).

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