Steelseries Stratus XL Review


Dec 25, 2011
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Console gaming, portable console gaming, mobile gaming. One of these things is not like the other. What’s the problem with mobile gaming though? The controls are on the screen. The controls…are on…the screen. I emphasize that point to emphasize my frustration with on-screen controls. Luckily you don’t have to deal with that all the time if you don’t want to. There are numerous MFI controllers out. Some have mounts, some do not. The SteelSeries Stratus XL is one of the latter, and that’s also one of the reasons why I chose it. You may also be wondering what MFI is. MFI stands for made for iOS. If you see a Bluetooth controller labeled as MFI then you know it meets Apple’s standards as a Bluetooth controller for iOS devices. The Stratus XL is one such device that is even endorsed by Apple. Well, SteelSeries is endorsed by Apple if you want to get technical. Had I done a little more research, I probably would have gone with a different Apple endorsed controller that has a similar price tag and that being said, I do really enjoy using the Stratus XL.

One reason I went with the SteelSeries Stratus XL over other options is the button layout. Most Bluetooth game controllers have an XBOX layout, which is to say the joysticks are separated by the d-pad. The Stratus XL has a Playstation layout, so the joysticks are next to each other and the d-pad is by itself. I’m more familiar with this layout, and I enjoy it more. The button layout is pretty standard, on the right you have your A, B, X, and Y buttons, both joysticks on the bottom, the d-pad on the left, a pause button in the middle, a tiny LED display for Bluetooth and battery indicator, the top of the controller houses the Bluetooth and battery buttons as well four shoulder buttons, and the back of the controller has the power switch. The four shoulder buttons is another reason I chose the Stratus XL, many Bluetooth gaming controllers only have two shoulder buttons instead of the full four. This was important to me.


The full four shoulder buttons are important to me when I play certain games like Grand Theft Auto, which utilizes all four shoulder buttons. The only drawback to the Status XL button-wise is that it doesn’t have the buttons under the joysticks, otherwise known as L3 and R3. While Bluetooth gaming controllers have come a long way in recent years, many are still lacking in a few key controls. Grand Theft Auto utilizes the buttons under the joysticks as well. With more and more console games making their way onto mobile it would be nice to see Bluetooth controllers utilizing the full button layout of console controllers. All the buttons are soft and really tactile, you will know whether or not you actually hit the buttons. While some controllers buttons are stiff, the Stratus XL buttons are not, they are even a little easier to press than some actual console controllers.

While gaming, the Stratus XL is really nice to use. It feels great playing games with a controller on mobile. There is no lag at all and it is fantastic. My only gripe with usability is that the back shoulder buttons, L2 and R2, have to be pressed pretty far to fully activate. I’ve played Grand Theft Auto and the original Tomb Raider mostly and I have not run into a single issue while playing. I even run my iPhone or iPad as a console when I play sometimes because big screens are better than small screens. The biggest compliment I can give is that it really feels like you are playing the original console games rather than a mobile port. It really is that good. While I can’t endorse emulators or ROMS, I can say the Stratus XL will work just fine with them.


I know I said there is no lag with the Stratus XL, and that’s true, however, there is a way to get lag. You will encounter lag if, and only if, you try to AirPlay your game to another screen. Will it work? Yes, but there is a delay. I circumvent that issue by, as stated earlier, making my iPhone or iPad a console. This is a really simple thing to accomplish. Firstly, you’ll need an HDMI cable to plug into a TV, and secondly, you’ll need Apple’s Lightning to HDMI adapter. Plug your HDMI cable into your TV, then into the adapter, then plug the adapter into your iPhone or iPad and then you have an instant mini console. When you setup your game this way to achieve a larger screen, you will no longer have any delay or lag while playing your games using the Stratus XL. It is definitely my favorite way of playing old console games.

Here are a couple screenshots to help show the difference between the on-screen controls and using a Bluetooth gaming controller. Keep in mind with the on-screen controls screenshot here that the joystick is only on the screen when your hand is also on the screen making the movements.

On-screen controls


Stratus XL connected


Setting up the SteelSeries Stratus XL is a simple process. The first thing to note is that the Stratus XL does not have a built-in rechargeable battery. It uses two AA batteries that go right in the center on the back. No worries though, it comes with your first two batteries. You can always use rechargeable AA batteries or just buy a pack of them. Unless you are gaming all day every day, the Stratus XL is very power efficient and won’t drain the batteries while not in use. To connect to the controller after you put in the batteries, all you need to do is flip the power switch, open your Bluetooth settings on your phone, hold down the Bluetooth button on the Stratus XL for a few seconds, and your phone will see the controller and you can connect. You’re done. Then you just have to adjust your game settings (if needed) to change the input method to a controller. Most games I’ve played have found the controller automatically and I didn’t need to change any settings.

The Good
  • Ergonomic
  • Soft touch
  • Tactile

The Bad
  • No L3 or R3
  • L2 and R2 are deep presses
  • No internal battery


Do your research, decide what kind of joystick layout you want, how many shoulder buttons, and so on. The SteelSeries Stratus XL won’t be for everyone, I just happen to really enjoy mine. I can easily recommend it unless you can find a Bluetooth controller that has a full console setup and you will be playing mostly console games. For the average user, the Stratus XL is more than enough and is a joy to use. The price has even dropped since I’ve purchased mine, it may be about to be out of production since even Steelseries is out of stock at the time of this review. If you can nab it though, the Stratus XL is currently $40 directly from Steelseries.

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