SteelSeries’ Status+ controller isn’t the best mobile experience

A photo of the SteelSeries Stratus+

The SteelSeries Stratus+ looks and feels like a console controller.
photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

Not even them best smartphone is a replacement for a full-fledged console, but with the right accessories it can become a powerful gaming machine. Now that there’s a way to play big, AAA first-person shooters and story-driven RPGs using cloud services like Amazon Luna and Microsoft Game Pass, it’s time to consider getting a controller for want to grab the games on the go . That SteelSeries Stratus+ is one such option, and while it’s very versatile, it doesn’t always feel as natural as the more focused competition already out there.

Take the Razer Kishi, a device I already own that is designed specifically for phones. It stretches to fit snugly around either side of my phone, allowing me to play it like a Nintendo Switch. One of the downsides of the Kishi is that it just works with smartphones, a problem the Stratus+ avoids thanks to a more traditional design and the ability to work on PC. You might be looking for something like this if you lead a multi-device life, but you’ll have to live with some awkward design choices when using your phone, such as: B. a wobbly phone mount. And if you’re not mobile, it’s not as if the Stratus+ doesn’t have a lot of competition out there The best game controllers that are already on the market and have been specially developed for consoles and PCs.

All of this leaves this little Bluetooth-compatible controller, which works with smartphones, tablets, and PCs of all kinds (including Chromebooks), in an awkward middle ground. It’s not the first controller with a phone clip, and some companies even sell phone clips separately and expect you to use them with the stock console controllers you probably already have lying around. But the format’s popularity doesn’t make it any less awkward, only emphasizing how much the achingly generic Stratus+ needs some special features to stand out.

After spending some time with the Stratus+, while I was impressed with the versatility of the device, I still wasn’t convinced to buy a do-it-all controller as opposed to a more specialized device specifically suited to the task I wanted is.

Weird little phone mount

A photo of a person holding the SteelSeries Stratus+

The SteelSeries Stratus+ comes with a mobile mount that works once you figure out how to use it properly.
photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

The SteelSeries Stratus+ looks like a gamer controller. It’s black with square edges and bulbous buttons. It also has a row of white LED lights on the front that flash in specific ways to indicate the controller’s connection status and battery indicator.

The Stratus+ features standard current-generation console controls, including an 8-way directional pad, back and select buttons, dual analog joysticks, and the requisite A, B, X, and Y buttons. There are four shoulder buttons on top of the controller, along with a button for wireless pairing and a button for battery status.

The Razer Kishi has the same button layout, except it’s spread out across the device. When expanded, the Kishi has a similar configuration to the Nintendo Switch, a console I adore so much I have one in the living room and a Switch Lite upstairs in my bedroom. Part of what drew me to the Kishi in the first place was that once it’s set up, it’s like jumping to another Switch. It’s an ideal format for mobile gaming and something Stratus+ doesn’t have.

A photo of the Razer Kishi

A look at the Razer Kishi paired with an iPhone.
photo: Hudson Mushroom/Gizmodo

On the top of the SteelSeries Stratus+ are small silicone inserts where the smartphone holder’s retractable metal pins go. This is where things start to get tricky. You have to carefully slide out the metal pins and then slide the phone holder into the two slots until you think it won’t fit anymore. I was a little frustrated when I figured out how to use this part of the controller and it made me give up and go back to the simplicity of the controller Razer Kishithat stretches around my phone and plugs in via USB-C. Nevertheless I insisted.

After mounting the phone in the appropriate slots (or so I thought so), I took my OnePlus 9 out of its case and slipped it into the expandable cradle. Then it fell to the ground with my phone in tow. It took me several times to understand how to get the mount to stay in the silicone inserts. But even after I did it, it still didn’t make sense. All I’ve learned so far is not to make any sudden movements when the phone, mount, and controller are assembled.

The smartphone holder comes from the Stratus+, so it's not there when you don't need it.

The smartphone holder comes from the Stratus+, so it’s not there when you don’t need it.
photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

I don’t have this problem with the Kishi. In fact, the most awkward part of the controller is putting it back together – the Kishi has a small latch that allows you to snap the controller together for carrying or storing in your bag. Because it’s a smaller controller, it takes up less room in my nightstand drawer than the Stratus+. Another advantage for gamers on the go.

The other awkward part of the SteelSeries Stratus+ is that my particular phone model is off center when in the expandable cradle since my volume and power buttons are on either side of the device. It’s the same problem with the gigantic Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, which has a power button almost exactly halfway up the case. When the phone is a little tight, the controller also tends to wobble towards the heavier part of the device, making handheld playtime feel unbalanced. The kishi does not have this problem.

Once you hold the phone in place, the Stratus+ connects via Bluetooth. It’s simple – long press the center button to pair a device. If you need to pair another device, long-press the pairing button and wait for the LED status lights to indicate that it is searching for new hardware. For this test, I paired the Stratus+ with my Android phone and my Windows PC.

Double duty game controller

A photo of the SteelSeries Stratus+

Once you put the phone in there, the SteelSeries Stratus+ can help you play everything from puzzle games to first-person shooters.
photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

As I mentioned earlier, what drew me to this Razer Kishi is that it becomes a part of the device once it’s snapped into place, essentially turning your phone into a handheld. That SteelSeries Stratus+ is not that kind of smartphone accessory. It is a controller first and a mobile phone control panel second. But that also means you can buy a double-duty controller for various compatible devices for $60, which is roughly the price of the Kishi.

I tried the Stratus+ with my OnePlus 9. I played the demo of Resident Evil Village on Google Stadia and the full version of Lumines on Amazon Luna. I also played Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on Android. As a side note, it’s not easy to find apps on the Google Play Store that allow controller input.

But once I got going, I found the Stratus+ to be a little stiff, especially when I press down on the joystick controllers. It was hard to press down with my thumbs without gripping the sides of the controller with my other fingers and preparing for the pressure. This led to squatting Resident Evil Village boring. The Kishi, on the other hand, has softer joysticks, and I didn’t feel like I had to shoot down to move my characters.

I also played To shine, one of my favorite puzzle games of all time, with Stratus+ using Amazon Luna. I played it for about half an hour with the Stratus+ on my Android device and then another half hour on my PC. The controller felt less stiff in a puzzle game, and so did I when battling against the endless barrage of blocks I had to line up. However, the Stratus+ requires me to rock it a bit on the sides, and because it’s a bit big for my hands, it’s difficult to make the kind of quick maneuvers needed to clear a row.

Lastly, I continued playing through Green Hill Zone sound 2, which only requires the D-Pad and one of the four letter keys. I didn’t mind playing the easier vintage games with the Stratus+, although I still preferred the Kishi.

I had more fun playing through the Luna and Stadia libraries after pairing the Stratus+ with my PC because I was able to articulate my hands more freely during playtime. I also really appreciated being able to physically tether the controller to my computer via USB-C instead of just relying on Bluetooth. But I don’t play PC games for a reason, and that’s because at the end of the day I want to be horizontal and nothing more. The Razer Kishi is much more attuned to this kind of lay-around playstyle, like the Nintendo Switch it mimics, while I’ve had a hard time with the Stratus+ because I’m still not sure about that mount.

Look at the form

A photo of the Stratus+ surrounded by other controllers and some books

After some time with the Stratus+ I realized that this is not the controller for me.
photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

The most important thing to consider when buying a smartphone controller is whether it’s something that entices you to set up your device for a gaming session. I like the SteelSeries Stratus+ because it’s cross-platform, but its form factor is too big for me, enough that I’m exhausted with the idea of ​​picking it up at the end of the day. I prefer the simplicity of the Razer Kishi, built to center the phone and the overall mobile experience, even if I can’t use it with other devices.