SteelSeries Stratus Duo Controller Review: Hard to Put Down
When considering the best controllers for PC, it's damn near impossible to beat the Xbox One controller or the DualShock 4. Microsoft and Sony pretty much have controller design down to a science.
From a PC gaming standpoint, that puts SteelSeries' $59 Stratus Duo gaming controller in a bit of a hard spot. While the controller is just as good as those from Microsoft and Sony, it doesn't stand out from them by way of a killer feature — even if I would recommend it for the platform.
The controller also reportedly works with virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR, although we weren't able to test it with either platform. However, VR is still a relatively niche technology. For many gamers, VR compatibility probably won't be a valid selling point.
Despite all of that, the Stratus Duo does stand out as one of the best mobile controllers currently available. Although SteelSeries has pushed Fortnite fairly hard in the Duo's marketing materials, the controller works well with a number of other mobile games as well.
In every way, it renders those pesky on-screen mobile gamepads almost completely obsolete.
The Duo is shaped much like Nintendo's Pro controller, though there are two exceptions. The first is that the analog sticks are side by side like a DualShock 4. The second is that the directional pad placed on the middle left side of the controller, opposed to the lower-left configuration found in the Pro and Xbox One controllers.
On the right-hand side are your standard AXBY buttons, and you'll find the bumpers and triggers along the top. There are also three buttons in the middle of the controller for going back, forward, and home. Above those is a segmented lightbar that shows the controllers' current charge level if using in wireless mode.
Along the top of the Duo, between the left and right bumpers, is a series of buttons and switches. Here you'll find the power switch, the battery-indicator button, a pairing button, and a Bluetooth/wireless switch.
In the middle of those buttons and switches is a Micro-USB port for charging or using the controller via wired mode on PC.
It's worth noting that the bumpers and the triggers are both uniquely designed. The bumpers are flatter and larger than both the XB1 Elite and the DualShock 4. As well, the triggers are a tad more curved near the back than the ones found on those controllers.
This allows for more surface area on the bumpers, while also alleviating slippage on the triggers. However, both were uncomfortable at first and took some getting used to.
Features and Performance
Connecting the Stratus Duo to a computer is super easy.
For wired mode, just plug in the included Mico-USB cable or the 2.4Ghz wireless dongle and switch the connection mode to wireless. There's no software to use, so everything is plug and play.
To connect via Bluetooth, simply switch the connection mode over to Bluetooth and pair it with the desired Android device.
I don't have a Bluetooth receiver in my desktop, so I wasn't able to test the Duo's Bluetooth capabilities there, but I was able to test it in both wired and wireless modes. Playing Far Cry New Dawn, Killing Floor 2, Skyrim, and Hotline Miami, the Duo was responsive, performing just as well as my Xbox One Elite and DualShock 4 in both modes.
Moving over to mobile, the Stratus Duo performed exceptionally as well, making a gaming experience I typically consider a chore something of a delight. Playing Fortnite with the Duo felt just as good as it does on console or PC.
Of the handful of other games I tried, Altered Beast, Stardew Valley, and Unkilled proved fickle with the gamepad. Some games recognized certain inputs, while others would not. However, the problem lies in the games, not the controller. A quick search on each of the game's forums proved I was not the only player experiencing issues.
Other games, such as Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 5, worked perfectly with the Stratus Duo.
- Comfortable, ergonomic design
- Effortless switching from wireless to Bluetooth
- Plug and play; ability to charge while gaming
- Doesn't work on all mobile devices (Android only)
- Doesn't come packaged with SmartGrip mount
- Only has 20 hours of battery life
I haven't tested SteelSeries' other controllers, the Stratus XL and the Nimbus, so I can't directly compare the three controllers.
However, I can say that the Stratus Duo is comfortable and well built. All of its 17 buttons are firm and responsive. The gamepad's body feels sturdy in your hands.
The bumpers and triggers might take a bit getting used to coming from an Elite or a DualShock, but after an hour or two, they should feel mostly natural.
I'm not a huge fan of SteelSeries breaking its mobile-capable controllers into two camps: the Duo for Android and the Nimbus for iOS. Separating functionalities isn't a deal breaker, but it's something to be aware of when buying either product.
I would have also preferred that the Duo use USB-C technology instead of Micro-USB. I also would have preferred to store the wireless dongle on or in the controller itself. Now, it's far too easy to misplace the dongle when not in use.
However, despite my small qualms with it, the Stratus Duo is a fine multi-use controller. Seamlessly switching from PC gaming to mobile gaming is a cinch — and it even works with normal phones commands, letting you navigate your menus, texts, call logs, and more without having to put it down.
If you're a PC gamer, the Duo is worth a look, too — especially if you're in the market for a new gamepad that effortlessly works with Steam and Big Picture Mode.
It's just too bad the Stratus Duo doesn't work with console. But then again, I guess we can't have everything.
[Note: SteelSeries provided the Stratus Duo and SmartGrip models used in this review.]