I have never been someone who liked gaming on smartphones. Sure, I would play the occasional point and click game, but I never enjoyed on-screen controls. And while I have tried using gaming controllers, nothing had that all-in-one feel like a Nintendo DS or PlayStation Portable.
But with the Stratus Duo from SteelSeries, I think I have finally found a gamepad that is premium-enough to use while gaming on the go and at home. Unfortunately, the controller doesn’t complete this package on its own and requires an additional accessory. Together, though, the Stratus Duo bests almost every controller on the market.
If you’ve ever used one of the more recent Xbox wireless controllers, you will feel right at home with the Stratus Duo. The gamepad has a wide, robust, ergonomic feel to it. I find this important as it allows me to comfortably grip the device and interact with the controller without feeling cramped.
Typically, the most important parts of any gaming controller are the triggers and joysticks. Thankfully, SteelSeries took the time and improved these compared to its other gamepads.
There isn’t much to say about the joysticks, but I can say that they are extra clicky and offer a smooth movement. The triggers feature Hall effect magnetic sensors,which offer a more reliable experience that shouldn’t deteriorate with use. Unfortunately, the trigger pulls are shorter than I would have liked.
The shoulder buttons are nearly perfect, but the D-pad could use some work. While the L1 and R1 buttons offer an enjoyable click, the D-pad is mushy.
In the top center, you will find three navigation buttons. While I occasionally clicked on the middle button to exit a game and go back to the homescreen, I rarely used the two arrow buttons. I never found either button to be that useful.
I only have two gripes with the Stratus Duo. The first is the fact that the gamepad is still using microUSB for charging. I get that the competition (Xbox and PS4 controllers) uses the same port, but those weren’t released in 2019. As the SteelSeries accessory is primarily marketed for mobile gaming, it would make more sense to ship it with the same charger found on almost all Android phones.
Why is microUSB still a thing in 2019?
Secondly, the lettering on the ABXY buttons feature a matte black design. This color scheme normally wouldn’t be an issue, but the buttons themselves are also black. The combination of matte black on top of black makes the buttons extremely hard to read.
Using these buttons will be second nature for most seasoned gamers, but more casual gamers could find this a bit of an annoyance. Fortunately, the button clicks are nice and responsive.
The SteelSeries Stratus Duo offers a straightforward Bluetooth pairing process that worked for me without issue. From there, any games that are compatible with gamepads should recognize the controller.
I tested the controller with several racing and action games like Riptide and Fortnite. In both cases, I experienced pretty much no lag and had a much better gaming experience compared to just using on-screen buttons.
SteelSeries states that the Stratus Duo should last at least 20 hours before it needs to be recharged. While I can’t address that exact figure, I can say that I never had to recharge the accessory during my two-week review period.
Unfortunately, the SteelSeries Stratus Duo isn’t complete without its optional accessory. While the controller is great on its own, you need the SmartGrip to complete the all-in-one package.
Featuring a claw-like design, the SteelSeries accessory clamps down around the top and bottom edges of the controller. The locking mechanism is a little confusing to figure out the first time around, but it quickly becomes second nature.
The SmartGrip is compatible with most phones as it expands to fit devices with 4- to 6.5-inch displays. It also offers a fully adjustable arm that allows you to angle the handset to best suit your needs.
The SmartGrip should work with any smartphone
The one downside to using the SmartGrip is that you lose access to the microUSB charging port and the various operational buttons while it’s attached. This isn’t too big of a deal, but it does mean that you’ll need to remove the accessory every time you want to turn the controller on or off or check its remaining battery life.
In my opinion, if you’re going to game on your phone and you’re already going to buy the Stratus Duo, there’s no reason not to also pick up the SmartGrip. It completes the gaming experience that SteelSeries is trying to sell.
The good news is that if you already own one of the company’s other controllers, the SmartGrip is compatible with them. So if you don’t need a new mobile gamepad, you can stick with what you already have and pick up the SmartGrip for $10.
Of course, we should mention why SteelSeries named this the Stratus Duo. Instead of relying on Bluetooth to communicate with your PC, the controller can be switched over to a wireless mode. When enabled, the controller will automatically pair with a USB dongle that gets plugged into your computer.
If I ever use a controller while gaming on my desktop, I typically have a wired connection. I’m happy to report that I saw no noticeable amount of input lag when using the Stratus Duo wirelessly.
But if you don’t want to risk interference when using the 2.4GHz wireless mode, SteelSeries allows you to contact the controller to the PC via a microUSB cable. I never felt like it was necessary, but I’m happy that it’s an option.
Additionally, if you use Steam, the controller is compatible with Steam Link. Even when paired with my Pixel 3 XL and streaming Rocket League over my home’s Wi-Fi, I never experienced any issues that made for a negative gaming experience.
If you’re serious about gaming on your smartphone, the SteelSeries Stratus Duo paired with the SmartGrip is the way to go. The controller is high-quality, the gaming experience is superb, and you can easily switch between mobile and PC gaming.
The biggest downside of the SteelSeries Stratus Duo is the price. The controller alone retails for $60, and if you want the SmartGrip, that’ll be an additional $10. When other gamepads are $20 to $40 cheaper, $70 is a lot to ask most people to pay for a phone accessory. The real value of the controller comes from being able to jump between mobile and PC gaming with the slide of a switch.