Today we’re looking at the Stratus XL, a gamepad for Windows and Android by Steel Series. Steel Series is a brand best known for their high quality gaming peripherals, especially their supremely comfortable headsets. They have other offerings of course, from keyboards and mice to more niche gear like their eye tracker.
I have long been an advocate for gaming with a keyboard and mouse over other input devices, but there are always circumstances that merit using a gamepad instead. Games with terrible keyboard and mouse support, like the original Dark Souls, or games that are designed for couch multiplayer are wonderful examples of times when even the most avid K+M user might opt to use a gamepad instead. In terms of particular gamepads, I have always defaulted to a wireless Xbox 360 controller, which I prefer even slightly more than the Xbox One controller. That preference comes mostly from familiarity with how the controller feels. Granted, there are more options for quality gamepads today than there have been in past years, but there are less options than there are for most other peripherals.
The Stratus XL feels really good in the hand, sturdy and well made. As with most gamepads we see these days, the Stratus XL bears a striking resemblance to the more popular Xbox controller, and I have to give credit to Steel Series here for not deviating too much from the design we all are comfortable with. There are of course, a few differences – most notably that the left and right analog sticks are parallel to each other instead of slightly offset. This took a little getting used to but is just as comfortable as the alternative.
Speaking of the analog sticks, they feel really good – a little more resistant than expected, but I actually quite enjoyed the stiffness and felt it (strangely) improved my aim, if only slightly. The Steel Series Engine allows for a good bit of customization to the sensitivity of the sticks and how much actuation force is needed for trigger pulls to register.
Unfortunately, my experience with the Stratus XL was not without its hiccups. I had a really hard time getting the Stratus to pair and be recognized by my PC. A critical firmware update and a few bluetooth adapters later, I finally got it working. I can’t say that it wasn’t the adapters that were causing the problem, which brings me to another complaint I have about the Stratus. It only connects via bluetooth, and doesn’t come with an adapter. I feel like many of the issues I had with the Stratus could have easily been avoided if Steel Series included a dongle that they knew worked with their product, and considering Steel Series’ usual attention to detail, I was a little disappointed with the oversight. Even though this is a PC oriented review, I will mention that the Stratus worked with my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 with no issues at all.
Once the Stratus is paired and recognized by the Steel Series engine, it works like a dream. Assuming I don’t have any further connectivity issues, I imagine I’ll be using it interchangeably with my 360 controller, which is more than I can say for other gamepads I’ve used.
Model: Stratus XL
Price at time of review: $60
Review unit provided by the manufacturer.
Build Quality - 9
Features - 6.5
Once the Stratus is paired and recognized by the Steel Series engine, it works like a dream.
Ben is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PCGR. He writes much of the content, manages the site, and does other editorial things that would bore you to tears.