SteelSeries Free Mobile Controller Review

The SteelSeries Free is a brilliantly designed mobile controller, but a lack of game support and an eye-watering price tag make it tough to recommend.

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As popular as mobile gaming has become over the past few years--largely thanks to the success of Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems--not everyone is convinced by the technology. And it's the touch-screen, or rather its use as the primary control method, that's the sticking point. Sure, mobile games are cheap, plentiful, and a doodle to download--not to mention almost as visually impressive as current generation consoles--but the lack of tactile feedback makes controlling certain genres like shooters trickier than it should be.

Enter the SteelSeries Free, a portable bluetooth controller for iOS, Android, PC and Mac that aims to bring responsive, tactile controls to your favorite mobile games. While it's not the first product to do so--the iControlPad and iCade Mobile having already been on the market for some time--the Free is by far the most accomplished.

At just under the size of an iPhone, the Free is a master class in small controller design; it's very comfortable to use, despite its size. Your hands wrap around it effortlessly, giving you easy access to the D-Pad, two analogue sticks, six face buttons, and two shoulder buttons. Each of those has a wonderfully tactile feel, with just the right amount of resistance for a satisfying press. Even the D-Pad--traditionally the folly of many a controller like the Xbox pad--feels tight and responsive.

It's easy to pair with your devices too: power on the device by holding down the A button and it automatically shows up on your Android device ready for pairing. Hold down the A and B button together--both of which are slightly recessed to prevent accidental presses--and it pairs with your iOS device. Charging is also a doodle thanks to a standard Micro USB connector, which allows it to charge from any USB port or USB power adaptor.

In use, the Free works brilliantly with no hint of lag, and it's a revelation to play games like the excellent Grand Theft Auto III on a Galaxy Tab without having the use the touch-screen controls. Platformers like Stardash are so much easier to control using a pad, while even touch-screen-centric games like Temple Run benefit from buttons

There are some issues to be aware of, though. On iOS, the Free acts a keyboard, so the on-screen version doesn't appear. Many games don't have an option for remapping the keyboard controls either, so you might be lumbered with using the analogue stick to jump as we were in Stardash.

And then there's the issue of game support. While there are over 100 titles supported by the Free, many of those aren't exactly what you'd call "Triple A". Support is mixed between platforms too, so while Sonic CD and GTA III are supported on Android, neither are on iOS. But the Free's biggest issue is the price. At $79.99 (£79.99, €79.99), it's priced well above the competition. Hell, at that price you could pick up two PlayStation controllers, both of which will work with Android with a bit of tweaking.

That's a shame, because the SteelSeries Free really is a marvellous bit of kit. It's brilliantly designed, easy to use, has a battery life of over 10 hours, and is small enough to carry around alongside your mobile devices without taking up much of your pocket or bag space. But without support for a great many mobile games, and an eye-watering price tag, it's just not worth it. There's a hope that developer support will improve, and that the price tag will fall--and you can at least use the Free easily with your PC and Mac--but until then it's tough to recommend the Free to anyone but the most dedicated of Mobile gamers.

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Discussion

0 comments
Jlm70
Jlm70

Bought it! The controller is really excellent, mini-precise-solid-nice, please make more iOS compatible titles (such as FIFA...)!!! Anyway it works on any device, even on PC, Androids and Macs.

fexpro
fexpro

yeah! even android keyboard costs a lot! a controller will save my touch sensors from high stress :D but... well, if it can make its way down to $20... I'll think about that :/ and I really think I can find some chinese one just for $8 or less... but they wont last so... i guess i have to wait; a long time :(

tgwolf
tgwolf

Okay, I don't want to sound rude but there is nothing 'brilliant' about a controller that can't be used! Bravo on the larger-than-microscopic buttons, that is truly a trend-breaker, but you still get an 'F' since I can safely bet that that puny person holding the controller has fingers much smaller than mine, and I doubt he can hit less than TWELVE buttons at a time, and yes, that includes those of his neighbors up to two houses away! A novelty maybe, but...This is a game controller, I don't need another wall-hanging.

keyb0red
keyb0red

Why dont they just get a factory in China to mass produce these things?

 

Vodoo
Vodoo

They shouldn't price it more than a console controller. If this thing was $30 it'd be a good buy. Hell, I got plenty of mobile games for my Nexus 7 tablet and Galaxy S2 phone that would play 100x's better with this controller instead of the touch screen. Hopefully they'll soon realize it's priced way to high.

vallan2
vallan2

Oh yah I forgot there's a superior version of this.  And it supports all games.  Its called a dedicated handheld gaming system....enough with trying to make a tablet/cellphone a game console.  They don't compare.

 

erenarpaci
erenarpaci

 @jamesp2005  i feel like mobile games  will be doing a lot financial damage on the long run to both hardcore gaming and handheld gaming business.

GameYakuza
GameYakuza

funny, I came across this article the same day I looked for a small gamepad to travel with. fortunately, I also found out the same day I could use my PSP as a USB gamepad!

LucasArts-
LucasArts-

Ohh how can I hold my mobile and the joystick both together LOLx

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

$79.99 = £79.99 = €79.99?

 

Even if they did their conversion in a way that even remotely resembled something fair, SteelSeries must think this is some kind of joke.  I'm a huge advocate of theirs but I don't know who they think they're kidding with this.

To give the Americans an idea, that's nearly $130.

 

You can keep your overpriced crap.

NinjaMonky
NinjaMonky

so how exactly are you supposed to use this? with the mobile in your lap while you hold the controller? I just skimmed so might have missed that part.

GamerOuTLaWz
GamerOuTLaWz

so,my xbox 360 controller that I use to play PC games is broke and the joystick tends to always lean to the left and Im on the fence about paying another 40-50 bucks for a god damn 10 year old controller which is most prob the best well-made controller yet and now they want to sell us that pocket-sized chinese-made BS controller to play phone games 100$ ?? LOL

Oldgun
Oldgun

No matter what, touch can never mimic what 'physical' controllers can accomplish. As a result we see such overpriced gimmicks pop up. And what a name...Free?!  O.o

snaketus
snaketus

What, touch wasn't enough for gaming after all? Lol.

Codester_41
Codester_41

I'd be alright with the price tag if it wasn't on iOS, like seriously, most of the games on my iphone are free or 99 cents, why would i want to buy a controller that expensive for a game that costs a dollar?

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

$79 ??

 

I could get 4 Piece discounted Games or at least 2 recently released AAA on Steam.

I'm fine with default touch controller,, I don't play much games on iPhone anyway,,

majere613
majere613

I still sort of wish the Xperia Play had been more of a success. That + Snes9x and MAME is more than enough for my portable gaming needs, and I dread 'upgrading' to a device with touchscreen-only controls. Can't see myself shelling out for this thing or carting a Ps3 controller around either.

Techn1c4l
Techn1c4l

The price is just ridiculous. You should be able to buy 3 of them for $80.

Caldrin
Caldrin

why is its called Free if its not free..

AmnesiaHaze
AmnesiaHaze

is this designed to be used by midgets and babies (no offense) ? :D

mattyT28
mattyT28

I must contradict you in the fact that GTA 3is on the iOS!!!

itchyflop
itchyflop

thats just dumb, what a great idea ruined again my commercialism!! 80 quid for a controller, shame the pods/ pads could have been a vita competitor now.

SirNormanislost
SirNormanislost

Wait so its overpriced at $79.99 in america but in England it's £79.99 so essentially $100....

TrueProphecy22
TrueProphecy22

Looks pretty cool.  Not at that price though.  I think $25 would have had me sold and off to the store.

groowagon
groowagon

i'd easily pay $80 from quality controller, if there would be enough quality games that support (or actually, are MADE for) this thing.

groowagon
groowagon

cue some BF or CoD action on iPhone AAAAYYYYYY!!!!

needs a dock/holder for phone, so that the combo converts to a true handheld gaming device.

nate1222
nate1222

"...At $79.99..."

 

I was almost sold until I saw THAT shit. Nice try, Steel Series.

 

I once owned a Steel Series 3GC USB controller for PC. Not bad. But Logitech's Dual Action F310 (as well as F510 and F710) features both DirectInput and Xinput (360) support at the same price ($25).

TRAVISTOUCHD0WN
TRAVISTOUCHD0WN

phones are suppose to be used as phones video game consoles used as videogame consoles and tablets ad tablets i hate this damn integration crap nowadays .. miss the 90s:/

PDXmauler97
PDXmauler97

Why not just use a PS3 controller? its basically the same size

Evz0rz
Evz0rz

Yeah i'll just stick with my Vita for mobile analogue sticks :P

8BitZombie
8BitZombie

@tgwolf - i dont know why youre being so hard on the size when you havent even tried it. i have larger than average hands and although its smaller than any other controllers, its similar to the NES controller in size and its not that small. i have no issues using it

Frexerik
Frexerik

 @mattyT28 he didn't say that gta3 wasn't on ios, he said that the game pad isnt supported for those games on ios..

itchyflop
itchyflop

 @SirNormanislost no disrespect intended are you going to buy one at 80 quid, its a pad, how ridiculous is that !!  :)

itchyflop
itchyflop

 @groowagon its a great idea but at that price your barmy, no malice intended dude !!!

tgwolf
tgwolf

@8BitZombie @tgwolf I am not a puny person which is why I make this statement. I have a problem with regular sized controllers especially when the buttons are placed close together. It's a statement about the status quo and the people that fit into that category so be careful what you take offense to especially when it is a statement made in general terms...heh heh heh.

mattyT28
mattyT28

 @Frexerik "so while Sonic CD and GTA III are supported on Android, neither are on iOS."  YEAH! He did say that!!!!!

SirNormanislost
SirNormanislost

@itchyflop No ofc not but my point is it should be £60 with the exchange rate and even that's twice what it should cost

tightwad34
tightwad34

 @Toysoldier34  @PDXmauler97

 Ha,ha I have put my PS3 controller in my pocket many a times, albeit not too comfortably. It depends on the size of your pocket, not to mention some other things....

nate1222
nate1222

 @Toysoldier34  @PDXmauler97

 I wanna see Logitech come up with one. I think they'd do it just as good and at a far better price.

 

I love the F310 for PC; it can switch between D and Xinput for games that require a 360 controller. I play Bastion, MK Anthology, Guilty Gear X2 Reload, Sega Genesis Classics Series, Retro City Rampage...with it all the time. And it only costs $25.

scatterbrain007
scatterbrain007

 @mattyT28  @Frexerik

 

Supported by the controller. So in other words, you can use this controller with GTA III on an Android device just fine, but it doesn't work for GTA III on iOS.  Which sounds really dumb that they did that.