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.'