The current Xbox Series whatever controllers are a true work of art. The triggers… smooth. The shoulder buttons… satisfying, and at just the right angle. The D-Pad… is just… wow. The texture of the plastic evokes the feeling of caressing the face of a beautiful muscle bound man, with a chiselled jaw, who’s stubble is just past the point of being prickly. A real do it all controller, with curves right where I like them. So, you can imagine my disappointment as I watched my one year old son pour every ounce of a brand new jumbo jar of pickles onto the top of mine.
So to replace it, I needed something that had no reason to be on our coffee table. Something that could only be used on my PC. Something that could not be used for the purpose of repeatedly pausing and playing Sesame Street at a frequency faster than the boost clock of my defenceless Xbox One’s CPU. I’m really excited for you to read this because, not only will you know how the Steelseries Stratus Duo stacks up against the tried and true Xbox controller, but you will also have a pretty good argument for your significant other as to why you should not procreate.
As a preface, I think it’s important for you to know how I use my controller and what qualities were important to me when I was looking for a new one. Everyone’s needs for peripherals are different and what’s important to me might not really apply to you. I am almost exclusively a PC gamer and I have tested the Stratus on a variety of games for about two weeks (but you already know most of it’s been on Halo because I’m an adult). I really only need a controller for games that are not designed around mouse and keyboard, as that’s definitely my preferred method of playing games. If I’m playing Forza, SnowRunner, Halo, or I just want to chill on the couch while I’m playing something casual, I’d like to have a controller. I wanted the controller to be from a reputable brand, with a sturdy build quality. It also needed to have easy wireless connectivity to my PC that doesn’t rely on built-in Bluetooth. Lastly, my controller replacement needed to be reasonably priced. I’ve spent enough money on PC peripherals as it is (mechanical keyboard gang where you at?).
First up is build quality, and I gotta say, this thing is rock solid. When I’m looking for peripherals, anytime I hear the words ‘third-party,’ the sounds of creaking plastic and squeaky buttons erupt in my mind. The Stratus Duo though, no matter how hard I squeeze, will not creak. The plastic feels several C’s Thiccccc. All of the buttons and inputs feel sturdy and machined with precision. I’m actually really impressed, Steelseries has always made quality peripherals, but this controller has exceeded my expectations. If you’ve ever used a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, or the Steam Controller, you should have a good idea of what quality to expect. It’s missing the grip and perfect matte finish of Microsoft’s offering, but because the shell is molded into two large pieces compared to Microsoft’s five, Steelseries has actually managed to make a controller that exceeds the feeling of durability by a large margin.
The inputs however, are not as big of a win in Steelseries’ corner. To be clear, none of these points I’m about to make should be taken as a negative, as these things are very subjective. I would just say that, for me, the Stratus Duo is missing some of that tactility and precision that the Xbox controllers buttons have. If the Xbox controller inputs are like playing a harpsichord, then the Stratus Duo is like playing a grand piano. While they’re just as responsive, they’re much softer and lack that tactile bump that the competition has, most notably in the shoulder buttons and D-Pad.
The triggers are their own beast. Steelseries calls these their “Hall Effect magnetic sensors.” I don’t know what that means, but I can tell you that they are absolutely a different experience than what you may be used to. First of all, these guys are touchy. There is almost no deadzone at all on these triggers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something that you need to be constantly aware of, because accidental trigger pulls will happen. They also feel like they have a pretty short travel distance compared to what I’m used to, which is great for shooters, but not as great for racing games. Lastly, they feel extremely responsive. I can’t quite describe why, but despite the short travel distance, the feeling of control and responsiveness throughout the trigger pull feels perfect. While the touchiness does concern me as to how long these triggers will last before they start to malfunction, Steelseries does say that these sensors are ‘much more durable than their traditional counterparts’, but I guess only time will tell.
As far as analog sticks go I have to say that these just don’t feel as good as their Xbox counterparts. While everything up to this point has been somewhat subjective, these just feel like a clear step down to me. They both are positioned together at the bottom of the controller, but that is not what makes them worse. The ergonomics of the entire controller are actually really well thought out and their positioning feels just right in my hands. The reason that they feel like a step down is that the surface that you contact with your thumbs is thinner, slicker, and lacks the excellent texturing of the Xbox controller. Because the sticks are where your thumbs spend the majority of their time, that’s sort of a big deal. They weren’t inherently bad, but in comparison to the competition, it’s just clearly a step behind in this department.
The Stratus Duo packs a lot more features into its 59.99 USD / 56.99 GBP price tag though, and I gotta say, if you’re just looking at pure value, and don’t already have an Xbox, the value Steelseries offers here is a big win. The Stratus works with Windows, Android, Oculus Go, and Samsung Gear VR via Bluetooth or the USB wireless adapter (which Microsoft sells separately for 24.99 USD). The Stratus also comes with a built in, rechargeable, Lithium Ion battery (Surprise, also 24.99 addition from Microsoft). That’s a lot of features that are absent from the base Xbox Controller. Not to mention there are no drivers or software required for the Stratus and its Steam-enabled right out of the box. If you wanted your Xbox controller to do all the things that the Stratus Duo can do out of the box, your end price would be about 110 USD if you bought all of those additions from the Microsoft store.
So to wrap this up, I think the Steelseries Stratus Duo is very competitive in almost every department. Do you already have an Xbox controller that’s working for your needs? I wouldn’t recommend you run out and get this to replace it. Do you have an Xbox? Well then yeah this won’t work for you obviously. Do you need a new controller for your PC or Android device? Definitely check this out before defaulting to the Xbox Controller. It’s got the value, the build quality, and the ergonomics that’s rarely seen in a controller at this price, especially from a third party.
I love you son, don’t touch my Steelseries Stratus Duo.