The SteelSeries Free arrives in our post box, we crack it open and take it for a spin
SteelSeries are a premium gaming peripherals maker, everything from first person shooter pads, arcade sticks and pc gamer keyboards. Now they have decided to cut into the mobile gaming world of Smart Phone and tablet users and here is their Free gamepad.
First impression is that this is a very compact controller indeed, one of the smallest I have seen yet measuring only 4.3 inches wide and 0.8 inches thick. The battery life seems to be a big selling point with a fantastic 10 hours or even up to 20 hours with more casual use. 10 hours is pretty much a winner in my eyes, for an average commuter playing games on the way to work, that will last a whole week. It has the mobile standard button configuration of twin analog, twin shoulder buttons, 4 action buttons and a d-pad for classic gameplay. So you have everything you need for playing the most demanding of videos games available, but is it worth the retail price of £60?
The build quality is decent with a slightly rubberised coating on the main body for extra grip and a slight indentation on the back to comfortably place those middle fingers when not in use. It feels very comfortable indeed with my hands but being incredibly compact does come at a cost and I feel that its size might put off quite a few gamers. I say this because I know so many people that are not even bigger than me, who claim that the PS3 wireless controller is too small for them. As you can see below, well... it is even smaller than that.
However that might be more to do with 3 sets of triggers and a 6 hour session on Fifa or Call of Duty that might cause that concern. Maybe mobile gamers will be more forgiving for the benefit of staying compact and being more portable. What is a massive win for build quality is the design of the shoulder buttons. They run all the way across the top and meet in the middle, which gives you plenty of space and actually improves grip on the controller itself.
For this review, I will be testing the Free pad on the new Sony Xperia T using Android 4.0.4. The SteelSeries will work out of box with all Android devices running Honeycombe 3.1 and above.
Connecting to my handset was incredibly simple and I didn't even need to read the instruction manual. You just hold down the A button (Select) to put into pair mode and search for devices and connect and done. Any android device running Honeycombe or above will just read the pad settings as a standard USB controller. So any game that supports USB pads will work with this controller without any tweaking, extra software or rooting. For a list of games that support USB game pads on Android click here. A couple of games might need key mapping a few buttons like with Dead Trigger where you need to configure the aim and trigger to your shoulder buttons but this isn't difficult.
The Steel Series Free has been designed to work specifically for smart phones and tablets but can also be used on PCs & Mac's. Its compatibility out of the box is perfect for Android or iOS so there is very little setting up required. There is an App available too which is more of a support utility for changing between the different modes and to test the button presses and which codes they work with. If you are having difficulty with mapping your buttons on certain games then this will help you. IT is not essential though for pairing up or using your controller. According to their website, their PC software will allow you to change the button values of the controller itself which will be hugely beneficial to developers and hard core nerds.
Gaming with Steel Series Free
When it comes to supported games, as mentioned previously, this will work with any of the USB pad optimised games. Which unfortunately for gamers everywhere isn't very clear at all, so everyone has to rely on people like Steel Series or websites like us to test games and see what works with what. I wish it was a crystal clear as to say that all of the high end console games you get for Android work with game pads but this doesn't include developers Gameloft, EA, Square Enix or Glu Mobile. Games like Nova, Modern Combat, Need for Speed, Gears & Guts, Asphalt or Final Fantasy unfortunately do not work with external pads despite being optimised for Xperia PLAY. Perhaps with more and more pads coming out, they might change their mind and start building this into updates.
On the positive you will a good selection of games supported from high end and budget indie titles as well as those delightful retro moments we get from emulators. Pretty much all good emulators support key mapping, allowing you to add the buttons yourself. High end games like Grand Theft Auto, Dead Trigger and Shadowgun Deadzone are just perfect with this little controller. Even though the analog sticks are very small, I am still able to play with good accuracy, even in first person shooters. The button layout is spaced out well, however despite my enthusiasm for the large size of the shoulder buttons, they are quite rigid and I find it hard pushing them on certain games.
- ShadowGun - Visually stunning 3rd Person Shooter with new online multiplayer Modes
- Dead Trigger - First person zombie shooter, amazing high definition graphics.
- Sonic 4 Episode II - Classic Sonic action in new 3D rendering
- Grand Theft Auto III - The game that changed the world, fully ported to Android
- Riptide GP - An incredibly detailed Jet ski arcade racer
For an official list of compatible games for StelSeries Free with Android, PC & Mac, then check out their compatibility pages here.
Overall I love this little controller, it is like they have specifically designed this controller for me as it ticks all of the boxes of my uses. They have genuinely thought about the layout and despite it being very compact, it is very practical, especially with the shoulder button conifguration the way it is. The little travel bag is a great touch for keeping everything together although in cramped bags, I am unsure of how much protection this will offer with the limited padding it has, maybe a hard case would have been a better choice. SteelSeries can do as much testing and blogging with this controller as they want to support their users but this generic USB configuration is not supported by most of the top game developers which does limit your choice of games. But this is down to the developers and not SteelSeries, I feel that they have themselves done a good job and this product is a good buy, even at the higher price tag of £60.
Best for: Users with multiple devices & those with limited travel space.