Review: SteelSeries Free Mobile Wireless Controller
SteelSeries have released the Free Mobile Wireless Gaming Controller, an extremely portable and solidly built controller that’s sadly held back by the niche for which it was designed.
Right off the bat the Free makes a positive impression with its crisp and minimalistic packaging. The bold white and orange text stand out well against the matte black that makes up the body of the packaging and the Free’s many features and wide compatibility are clearly and concisely on explained. Excitingly, the upper half of the box is taken up by a clear plastic window with a bright orange backing that prominently displays the nearly microscopic controller on offer instead of hiding it away inside an opaque box.
After opening the attractive little box through the opening in the top you should find yourself with a brand new controller, charging cable, a soft sided carrying pouch, quick start guide, documentation and even a neat little SteelSeries sticker. Overall pretty standard, but nice nonetheless.
Comfort and Ease of Use
Obviously the most defining aspect of the Free is its minuscule size and I have to say, this might be the smallest controller I’ve personally held in my hands. At a mere 2.2 inches wide and 4.3 inches long, the Free is a truly tiny piece of gaming equipment and is easily pocketed for all of your on-the-go gaming needs. The layout is pretty standard for controllers these days with two tiny analog sticks at bottom center, a D-pad at the top left, four face buttons on the right and shoulder buttons. You also get a mode select button, power button and LED power level indicator. Sporting a soft rubberized grip across the majority of the controller, Free feels like a sturdy premium product, but I do have a few complaints.
For one thing, the D-pad does seem to be a tad mushy to the touch and therefore doesn’t feel nearly as sharp and responsive as it could. Secondly but far more importantly, the Free is a bit uncomfortable for my rather large hands. I certainly didn’t feel in danger of mangling my digits during standard use, but some prolonged playing of Temple Run did leave my hands feeling a bit strained so for those of you out there with big mitts, you’ve been warned. Thankfully, despite its compact design, the Free does feel extremely durable to the point that I’m pretty sure I could chuck it down the stairs and it’d be just fine afterward.
Free is also extremely compatible and will work with a wide array of devices including Android devices, iOS, PC and Mac. One issue with iOS compatibility is that the Free shows up as a wireless keyboard when in use which does disable the devices soft keyboard in the meantime, so be aware of this before purchasing. Battery life is also quite impressive at around 20 hours of continuous gameplay and even when it does run dry a quick 2 hour charge should put it right back up to full.
Sadly, my biggest concern with the Free is its $80 MSRP. At nearly twice the cost of an X-box 360 controller and a much higher price point than most other mobile controllers on the market, the Free is hard to reccomend for anyone but the most dedicated mobile gaming fans. Frankly, I’m just not sure that the market is ready for a device of this quality and high price when most mobile games are developed for simplified touch screen controls. Anyone out there looking for a PC gaming controller certainly isn’t going to give the Free much thought with its small size and relatively lower responsiveness in comparison to full sized controllers.
It’s obvious to me that the people at SteelSeries have engineered what is probably the best portable mobile gaming controller on the market with the Free. However, its high price point of $80 dooms the Free to having a very limited appeal. It’s a shame because so many other aspects of this controller are right on the money, but as it stands I can only recommend the Free to a very dedicated sect of mobile obsessed gamers.