Apple’s iOS game controller design guidelines were clearly inspired by Microsoft’s Xbox controllers, but Mad Catz has taken the concept a step further: its new C.T.R.L.i ($60) and Micro C.T.R.L.i ($50, available for $46) for iOS look so much like Xbox One game controllers that you might struggle to tell them apart in a dark room. While the full-sized C.T.R.L.i is very close to the Xbox One controller in footprint and weight, Micro C.T.R.L.i squeezes all of the same functionality into a smaller but nearly identical shape.
Best of all, since they’re more reasonably priced than earlier iOS controllers, both are good enough to recommend to any iOS gamer… assuming you own or want some iOS games with controller support.
Measuring roughly 6″ wide by 4.25″ tall by 2.4″ thick at its largest points, the $60 C.T.R.L.i uses the tapered Batwing shape Microsoft introduced in the first-generation Xbox’s Controller “S,” albeit with joystick, joypad, and button locations virtually identical to those of the current Xbox One controller. Most of its controls fit into a 5″-wide box, with handgrips flaring out at the bottom — a shape and size that will be instantly comfortable to console gamers.
By contrast, the $50 Micro C.T.R.L.i is roughly 5″ wide by 3.6″ tall by 2″ thick, with the bulk of its controls fitting in a 4″-wide area. It’s more than a bit larger than SteelSeries’ original Stratus (currently available for $60), but usefully so as the handgrips make it legitimately comfortable to hold, with zero hand cramping. We wouldn’t call it pocketable, and it lacks the protective plastic top cover SteelSeries included with Stratus, but you could carry it around if you have baggy jeans or a large coat pocket.
Both models feel solidly built and are only a half-step behind first-party Microsoft and Sony controllers in class, mostly due to their heavier use of glossy plastics. Matte surfaces on the joysticks and D-pad thankfully provide the ridges and grip gamers expect from controllers, while rear triggers and thumbsticks alike are reassuringly springy; these don’t feel like junk you’ll want to toss out after a few months of use. We also had no problems with wireless dropouts or otherwise stilted performance during testing.
Mad Catz brings three critically important things to the iOS game controller discussion, starting with iPhone mounting convenience. Although they can be used by themselves — and must be if you’re using an iPad — the controllers are neither as DIY regarding mounting as the Stratus, or as Apple model-specific as Logitech’s PowerShell.
C.T.R.L.i and Micro C.T.R.L.i both come with detachable, spring-loaded device holders that can expand to hold anything from a bare iPod touch to an encased iPhone 6 Plus. Rubber pads provide assurance that your device won’t get crunched inside, though you’ll likely want to hold the controllers in your lap, as the weight of your device may be substantial enough to tip the combined unit together when laid on a flat surface.
Beyond offering console-caliber hand comfort, the C.T.R.L.i designs place all of the controls in intuitive places. Two sets of triggers can be found on each of the back corners, with four action buttons on the face in an Xbox-like X/Y/A/B arrangement, plus two analog joysticks and an eight-direction joypad in Xbox-style spots.
Mad Catz drops the Xbox button in favor of a small Bluetooth pairing button and a larger pause button, which sits atop four red battery indicator lights. A power switch is between the handgrips where Microsoft has a digital connector, and the standard C.T.R.L.i has a twin AAA battery compartment in roughly the same place as Microsoft’s dual AA compartment.
Micro C.T.R.L.i instead puts one AAA battery into each handgrip using separate compartments. The designs feel very efficient, clearly the result of years of extensive testing by Mad Catz, and the included batteries last for 40 hours before requiring replacement.
Both controllers work exactly as expected. Once their batteries are inserted, you flip the power on and press the Bluetooth button for initial pairing, after which compatible iOS games automatically recognize them and respond to their button inputs. The face action buttons are flat and easy to properly hit, while the four shoulder buttons are spaced and sized properly to avoid accidental presses.
You can test each possible input using free and interestingly separate Mad Catz apps, noting that all of the action buttons and all three joysticks/joypads are pressure sensitive — an Apple mandate that means your regular jump button could register the same slight pressure as a trigger-shaped car accelerator or brake button.
Similarly, the 8-way D-pad can sense light pushes as being different from strong presses. In practice, developers have been unlikely to actually use all of the sensitivity across these buttons, but at least the feature’s there.
Game compatibility for iOS controllers continues to grow, but due to the botched launch of expensive, half-baked controllers late last year, there hasn’t been as much momentum to add controller support in new games as would have otherwise been expected. Titles with support (such as Asphalt 8) work as well with C.T.R.L.i and Micro C.T.R.L.i as their predecessors, but a new push from Apple may be needed to reinvigorate interest in these accessories.
Thankfully, both of these controllers are reasonably priced, and their $50 to $60 MSRPs are already seeing slightly lower street prices. These models are better than their predecessors in pretty much every way that counts, so if you’re a serious gamer looking to improve your iOS gaming experience, one of the C.T.R.L.i models should be at or near the top of your shopping list.