Unfortunately, you can’t just pick up any wireless controller off the shelf for your iPhone or your iPad, you may end up wasting your money. Apple’s walled-garden policy made it certain you can only use special controllers for your iOS devices. These are called MFi-certified (Made For iPhone) devices and there are standards and guidelines manufacturers must follow to make their accessories compliant with the MFi program.
One of such MFi controllers is Steelseries Nimbus which I picked up on Amazon a couple of weeks ago. It’s a bit expensive than other generic wireless controllers, but not as expensive as some MFi-certified controllers like Megadream & GameVice.
Pros and cons
If you would rather get straight to the pros and cons of this controller, here they are:
Form factor and build quality
I’ve held quite a number game controllers in my lifetime. From the classic NES controllers, SEGA, PS2, Xbox 360 and more. I’ve had the ‘luxury’ of buying those Chinese-made cheap controllers for Windows that usually stop working after a few weeks, so I should be able to tell if a game controller is well-built or not.
Taking the Nimbus out of the box for the first time, I was impressed with the design and build quality. It’s got some weight to it and feels pretty sturdy enough to withstand several falls without breaking into pieces. When I was about to make the purchase, I was actually looking for a controller with ergonomic grips similar to what I’m already used to, the one on the DualShock 4. Although the grips on Steelseries Nimbus is a bit thicker, it feels good nonetheless. While the DualShock weighs 210g, the Nimbus clocks 242g on the scale.
The button placements are exactly as it is on the PS4 controller. You have a D-pad to the left, ABXY buttons to the right, and the two analog sticks in between. There’s a multifunction Menu button just at the center with 4 LED lights just above it.
You have the regular R1/R2/L1/L2 buttons on the shoulders. Centered at the top is the Lightning port to charge the controller’s inbuilt battery. On its left side is the Hold button which serves as the power button. To the right is the Bluetooth connection button.
Although it’s totally unneeded for iOS games which it’s specifically built for, I wish it had R3 and L3 buttons (on the analog sticks) for use in special cases. Basically, this means the analog sticks are not meant to be clicked in as it is on console game controllers. More on that later in the article.
For a controller meant to be used with the iPhone, a smartphone holder should’ve been supplied. Although I do most of my gaming on the iPad, you need to prop up your iPhone against something to be able to use the controller. If all you have on a flight is your iPhone and this controller, you might be better off using the touch inputs on the iPhone for games. Anyway, this shouldn’t be a problem as there are clamps like this being sold on Amazon for about $10.
Overall, the design is great. It doesn’t feel like a cheap, ordinary controller made for just mobiles devices. Nimbus Steelseries is an MFi-certified controller that plays in the same league as DualShock 4 and Xbox One controller.
Ever since I got this controller, I haven’t been able to exhaust the battery. The manufacturers claim you should be able to get over 40 hours of use out of a fully charged battery and this may be true. The lack of feedback motors might account for this great battery life.
The first time I charged the controller, it took over an hour to go from 25% to 100%. Just to give you an idea of what the battery life looks like, I’ve been using it for about 4 days now without recharging. You shouldn’t have a problem with the battery life. If you’re one of those people who exhaust the DualShock 4 battery under 10 hours like me, you would understand how impressive the battery life on this Steelseries Nimbus is.
One thing I find not so great is how the battery indicator works. The manual says a different thing. Normally, you should be able to see the battery percentage when you toggle the Hold switch. There are 4 LED lights, each one representing 25% battery. However, when you toggle the Hold button, the indicator always highlights the first LED light. This signifies the controller number in local multiplayer games.
To know the actual battery percentage of your SteelSeries Nimbus controller, you need to plug it in and note where the LED charge indicator starts from.
Compatibility & MFi Games
SteelSeries Nimbus controller is compatible with most iOS and macOS devices. I’ve tried it my iPhone X, iPad Pro, iPod Touch 6G, and MacBook. It also works for the Apple TV.
- iPhone 5 or newer
- iPad 4th generation or newer
- iPod Touch 6th generation or newer
- Apple TV 4th generation or newer
Unlike the early days of MFi controllers, more games are now controller-enabled. But still, there’s a big chance your favorite games don’t support controllers. If you’re hoping to play PUBG, Fortnite, FIFA Mobile or PES 2018 with your SteelSeries Nimbus, you will be disappointed. This isn’t the controller’s fault, it’s always up to the game developer to make their games compatible with MFi controllers.
However, big titles like Animus, Minecraft: Story Mode, NBA 2K18, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Alto, Bateman: The Telltale Series and many more support MFi controllers. If you still want to go back and play ported games like GTA: San Andreas, GTA: Vice City, Bully, OddWorld: Stranger’s Wrath, Max Payne and the rest of them, be rest assured they are going to work with your Steelseries Nimbus.
There’s a companion app the controller prompts you to download the moment you connect via Bluetooth, it has a section that lists supported games. Unfortunately, it appears this list is no longer being maintained. Still, you get this app that lists games that support MFi controllers.
There’s also this huge list of controller-enabled iOS games on GameVice’s website.
If you’re into emulators and play retro games, I was able to use this controller with PPSSPP and GBA4iOS. On PPSSPP, it works great with God of War: Ghost of Sparta and God of War: Chains of Olympus.
On GBA4iOS, it works with every single game I tried– Contra, Kirby, and some classic Mario games. Normally, it should work with every game you can play on these emulators.
PS4 Remote Play
For those who want to play their PlayStation 4 remotely on their iPhone or iPad, this controller works (almost) perfectly. Since the button layout is just as it is on DualShock 4, you shouldn’t have any issues. However, the analog buttons cannot be clicked and you’ve got no R3/L3 buttons.
This isn’t a big problem though if you use R-Play for PS4 Remote Play. There’s an option within the settings that lets you designate button combinations to make up for the missing R3 and L3 keys.
Does Steelseries Nimbus work with Android?
Other platforms like Android, Windows and even macOS conform to the HID (Human Interface Device) protocols which can basically be described as the standard. With iOS and tvOS, Apple chose to go a proprietary route. This is why MFi controllers don’t work for Android devices by default. I actually tried using SteelSeries Nimbus with an Android phone but it didn’t work.
I tried getting this to work by other means. I gained root access and installed Game Controller Keymapper. I was able to map some keys but the controller still didn’t work correctly when I tried playing a game. If you’re planning to use this for an Android phone, it’s a really tough one.
As a controller for your iPhone, iPad, Apple TV or iPod Touch, it’s close to perfect and I recommend it. Apart from the lack of a clamp to hold the iPhone in place, the rather cumbersome way to check the battery level, there isn’t much to complain about. The build quality is great and it’s got an impressive battery life. Compared with other MFi pads available, this price is right and you get value for your money.
Price & where to buy
You can purchase SteelSeries Nimbus from the official website, Apple, Amazon, or eBay. Depending on where you’re buying, the price ranges from $40 to $50. Amazon looks like the right place to get the cheapest deal. I got it for only $47 on Amazon. The price is subject to change though.