Reviewing MFi controllers is always a little weird, as functionally, they're largely identical. If you've got one of the earliest MFi controllers, assuming it still holds a charge and everything, it does the exact same thing as a brand new one. Additionally, the differences between the existing lineup of MFi controllers are all so minor, it basically comes down to personal preference with regards to how large (or small) you want your controller to be, whether it takes batteries or is rechargeable, and what incredibly slight variation of controller grip and button style you like best.

HJ162

A while ago I contributed to The Wirecutter's guide on iOS accessories, and at the time the Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i mobile gamepad felt like the ever-so-slight frontrunner in the MFi controller world. It had the best build quality, and I liked that it took AA batteries as keeping track of yet another charger cable is a pain, particularly with all Apple stuff charging via Lightning. If you've got either size of the C.T.R.L.i controllers, congratulations, you don't need to buy anything else. Both are still solid, built incredibly well, feel great in your hands, work with everything thanks to the MFi certification process, and there's really not any reason to get a new controller.

If, however, you don't have an MFi controller yet, the Steelseries Nimbus edges ever-so-slightly over the Mad Catz offering in ways which may or may not be important to you at all, as even mentioning them feels needlessly pedantic... However, again, the differences across the whole MFi lineup are so minor you have to hit that level to come up with any vaguely meaningful variance. I prefer the matte black plastic of the SteelSeries Nimbus, for instance, as shiny black plastic like the one used in the C.T.R.L.i always seems to eventually look nasty with finger grease. Does this make any difference in practical usage? Nope!

The shoulder triggers on the Nimbus are slightly different too, they're far wider than the Mad Catz Xbox-style triggers, and they seem to have a more natural curve to them which fit my hands a little better. I've been playing a bunch of PS4 games lately, so I've found myself gravitating more towards preferring the Nimbus's layout of two analog sticks next to each other to the C.T.R.L.i's offset Xbox-style joysticks. I like the larger D-pad too, although, really, few games ever use the D-pad over the analog sticks. Do any of these things have any impact on your ability to marathon play both iOS and Apple TV games? Of course not.

HJ162_AV3

The one significant difference the Nimbus has over other controllers is that it charges via Lightning. As mentioned earlier, it always was sort of annoying to make sure I brought a micro USB cable with if I needed to charge my controller, as being so deep in the Apple ecosystem, I typically only ever need Lightning cables. My iPhones, iPads, Apple TV remotes, and Apple Pencil all charge off one type of connector, and now that's also true of this controller. That's me though, I like simplicity, and I like only needing to use one cable. If your particular mobile loadout involves Android devices or other stuff that takes various USB cables, this likely makes no difference to you. Again, does this have any impact on playing games? Nope.

The SteelSeries Nimbus does feel like it's getting closer to where MFi controllers should be. Launching at $50 feels like a far more sane price point compared to what we've seen before. That puts it at $10 cheaper than the full-sized Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i, and finally in line with what people expect to pay for controllers. Over the years as we've posted about MFi controllers it was always annoying to not be able to come up with a reason as to why a controller is more expensive other than "lol apple lol," so, it's nice that's not the case anymore.

HJ162_AV4

If there's anyone out there who regularly follows TouchArcade who somehow doesn't have an MFi controller yet, this is the one to get. That being said, its differences are so minor that if you can catch a deal on any of the other MFi controllers this holiday season, it's not like you're going to be missing out on anything major, particularly with so many of the benefits being firmly in the arena of personal preference. Like other recent MFi controllers, the build quality is great, it feels good in your hands, and everything works as expected. Lightning charging is awesome though, and I really hope this becomes a normal thing.

  • Sevallis

    Thank you for reviewing this. I thought that the controller looked good when I saw it during my Apple TV 4 purchase as a suggested accessory. I'm glad to hear that it is worthwhile.

    Which games do you find benefit from the controller most on the Apple TV? I've been holding off until I found a solid use case, and I have to say that the sad article on the state of ATV gaming that you put out yesterday didn't help my buying decision :p

    • Tom

      Oceanhorn... if you haven't already completed it. And that's about it at the moment... OTOH, sideloading Provenance makes playing old SNES games a beautiful experience (aside from the confirm/reject keys getting flipped depending on whether you're in game or in the Apple TV menu)

      • jsayreallen

        It's great on Geometry Wars.

    • http://entrepreneurialblog.com Niclas Johansson

      Geometry Wars.

    • boydstr

      I bought a madcatz c.t.r.l.i controller and it's doing the job,it feels a little unpractical the weight distribution make it a little bit heavy when I click my iPhone 6+ in the holder but when use it with the Apple TV you don't have that problem at is almost the same as the Xbox 360 controller only there is no rumble function and no clickable joysticks I used it a lot for Dead Trigger 2 and Oceonhorn and before they removed Bioshock from the store I used it for that game to,FPS are working so much better with a joypad instead of virtual UI.

  • Zerol3onheart

    I've been wanting a controller for a long time now. I haven't seen one reviewed that included a stand or holder for the iPhone. The wait continues.

    • scottsoapbox

      Moga Rebel has a clip that holds my iPhone 6.

      • rich_952000

        Yeah, I wouldn't trade my MOGA Rebel for anything I've seen yet. It really turns my gaming sessions on my iPhone 6 into something akin to a 3DS or Vita experience.

      • chief78

        Agreed. I actually sold my Vita a few weeks ago. It was collecting dust while my MOGA has been beefing up on good play sessions.

      • NOEN

        I'm on the MOGA Rebel bandwagon too. The collapsible clip is what sold me when I bought it. I wish the clip went back just a little more than it does right now, but it's definitely not a deal breaker. It holds a charge really well too. I don't use it that often, but anytime I do, no matter if it's been a week or a month or two, that sucker always has a full charge.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        The USB charger port on both my MOGA Rebel and Jared's broke. πŸ™

      • Zerol3onheart

        No shit, really? I'm going to Amazon! Thanks folks!

      • tracebusta

        Awesome controller. I use it with every iOS device that I have...got it for my 6S Plus but now use it for my new Apple TV and it's a lot better than I thought it would be...its just the price was a bit steep...I think it was 79.99....it's when it first came out so I dont know what they cost now but I would buy it again if I needed to.

      • err404

        I own a nimbus and a rebel. I really wish the rebel had a better BT chip. It has a ton of lag and connection issues compared to the nimbus. I'd love to see a v2 of the rebel with BT 4.1 support.

  • zsoldier

    Would've liked to see this compared to the new Hori mFi controller.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      It's like the Hori MFi controller except it charges via Lightning.

      • Tom

        The New Hori *also* charges via lightning... Hori Ultimate.

      • Kyle B

        I have the Hori Pad Ultimate and it's great except... The only game that I cannot get it to work with is Space Marshals. The app developer refuses to reply to my support contacts. Quite frustrating.

  • Anonomation

    If only it had a clip.

  • Vellrath

    I was pretty pissed when I realized that the mad cats controller had no clicking plunger buttons, when multiple full-size controller compatible mFi games require them! I mean come on, this has been a standard for the last 15+ years. I'd knock 2 stars off of a 5 star review for that alone. Ughhh, it still upsets me, and I feel ripped off.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Which games? I've seriously never had that issue.

      • Vellrath

        If I remember correctly terrarium was one of them.

      • Vellrath

        *Terraria

      • Design by Adrian

        - Lizards Only Edition

    • Tom

      If you mean clicking Analogue Sticks, that is *not* part of the mfi-standard, and were a controller to include them it probably wouldn't get certified. It's common on consoles sure, not on iOS.

      • boydstr

        Yes that's true when I was looking for info over the controllers on iOS and one the first info I found was the abandance of vibration and clickable sticks in the mfi standard.I bought the Madcatz c.t.r.l.i joypad.

      • Vellrath

        Really? I wasn't aware of that. Is that to say that none of the MiFi's have that feature?

      • bilboad

        Exactly. No MFi controllers have it. If one did add it, it would probably disqualify it from MFi certification, and no games could take advantage of it anyway without using non-standard APIs, which would disqualify the game from app store approval. So it wouldn't make sense to ding a controller in a review for not having this feature.

  • TechUser2011

    Eli - which iOS device do you prefer to use with big controllers like this? I'm guessing the iPad Air or Pro?

  • iamninja

    The controller also uses Bluetooth 4.1 versus the old standard 2.1. This means much better battery life and better connectivity and less lag.

  • iamninja

    This is the only mfi controller out right now which uses Bluetooth 4.1 I might add.

    • Tom

      Well, it *and* the Hori Ultimate.

  • Death Lord777

    I just recently got a Steel Series Stratus as a Birthday gift it is one of the best MiFi controllers

  • matyou98

    Is the dpad better than the madcatz?

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      It depends what kind of D-Pad you like more.

    • DJCubs

      Yes, LOTS better, it's fantastic

  • speedyph

    IMA GET THIS I DONT HAVE A MI FI JOYSTICK YET 😬😬😬😬😬OH AND EVERYONE NEEDS TO BUY AIR ATTACK 2😬😬😬😬😬😬😬

    • Design by Adrian

      Shush, we're reading in here!

  • Desertking24

    I just want a controller that is great...I mostly want it for some RPGs like aralon and side scroller a for my iPad.

  • bpcookson

    All I wanted know was build quality and how it feels in your hand. Does it feel solid? Dependable? Like it's going to last? Really I was excited to see a review of this controller here because I thought TA would know what mattered in a controller; very disappointing.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      You probably should have read the review then.

      • garbui

        Eli, saying "the build quality is great" is really not a sufficient review. When Logitech's Powershell came out, different review sites said it had great build quality. In reality the buttons stuck, and the D-pad was squeaky and felt like crap. We're looking for comparisons to game controllers that set the standard for consoles, i.e. the DualShock.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        The first wave of MFi controllers weren't great, all those problems have since been ironed out. Every controller that has come out in the last year or so has been fantastic. Like I said in the review, it all comes down to personal preference, there aren't problems anymore. I'm actually curious how you guys who are so critical of this would review a controller when we could basically just keep posting the exact same generic MFi controller review that applies to 99% of everything you're complaining about?

      • garbui

        Honestly it's not a complaint, it's just feedback. I kid you not, Wired said the Powershell was "amazingly solid-feeling." I hold you guys to a high standard--I want to know what manufacturers are doing in response to Apple's hardware guidelines for MFi certification. Remember all that discussion about the $99 price points and Apple's insisting on analog buttons? How did SteelSeries achieve this new price point? It's more generic to say they're all awesome than to dig in a bit and find out what's happening behind the scenes here.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        But we (and everyone else) review stuff based on the reality of that time period. If you go back and look at iPhone game reviews we posted back in 2009 when we called super early 3D graphics "jaw dropping," of course it's going to look silly when compared to talking about grainy textures in 2015 and everything. The Powershell is the same way. At the time, that was an awesome controller, and super-solid compared to the other two controllers available.

        As far as price points and stuff, with the culture of secrecy at Apple, it's just not going to happen. No one will comment on anything, and if they do, it's so far off the record it's got its own zipcode.

      • garbui

        Hahaha, alright. That's fair. Thanks for the replies, Eli.

  • DemoEvolved

    I have this controller and it feels as solid as any console game controller. As far as games pretty much Geometry Wars is the best match. I will say I think I detect a tiny bit more lag on itv controller inputs than say, an Xbox one controller. This is the same for the remote and for the controller. If it's really the case that itv is your game console then the nimbus is the right pick. But don't let itv be your game console -- that is sad. Get a PS4. Nice bonus -- it comes with a game controller in the box!

  • RJTwo

    Funny you're showing a Vainglory screen shot next to the controller... it no workie!

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      It's their stock photos. *shrug*

  • cwoods474

    Well I don't have a MFi controller yet. I'm living under a rock and still touch arcading with just my screen. I'm definitely in the playstation type of controller camp. Judging from the review and comments the Nimbus and MOGA Rebel are the ones I should look into. I will be getting a new apple tv this Christmas and will have to get one. Any suggestions which one feels/grips better in the hand? Which is better? Sounds like a toss up.

  • spsummer

    Needed a new one so I ordered it, thanks for the recommendation Eli.

  • Mr. Davka

    I think there is one thing that sets this controller apart, at least in theory. It includes built in support for Mac OS as well.

  • araczynski

    So are controllers still a hit/miss in terms of support in a game? or is it all done automagically in the background, indifferent to whether the developer put something in or not.

    • bilboad

      Developers have to explicitly add controller support, and most don't.

      To be fair, I would say controller support wouldn't even make sense for the majority of iOS games. What good would controller support be for match 3 games, or most puzzle games, or turn based RPGs, or Clash of Clans style-builders, etc? Touch controls make much more sense for these games anyway.

      For the type of games where controller support would make sense, I would still say the majority of developers don't support it, but it's becoming a lot more common. Most games with controller support mention this fact in their app store description, so be sure to check if it's important to you.

      • araczynski

        thanks, was afraid of that.

  • http://www.galleytech.com Galley

    I bought a Nimbus on Apple TV 4 launch day and have been very pleased with it.

  • Design by Adrian

    I understand that some play on iPad and on the new Apple TV, but there really are too few battery-less and bluetooth-less controllers that snap onto iPhones!