Review: SteelSeries Nimbus is the best gaming controller for Apple TV and iPad

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited November 2015
Comfortable, competitively priced and featuring a Lightning port for recharging, the SteelSeries Nimbus is the best iOS-compatible gaming controller we've ever tested, and it's the best option to pair with your new fourth-generation Apple TV. But without a clamp to hold an iPhone, it should be the go-to choice for Apple TV and iPad gamers only.




The SteelSeries Nimbus is priced at $49.95, and connects via Bluetooth to the fourth-generation Apple TV, iPhone 5 or newer, iPad 4 and newer, and the fifth-generation iPod touch and newer. That's half the price of the first "Made for iOS" gaming controllers that first began to appear after iOS 7 added support, marking a huge improvement for the Made for iOS accessory market.

SteelSeries provided AppleInsider with a Nimbus for this review. Inside the box is a controller and a manual, though you'll need to bring your own Lightning cable for charging (we're guessing you already have a few of those).

Design and hardware

Apple-sanctioned gaming controllers got off to a poor start back in 2013, but as has been noted by our reviews, the options have steadily gotten better over the years. That said, there hasn't yet been a controller we could wholeheartedly recommend without some reservations.

Thankfully, that's changed with the SteelSeries Nimbus.




Our last look at a SteelSeries product was the company's ambitious Stratus micro-controller, a unique form factor that made bold choices but ultimately suffered for them.

The SteelSeries Nimbus makes no such concessions. Right out of the box we were able to appreciate its fantastic construction and solid build. This is not a cheap piece of plastic --?for $50, you really feel like you're holding a premium controller, which is how it should be.

The rigid body on the SteelSeries has absolutely no give to it. It even has a slight bit of "heft" to it, which we think was a wise decision.

The design places the D-pad on the upper left side, and two analog sticks on the inner left and right side. The upper right side has the face A, B, X and Y buttons.




The in-hand feel is akin to Microsoft's Xbox controllers, while the analog stick placement is similar to Sony's PlayStation sticks.

The D-pad is serviceable, as most controller D-pads are these days, while the analog sticks are excellent. The face buttons are also outstanding, responsive and comfortable.

The front face of the controller also features a nice, large menu button, and four LEDs identifying which player number the controller is assigned as.

Up top, there are four shoulder buttons. The two lower triggers are outstanding and feel very solid when pulled --?they are the best of any iOS- or Apple TV-compatible controller to date.




The bumper buttons above the triggers are slightly larger than we'd prefer, but are still comfortable and easy to press, and give a satisfying mild click when fully engaged.

In between the four buttons up top is a hold switch for turning the controller on and off, a Bluetooth button that can be held to easily enable pairing mode, and a Lightning port for recharging the controller.

Our hats off to SteelSeries for the best-constructed Apple-certified controller we've seen yet, and achieving it at a competitive price that most gamers can tolerate.

Usage

It is here once again that we are happy to report improvement from our previous reviews: Our main knock against MFi controllers was actually Apple's fault, because the App Store does not identify which downloads support third-party gaming controllers.

No, Apple hasn't fixed the iOS App Store. But it has launched the new Apple TV with tvOS App Store, where game controller support is clearly identified before a title is downloaded.




Just one simple change has made the experience on Apple TV that much better. And, thankfully, the SteelSeries Nimbus was designed with the Apple TV in mind.

Here, the controller works as you would expect. Once paired with the Apple TV through a simple setup in the tvOS Settings app, it will maintain its connection.

That means turning on the controller will bring the Apple TV out of sleep mode. And the buttons on the controller can be used to navigate the Apple TV in place of the Siri Remote, including non-gaming apps.

Game controller support on the Apple TV at this early stage is good, but could use improvement. There are some decent titles available, some of which are cross-buy and iCloud sync compatible, though some titles would benefit from options like control customization (why can't we switch the thumbsticks in Geometry Wars 3?).




Moving away from the Apple TV, the SteelSeries Nimbus also works with iPad, Mac, iPhone, and iPod touch. We tested the controller with our iPad Pro and iPhone 6s and found that it worked as expected, just like other game controllers before it.

That said, we can't recommend the SteelSeries Nimbus to iPhone or iPod touch gamers, because the accessory has no clamp to hold the iPhone. While suited for couch gaming, or with an iPad propped up with a Smart Cover, most gamers will likely want a way to hold their iPhone at a desirable viewing angle when playing with a controller. There are other options for iPhone gamers, and our recommendations with comps would be the Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i (which lacks a rechargeable internal battery or the Moga Rebel (which starts at $70).

But we don't think iPhone gaming is the intended market for this SteelSeries accessory. Introduced alongside the fourth-generation Apple TV, this is clearly intended for living room use, and it fits that bill perfectly.

SteelSeries says the Nimbus is rated for 40-plus hours of battery life on a single charge. We didn't put that number to the test, but it came out of the box fully charged and remained operational for us after hours of use.

Being the first controller on the market with Lightning support is yet another feather in the Nimbus's cap, meaning users will be able to charge the device the same way they do their Apple TV's Siri Remote.

Conclusion

The SteelSeries Nimbus is a fully featured gaming controller with exceptional construction, convenient Lightning port recharging, and compatibility with Apple's full range of products.

Priced at $50, which is $10 less than controllers for major consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, it's competitive. We will note that modern gaming console controllers feature rumble feedback and motion sensors, but Apple's MFi certification doesn't support those capabilities.




It's been a long time coming, but more than two years after official Apple-approved controllers began hitting the market, we've finally found one we can wholeheartedly recommend --?as long as you don't want to use this with your iPhone.

If you plan on playing a number of games on your Apple TV or iPad, the SteelSeries Nimbus is currently the one to get.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

Pros
  • Fantastic construction feels sturdy in the hand, while still costing just $50
  • A full array of buttons that are responsive and comfortable
  • Lightning port makes for easy charging
  • Fully compatible with Apple TV's tvOS, as well as iOS and Mac
Cons
  • Without a clamp, iPhone gamers may want to look elsewhere
  • While the tvOS App Store has great controller support, iOS App Store is still lacking

Where to buy

The SteelSeries Nimbus is currently exclusive to the Apple Store, both online and at its retail locations.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    mike54mike54 Posts: 319member
    Fantastic controller, worth the money. Solid construction, excellently designed and finished, feels very comfortable. Buttons and sticks work very well. The shoulder buttons are perfect. Very impressed with the quality. Definitely on par with the best controllers out there (note it does not have the rumble feedback and gyro).
    racerhomie3
  • Reply 2 of 46
    Definitely a great controller but the Horipad Ultimate (my controller of choice) and PXN Speedy are right there as well. The Madcatz C.T.R.L.I also is a very good option. MFi controllers have really come a long way and the prices are finally reasonable. It was laughable when they were asking $100 for controllers that were half as good as $50 PlayStation and Xbox controllers.
  • Reply 3 of 46
    irelandireland Posts: 17,571member
    Is this the first officially approved third party product with a lightning port?
  • Reply 4 of 46
    I believe it is the first to be be charged via lightning port but it's not the only one. The Horipad Ultimaye also uses a lighting port for charging.
    racerhomie3
  • Reply 5 of 46
    dugbugdugbug Posts: 283member
    Needs rumble. Do any mfi ones have vibration?
  • Reply 6 of 46
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,799member
    It has four lights on it, presumably to show whether you're connected as Controller 1, 2, 3, or 4, but I thought you could only connect 2 controllers to the Apple TV?
  • Reply 7 of 46
    From the reviews I've read, no MFi controllers have rumble. Great break down of all available controllers on Afterpad.com
  • Reply 8 of 46
    crowley wrote: »
    It has four lights on it, presumably to show whether you're connected as Controller 1, 2, 3, or 4, but I thought you could only connect 2 controllers to the Apple TV?

    If I'm not mistaken, the ATV4 can handle 3 MFi controllers plus the Siri remote at once
  • Reply 9 of 46

    Controllers are hard to get right. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo spend millions and millions in R&D on these things any time they go to revise them, and they can go through thousands of prototypes. Even then, they can end up releasing a second revision to the existing controller mid-generation (Xbox, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One) that just adds to the development cost.

     

    So I'm glad to see they've managed to produce what looks to be a mostly competent controller at a reasonable price. Though, ergonomically, this doesn't look to be too great. I'd have to get a hands-on with it before buying one.

  • Reply 10 of 46
    foadfoad Posts: 697member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SupaDav03 View Post



    Definitely a great controller but the Horipad Ultimate (my controller of choice) and PXN Speedy are right there as well. The Madcatz C.T.R.L.I also is a very good option. MFi controllers have really come a long way and the prices are finally reasonable. It was laughable when they were asking $100 for controllers that were half as good as $50 PlayStation and Xbox controllers.



    Having seen both, why do you prefer the Horipad? I have the Nimbus but haven't used the Horipad.

  • Reply 11 of 46
    foad wrote: »

    Having seen both, why do you prefer the Horipad? I have the Nimbus but haven't used the Horipad.

    Having used both, I find myself going back to the Horipad most often. I think it has the superior D pad, which for me is huge because I play mostly retro games and PS1 remakes. Also like the design of the controller a little better. Feels more comfortable to hold. I guess the biggest thing is, it very closely replicates the PlayStation controller. Nearly same buttons, sticks, d-pad, spacing, button depth, shoulder buttons. Since PS has always been my preferred gaming platform, that familiarity just felt right.
  • Reply 12 of 46
    foadfoad Posts: 697member
    supadav03 wrote: »
    Having used both, I find myself going back to the Horipad most often. I think it has the superior D pad, which for me is huge because I play mostly retro games and PS1 remakes. Also like the design of the controller a little better. Feels more comfortable to hold. I guess the biggest thing is, it very closely replicates the PlayStation controller. Nearly same buttons, sticks, d-pad, spacing, button depth, shoulder buttons. Since PS has always been my preferred gaming platform, that familiarity just felt right.

    Thanks! I think I'm going to return my Nimbus and get that. I really like the PS controller, so that's a good sign.
  • Reply 13 of 46
    I am impressed, I paired this with my MacBook Pro, AppleTV4, and then iPad Pro, I don't know what the limit is, but all three are still in paired, and able to switch with the disconnect and connect buttons in their respective Apple Menu Sections..
  • Reply 14 of 46
    I've been thinking about getting some sort of MFi controller for awhile. I'm just not sure if there are enough games to justify the purchase. That seems to be changing with the new Apple TV having access to the App Store now. The price seems pretty reasonable too, weren't there others that were much more expensive just a year ago or so?
  • Reply 15 of 46
    I agree with this review. It's built solid and every bit as good as my Xbox One controller.
  • Reply 16 of 46



    Game controllers are over 30 years old and are very long in the tooth. It is about time that some company had the courage and the imagination to reinvent the controller and make something that better relates to the human body as an interface. The joystick is about 100 years old and comes from controls that existed before the first World War. Four buttons located under your thumb or a cross mounted foursome of switches are among the crudest ON/OFF digital control imaginable. The things we do or need to do in the real world can be limited down to this crude control but why do they need to be so limited down?

  • Reply 17 of 46
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ElectroTech View Post

     



    Game controllers are over 30 years old and are very long in the tooth. It is about time that some company had the courage and the imagination to reinvent the controller and make something that better relates to the human body as an interface. The joystick is about 100 years old and comes from controls that existed before the first World War. Four buttons located under your thumb or a cross mounted foursome of switches are among the crudest ON/OFF digital control imaginable. The things we do or need to do in the real world can be limited down to this crude control but why do they need to be so limited down?




    The car is over one hundred years old. The boat is thousands. The wheel is ancient. Sometimes you hit on a good thing, perhaps?

  • Reply 18 of 46
    auxioauxio Posts: 1,980member

    Picked up this controller yesterday and it's working great with my AppleTV so far.  Feels very natural coming from using PS3 controllers.

  • Reply 19 of 46
    Neil Hughes is right on the money. I own two of the controllers and they're outstanding.
  • Reply 20 of 46
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 12,979member
     


    Game controllers are over 30 years old and are very long in the tooth. It is about time that some company had the courage and the imagination to reinvent the controller and make something that better relates to the human body as an interface. The joystick is about 100 years old and comes from controls that existed before the first World War. Four buttons located under your thumb or a cross mounted foursome of switches are among the crudest ON/OFF digital control imaginable. The things we do or need to do in the real world can be limited down to this crude control but why do they need to be so limited down?


    The car is over one hundred years old. The boat is thousands. The wheel is ancient. Sometimes you hit on a good thing, perhaps?

    Yet everyone is waxing poetic on how Apple is going to reimagine the car, and redefine the market. Why can't the same be said about gaming controllers?
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