Gaming has been slowly expanding and evolving on smartphones for the past decade, but two things continue to hold mobile back from truly competing with consoles and PC: controls, and a library of killer apps. SteelSeries and KontrolFreek seek to address the former factor with their latest Apple controller.
The Nimbus+ is a Bluetooth controller for use with iOS, compatible with a plethora of Apple devices. iPhones as far back as the 6, iPads, 4th Gen Apple TVs, and Macs are all supported. However, I mostly tested it on an iPhone XS, using the included mount.
The mount affixes to the back using two prongs, which slide into the back of the Nimbus controller. At first this process felt a little awkward, and I was unsure I’d done it correctly. However, after coming back to it a little while later, I found the mount was quite secure. Jostling the controller didn’t loosen it at all.
Two notches unfold from the mount to hold your iPhone. The top half can extend to make room for your particular model, and then close on it, gently securing your phone like a vise, regardless of its size. This is one of my favourite aspects of the Nimbus+ design—unlike the Razer Kishi, you don’t need to remove your device’s case to use it with a controller.
“Its construction is solid yet light, sturdier than the Switch Pro Controller but not any heavier.”
As for the controller itself, its construction is solid yet light, sturdier than the Switch Pro Controller but not any heavier. Its four face buttons match the letter designation of the Xbox controller, with alternate colour designations printed within. Three navigation buttons for Options, Home, and Menu occupy the middle, with wireless pairing and battery level indicator buttons around the back, almost concealed by the mount.
Its tactile D-Pad is responsive and satisfying, though its clicking can be a little loud. Otherwise, the face buttons are pleasantly light, and the clickable thumbsticks respond well when playing the likes of Clap Hanz Golf, where accuracy is crucial. Most impressive, in my opinion, are the “Hall Effect” triggers. L2/R2 can be pressed with the same crisp precision as the face buttons, suited to the arcade-like nature of many mobile games. They may not serve as well on a console controller, especially with the advent of haptic feedback, but I’m curious to see how this technology would work elsewhere.
“The battery is strong, mounting and removing your phone is a breeze, and the controller is comparable to official console pads.”
Physically, the Nimbus+ is very sound. My only practical gripe is that it can be a little difficult to set down while your phone is mounted. I had to find something to prop it against, or balance it precariously on the triggers and mount, with the grip in the air. But other than that, the battery is strong, mounting and removing your phone is a breeze, and the controller is comparable to official console pads.
However, a systemic problem presents itself here, as it did when I reviewed the Razer Kishi—application. Many mobile games are simply not made for controllers, whether by their design or by a lack of peripheral support. If your favourite game on your phone uses a UI with huge touch buttons, chances are it is not going to need a controller like this.
That being said, if you have an Apple Arcade subscription, you’re likely to find something to enjoy with the Nimbus+. I immediately became hooked on Clap Hanz Golf, which feels like it was designed for SteelSeries’ gamepad. Until September 30, 2022, those who buy the Nimbus+ can activate a promotion for four months of Apple Arcade for free, which helps.
“Hands down, the Nimbus+ outclasses the Kishi in every category.”
It is worth double-checking your library and the App Store for controller-enabled games before you buy. There are plenty of non-arcade titles that seamlessly integrate with the Nimbus+, especially if you enjoy older games—Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Final Fantasy III performed perfectly. In fact, I can actually envision sitting down and playing through these mobile ports now, where touch controls had once sapped my will to keep going.
Hands down, the Nimbus+ outclasses the Kishi in every category. It is considerably cheaper, more practical with its expanding mount, and feels more secure and responsive.