The Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i is the most affordable iPhone- and iPad-compatible wireless game controller on the market, and that alone will make it the ideal choice for many mobile gamers, even though its design has a few glaring issues.
The Bluetooth-enabled Mad Catz controller is compatible with any iPhone, iPad or iPod touch running iOS 8 or later. Mad Catz provided AppleInsider with a blue Micro C.T.R.L.i controller for the purposes of this review, though it's also available in red, white and orange.
With a $50 retail price, and some models selling for as little as $40, the C.T.R.L.i is the cheapest iOS-compatible gaming controller we've tested to date. But the controller cuts one big corner to achieve this low price: It lacks an integrated rechargeable battery, and instead requires users to bring their own AAA batteries to power it.
Though it has a relatively low price point, the Mad Catz micro controller is well made. It's not nearly as small as the diminutive SteelSeries Stratus we previously reviewed, but in our view, that's a good thing — Â the Stratus sacrificed too much comfort for its size.
In addition to being an incredibly annoying product name to type out multiple times, the Micro C.T.R.L.i is also 20 percent smaller than the full-size variant also made by Mad Catz. The full-size version is also priced at around $50.
Mad Catz's micro controller has what you'd expect in a modern gaming accessory, and as a certified Made for iPhone product, it complies with Apple's design standards. That means it includes two thumbsticks, a D-pad, four face buttons (A, B, X and Y), two triggers, and two shoulder buttons. As in other iOS gaming controllers, the thumbsticks do not click as they do on modern game consoles like the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or Wii U.
A welcome inclusion with the C.T.R.L.i is a mounting clip designed to hold an iPhone of any size, including the larger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. While this is a crucial element for iPhone gaming, we found the design of this clip falls short of the integrated clip found on the slightly larger Moga Rebel, which we reviewed last fall.
Rather than building the clip into the controller itself, it's a completely separate piece with multiple moving parts that are more liable to break over time. The design of the Mad Catz iPhone holder leaves much to be desired.
To be clear: When holding the iPhone and attached to the controller, the clip works great. It feels secure, both in its attachment to the controller and in its grip on the phone.
Our problem with the clip comes from the fact that it must be removed for travel, or perhaps when being used with an iPad. The clip can fasten to the back of the Mad Catz controller, which is nice, but making it removable means it's more likely to break or be lost.
We're glad the clip is included, because it makes this controller a viable iPhone gamepad, and not just an iPad accessory. But the superior, integrated mount on the Moga Rebel wins out in this comparison.
Without an integrated rechargeable battery, the controller itself feels light, though the construction is sturdy. The hard plastic exterior has virtually no give when squeezed and seems as though it could stand up to years of use.
The thumbsticks and buttons feel great, with fantastic responsiveness and resistance. The triggers also feel just right, with a good level of spring to them, especially considering the controller's slightly smaller form factor.
The D-pad is largely forgettable, but we had no serious issues with the feel of it. Anyone used to an Xbox 360 controller will feel at home with the design and layout of this gamepad.
But most importantly, the Mad Catz micro controller does not seem to sacrifice much for its so-called "micro" size. In being not as small as the SteelSeries Stratus, it's also infinitely more comfortable and capable. Unless you have absolutely gargantuan hands, we think most gamers will have no problem with the portable form factor.
As we've said in every controller review to date, the improvement to gameplay from a physical input device is monumental. Blockbuster titles like BioShock and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas are completely different experiences with a controller in hand.
Complex, modern, console-style game titles just weren't designed to be played on touchscreens, and anyone who wants to play those types of games on their iPhones or iPads regularly will likely buy a controller.
For those who choose Mad Catz, we're happy to say that we had no real issues with connectivity or lag. Setup with iPhone and iPad was as simple as could be expected, and connections stayed solid while we gamed.
Mad Catz says the C.T.R.L.i offers about 30 hours of constant gameplay on two AAA batteries. While we didn't have a chance to thoroughly test the accuracy of these claims, they seem plausible enough given our testing and the battery capabilities of modern Bluetooth chips.
The biggest problem with the Mad Catz controller, and all iOS gaming controllers, falls not on the hardware manufacturers, but Apple. Here we are, halfway through 2015, and Apple still has not offered an easy way to discover games that support controllers on the App Store.
Mad Catz offers its own iOS app, also named C.T.R.L.i, in an effort to address this issue. It includes a "GameSmart" menu, which essentially just loads the manufacturer's website and presents a list of games that are controller-compatible.
A simple look at the reviews for the C.T.R.L.i app only highlights how confusing Apple's iOS controller support is for the average consumer: People complain that their favorite titles are not supported, operating under the assumption that this burden falls on the accessory makers, rather than the game makers. Apple could make everyone's lives easier by simply adding a new category on the App Store exclusively for games with physical controller support, but for whatever reason the company refuses to do so.
The Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i app can also be used to check the battery status of the GamePad, and also see what firmware version it is running. It also includes a diagnostic menu that allows users to check that all of the inputs on the accessory are operating properly.
In a market where iOS-compatible controllers still cost more than superior controllers for consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the main selling point of the Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i, for us, is its $50 (and lower) price point.
This is not to say that the Micro C.T.R.L.i is a bargain at $50, or even $40. Mad Catz achieved this price by not including an integrated battery, instead opting to utilize AAA batteries.
Some gamers may not mind this, and might actually prefer replaceable batteries. But even Apple's products that rely on replaceable batteries — Â like the Magic Mouse or wireless keyboard — Â use AA batteries, not AAA.
The best competition for the Mad Catz micro controller is the Moga Rebel. It's quite a bit bigger, and it retails for $30 more. But it also includes an integrated battery, and a built-in iPhone holder that won't be lost or broken.
Gamers will have to decide of the better iPhone holder and rechargeable battery are worth the $30 extra. They'll also need to consider whether they prefer the smaller form factor of the Mad Catz micro option.
There's also the full-size Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i, which is 20 percent bigger than the micro version. We haven't tested that one, but it also costs $50 and relies on replaceable batteries.
Outside of Mad Catz and Moga, there aren't any iPhone-compatible gaming controllers we can honestly recommend. SteelSeries does offer the $70 Stratus XL, but it lacks a way to hold an iPhone while gaming, making it better suited for using with an iPad and stand.
The Moga Ace Power was a unique first attempt using a Lightning connector, but it only fits the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s and had a number of shortcomings. The Logitech PowerShell is another clamshell design that only fits the iPhone 5 and 5s series, and it also lacks dual joysticks and only offers a D-pad.
If you don't mind the reliance on AAA batteries and the removable clip, we have no problem recommending the Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i. It's a well-made, comfortable controller that will make a great addition to any iPhone or iPad.
We do have to ding it for the lack of a rechargeable battery, and the fact that Mad Catz didn't instead opt for AA batteries, like Apple's own accessories use. And while the removable clip does snap securely into place, it does take some forceful tugging to take off, which could lead to accidental breakage. And without the clip, the Micro C.T.R.L.i will become a much less useful iPhone accessory.
Still, the Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i is the most affordable mass-market iOS-compatible controller available today, and it accomplishes that without feeling cheap. It's not perfect, but it's good enough to earn our recommendation.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
- Well built and comfortable with responsive buttons
- Clip accessory can securely hold an iPhone in place while gaming
- Works with both iPhone and iPad via Bluetooth, virtually ensuring compatibility with future models
- At $50 and under, it's the most affordable option for iOS gamers
- The removable iPhone mounting clip feels like it could be lost or eventually broken
- No rechargeable internal battery, and it uses AAAs instead of AAs
- Apple still hasn't improved discovery of controller-supported games on the App Store