With low expectations, we were therefore shocked at how well the controller worked with the majority of games we tested. Like the 8-Bitty and Gametel, the SteelSeries Free is an iCade-compatible controller. It pairs with relative ease, although there are two modes (one for PC/Mac use), which slightly complicates matters.
However, unlike rivals, this controller's button mapping wasn't designed by someone who hates you, hence actions in games mostly working as you'd expect. There were exceptions - Qwak HD, for example, was simply unplayable - but out of all the iCade-compatible controllers on test here, this was the only one where we found we could really get stuck into League of Evil, Super Crate Box and Midway Arcade.
The D-pad proved reliable too, although diagonals were perhaps a touch too easy to slip into on occasion. However, we mostly ended up using the left-hand joystick; this resembles an analogue stick, but on iOS it's really another digital directional controller. Still, for titles such as Gridrunner, Ice Rage and Air Attack it proved excellent, and we even ended up using the stick for platformers and racing games.
Really, all SteelSeries Free gets wrong is the price. At £50, it's a tenner more than we'd like to part with. However, we have to admit that you are paying for quality, as well as comfort and the best compatibility outside of a full-sized iCade, and so if you have the funds, this tiny controller comes highly recommended.
4. Duo Gamer
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Power: 2×AA (up to 24 hours)
The Duo Gamer is unique in this group in pairing as a Bluetooth headset and having dual analogue sticks akin to those on traditional games consoles, offering impressive integration with compatible games - this one isn't iCade-compatible, like the others, but instead works only with certain Gameloft titles.
Games refer to specific aspects of the controller as you play, rather than you scrabbling around, trying to find out what each button does. This is admirable, but that's where the good stuff ends.
The first thing you'll notice on using the Duo is that it appears to have been sculpted with all the grace of a brutish woodsman hacking away at a log with a massive axe. It's not so much unergonomic as anti-ergonomic - imagine holding a lightweight brick that cuts into your hands.
Fortunately, the D-pad and buttons are solid and reasonably responsive; less fortunately, the analogue sticks are stiff and twitchy, and take time to get used to.
On the games front, racer Asphalt 7's default tilt controls gave more precision than the Duo, meaning the controller's only worth considering if you use your device at a distance, wired into a TV.
For first-person shooters (N.O.V.A. 3; Modern Combat 3) the Duo suddenly makes sense, your set-up resembling something like an Xbox or PlayStation, even if the controls still aren't nearly as fluid as a traditional console's; and even then, we'd say you'd need to be a massive fan of the very few compatible titles to take the plunge at this price. Everyone else: stay away.