There are a handful of game controllers that are specifically designed for Apple TV — that is, they have at least one or two buttons that are assigned to the Apple TV's interface. The best two on the market are the Nimbus by SteelSeries and the HoriPad Ultimate by Hori. They're so incredibly similar in style and features that you start to wonder which one you should buy. It really all comes down to personal preferences. Here is a list of the features that are similar and different and how that translates to which Apple TV controller you should buy.
- The look and feel
- The performance
- The battery life
- Device compatibility
- Who should buy the SteelSeries Nimbus?
- Who should buy the Horipad Ultimate?
The look and feel
When it comes to the physical shape and button pressure of the Nimbus and Horipad Ultimate are very similar, but there are a few minor differences that could have a major impact on your gaming experience.
It's a very subtle difference, but the Nimbus D-pad, joysticks, and ABXY buttons are all a fraction of an inch closer to reach than the Ultimate. It's such a small difference that I can't even figure out where the dimensions differ. I think it has something to do with the width of the grips. The Horipad Ultimate's grip is a slight bit fatter, which makes your thumb's reach just a tick longer. If your hands are on the smaller side, the buttons on the Nimbus will feel more natural to you. If you've got a nice sized palm, the Nimbus might feel a bit cramped.
The shoulder triggers on the Horipad Ultimate are slightly higher than the triggers on the Nimbus. The difference is almost indistinguishable, but it's there. If you've got short fingers, the triggers on the Nimbus are a little more comfortable. If you've got those pianist fingers, the Ultimate is a better fit.
The shoulder buttons on the Horipad Ultimate, oddly, have a closer reach than the shoulder buttons on the Nimbus. This also has to do with the dimensions of the grip, but it's interesting that it's the opposite of the other button positioning.
Overall, in terms of button positioning, if your hands are on the smaller side — if your fingers are a little shorter or your palms aren't particularly wide, the Nimbus will feel more natural. If you've got long fingers, wide palms, or consider your hands to be on the larger side, the Horipad Ultimate is going to fit you better.
The grip is probably the most different physical aspect of each controller. The Nimbus grips are long, jut out straight from the base with only a slight downward angle, and don't have any variation in the width. They're rounded and thick.
The Horipad Ultimate's grips are a bit shorter, have a noticeable downward slope, and have variation in the width, starting with a very fat bottom (where your palm and ring and pinky fingers would rest) and thinning out where your middle finger would naturally sit.
Basically, the Horipad Ultimate has better ergonomic shape, but the Nimbus has more room for all of your fingers.
As far as grip is concerned, the Horipad Ultimate works better for people with hands that are average or slightly smaller than average. The Nimbus has more room for larger hands, but less ergonomic structure.
Button pressure is definitely a personal preference. Some people like a stiff button that really feels like it's working. Others prefer a loose button that makes it feel like you're pressing faster.
The ABXY buttons and the D-pad on both the Horipad Ultimate and the Nimbus are nearly identical, with the Nimbus having an ever-so-slightly looser pressure.
Where the main button pressure difference is noticeable is in the shoulder triggers. The Horipad Ultimate triggers have significantly more resistance when pressed, giving you more pressure to work with. The Nimbus buttons are decidedly loose and don't use much pressure at all.
As far as the main buttons are concerned — the D-pad, joysticks, and ABXY buttons — there is no difference. If you're trigger happy, note that the Horipad Ultimate is the pick for fans of stiff button pressure and the Nimbus is better for fans of low button pressure.
As far as pairing is concerned, I found that the Nimbus was about one-step faster at setting up right out of the box. The Horipad Ultimate required me to actually press the Bluetooth button in order to make it discoverable, while the Nimbus was discovered the moment I turned it on.
I tried testing both controllers out on a variety of different games in order to compare reaction and latency. Turns out, there isn't any difference at all. If performance is your most important concern when it comes to a controller for Apple TV, you're not going to see any problems with either. They both use Bluetooth 4.1 and don't have any issues with buttons not working or triggering late.
The battery life
SteelSeries claims that the Nimbus will supply you with 40 gaming hours before needing a recharge.
Hori claims an 80-hour battery life, though it's not made clear whether that means 80 gaming hours or 80 hours of regular use (like for navigating tvOS, too). As of this writing, I've not fully tested the battery capacity of the Hori's claim of 80 hours, but I can say with relative confidence that the Nimbus does hover at about 40 gaming hours.
Another place where both the Horipad Ultimate and the Nimbus are pretty much identical. They are both compatible with Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, and Mac. They both use a Lightning-to-USB charging cable (which is not included, so you'll need to use the one that comes with your iPhone or iPad). They both connect to your devices using Bluetooth and pair pretty much the same way.
If having a game controller that is universally supported across all of your Apple devices is most important to you, the Horipad Ultimate and Nimbus are the same.
Who should buy the SteelSeries Nimbus?
- Though the buttons are closer together, which might be uncomfortable for larger-handed people, in my opinion, the Nimbus is the better fit for average to larger-than-average hands. It's all about that grip. The Nimbus grips have a lot more room for wide palms and thick fingers.
- If you've got short fingers, the Nimbus has a closer reach to those buttons. Even though the grips are more comfortable for larger palms, the close button configuration might be worth sacrificing the ergonomic grip.
- If you prefer low-pressure, fast-action button pressing, the Nimbus triggers are noticeably faster (though the D-pad and ABXY buttons aren't particularly different).
- If you've got fairly standard access to a Lightning cable, the 40 gaming hours of battery life will not interrupt your gameplay.
Who should buy the Horipad Ultimate?
- If your palms are not too big, and you're more comfortable with a rounded ergonomic grip, you're going to be happier with the Horipad Ultimate than the Nimbus. The grip length is shorter, but really is more comfortable all around.
- If you've got long fingers, the reach of the joystick, D-pad, and ABXY buttons are just a little farther out. This is going to make your gaming experience more comfortable. The Nimbus might feel too cramped.
- If you like your buttons to be a bit more on the stiff side, giving you just the right amount of resistance to give you that solid sense of action, the triggers on the Horipad Ultimate will give you the experience you want (though the D-pad and ABXY buttons, aren't really any different).
- If HoriPad's claim of 80 hours of battery life is true, you might consider it over the Nimbus if charging using a Lightning cable is a real pain in the butt.
Do you own one, the other, or both the Nimbus and the Horipad Ultimate? Which one do you prefer and why? Let us know in the comments.
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Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books. If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).