The Xbox One controller is one of the best console and PC controllers that you can get at the moment.
Its ergonomic and minimalistic design will appeal to many, all the while plug-and-play Windows compatibility will make it highly convenient for the less tech-savvy PC users.
- Very solid build
- One of the most comfortable controllers out there
- Responsive triggers with integrated rumble function
- Highly ergonomic thumbsticks
- Improved and more accurate D-pad
- D-pad may be too tactile and loud for some
- Shoulder buttons can feel cumbersome due to their size and produce loud, sharp clicks
The Xbox 360 controller was praised for how ergonomic and comfortable it was, although it wasn’t without its fair share of flaws. The infamous D-pad and the lack of Bluetooth compatibility at the launch were some of the prominent downfalls that Xbox 360 controller owners had to put up with.
However, with the launch of the Xbox One, the controller has seen several improvements, and most users agree that it was highly effective at building upon the foundation set by the XBOX 360.
In this article, we will be doing a thorough review of the Xbox One wireless controller, including its design, functionality, variants, as well as some comparisons with its predecessor.
The Xbox One controller adopts a much sleeker and more minimal approach as compared to its older sibling. The controller’s frame is noticeably slimmer, especially when looked at from the side. It also gets rid of the textured exterior plastic, which made the original 360 controllers feel somewhat cheap and gather dirt very easily.
Next, you will notice that it implements details and colors much more sparingly. The Home button now adopts a gentle silver hue, in contrast to the old attention-grabbing green highlights. Furthermore, the Start and Back buttons are replaced by Menu and View buttons, respectively, both of which are smaller and more inconspicuous.
In addition to the numerous color scheme variations and special editions, Microsoft also allows its users to design their own custom controller through the Xbox Design Lab.
Users are allowed to customize nearly every aspect of the controller:
- The color of each separate part.
- The material which the triggers and the D-pad are made of – plastic or metal.
- Add an optional rubberized grip to the underside.
- Add a personalized engraving of up to 16 characters.
The Analog Sticks
The asymmetrical stick placement is something of a signature for the Xbox controllers, so it’s no surprise that it wasn’t changed. The sticks themselves, however, have been improved.
The biggest and most obvious change is in the thumb grips, which now consist of a concave center portion and a micro-textured ring, which prevents the user’s thumbs from slipping. On top of that, the sticks also feel lighter and more responsive as compared to those of the 360 controllers.
The Face Buttons
There is not much to be said about the controller’s face buttons apart from their design change. To adhere to the new minimal design philosophy, the new buttons are more modest when it comes to their use of color as compared to those of the old controller. This time around, it is only the letters which bear the traditional Xbox button colors.
The cause of much joy in the community was the brand new, revamped D-pad. While the 360 D-pad held up fine when it was being used for secondary in-game actions such as weapon switching or item selection, it could be problematic when used for movement since the design did not make it easy to slide your finger from one direction to another.
The new D-pad is set in a concave depression instead of a protrusion and is easy to use in any context, although some may find it too tactile and loud for their liking.
The Shoulder Buttons and Triggers
The 360 controller’s shoulder buttons and triggers were pretty good in their own right, but the Xbox One controller improves them nonetheless.
The triggers are now wider and easier to get ahold of and have their very own vibration motors, leading to more immersive and accurate rumble functionality in some games. They also have higher pressure resistance than the old triggers.
The shoulder buttons are also larger, but they don’t get any extra functionality. Nonetheless, they are more comfortable but also very “clicky.”
The Xbox One controller does not come with an integrated battery. Rather, it uses two separate AA batteries as a power source. These can usually last around 40 hours, but there is no accurate way to estimate this due to the varying quality of different battery brands.
And while Microsoft does not recommend using rechargeable AA batteries, they do sell a special rechargeable battery as part of their charge kit. If you don’t want to pay extra for the official charge kit, there are other third-party batteries you can use.
The controller has three separate ports:
- Micro USB – Used for charging or for establishing a wired connection with a console or PC.
- Expansion port – Used for accessories such as an audio control panel, chat pads, etc.
- 5mm jack – A feature absent in the original Xbox One controller, the 3.5mm jack, was later introduced in the subsequent revised versions. It is used for headphones and headsets.
Apart from the above, the Xbox One controller also has wireless connection capabilities. These include both Bluetooth and Xbox Wireless. While Bluetooth is reserved solely for PC connections, the console actually uses Xbox Wireless, and it can also be used on PC, provided that you have the necessary dongle.
Xbox Wireless has a higher throughput than Bluetooth since it uses a higher-frequency signal, something that is especially useful if you need to connect four or more controllers to a device, or if you want two controllers to be able to use stereo headsets simultaneously. For a single controller, however, one is not necessarily better than the other.
The Xbox One controller is, naturally, fully compatible with the Xbox One, Xbox One S, and the Xbox One X. Unfortunately, it does not work with the Xbox 360, so you will still need a 360 controller if you ever want to give your old console a go again.
On top of that, the controller is also natively compatible with Windows 10, allowing you to use it seamlessly with your PC. As mentioned above, it can connect to a PC either via a USB cable, Bluetooth, or Xbox Wireless.
The Final Verdict
All things considered, the Xbox One controller offers users everything that the Xbox 360 controller could, and then some. It has introduced improvements in every regard – functionality, aesthetic, and comfort.
Of course, there is still room for improvement, but this is one of the best controllers currently available regardless. Microsoft is definitely on the right track with this release, and we are excited to see what else they will offer when the next console generation comes about.
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The best Xbox One controllers for 2021
If you own an Xbox One, you’ll eventually find yourself shopping for a new Xbox One controller. Maybe you’re trying to replace one you smashed in a fit of rage while playing Dark Souls, or you’re looking for a good controller for your co-op partner. No matter the situation, picking up another controller is an inevitable part of owning a gaming system. However, in recent years, the market has become saturated with excellent Xbox One gamepads, making it difficult to determine which one is the best purchase.
Whether you’re looking for something cheap, powerful, or game-specific, here are the best Xbox One controllers available in 2021.
Xbox One Wireless Controller
The standard controller that comes with every Xbox One console also happens to be one of the best you can get for the system. The basic layout of the controller is relatively similar to the Xbox 360 controller, with offset analog sticks that work perfectly for shooters, sports games, and everything in between. The bumpers on the top have been improved since the first version of the controller was released, making them easier to press, and the triggers are wide enough for hands of any size to pull them.
It’s certainly simple, but the Xbox One Wireless Controller is a workhorse. Two AA batteries can easily last for weeks, compared to the PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4, which must be charged regularly. The controller also can be made into a wired controller by attaching a Micro USB cable, giving you less latency for sports or fighting games.
Important note: While this model is the standard controller for the Xbox One, Microsoft has released an updated “Core” version for the Series X with a more durable design, USB-C connection, and new share button. It’s entirely compatible with the Xbox One and, if you are looking for an upgrade, an excellent alternative (although you will need a USB-C connection for connecting it directly to a console).
Xbox Design Lab Controller
The plain black or white designs for Xbox One controllers aren’t the most exciting things in the world, but you don’t have to settle for anything less than a fully customized gamepad. The Xbox Design Lab allows you to create your own controller, with everything from the triggers to the analog sticks coming in an assortment of different colors. If you want to make your controller look like Waluigi, with a purple front and yellow back, you totally can, or you can go with something more sleek and subtle.
Previous controllers started at $65, with additional options for personalization. Currently, the Design Lab is working on a new model that will be available sometime in 2021, so sign up for alerts if your heart is set on this kind of customization.
Xbox One Elite Controller Series 2
One of the world’s most expensive controllers has proven popular enough to warrant a second version. Revealed at E3 2019, this new version builds on the original in almost every way — but we all know the biggest improvement is the shift to a USB-C port for charging its 40-hour battery. It can even double as a wired controller if you’re particularly sensitive to wireless lag.
The Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 comes with interchangeable thumbsticks, D-pads, and paddles, plus it has the ability to adjust the tension of its analog inputs for things like faster trigger speeds and weightier movement and aiming. They even redesigned the rubberized grip, a common point of concern on the original version. If you’ve ever wanted to toss your original controller in the trash and spend an extra $100 for some extra buttons, the Xbox One Elite Controller Series 2 is for you.
Razer Wolverine Ultimate
On the third-party side, Razer’s Wolverine Ultimate controller offers just as many customization options as the Xbox Elite Controller, plus a little extra style for those interested in flashing lights. Bundled with interchangeable analog sticks and directional pads as well as remappable bumpers and triggers, you can create and save more than 500 different customized setups depending on the game you’re playing, and the controller’s sensitivity levels can be adjusted to give you the same level of customization you’d expect on a mouse. If you’re a fan of vibration, you can increase it in both the Impulse Trigger and the standard rumble motors, which should make your racing or shooting even more immersive.
Want a little more flair while you frag? The Wolverine Ultimate also includes Razer’s Chroma lighting, giving you gorgeous effects that can be changed based on your preferences or, if you’re a streamer, based on your audience’s reactions.
Scuf makes some of the most comfortable controllers on the market today. Their elite controllers are similar to the standard Xbox One’s, but it definitely feels different when picked it up. The smooth plastic and subtle yet effective backside features make holding the Scuf a dream come true. It also has an interchangeable faceplate and built-in rechargeable battery, which will last around 30 hours. You can change the analog sticks and faceplate and overall customize the way these controllers look fairly easily. What’s great is that the Scuf Prestige controller is also magnificently light, weighing in at only 267 grams.
What really makes these controllers stand out isn’t the customization, light weight, or comfort holding it. Rather, Scuf has managed to find a way to make the four back paddles the most comfortable to reach out of all the other controllers. The bumpers have been redesigned on this controller to be more durable and have more points of contact. This actually has eliminated the issues the Xbox Elite Controller faced and, to some degree, the regular Xbox controller. Games that are bumper-heavy won’t wear the paddles out even after long, vigorous use.
Hori Fighting Commander Octa
The standard Xbox One controller is great for many games, but it struggles with 2D fighting games — the default layout of the buttons and the directional pad aren’t ideal for the quick movements needed in the genre. To solve that, Hori made the Fighting Commander line, with the most recent Octa model perfect for both Xbox One and Series X. It’s a controller that bears a remarkable resemblance to a certain Sega controller from back in the early 1990s, with D-Pad, joystick, and shoulder setups made for gaming. The Octa also is wired, which is necessary for serious fighting game events.
The configuration of the Fighting Commander is a little different than other controllers, with the RB, RT, LB, and LT buttons all located on the right side and two extra buttons included on the left side. The curved design of the back is more ergonomic than the controllers of yesteryear, but it should feel perfect for anyone who played Mortal Kombat on Genesis. The controller won’t set you back much, either, costing less than all other options on our list, and it’s much smaller than a traditional full-sized fight stick.
Xbox Adaptive Controller
Playing on a traditional controller can be an extremely difficult or even impossible task for players with physical disabilities. The Xbox Adaptive Controller aims to serve this group of players by providing a fully customizable hub for accessibility devices. Every button on the standard Xbox One controller is represented by an input port on the side of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and users can use 3.5 mm or USB devices to control these functions in whatever way serves them best.
If more than one person in your household uses the Adaptive Controller and they have different needs, you can also customize profiles and switch between them on the fly. The controller comes with a 9-foot cable to charge its battery, and it’s also compatible with Windows 10 PC games.
PowerA Enhanced Wired Controller for Xbox
If you and your friends tend to run through a lot of controllers, you know that replacing them can get expensive. This PowerA model is an affordable option, less than half the cost of a traditional Xbox One controller while still providing all the utility you expect. It also includes updates to the Xbox controller design like a share button, and has a surprisingly useful little dial for game audio and muting chat when you are with a team. The gripping materials also help you keep precision — and it comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns to pick from. Keep in mind that it is wired, so it will need to stay closer to the console (something that may also help controllers last longer).
Xbox Wireless Controller — Daystrike Camo Special Edition
Periodically, Microsoft offers special editions of its Xbox One controllers for fans who are looking for something a little extra. We particularly like this 2021 design that features red, gray, and black camo. It’s a nifty design that goes well with just about everything, and includes all the latest controller upgrades like textured grips on the triggers and bumpers, hybrid D-pad, a share button, and more. Everything works with the Xbox One, and if you are ever ready to upgrade to the Series X then full compatibility is assured for that model as well!
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The Xbox Wireless Controller isn't actually a brand new gamepad. Instead, it's a revised version of the gamepad used with the Xbox One, having undergone some upgrades for its release alongside the new Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles.
But while it may bear the same name as its predecessor and a largely similar design, the Xbox Wireless Controller is a marked improvement over Microsoft's previous core gamepads.
The Xbox Wireless Controller feels familiar in the hand yet subtly different, with improved tactile textures and refined geometry making for a more ergonomically friendly (and comfortable) playing experience. We're also happy to see Microsoft finally implement a dedicated Share button to its gamepad, making it considerably easier to take screenshots and videos mid-game.
However, the Share button can sometimes be awkward to reach and we found ourselves frustrated with the gamepad still not being automatically rechargeable - instead, a recharge pack needs to be bought separately.
It seems that Microsoft's new gamepad takes inspiration from the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2, offering some of the premium controller's top-notch design features in a more affordable-feeling form. The result is a sleek, affordable and accessible controller, which just feels nice to use.
Xbox Wireless Controller price and availability
- Xbox Wireless Controller price: $59.99 / £54.99 / AU$74.99
- Three colors at launch: Carbon Black, Robot White and Shock Blue
The Xbox Wireless Controller price is $59.99 / £54.99 / AU$74.99, but it's worth noting that every Xbox Series X and Series S console comes with a controller in the box.
You'll only need to buy another controller if you're looking to pick up a replacement, or a second (or third, or fourth) for co-op play at home.
You shouldn't have too much trouble finding additional units either, with the Xbox Wireless Controller readily available at many major retailers, both online and in-store.
As well as being available in Carbon Black and Robot White, at launch the Xbox Wireless Controller also comes in a head-turning Shock Blue.
- Feels familiar in the hand yet subtly different
- Improved tactile textures and refined geometry
- New Share button
On the surface, the Xbox Wireless Controller doesn't look like a particularly drastic departure from its predecessor. It sports a similar shape, and keeps the traditional button and trigger layout. On closer inspection, though, you begin to notice the subtle differences Microsoft has implemented.
For a start, the gamepad's exterior now sports a matte finish that closely matches the new consoles' designs. While this certainly looks sleek, it does come with drawbacks – the black controller that comes with the Xbox Series X easily picks up scuffs and scrapes that are noticeable.
Considering the amount of hands-on time controllers are subjected to it's possible that you'll find it hard to keep yours looking in tip-top condition for years to come.
Other color variants of the controller are available though (you'll need to buy these separately, while a white version comes included with the Xbox Series S), and some may be less prone to scuffs.
That's a minor quibble, though, and overall we found that the Xbox Wireless Controller resembles a more premium controller, both in look and feel. The revised pad now has a tactile texture on the triggers, grips and bumpers, which we found made the controller feel more secure in our hands.
In addition, while the controller is the same size as its predecessor, the bumpers and triggers have been rounded and reduced in size by a few millimeters, which makes the gamepad feel less bulky. If you're someone with small hands, past Xbox controllers have felt quite tanky, but this simple change improves comfort levels in a subtle but noticeable way.
Perhaps the most notable changes to the controller are the addition of the 'Share' button and the hybrid D-pad. The Share button essentially acts as a capture button, allowing you to easily snap screenshots of your game – a single click takes a snapshot, while holding the button down for longer records a 15-second video by default (you can adjust the video duration in the Capture settings).
This is much easier than on the Xbox One, where you have to press the home button and then X or Y, but we did find it a bit fiddly to quickly take a screenshot – your experience may vary depending on how big your hands are.
The hybrid D-pad, on the other hand, aims to provide a middle-ground between the Xbox One controller's classic D-pad and the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2's changeable disc-shaped, faceted D-pad.
What results is a kind of traditional D-pad, laid over a disc. Again, this is a small but welcome change and is intended to give more control and leverage over the D-pad – while generally feeling more comfortable.
The D-pad also gives off a loud click we haven't heard from a controller before. You'll either find it satisfying or a bit annoying - we often found it the latter - though those used to mechanical keyboards may not be all that bothered.
But there's a lot about the controller's design that hasn't changed. It keeps the 3.5mm audio jack and expansion port at the bottom, its USB charge port and pairing button at the top, and its View, Menu and Xbox buttons on the face.
- Works on a range of devices
- Lower latency
- Rechargeable battery pack needs bought separately
- Remappable (but this is limited)
In addition to the cosmetic changes, the Xbox Wireless Controller brings improvements in functionality too. We found the controller to be more responsive, which is likely down to the lower latency Microsoft has boasted about (paired with more frame rate stability of the Xbox Series X/S), while connecting the gamepad wirelessly via Bluetooth to a range of devices – including the Xbox One, an iPhone 11, and a Mac – was straightforward.
The Xbox Wireless Controller again runs on AA batteries (regular or rechargeable), but if you want to avoid the hassle of changing or charging batteries constantly you have two options.
You can invest in a Play and Charge kit (a rechargeable battery back which you can use to charge the controller while you're playing or between sessions), or connect your controller to the console via USB-C (although this will, of course, limit your freedom of movement).
In terms of remapping, you can remap the Xbox Wireless Controller on the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S via the Xbox Accessories app - though the level of customization is somewhat limited.
The app allows you to remap a fair few of the controller's buttons to your tastes and even gives you control over aspects such as whether your controller vibrates and whether you want your sticks automatically inverted. We found remapping fairly straightforward, even if there are some buttons - like the Xbox button and the triggers - which can't be changed.
Given that the Xbox Wireless Controller utilizes the impulse trigger feature found in previous iterations of Xbox gamepads - providing haptic feedback to your fingertips when you, for example, drive the dirt roads of Dirt 5 - the lack of trigger remapping is understandable.
Should you buy the Xbox Wireless Controller?
Buy it if...
You want a controller you can use with a range of devices
The Xbox Wireless Controller works with more than just the Xbox Series X/S. The gamepad is compatible with Xbox One, Windows 10 PC and Android - with iOS support coming in the future.
You've got small hands
The Xbox Wireless Controller fits a wide range of hand sizes, particularly those with small-sized hands. So no matter what hand size you have, the gamepad should be comfortable.
You want a premium controller feel without the price tag
With the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 priced at a whopping £159.99 / $179.99 / AU$249.95, Microsoft is offering the average player a slice of its premium pie for a much more digestible price. While you don't get the customization options and extra features that come with the Series 2, the Xbox Series X controller's design borrows enough from its premium sibling to make it feel like an upgrade.
You want another Xbox Series X/S controller
It may seem obvious but, when it comes to picking up an extra gamepad for your Xbox Series S or Xbox Series X, the Xbox Wireless Controller is the most affordable, reliable option - making it a no brainer.
Don't buy it if...
You want a rechargeable controller off the bat
The Xbox Wireless Controller again runs on AA batteries (regular or rechargeable) or can connect to the console via USB-C (making it not wireless). If you want to avoid the hassle of changing or charging batteries constantly then you can invest in a Play and Charge kit - though this needs to be bought separately.
You want a lot of bells and whistles
The Xbox Wireless Controller is a sturdy gamepad but isn't blowing us away with any innovative features
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Vic is an award-winning games journalist, bringing experience from IGN, Eurogamer and more to the TechRadar table.
Like it or not, gamepads have become an important part of PC gaming. Can you imagine playing Super Meat Boy or Street Fighter IV without one? The 360 controller has been PC Gamer's go-to for years now, but yesterday Microsoft finally released Windows drivers for the Xbox One pad. I've spent the morning testing it out on a variety of games, which is both an excuse to spend my Friday playing games and an opportunity to tell you if it's worth upgrading or not. Everyone wins!
There's no wireless dongle yet, so you'll have to attach the pad to your PC with a micro USB cable. Comparing the two, there's no real difference in weight or size. The Xbox One controller might be a little heavier, but it's negligible. Despite being almost exactly the same size, a sharper incline on the tops and handles means your grip fits around it more snugly—good news for people with smaller hands. It's made of the same mottled plastic, being slightly rough to the touch, but feels a bit smoother. In terms of holding the thing in your hands, they're both pretty similar.
It's the buttons where you'll feel the biggest difference. The back and home buttons have been shifted down a little, but otherwise the layout is identical. The face buttons are closer together, bigger, and flatter, meaning you can press them with fractionally less effort. The D-pad is now a Nintendo-style cross that feels clicky and tactile, which is a major improvement on the 360's spongy, unresponsive circular pad. This is particularly useful for precise 2D platformers like Spelunky.
The analogue sticks have changed too. After the D-pad, they're my favourite improvement. They're smaller, tighter, and have a pleasantly snappy springiness when you let them go. There's less resistance too, so it takes less effort—again, we're talking fractions here, but still noticeable fractions—to start moving your character/the camera/whatever. In summary: they're really nice, and you'll feel the difference the instant you start using them. I swapped back and forth between the two while playing Dark Souls II and Wolfenstein, and the Xbox One pad was the clear winner.
Finally, let's talk triggers. They're no longer separated by an inch of space, instead forming one ergonomic 'lump' of plastic with a sliver of a gap between them. This makes the transition between the two more seamless. The bumpers have a more pronounced click when pressed and have more resistance than the old ones. The triggers are incredibly springy, and almost feel soft when you squeeze them. The controller I'm testing has had fairly heavy use since the Xbox One was released and doesn't seem to have lost any of its tightness or spring, but we'll have to wait and see how it fares after a year or so of abuse. Overall, though, the build quality is excellent.
The only disappointment is the lack of haptic feedback. There are motors in the triggers that, whenever you fire a gun, are supposed to give you a tickly vibration in your finger. This works on games like Titanfall on Xbox One, but I couldn't get it to work at all on PC. Presumably their activation lies on the software's side, and games have to 'tell' the motors when to spin. Hopefully now that Microsoft have released these drivers, future games will account for this. Otherwise, functionality is the same. The regular force feedback is still there, and every game I tested—except Elite: Dangerous for some reason—recognised the controller as a regular 360 one when I connected it.
Now that I've given it a thorough test run, I reckon I'll be upgrading to the Xbox One controller—if only for that lovely new D-pad. I play a lot of platformers and third-person games, which I prefer using a gamepad for, so I think it's in my best interests to get one. The controllers currently go for between £40 and £50 / $60, which isn't bad considering the quality. If and when Microsoft release a (no doubt overpriced) receiver that lets me play it wirelessly, it'll be even better.
Xbox One controller review
A quality gamepad and a vast improvement on the 360 version. Now all we need is wireless functionality.
Wireless review xbox controller
Xbox Series X Controller Review
Xbox Wireless Controller (2020) – Design and FeaturesThe black model, which is what you’ll get with the launch-day version of the Xbox Series X, looks very, very similar to the Bluetooth-enabled model that came out with the Xbox One S and X: its black matte plastic shell, multi-colored, face buttons, and analog sticks all look and feel identical to their predecessors. If you know your way around an Xbox One controller you’ll have no problem finding the pairing button on top, the plate in the back that covers two AA batteries, and two ports on the bottom – the proprietary port for connecting the Xbox chatpad, and a 3.5mm audio jack for wired headsets.There are a few little cosmetic flourishes, like an all-black Xbox button, and matte bumper and trigger buttons, that generally make the controller look a little more subtle and distinguishable from its predecessors, but only in the slightest way. I’d expect Xbox die-hards to notice these tweaks after spending seven years using an Xbox One controller, but more casual players probably wouldn’t know the difference.
That said, there are three changes from the last Xbox controller to the new model that may impact how you use it. The first and most obvious is the new share button in the center of the controller, near the Menu and View buttons. The share button makes it easier to quickly take screenshots or start recording video clips with a single button press. By default, pressing the button takes a screenshot and holding it for a second starts recording a video clip. (You can swap these functions, or change either to record recent footage, using the Xbox Accessories app on any Xbox One or Xbox Series console).
The last and arguably least exciting of the gameplay-focused changes is the addition of textured grips along the controller’s side handles and triggers. The mild but highly textured grip more effectively keeps the controller from moving in your hands, even when they get sweaty. The trigger grips are more cosmetic than useful, though. They could keep your fingers from sliding, but how often do your fingers really slide on their own?
On the plus side, the new controller features a USB-C port rather than microUSB. It’s somewhat bittersweet: I would have preferred that Microsoft to finally make the jump to an internal battery. Still, using USB-C could lead to faster charging if you use an Xbox rechargeable battery kit. (I haven’t tested one, so I don’t know for sure). At the very least, the reversible USB-C connector is a lot easier to plug in.
Where to Find Xbox Series X|S at LaunchMissed out on a preorder? Check out our guide on where to buy an Xbox Series X or S at launch.
Xbox Wireless Controller (2020) – SoftwareBoth the Xbox One- and Series X-generation consoles allow you to remap many, but not all, of the buttons on the new Xbox Wireless Controller using the Xbox Accessories app. As on the Xbox One, the app gives you a simple, clear interface for moving inputs around on the controller. You can highlight one of the customizable inputs from a menu, or simply hold the button down to highlight it for a change.
Like some configuration apps for mice and keyboards on the PC, there are limitations on what you can change. Even on the new controller, you cannot reconfigure the triggers, the Xbox button, or the Menu and View buttons. The new share button can only be assigned a recording-related feature – taking a screenshot, recording gameplay that just occurred, or starting and stopping a new recording. Perhaps most importantly, there are no new alternative features you can map to your buttons, like opening an app. While it’s neat that all Xbox controllers have this feature, it’s much less helpful on the standard Xbox Wireless Controller than it is on the Elite, where you have more inputs and more options due to the back buttons.
Xbox Wireless Controller (2020) – GamingOn the Series X and Series S, specifically, the new controller takes advantage of an upgraded Xbox proprietary wireless connection. According to Microsoft, a new feature called “Dynamic Latency Input” pings the controller for inputs more frequently than before. In theory, this should lead to less latency and fewer mispresses. In standard gameplay testing, I can’t say that I noticed the controller was more responsive on the Series X, though it does feel quite snappy. Playing the Xbox One version of Ori and The Will of The Wisps, I was able to make precise jumps quickly and didn’t lose any inputs, but that’s true of the previous controllers as well, of course.Using the recording features with the share buttons are where you see the most noticeable change. In any game, from Watch Dogs: Legion on the Series X to Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2 (2020) on the One X, I generally felt much more confident that I could grab a screenshot of the right moment, now that I can take them at the push of a button. It’s less empowering with video, I think, but I’m personally more likely to actually create clips of my gameplay using the console now that there’s a quick way to record.
Purchasing GuideThe new Xbox Wireless Controller will be available for $59.99 from the Microsoft Store, Amazon, and other retailers starting November 10. The controller comes included with Xbox Series X and Series S consoles, which also launch November 10.
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The new Xbox Series X controller is a modest upgrade (but hey, Share button!)
Over the last seven years, I’ve used no controller more than the Xbox One controller. Thanks to its ease of use and ubiquitous support in PC games, it has pulled double duty, bouncing between the console in my living room to the gaming PC in my office and back again. I’m very fond of the Xbox One controller. It’s a true workhorse.
So when news came out that the updated version of the Xbox gamepad was striving for quality-of-life improvements over a vast overhaul, I was perfectly fine with that. And after playing a wide variety of games with it over the last few days, I’m still perfectly fine with this measured approach. The question is whether “perfectly fine” is enough these days.
The first thing I notice when picking up the new Xbox controller is that it feels much smaller in the hand compared to the old Xbox One controller. The handles on the new design are narrower, which means my fingers can wrap around more of the surface area. It’s not a dramatic difference, but the smaller size is noticeable. I prefer controllers with smaller handles, as they offer a more secure grip, so I consider this an upgrade. Others with larger hands may prefer the original Xbox One controller’s slightly bulkier feel, but it’ll come down to personal preference. Thankfully both the old and the new controllers are supported by the Xbox Series X and Series S, so folks who prefer the old ways needn’t worry about missing out.
Speaking of grip, the new Xbox controller’s handles are coated in textured plastic. This is another departure from the Xbox One controller’s smooth outer finish. Once again, I consider this an upgrade. Not to get gross, but after a few hours of gaming, a smooth plastic surface can turn into a slippery ice skating rink. The new, bumpy surface provides additional friction and grip, ensuring that the controller doesn’t go flying in a heated moment.
The new D-pad is also a nice enhancement. Rather than the familiar cross, the new Xbox controller’s D-pad is a concave circle with the cross embossed on top of it. Written out, this sounds … awful? But in practice it actually does feel like a traditional D-pad, just with more versatility. Rather than having to split the difference between two points on the cross for a diagonal, there’s a spot for my thumb to push down, ensuring I’m getting the right input.
It should be noted that Microsoft experimented on the Xbox 360 controller with this circular D-pad idea, which was mushy and terrible. By contrast, this D-pad feels clicky and precise, capable of handling fighting games and platformers with ease. This new D-pad design was first introduced on the popular Xbox Elite controller, so it’s nice to see it finally come to the masses.
When it comes to controllers, clicky is good, right? A clicky button lets you know, without a doubt, that your input has been accepted. But perhaps there’s an untold downside to clickiness? Because holy cow, this new Xbox controller is loud. Every button press, whether it’s the face buttons or the D-pad, echoes throughout my apartment like a Smith Corona. (Well, maybe more like a modern mechanical keyboard, but yeah, it’s loud.) If you’re at home, alone, no biggie. But if you happen to cohabitate with someone, it could get grating pretty quickly. And if you’re playing with someone online, the clicks could easily come through alongside your voice chat, which is never fun.
My older Xbox One controller’s buttons are somewhat quieter, though not dramatically so. It’s possible that, through use, the new controller’s clickier edges will get smoothed out, making me less despised within my apartment, but right now it’s like the Wheel of Fortune in here.
Another aspect that may change over time are the triggers. Straight out of the box, the triggers on the new Xbox controller are considerably stiffer than they were on the Xbox One controller. It feels like pulling the trigger on the new Xbox controller takes about twice as much force as I need on the older model. The stiffer triggers aren’t necessarily a bad thing, as they offer more accuracy when finding a sweet spot (like when feathering the gas around a tight corner in Forza Horizon 4), but if you’re more sensitive to hand cramping, you may find that holding these triggers down are a bit of a pain.
But make no mistake: You won’t find any enhanced technology within the triggers themselves. The adaptive triggers in the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller, which let games vary the amount of force required for a trigger pull, are absent on the new Xbox gamepad. The rumble technology is also unchanged from what was inside the Xbox One’s controller (as compared to the new haptic technology in the DualSense). While the Xbox One’s rumble was impressive — especially when games took full advantage of it — the DualSense controller’s improvements are literal game-changers, capable of offering immersion that’s beyond the reach of the new Xbox controller.
This new Xbox controller feels like a modest improvement over the already-great Xbox One controller, but it also plays things very safe. When a redesigned D-pad, slightly smaller handles, and a dedicated share button — no, I didn’t talk about this but, uh, it’s a share button — are the standout features on your new piece of hardware, it’s hard to view this controller strategy as anything but “don’t change horses in midstream.” And maybe that’s OK for a controller that’s already so beloved. But after seven years, maybe it’s time for something with a bit more giddyup?
The Xbox Series X will be released worldwide on Nov. 10. For this review, Polygon tested an Xbox Series X (and the new controller) provided by Microsoft. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.
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